One Last Battle

On 17 July 1453 the Battle of Castillon was fought between English and French forces near the town of Castillon-sur-Dordogne in Gascony. The battle marked the end of the not-so-aptly named Hundred Years’ War.

The war was less a war and more a collection of clashes and skirmishes that took place between 1337 and 1453, and they were primarily fought to determine who would wear the French crown. After the French captured Bordeaux in 1451, pretty much everyone thought the fighting was over, and indeed the English backed off for a few years, focusing on reinforcing Calais. But the people of Bordeaux weren’t happy at being forced to be French again, after years of being under English rule, so they sent King Henry VI a nice note, asking him to please recapture the province. Henry obligingly sent the Earl of Shrewsbury over with 3000 men, and the French were soon driven out of Bordeaux.

Charles VII of France wasn’t about to give up so easily, though. Over the winter, he gathered his forces and, as soon as spring came, he advanced on Bordeaux, sending three armies on three different routes.

Shrewsbury asked for and received another 3000 men, but it still wasn’t enough. Nonetheless, when the French besieged Castillon, he set out to relieve the area. Shrewsbury’s reputation was apparently so fierce, the French commander ordered his men to build a ditch and palisade around their camp and ring the place with 300 cannons once he heard the man was on his way.

Shrewsbury reached the French camp on 17 July, ahead of his main body of troops, accompanied by 1300 mounted men. He was able to rout a force of French militia in the woods, giving his own men a much-needed morale boost.

While Shrewsbury and his men rested, a messenger from the town reported that the French army was in full retreat. The man was mistaken—the people he saw leaving the French camp were only the army’s followers who’d been ordered out of the way of the oncoming battle. On this tragically wrong information, Shrewsbury hastily gathered his men and charged the camp, only to be met by thousands of archers, crossbowmen, and cannon. He ordered the attack anyway and his men were mercilessly cut down. To make matters worse, an hour after the battle began the cavalry of the Breton army arrived and charged the English army’s right flank, which quickly gave way. As the English fled, Shrewsbury was killed, and the way was open for the French to retake Bordeaux, which they did three months later, essentially ending the Hundred Years’ War.

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