Hundred Years' War: Battle of Castillon

Shrewsbury at Castillon
Battle of Castillon. Public Domain

Battle of Castillon - Conflict & Date:

The Battle of Castillon was fought on July 17, 1453, during the Hundred Years' War.

Armies & Commanders:

English

  • John Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury
  • 6,000 men

French

  • Jean Bureau
  • 7,000-10,000 men

Battle of Castillon - Background:

In 1451, with the tide of the Hundred Years' War favoring the French, King Charles VII marched south and succeeded in capturing Bordeaux. Long an English possession, the residents resented their new French overlords and soon were secretly dispatching agents to London asking for an army to liberate their territory.

While the government in London was in turmoil as King Henry VI dealt with bouts of insanity and the Duke of York and Earl of Somerset vied for power, efforts were made to raise an army under the leadership of veteran commander John Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury.

On October 17, 1452, Shrewsbury landed near Bordeaux with 3,000 men. As promised, the city's populace expelled the French garrison and welcomed Shrewsbury's men. As the English liberated much of the area around the Bordeaux, Charles spent the winter raising a large army to invade the region. Though reinforced by his son, Lord Lisle, and a number of local troops, Shrewsbury possessed only around 6,000 men and was badly outnumbered by the approaching French. Advancing along three different routes, Charles' men soon spread out to attack numerous towns and villages in the area.

Battle of Castillon - French Preparations:

At Castillon on the Dordogne River, around 7,000-10,000 men, under the artillery master Jean Bureau, constructed a fortified camp in preparation for besieging the town.

Seeking to relieve Castillon and win a victory over this detached French force, Shrewsbury marched out of Bordeaux in early July. Arriving early on July 17, Shrewsbury succeeded in driving back a detachment of French archers. Alerted to the English approach, Bureau shifted 300 guns of various types from firing positions near the town to defend the camp.

With his men stationed behind strong entrenchment, he awaited Shrewsbury's attack.

Battle of Castillon - Shrewsbury Arrives:

As his army arrived on the field, a scout informed Shrewsbury that the French were fleeing the area and that a large cloud of dust could be seen in the direction Castillon. In actuality, this was caused by the departure of the French camp followers which had been instructed to leave by Bureau. Seeking to strike a decisive blow, Shrewsbury immediately ordered his men to form for battle and sent them forward without scouting the French position. Surging towards the French camp, the English were stunned to find the enemy's lines manned.

Battle of Castillon - The English Attack:

Undeterred, Shrewsbury sent his men forward into a hail storm of arrows and artillery fire. Unable to personally take part in the fighting as he had been previously captured by the French and paroled, Shrewsbury charged across the battlefield pushing his men forward. Unable to break through Bureau's fortifications, the English were slaughtered en masse. With the assault faltering, French troops appeared on Shrewsbury's flank and began attacking. With the situation rapidly deteriorating, Shrewsbury's horse was hit by a cannonball.

Falling, it broke the English commander's leg, pinning him to the ground.

Sallying out from their works a number of French soldiers overwhelmed Shrewsbury's guards and killed him. Elsewhere on the field, Lord Lisle also had been struck down. With both of their commanders dead, the English began falling back. Attempting to make a stand along the banks of the Dordogne, they were soon routed and forced to flee back to Bordeaux.

Battle of Castillon - Aftermath:

The last major battle of the Hundred Years' War, Castillon cost the English around 4,000 killed, wounded, and captured as well as one of their most notable field commanders. For the French, losses were only around 100. Advancing to Bordeaux, Charles captured the city on October 19 after a three-month siege. With Henry's failing mental health and the resulting War of the Roses, England was no longer in a position to effectively pursue its claim to the French throne.

Selected Sources