General Observations on French Medieval Battles and Battle Fields

Home page Battles page  (7.2)

1: Having an heir matters. Many of these conflicts were over questions of succession. Val es Dunes was a contest between Guillaume of Normandy and his cousin Guy de Brionne; the Hundred Years War was a conflict over succession to the French crown and the war of Breton Succession was a conflict over control of the duchy or Brittany. Conquereuil was part of an earlier conflict of Breton succession. Fontenoy (841) was a case of too many heirs!

2: Generalship matters more than number of troops. At Auray Chandos out fought Charles de Blois, as did Dagworth at Restellou and at La Roches Derrien. Bentley out fought Nesle at Mauron, Henry V prevailed at Agincourt, The Black Prince prevailed at Poitiers and Edward III prevailed at Crecy. In each case the victor was outnumbered. Bad generalship with fewer troops is a disastrous combination. Somerset at Bauge is the best case in point.

3: Holding the high ground is critical. Dagworth at Restellou, Bentley at Mauron, Henry V at Agincourt, Chandos at Auray, Edward at Crecy all had an elevation advantage. Bertrand du Guesclin was successful when he coaxed Jean de Grailly off the heights at Cocherel.

4: Defending the low ground is difficult. In the battles discussed so far, those where the defenders set up defensive positions on the low ground were failures. Talbot at Patay and Kyriell at Formigny lost during the HYW. 

5: Making them come to you is a good strategy. Leaders who were able to chose their defensive ground generally fared better than their attackers. Charles Martel set his position on a plain, forcing Abd er-Rahman to come to him at Moussais. Edward III at Crecy, the Black Prince at Poitiers and Henry V at Agincourt all chose their defensive ground, forcing the French to attack. Bentley at Mauron and Dagworth at Restellou both forced an attack on their terms. The Bureau brothers at Castillon led Talbot to their chosen ground.

6: Technology matters. The English longbow was critical to English success during the early phases of the HYW. It played a decisive role at Crecy, Poitiers, Agincourt and Restellou. But time moved on and by the middle of the 15th century the canon superseded the longbow. The canon was the decisive weapon at Castillon.

7: Most successful military leader represented by these battles. This honor goes to Thomas Dagworth, who with about 180 men held off Charles de Blois' army of more than 2500 troops at Restellou. Estimates of Blois' forces range from 3500 on up. Runner up honorable mentions goes to Bertrand du Guesclin (Cocherel), Henry V (Agincourt), Chandos (Auray), Fulk Nerra (Conquereuil and Pontlevoy) and Edward III (Crecy). Each of these men demonstrated effective leadership on the field, balancing strategy with calculated risk.

8: Least successful military leader represented by these battles. There are several ways of measuring this. Losing their battle(s) and life would earn this distinction. Charles de Blois was consistently outfought even though he usually outnumbered his opponent. This happened under his direct command at Restellou, La Roche Derrien and finally Auray, where he was killed. Runner up for this distinction is Charles the Bold of Burgundy, who lost at Morat and Grandson and was finally killed at Nancy. Peter I lost his life at Muret due to poor planning on his part so deserves (dis)honrable mention.

9: Nation with the best military leadership. England takes this hands down. English kings and heirs fighting in France were largely very successful. Why? The English had a strong central government and authority so military and political power flowed from the top. Edward III, Henry V and the Black Prince were all able to exert strong command control on the battlefield. On the other hand, in the HYW, Philip VI and Jean le Bon had to deal with largely disunified commands, as their vassals brought their own troops to the field, and often wanted to take action independent of the king. Subsequent French kings, Charles V, VI and VII were not field commanders themselves. The French royal exception was Philip II at Bouvines.

10: Rashness and complacency influence outcomes. For rashness, no one exceeded Somerset's behavior at Bauge. Peter I died at Muret when he attacked without coordination with Raymond of Toulouse. For complacency, Conan at Conquereuil thought the battle over before it was, and died as a result, in Fulk Nerra's counter attack. At La Roche Derrien, Charles de Blois, on two occasions, did not set a guard after an initial success and finally ended up a prisoner due to his complacency.