17 July 1453, the siege of Castillon, 30 miles east of Bordeaux in Gascony, culminated in a final battle, ending with the French under the overall command of Jean Bureau decisively defeating the English relieving army under Sir John Talbot. During the following weeks, the English had to evacuate the Guyenne, making Calais the last outpost on the Continent. The Hundred Years’ War was over.
"Such was the end of this famous and renowned English leader who for so long had been one of the most formidable thorns in the side of the French, who regarded him with terror and dismay" (Matthew d'Escourcy, inscription on a monument raised on the battlefield)
|Charles-Philippe Larivière's (1798–1876) |
imagination of Talbot's death at the Battle of Castillon
The war did not go well at all for the English and their continental allies since the French under Dunois, La Hire and Joan of Arc broke the Siege of Orléans in 1429. Ruled by an underage king of doubtful sanity and their enemy being finally more or less able to cope with the famous longbows that dominated the battlefields for more than 70 years, the English were pushed out of the Ile de France in the 1430s, the Burgundians left the alliance and by 1450 Normandy was lost.
The Guyenne was an English duchy since the days of Eleanor of Aquitaine 300 years before and the area around Bordeaux – the city itself was in French hands since 1451. The citizens of Bordeaux, as well as Gascon nobles petitioned to King Henry VI to help them against the French and in 1452 the old warhorse Sir John Talbot arrived on the scene with 3.000 men, retook the city and marched to counter the three armies King Charles VII had ordered into Gascony.
|A late 15th century imagination of the engagement (Jean Chartier, “Grand Chroniques de France”, c1475)|
Arriving at Castillon, Sir John’s vanguard at first drove back a contingent of French archers into the siege lines – a well-fortified camp with over 300 piece of cannon aiming at the English. Talbot ordered his knights to dismount and charge the fortifications, hoping that his main battle would follow up and help him carry the day against a two to one French superiority. It didn’t. Both English assaults came under heavy fire from the French artillery and who arrived at the fortifications was either slaughtered or captured. At least half of the English army was dead in the afternoon and when Sir John and his two sons fell, the rest ran away. The French had lost hardly 100 men and the Battle of Castillon was in every aspect a decisive victory.