The Battle of Formigny during the last phase of the Hundred Years’ War

15 April 1450 near the town of Bayeux in Normandy, a French army under Charles de Clermont and Connétable Arthur III, Duke of Brittany, decisively defeated the English under Thomas Kyriell in the Battle of Formigny during the last phase of the Hundred Years’ War.

“It is no longer with hammer blows but with cannon shots that Europe philosophizes.” (Albert Camus)

The monument commemorating the battle at the crossroads near Formigny
 with de Richemont to the left and de Clermont to the right with the goddess of victory
wearing a crown with the French fleur-de-lis and holding a laurel wreath
over the two victorious commanders.

When the Burgundians and English burned the Maid of Orleans at the stake in 1431, the tide of the endless slaughter known as the Hundred Years’ War had already turned against them and the days of Edward III, the Black Prince and Henry V along with their indomitable knights and feared archers who won at Crecy, Poitiers and Agincourt were long gone. In 1435, Burgundy broke the alliance with King Henry VI, Paris was returned to Charles VII of France, who reorganised his kingdom along with his army on the dawn of the modern age. And while the English were beginning to be quite busy picking red and white roses respectively, a French army appeared in Normandy. Rouen fell in October 1449, Harfleur in December and in January, the French marched on Caen. With a small army of 3,000 arriving in Cherbourg in March 1450, bolstered by Caen’s garrison of 2,000, the English under Thomas Kyriell moved to counter them. The two armies met two miles south of the place that would be known as Omaha Beach 500 years later near the village of Formigny.

A 15th century depiction of the battle

The French under Clermont advanced towards the English positions in the afternoon with one part of the army, while the other half under Connétable Arthur de Richemont, a veteran of Agincourt, was somewhere off to the south. The English in their traditional formation with their 2,500 archers entrenched behind stakes and low earthworks, strengthened by billmen and dismounted knights, could repulse the first French assault, then two French guns opened fire, disrupted the English lines, the archers sallied, captured the guns and everything looked like the day would end in a stalemate. De Richemont however, drawn to the battlefield by the sound of the gunfire, arrived and was about to take Kyriell in the flank. The English had to give up their secure position, drew up in a half circle but could no longer sustain the concentrated fire of the longbows. De Richemont’s 1,200 heavy Breton cavalry simply overrun them. When the sun sank at Formigny, at least half of Kyriell’s army was dead, 900 were captured along with their commander and the rest scattered to the winds.

Another contemporary imagination of the battle

That the two French cannon had played a decisive role at Formigny is at least doubtful, even if they showed the potential to disrupt the English field fortifications – as they did at Castillon three years later and it was certainly not the first time artillery was used on a battlefield, the Hussites did that a generation before in Bohemia already with great success. The sound of their fire, however, was crucial in drawing de Richemont to the fight and that proved to be decisive indeed. Normandy was lost for the English and Gascony fell in 1453, a major cause for the outbreak of the War of the Roses back in England in 1455. The Hundred Years’ War itself finally ended with the Treaty of Picquigny in 1475, 20 years after the fighting on the continent had ceased.

The picture by jp hamon of the monument above was found on:

And more about the Battle of Formigny on: