War in the Middle Ages—illustrated with many pictures and maps
Charles Oman is rightly regarded as one of the foremost British military historians. This unique and attractive Leonaur edition brings together two of Oman’s most outstanding historical contributions in one volume. The first book traces the development of warfare from the end of the ancient period, through the medieval period and to the genesis of modern war. Oman considers the development of tactics, organisation, weaponry, clothing and armour, giving examples of how all of these aspects of the business of war were employed in notable battles and campaigns. The second work concentrates on an analysis of one of the most notable conflicts of this period—The Hundred Years War—which encompassed, in due course, The War of the Roses. Oman treats his subject with true scholarship, writing with an outstanding economy of words, which both informs and entertains. This illustrated Leonaur book not only combines two outstanding works upon broadly related themes, but the text has been enhanced with many monotone illustrations and campaign and battlefield maps which, although they did not appear in either of the original works, clarify Oman’s writings for the benefit of the modern reader.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
A fortunate chance has preserved for us, in the pages of Blondel’s Reductio Normanniae a full account of the disastrous field of Formigny, the last battle but one fought by the English in their attempt to hold down their dominion beyond the Channel. The narrative is most instructive, as explaining the changes of fortune during the later years of the Great War. The fight itself—though destined to decide the fate of all Normandy—was an engagement on a very small scale. Some five thousand English, half of them archers, the remainder billmen for the most part, with a few hundred men-at-arms, had been collected for a desperate attempt to open the way to Caen.
In that town, the Duke of Somerset, commander of all the English armies in France, was threatened by an overwhelming host led by King Charles, in person. To draw together a force capable of taking the field all the Norman fortresses had been stripped of their garrisons, and such reinforcements as could be procured, some 2000 men at most, had been brought across from England. The relieving army succeeded in taking Valognes and forcing the dangerous fords of the Douve and Vire, but hard by the village of Formigny it was confronted by a French corps under the Count of Clermont, one of several divisions which had been sent out to arrest the march of the English.
Clermont’s troops did not greatly exceed their enemies in number: they appear, as far as conflicting accounts allow us to judge, to have consisted of six hundred lances garnis (i. e. 3000 cavalry) and three thousand infantry. The obligation to take the offensive rested with the English, who were bound to force their way to Caen. Nevertheless, Sir Thomas Kyriel and Sir Matthew Gough, the two veterans who commanded the relieving army, refused to assume the initiative. The old prejudice in favour of fighting defensive battles was so strong that, forgetting the object of their expedition, they fell back and looked for a position in which to receive the attack of Clermont’s troops.
Finding a brook lined with orchards and plantations, which was well calculated to cover their rear, they halted in front of it, and drew up their men in a convex line, the centre projecting, the wings drawn back so as to touch the stream. Three bodies of archers—each seven hundred strong—formed the main-battle; on the flanks of this force were stationed two battles of billmen, not in a line with the centre but drawn back from it, while these corps were themselves flanked by the small force of cavalry, which was formed close in front of the orchards and the brook. Clermont did not attack immediately, so that the archers had ample time to fix their stakes, according to their invariable custom, and the whole force was beginning to cover itself with a trench when the enemy at last began to move. (Gladio ad usum fossarum verso, et ungue verrente tellurem concavant: et ante se campum equis inadibilem mira hostium astucia efficiebat.—Blondel, iv.)
Through long experience the French had grown too wary to attack an English line of archers from the front: after feeling the position, they tried several partial assaults on the flanks, which were repulsed. Skirmishing had been going on for three hours without any decisive result, when Giraud ‘master of the royal ordnance’ brought up two culverins, and placed them in a spot from which they enfiladed the English line. Galled by the fire of these pieces, part of the archers rushed out from behind their stakes, and with the aid of one of the wings of billmen charged the French, seized the culverins, and routed the troops which protected them. If the whole of Kyriel’s force had advanced at this moment the battle would have been won. (Et si Anglici, incaepto conflictu praestantes, Gallos retrogresses insequi ausi fuissent, etc.—Blondel, iv.)
But the English commander adhered rigidly to his defensive tactics, and while he waited motionless, the fate of the battle was changed. The troops who had charged were attacked by one of the flank battles of French men-at-arms, who had dismounted and advanced to win back the lost cannon: a desperate fight took place, while the English strove to drag the pieces towards their lines, and the enemy to recapture them. At last the French prevailed, and pushing the retreating body before them reached the English position. The archers were unable to use their arrows, so closely were friend and foe intermixed in the crowd of combatants which slowly rolled back towards them.
Thus, the two armies met all along the line in a hand-to-hand combat, and a sanguinary mêlée began. The fate of the battle was still doubtful when a new French force arrived in the field. The Counts of Richemont and Laval, coming up from St. Lo, appeared on the rear of the English position with 1200 men-at-arms. All Kyriel’s troops were engaged, and he was unable to meet this new attack. His men recoiled to the brook at their backs, and were at once broken into several isolated corps.
Gough cut his way through the French, and reached Bayeux with the cavalry. But Kyriel and the infantry were surrounded, and the whole main-battle was annihilated. A few hundred archers escaped, and their commander, with some scores more, was taken prisoner, but the French gave little quarter, and their heralds counted next day three thousand seven hundred and seventy-four English corpses lying on the field.