Battle of Auray

From Academic Kids

The Battle of Auray took place on September 29, 1364 at the French town of Auray. This battle was the decisive confront of the Breton War of Succession, a part of the Hundred Years' War.

In the battle, which began as a siege, duke John V of Brittany helped by English forces commanded by Sir John Chandos, defeated his rival Charles of Blois, seconded by the French.

On August 14, 1342, a fleet of 260 ships transported Northamptons army about 3,000 strong to Brest, where it arrived four days later. Charles de Blios, who had now overrun nearly all the provinces, was besieging the port, so the English army had to land on the open shore near by. But only light resistance was offered and Northampton entered the town amid scenes of rejoicing.

Charles immediately raised the siege and fell right back to Guingamp 40 miles to the east, leaving the country open to the invaders. Western Brittany was strongly pro Montfort, and some Bretons may be presumed to have joined the English army.

Once he had secured Brest, his main object was to capture a harbour on the north coast of Brittant. This was to be an abiding preoccupation of English commanders in Brittany for years. Montfords forces did not securely hold any territory on the north coast and until they did it would be necessary for ships carrying supplies and reinforcements to make the perilous passage through the reefs off Finistere and Ushant.

Northampton was advised to march on Morlaix, a small walled town with a good natural harbour about 30 miles north east. Advancing without impediment, the army arrived within sight of Morlaix on September 3 and at once attempted to take it by storm. The attempt lasted all day, but failed, and Northampton sat down to besiege it methodically. This did not seem likely to be successful as the town was strongly fortified and amply supplied.

Meanwhile de Blois was vigorously strengthening his army and enlisting local levies, until it attained prodigious numbers for those days. The careful French historian of Brittany, La Bordie, estimates these numbers at 30,000, which seems quite impossible. If they did not pass 15,000, it would have still outnumbered the little English army by more than four to one, a proportion that seems well substantial. With his large army Charles approached to lift the siege of Morlaix.

Northampton receiving the news of the approaching enemy, decided it would be foolish to allow himself get caught between the two forces, he immediately broke up the siege and at night marched towards Charles. By dawn a suitable position had been reached. This position strides the road, and is just on the beginning of a gentle slope into a dip about 300 yards in front. The road then ascends an equally gentle slope and disappears some 500 yards from the position. Immediately in rear is a wood

The Battle of Morlaix

This occurred on September 30, 1342. The English army took up position just in front of the wood, in a line astride the road, and perhaps 600 yards in length. The selection of a position with a wood in rear was popular with English troops in those days, because it could not be effectively attacked in flank by cavalry, and formed a useful baggage park. Some hundred yards in front of it, on a line now marked approximately by a hedge and a cottage, they dug a trench and covered it with grass and other herbage as a boody-trap for the horsemen of the enemy. It was only 30 years since the battle of Bannockburn and the English troops had not forgotten the lesson taught by the pots of the Scots.

The dismounted men-at-arms occupied the centre of the line, the archers were stationed on the flanks. During that morning the French army was apparently stationary a leage away, which would seem to indicate billets in the village of Lanmeur – at least for the mounted troops – and we may suppose the foot arrived the next morning. This would account for the fact that the French did not attack until three o’clock in the afternoon. The count of blois drew up his army in three huge columns one behind the other, with an appreciable space between each. The leading column consisted of irregulars, presumably local levies. These were all dismounted troops. On the order being given they advanced straight to their front, descending the hill into the slight dip and up the other side. When they got within effective range the English archers drew bow, and a hail of arrows dispersed the column before it had got into close contact with the men-at-arms. The contest was short; the Bretons went reeling down the hill.

Charles was disconcerted by this sudden disaster and took council with his chief captains regarding the next step. Eventually it was decided to launch the second column, the men-at-arms, in a mounted attack. This was, of course, exactly what Northampton wished and had prepared for. His stratagem worked admirably. The French horsemen, who had not been warned of the concealed trench by the irregulars for the simple reason that they had not reached it, rode forward impetuously and unsuspectingly. Men and horse plunged into the concealed trench; archers plied them with arrows to add to their confusion, and the attack practically came to a standstill. A few horsemen, did manage to negotiate the trench and indeed to penetrate the line. But local reserves came up and they were cut off and captured, including their commander Geoffrey de Charni.

The second attack had ended as disastrously as the first, and again there was a considerable pause while the attackers licked their wounds and consulted on what to do next. Northampton waited to see if there were any signs of a general retreat. But there was none. His archers were by this time short of ammunition. Had time allowed, the archers would doubtless have run forward to recover their arrows, but the final column was now on the move, and the sight of the huge mass of fresh troops approaching must have discouraged the English. The trench was by this time battered in or filled with corpses; it was no longer a defence.

The third French column was so large that it extended beyond the flanks of the position and thus threatened the flanks. Seeing the weight of all this, the earl decided on a novel manoeuvre, If he did not retreat he could not prevent the enemy surrounded him if they willed. He decided to adopt a course of action in battle that is almost unprecedented in that era: he would fall back into the woods less than hundred yards in rear, and form what we now call a hedgehog, a defensive line along the edge of the wood and facing in all directions. No doubt he had this eventuality in mind when he selected a position immediately in front of a wood. So into the wood his victorious troops fell back in good order, taking with them their prisoners, and a new position, facing all ways, was taken up.

The details of what happened next are scanty and rather puzzling. Wht seems clear is that the English reserved their fire thus reserving their ammunition, and that the French came on and engaged, but failed to penetrate the woods. Charles was at his wits’ end. Many of his troops had fled the field, including the Genoese crossbowmen; the English position was still intact and unbroken, and there seemed to be no means of getting at it. Night was coming on, and Charles decided to abandon the contest, to give up his goal of relieving Morlaix, and to beat a retreat. Darkness was falling, with his immediate task accomplished; he would return to the siege of Morlaix.

The battle of Morlaix was the first pitched battle on land of the hundred years war, and it made a deep impression at the time. The tactics pursued by the English were evidently founded on lessons learnt at Bannockburn and Halidon hill. The men-at-arms were used dismounted; trenches were dug and a defensive position was selected on a ridge. The fire power of the archers was a feature in both battle, and lastly the two arms cooperated in defeating the mounted enemy. It is not a surprise that Edwards first great victory should form the prototype for all other great battles of the hundred years war – except the last.

fr:Bataille d'Auray


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