|Battle of Verneuil|
A French ResurgenceIn the summer of 1424 the French made a resolute attempt to throw the English out of Normandy. The French came to battle with the English on 17th August 1424 at Verneuil. Charles V had died two years previously and some, but not all, French accepted his son as Charles VI.
Before the battle Fastolf was made a Knight banneret. He was one of the minor commanders on the English side under the overall leadership of John of Bedford, regent for the young Henry VI.
|Sir Thomas de Montacute Earl of Salisbury|
‘He [Bedford] commanded the host embattled not to break nor remove their array for winning, or keeping worldly goods, but only to win worship in the right of England that day.’[i]
The English victory was overwhelming; the French commander the Viscount d’Aumale had little control over his conglomeration of Scottish and French troops.
Following his victory over the French Bedford decided to continue his plan to conquer Maine and Anjou. He divided his army and entrusted the campaign in Maine to Fastolf and Thomas de Scales. Another army was sent to the Loire under the earls of Salisbury[ii] and Suffolk[iii], while Sir Nicholas Burdet was to see to the subjugation of Mont St Michel. Bedford himself left for Rouen. These forays were all successful bar the attack on Mont St Michel.
Fastolf drew closer to the Regent and over time became his right hand man and was entrusted with heavy responsibilities in France. In turn he was given four houses in Paris by Bedford. Fastolf was Grand Master of Bedford’s household as well as being baron of Sillé-le-Guillaume. Over time Fastolf had a number of important jobs including Governor of Maine and Anjou; at various times he was Captain of a number of towns and cities including Le Mans, Alençon, Honfleur, Harfleur, Fécamp and Caen.
Fastolf’s wealth may have helped his rise; his secretary noted that Fastolf;
at Castle Combe, sufficient to clothe two hundred men[vi].
There were pecuniary advantages attached to many of his positions and Bedford paid Fastolf £110 per annum[vii] for his membership of the Great Council. In February 1426 Fastolf was admitted to the Order of the Garter for the first time. During the years when Cardinal Henry Beaufort ruled France for Henry VI,[viii] in France for his coronation as king of France, Fastolf was removed as Captain of Honfleur and Verneuil.
|Battle of the Herrings|
Under the leadership and inspiration of Joan of Arc the French were by 1429 getting their act together. They were focussing on Orléans. The French were determined to hold the town which was being defended by Dunois[ix], the Bastard of Orléans. With Lent fast approaching, in February Fastolf was given charge of a convoy carrying fish[x] for the besieging army.
On 11th February, when scouts noted French patrols, Fastolf halted his convoy and prepared to fight at Rouvray. The following day the two sides fought; the French, supported by the Scots, had the advantage of being able to bring cannons to the fray. This advantage meant the English could only sit and suffer in their corral of wagons.
The English were saved by the stupidity of the commander of the Scottish contingent; Sir John Stewart of Darnley, who had his men dismount and attack. The French followed this up with another attack which was followed in turn by an English counter attack. The English cavalry poured out and scattered the French and Scottish troops. The besieging army’s spirits were lifted, the army was re-supplied (with herrings), but the Maid of Orléans was on the march.
The Siege of Orléans
|Joan of Arc|
The French captains at Orléans were as unwilling as the Dauphin and his advisers to allow Joan to take part in their councils. They wanted her as a figurehead, no more. When Dunois and his fellow captains failed to include Joan in their strategy meetings, Joan is alleged to have told him;
‘Bastard, Bastard, in the name of God I command you to let me know as soon as you hear of Fastolf's coming. For if he gets through without my knowing it, I swear to you that I will have your head cut off.’[xi]
The English were encamped around Orléans but were unable to totally encircle the city; supplies got through to the besieged along the river.
Joan refused to accept the military decisions of Dunois and his captains and made several forays against the English that enforced Dunois’ hands. It was these forays that, along with over extension of Bedford’s armies, that finally caused the English to resign themselves to the loss of Orléans. French chronicler Perceval de Cagny informs us that;
‘On Sunday 8th May, the lords of Falstaff (sic), Willoughby, Scales and other captains who were in the forts on the French side had seen the attack……….which the Maid had launched………..against the bastille St Lô, and that she had taken it and killed those inside; and they had seen the attacks she had made on the Saturday against the Tourelles……on this Saturday then………..they set fire to their lodgings and made off…….towards Meung and Beaugency.’[xii]
This was the first retreat of the English army in living memory. Following up on this victory meant that the Maid was able to force the French into having the Dauphin crowned as Charles VII at Rheims Cathedral. Ultimately this disaster led to the English losing the war that Henry V had reignited with his campaign that began at Harfleur.
On the Defensive
|Battle of Patay|
On 18th June 1429 the two nations fought the Battle of Patay; it was the last and decisive battle for control of the Loire. Fastolf and Rempston went to Paris to round up more soldiers. They returned with 5,000 men. The English had retreated to Patay after calling off an attack on the bridge at Meung.
Fastolf argued against a battle on the grounds that the army was weary after the long siege, the troops were demoralised and the enemy had the upper hand. The English should parlay for a truce; Fastolf was overruled; Talbot argued for an immediate counter-attack and it was his advice that won the day.
Fastolf was in charge of the main body of the English army, while Lord Talbot and his men, along with Lord Scales, Sir William Hungerford and Sir Thomas Rempston, reinforced with archers, took up position to the fore.
|Chateau de Pouance|
The French cavalry swept down on the English forces and Talbot[xiii] and his men were brushed aside. Fastolf managed to get away at the expense of his baggage and cannon. He and retreated to Janville to find the gates shut and the weary army marched on to Étampes, fighting off the French who attacked along the line of the march. The Burgundian chronicler Jean de Waurin tells us that;
‘John Fastolf left with his small company, feeling full of regret and in the greatest turmoil a man can experience, and the truth is that he would indeed have returned and thrown himself into the battle again, if it had not been for those who were with him……..he was the subject of bitter reproaches and it was for this that the Order of the Garter was taken away.’[xiv]
Back in Paris Fastolf was removed of his garter for abandoning his fellows in the field; while in London a fund was immediately raised to pay Talbot’s ransom. Nevertheless Fastolf was still in demand; he took part in the defence of Paris in the summer of 1429, the siege of Louviers in 1430 and the siege of Pouancé castle in January 1432.
The Hundred Years War – Alfred H Burne, Folio Society 2005
The Real Falstaff – Stephen Cooper, Pen & Sword Military 2010
The Reign of King Henry VI – RA Griffiths, Sutton Publishing 1998
The Fifteenth Century – EF Jacob, Oxford University Press 1997
Joan of Arc – Edward Lucie-Smith, Penguin Books 2000
Orléans 1429 – David Nicolle, Osprey Publishing 2001
John Talbot & the War in France – AJ Pollard, Pen & Sword Military 2005
The Illustrated Letters of the Paston Family – Richard Virgoe (ed), Macmillan London Ltd 1989
[i] The Real Falstaff - Cooper
[ii] Thomas de Montacute
[iii] William de la Pole, later Duke of Suffolk
[v] The Real Falstaff - Cooper
[vi] And he did this every year from 1415 to 1440 thus guaranteeing an income for his tenants
[viii] April 1430 to January 1432; Bedford once again became Regent after the king’s return to England
[ix] On behalf of his half brother, the imprisoned duke (see ii above)
[x] 300 wagons filled with herrings and other commodities
[xi] The Real Falstaff - Cooper
[xiii] Talbot and many of the other leaders in the van were taken prisoner
[xiv] The Real Falstaff - Cooper