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An Analysis of the causes of the Wars and the course which they took.

Michael D. Miller

Chapter 41: The loss of the Southern Provinces in France: 1450 - 1451


King Charles VII had not been content to rest on his victories in Normandy which had been completed with the capture of Cherbourg on 12th August 1450. In the north of France, only Calais remained in English hands. Charles had been tempted to attack the City, but it was strongly defended and the failure of the assault mounted by Philip-the-Good, Duke of Burgundy, in 1436 was not encouraging. A far greater prize lay to the south, the English possessions in Acquitaine. The Council of War which he called in Tours in September of that eventful year 1450 readily agreed that military operations should begin there at once.

In order to keep the English occupied in the south whilst he had invaded Normandy in the north, Charles had detached a small force to harry them with what guns he could spare. This detachment had already enjoyed some success. In the spring of 1450, whilst the main battles had raged in Normandy, it had forced Aubterre to surrender rather than face the French siege artillery. This was a success which must be built upon. Bergerac was accordingly besieged and bombarded into submission on 10th October 1450. By the end of October, the French armies had taken Sainte-Foy-le-Grand, Gensac, La-Roche-Chalais and Bazas. On 1st November 1450, the French Captain Amanieu scored a notable success against the garrison of Bordeaux itself. The English garrison had made a sortie with a strong force of cavalry, supported by infantry, to drive off a small French raiding party which had ventured up to the walls of the City. Unwisely, the cavalry had become separated from their infantry. Amanieu had set a trap, and now fell upon the English cavalry with his own much superior force of French horsemen. The English cavalry was routed, and the infantry, scattered and unable to form a battle-line, now faced the worst fears of contemporary infantrymen. They were ridden down by the French horsemen. Although the gates were slammed shut in Amanieu's face in the nick of time, the losses had been very heavy. The day was called, without exaggeration, La male journade.

In the spring of 1451, Jean, Compte de Dunois renewed the French operations. He considered that he was justified in attacking in several places simultaneously, and had the support of a small French fleet in the River Gironde. Blaye, Bourg, Fronsac, Duras, Sauveterre Sainte-Macaire, Dax, Libourne, Castillon, Sainte-Emilion, Bayonne and Rions all fell in rapid succession to French arms. Finding all hope gone, the Estates of Bordeaux asked for terms.

King Charles VII's terms were severe, but they were not unduly harsh. People were required to make up their minds if they would turn French, when they would be allowed to keep their property; if they wished to remain English, then they must depart, and their property would devolve onto their nearest relative in the French obedience. Not wishing to impoverish the area, Charles did not interfere with its trading ties, which were the long standing wine and wool trades with England.

When King Henry V had attacked northern France in 1415, he was intent on annexing a true part of France, what-ever legalities he may have advanced to justify what he was doing. Its subsequent recovery was of territory which was truly a part of France. This was not true of the southern provinces, and when Jean, Compte de Dunois rode proudly into Bordeaux on 30th June 1451, he was, in one sense, making a state entry into an alien City. It is true that the people were ethnically French, and for the most part they spoke French. The City and its surrounding provinces had been brought to the English Crown 300 years before as part of the dowry of Eleanor of Acquitaine when she married the English King Henry II. They had many ties with England, particularly through the wine and wool trades. The people considered themselves as much more English than French, and if a citizen had been asked who was his King, he would have answered the King sitting on the Throne in London, not the King in Paris.

By the middle of the 15th-century, the wine trade by sea with England was already of great antiquity. Even today it still ranks as one of the three oldest sea-borne trades in the World, the other two being the dhow trade between East Africa and the Persian Gulf and the English North-East Coast coal trade. Although King Charles VII was well aware of the views of his new subjects, and did not continue his conquest beyond reducing the area to a part of France inhabited by French citizens, there was still a great deal of trouble in store for the French Crown, including an appeal to England for rescue, before it could be said that Bordeaux and its neighbouring provinces were truly part of France.

Copyright Michael D. Miller 2003