Throughout Scottish history there have been many battles fought on Scots soil, many have been fought on English soil, however a few battles between Scotland and England have taken place on French soil. Few have been as important as this one though; the Battle of Baugé.
The Battle was part of the ‘Hundred Years War’ between England and France. In 1419 King Henry V of England had turned the course of the war at Agincourt, a battle that has become synonymous with Anglo French ‘sparring’ ever since. There had been a formal alliance between France and Scotland since 1295, known as the ‘Auld Alliance’ though the ties between the two nations goes back much further, indeed the tradition of a ‘Guarde Eccosais’ goes back to the time of Charlemagne.
After Agincourt the French were in disarray. Charles VI of France was mad, and his heir, the future Charles VII, was only sixteen. Normandy was lost to the English and the Dukes of Burgundy were taking Paris. With the situation getting desperate the Dauphin appealed to Scotland for help.
King James I of Scotland was imprisoned by the English and the country was being ruled in his place by Robert Stewart, first duke of Albany. Albany decided to send a force of 6,000 volunteers to France under the command of Archibald Douglas, earl of Wigtown and Albany’s second son John Steward, third earl of Buchan. A fleet of ships from Castile reached Scotland in September 1419, and on 29 October 1419 the Scottish army reached the Dauphin’s court at Bourges.
The Scots made up by far the largest component of the Dauphin’s defensive forces in the Loire Valley. The English army still recording successes in France was commanded by Henry V’s oldest brother Thomas of Lancaster, duke of Clarence. Estimates of the strength of this force vary from between 7,000 to 12,000 men, a considerable number of which were drawn from the English nobility.
In March 1421 Clarence led a series of raids through the Anjou and Maine and by Good Friday they were camped near the little town of Vieil-Baugé where their progress was halted by the Franco-Scots army who had also arrived in the area. Clarence was keen to engage them but some of his forces were dispersed and also Easter Sunday was unthinkable as a date to start a battle. The following day a party of English who had been on a foraging mission returned to their camp with some captured Scots soldiers, The party had stumbled upon the Scot’s forces and Clarence keen to press his advantage of surprise and also to avoid a conflict on a holy day decided to engage despite his weakened force.
Clarence made the fateful decision to attack immediately with a small force of mounted men-at-arms, leaving The earl of Salisbury to gather the other troops who were still out foraging on their return. Clarence headed for the bridge at Baugé, the only crossing available to reach the Scots. It would appear he was desperate to match the exploits of his brother at Agincourt. The Franco-Scots army were largely unprepared for the attack, many were at morning prayers or playing sports. As they attempted to cross the Bridge a small Scottish force nearby raised the alarm and the English were immediately held by a rain of arrows. It took them some time to force a crossing of the river. In his haste he had not brought his own archers and the remainder of this initial force were stretched back along the road.
Despite this Clarence still pressed forward towards the village, only to be met by the main bulk of the Scots and French who were concealed behind a ridge on the approach. The Scots came over the crest and charged headlong at the English army. Clarence was an early casualty. John Carmichael of Douglasdale unhorsed him, breaking his lance in the process – an event which is immortalised in the crest of clan Carmichael. The battle was reduced to a vicious hand to hand melee and its unclear who stuck the final blow that finished off Clarence. Alexander Makcaustelayn (a Lennox highlander), the lord of Fontaines, Charles le Bouteiller and William de Swinton have all been credited with finishing off the King’s brother.
The result was a crushing defeat for the English which set them back on the course of the war, Henry was forced to return to France but he contracted an illness and died during the campaign. Many of the English who had never even made it to the battle were able to escape and the war raged on for many years to come with victories and defeats on both sides.
The Scots Army in France who had been largely criticised by many French before the battle were now seen in an altogether different light and this French guard in later years formed the core of the Royal Scots – the oldest regiment in the British army, honoured for their antiquity by their nickname ‘Pontius Pilate’s Bodyguard’.