Easter Weekend 1421
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Easter Weekend 1421
Last month I noticed that there was some concern over the fact that Archery practice was scheduled to fall on Easter Sunday and it reminded me of another Easter weekend in Clan Buchanan history.
The Battle of Baugé
In the spring of 1421 while Henry V was in England raising fresh levies, his brother Thomas of Lancaster, 1st Duke of Clarence, with an English army of some 10,000 had just come back from a raid across Maine and the Loire and returned to the town of Pont de l'Arche in Normandy. Whilst the bulk of the army was busy foraging in the surrounding countryside, one of Thomas’ foraging parties returned with the news that there was a large Franco-Scots force in the vicinity near to the town of Baugé.
James Stewart, 3rd Earl of Buchan and comander of the Scottish contingent of the 6,000 man army, had contact with the English the day before Good Friday (Maundy Thursday). A truce was reached, lasting until Monday, so that the combatants could properly observe the religious occasion of Easter.
However Thomas, eager to do battle and in particular to win a great victory over the French as his brother had done at Agincourt, decided to attack immediately. Thomas’ senior commanders, Gilbert Umfraville and John Holland the Earl of Huntingdon, advised Thomas to wait, first so that their entire force could be assembled before engaging the enemy, and second because battle over Easter was regarded as a serious sin.
Concerned that the French might move out of range by the close of the truce on Monday, Thomas decided to attack immediately. Dismissing those who advised caution with the words "If you are afraid, go home and keep the churchyard", he set off with his mounted knights and galloped the nine miles to Baugé, leaving behind his infantry and longbow men. Thomas now led a force of 1,500 men at best, whilst awaiting him at Baugé was an army of some 6,000.
Early in the afternoon of March 21 (Holy Saturday), Scottish scouts reported that the English had broken the truce and were advancing upon the Scots. The Scots rallied hastily and battle was joined at a bridge which the Duke of Clarence, with banner unfurled for battle, sought to cross. A detachment of a few hundred men under Sir Robert Stewart of Ralston, reinforced by the retinue of Hugh Kennedy, held the bridge and prevented passage long enough for the Earl of Buchan to rally the rest of his army.
With his English forces bogged down in hand-to-hand fighting on the bridge, Thomas dismounted and led his knights across the river, thereby outflanking the enemy. Once on the other side, the English remounted and charged the enemy flank, driving them back into the streets of Baugé. This initial success was all very well, but the main bulk of the Franco-Scots army had now deployed on the ridge behind Baugé ready to do battle. Undeterred by the enemy numbers, Thomas simply formed his men and charged uphill.
This first English charge was beaten back, and they retreated to the riverbank. Whilst Thomas was reforming his men in preparation for a second charge, the enemy countercharged down the hill. Naturally the Scots made straight for Thomas himself, who was easily identifiable due to the coronet displayed on his helmet. Thomas of Lancaster found himself engaged in mortal combat with Sir John Carmichael of Douglasdale and Sir Alexander Buchanan. John de Carmichael managed to unseat the Duke of Clarence, but in doing so broke his lance leaving it up to Alexander Buchanan to finish the job. Alexander drove his lance through Thomas’s eye solt killing him.
Sir Alexander Buchanan then plucked the Ducal Cornet from Thomas’s helmet with the tip of his lance and held it high above the battle delcaring that the English general was dead. The English were rapidly overwhelmed; Gilbert Umfraville and the Baron Roos were both killed, whilst the Earls of Somerset and Huntingdon were both captured.
The whole engagement had lasted scarcely more than an hour, and might have turned out even worse for the English had not the Earl of Salisbury arrived with the rest of Clarence's army, including the all important contingent of archers. They succeeded in driving away the enemy and rescued Thomas' body together with many of the survivors.
The battle itself was of little military consequence, other than that it encouraged the French to believe that the English could indeed be beaten. The French Dauphin was, however, pleased that his policy of hiring Scottish mercenaries to bolster his forces had been vindicated. The Scots were naturally overjoyed at defeating their old enemy, and were particularly proud of their role in the death of the Duke of Clarence. Indeed there was scarcely a Scottish noble family that did not claim some part in the death of Thomas.
The French awarded Clan Buchanan with a crest that has a hand holding up a Ducal Cornet; the Carmichael coat of arms displays an armoured hand holding aloft a broken lance in commemoration of the victory; and James Stewart Earl of Buchan was rewarded by being made Constable of France. The defeat at Baugé and the death of his brother placed Henry V in a foul mood. When he landed in France in June of that year, he was particularly brutal in his treatment of the enemy and hanged the entire garrison of Rougemont when that fortress surrendered. It may well have been his desire for revenge that inspired his determination to take the town of Meaux. It was during the eight-month siege of the town that Henry contracted the dysentery that eventually killed him on the 31st of August in 1422.
Clan Buchanan’s involvement in this battle is just one pice of Buchanan history dating back long before Robert the Bruce and surviving far beyond the death of their last Laird in 1681 (who left behind two daughters and many debts resulting in the sale of the Buchanan Lands to the Duke of Montrose, who built Buchanan Castle). Many a lesson can be learned from this battle, but the big one here is: respect your archers and don’t leave them out of the fight or you might just be a Dead Duke!
Yours in service,