Battle of Auberoche
|Battle of Auberoche|
|Part of Gascony Campaign, Hundred Years War|
|Kingdom of England||Kingdom of France|
|Commanders and leaders|
|Henry, Earl of Derby||Louis of Poitiers|
|Casualties and losses|
The Battle of Auberoche was a significant action between English and French forces during the early stages of the Hundred Years War. It was fought at the village of Auberoche near Périgueux in northern Aquitaine. At the time, Gascony was territory of the English crown and the English army was largely made up of native Gascons. The battle occurred on the Auvezere River which formed part of the unofficial and heavily disputed boundary between the English and French territories.
The village and castle at Auberoche had been seized from the French occupants by a raiding force under the Earl of Derby, who had landed in June with a small army from England and augmented it with Gascon troops and conducted a large scale raid across the frontier, aiming at and capturing the important town of Bergerac during August. Amongst the other places he took before retreating back to Bordeaux for fresh troops and supplies was Auberoche, and in mid-October it became the first position counterattacked by a 7,000 strong French army under Louis of Poitiers. Poitiers' feudal lord, the Duke of Normandy (later King John II of France), had ordered him to counterattack the English here so that Normandy was free to advance from La Réole to the North.
The French force blockaded the castle, cutting off supplies and aid from the English lands to the West. During this time a tale, most likely apocryphal, emerged that a soldier attempting to reach English lines with a letter requesting help was captured and returned to the castle via a large ballista which caused the unfortunate man grievous injuries. Although this story is repeated by the chronicler Jean Froissart, modern historians have considered the tale unlikely. A messenger did get through French lines and reached Derby, who was already returning to the area with a scratch force of 1,500 English and Gascon soldiers. The French encampment was divided in two, with the majority of the soldiers camped close to the river between the castle and village whilst a smaller force was designed to prevent any escape attempts from the north.
On the 21 October the English army led by Derby advanced from Périgueux during the night, crossing the shallow river twice on their path so that by morning they were situated on a hill overlooking the French camp in the valley by the river. Knowing he was outnumbered, Derby had waited several days for the arrival of a force under the Earl of Pembroke but had given up waiting the evening before and had stolen a march on the French force below him. As dawn broke on the 21st, the English remained hidden behind the hill, hoping for Pembroke at the last minute. Derby called a council of his officers including the famous Walter Manny and it was decided that rather than wait any longer and lose the advantage of surprise, the army would advance immediately and attempt to overrun the French camp before an effective defence could be devised.
Derby undertook a personal reconnaissance of the French positions and decided to launch a three pronged assault, with his cavalry charging along the flat ground to the south, his infantry following a path in the woods to emerge in the French rear and his longbow men firing from the treeline into the French position. The attack was launched as the French were eating their evening meal, and complete surprise was achieved, the French thrown into disarray by the hail of arrows and the charging horsemen. Those French units who escaped the camp and the cavalry formed ragged bands on the flat ground and were thus ideal targets for the archers. The fighting continued in the camp for sometime and it seemed possible that some of the French forces might have made an effective fighting withdrawal but Sir Frank Halle, the castle's commander, had foreseen this and at the pivotal moment threw the castle's garrison against the retreating body from the rear, precipitating a total rout with the fleeing French pursued by the English cavalry.
The French force which was intended to watch the castle was the only part of the army to escape, and that only because it made no effort to intervene in the action, even failing to prevent the castle's defenders sallying out against the other half of the army. They left behind them a large quantity of supplies and loot which added to the English haul, which was prodigious. The French commander Louis of Poitiers had died of his wounds in the English camp and the second in command, Bertrand de l'Isle, was a prisoner. A number of other noblemen had been taken captive and their ransoms made a fortune for the soldiers in Derby's army as well as Derby himself, who was said to have made at least £67,000 in the money of the day from his captives.
The battle had longer reaching political effects too, Normandy's advance on the English territory was called off and no French force conducted any operations in the Gascon border country for six months. Communications between Normandy and the Duke of Bourbon who commanded a force in the south of France were also cut for some time, preventing coordinated operations against the smaller English forces in the near future. Derby used this opportunity to seize more towns in the region including Montségur and conduct successful sieges against La Réole and Aiguillon, placing the region firmly in English hands.
Local morale and more importantly prestige in the border region had decidedly swung England's way following this conflict, providing an influx of taxes and recruits for the English armies. The region had been in a state of flux for centuries and many local Lords served whichever country was stronger, regardless of national ties. With this success, the English had established a regional dominance which in some respects would last a hundred years.
- Jonathan Sumption, The Hundred Years War, Vol 1, Trial by Battle, 1990, ISBN 0-571-13895-0
- A.H. Burne, The Crécy War, 1955, ISBN 1-85367-081-2
- P. 105, Burne, Crecy War
- P. 470, Sumption, Trial by Battle
- P. 113, Alfred Burne, Crécy War
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