The Battle of Patay 1429

The French rode around the plain, cutting down every archer they could reach

Date: 18 Jun 1429
Location: Near Patay, slightly north of Orléans, France
Outcome: Decisive French victory[1]
Principal Combatants.
English Leadership: John Fastolf, John Talbot (Surrendered) Thomas de Scales (Surrendered) Sir Thomas Rempston (Surrendered)
English Strength: 5,000, mostly archers
English Casualties: 2,500 dead, wounded, or captured
French Leadership: Jeanne d’Arc, La Hire, Xaintrailles
French Strength: 1,500, mostly men-at-arms
French Casualties: About 100

Background

After the relief of the Siege of Orléans, the French recaptured several English strongholds in the Loire valley. This regained bridges for the subsequent French assault on English and Burgundian territory to the north. Nearly all of France north of the Loire river was under foreign control. The French victory at Orléans had destroyed the only French-controlled bridge. Three smaller battles had recovered bridges along the Loire.

The French Loire campaign of 1429 consisted of five actions:
1. The Siege of Orléans.
2. The Battle of Jargeau.
3. The Battle of Meung-sur-Loire.
4. The Battle of Beaugency.
5. The Battle of Patay.

The Battle of Patay took place the day after the English surrender at Beaugency. In this battle, the English attempted to use the same tactics it had in the victorious battles of Crécy in 1346, Poitiers in 1356, and Agincourt in 1415.

These tactics called for having extensive numbers of longbowmen defended by sharpened stakes driven into the ground in front of their army, the stakes slowing and hampering a cavalry assault while the longbowmen massacred the enemy. However, in the Battle of Patay, the French knights were finally able to catch the English unprepared.

No other country in Europe used the longbow as extensively as England. Although the weapon itself was relatively inexpensive to produce, it was difficult to amass a large pool of trained bowmen: years of constant practice were required to develop the skills and muscle power needed to use the longbow effectively.

In order to ensure a sufficient number of skilled longbowmen, the English government required yeomen and peasants to train with their bows regularly. The large number of longbowmen the English could field as a result of this policy gave them a great military advantage during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.

Longbowmen had a serious weakness, however: due to their light armor (or complete lack thereof), they were at a distinct disadvantage in hand-to-hand combat when faced with armored men-at-arms. At Patay, the French army took advantage of this critical weakness.

The battle

An English reinforcement army under Sir John Fastolf departed from Paris following the defeat at Orléans. The French had moved swiftly, capturing three bridges and accepting the English surrender at Beaugency the day before Fastolf’s army arrived. The French, in the belief that they could not overcome a fully prepared English army in open battle, scoured the area in hopes of finding the English unprepared and vulnerable.

The English reconnoitered with remaining defenders at Meung-sur-Loire. The French had taken only the bridge at this location, not the neighboring castle or the town. Retreating defenders from Beaugency joined them. The English excelled at open battles; they took up a position whose exact location is unknown but traditionally believed to be near the tiny village of Patay. Fastolf, John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury and Sir Thomas Scales commanded the English.

The standard defensive tactic of the English longbowmen was to drive pointed stakes into the ground near their positions. This prevented cavalry charges and slowed infantry long enough for the longbows to take a decisive toll on the enemy line. However, at Patay the English archers inadvertently disclosed their position to French scouts before their preparations were complete when a lone stag wandered onto a nearby field and the archers raised a hunting cry.

On hearing the news of the English position, about 1,500 men under captains La Hire and Jean Poton de Xaintrailles, composing the heavily armed and armoured cavalry vanguard of the French army, immediately attacked the English. The battle swiftly turned into a massacre, with every Englishman on a horse fleeing while the infantry, mostly composed of longbowmen, were cut down in droves. Longbowmen were never intended to fight armoured knights unsupported except from prepared positions where the knights could not charge them. For once the French tactic of a large frontal cavalry assault succeeded, with devastating results.

Captain Jean Dagneau captured the famous General John Talbot. After this feat of arms, Dagneau was ennobled in March 1438 by Charles VII, King of France, which is at the origin of the family name of Dagneau de Richecour. As for the English, Talbot accused Fastolf of deserting his comrades in the face of the enemy, a charge which he pursued vigorously once he negotiated his release from captivity. Fastolf hotly denied the charge and was eventually cleared of the charge by a special chapter of the Order of the Garter.

Consequences

The virtual destruction of the English field army and the loss of many of their principal veteran commanders (another, the Earl of Suffolk, had been captured in the fall of Jargeau, while the Earl of Salisbury had been killed at the siege of Orléans in November 1428), had devastating consequences for the English position in France, from which it would never recover. During the following weeks the French, facing negligible resistance, were able to swiftly regain swathes of territory to the south, east and north of Paris, and to march to Reims, where the Dauphin was crowned as King Charles VII of France on 17 July.