MILITARY HISTORY DATABASE

BATTLE OF FORMIGNY
(15 April 1450)

Statue at the crossroads near Formigny, depicting the victory of the connétable de Richemont and the comte de Clermont.

DIRECTORY
Preliminaries First Phase Second Phase
Battle Map
Summary and Analysis

Preliminaries

Strategic:
When the Truce of Tours expired in 1449 [or actually 'breached' by Somerset's lieutenant, François de Surienne seizure of Fougères in Brittany], the French were ready with a tactically and technically superior army. Charles VII began the campaign to reconquer Normandy with a gunpowder-artillery siege train led by the brothers Jean and Gaspard Bureau.
The French, under Dunois, forced the English commander in Normandy, Somerset, to surrender Rouen (19 October 1449), where Talbot was captured for a second time. Bureau directed sieges of Harfleur (December 1449) and Honfleur (January 1450), both were taken quickly. The French went on to besiege Caen (March 1450).
The English began collecting an army under Kyriell in autum of 1449. It sailed from Portsmouth with 2,500 men, and landed at Cherbourg 15 March 1450.

Operational:
Although his original assignment was to go to the aid of Bayeux, Kyriell diverted his force to capture the town of Valognes. Though he was reinforced with another 1,800 men, Kyriell incurred casualties at Valognes, leaving this force at about 4,000 [lowest estimate is 3,800].
Two French armies were south of the Cherbourg peninsula, and prepared to engage the English army. One force of 3,000 men under the comte de Clermont was at Carentan (20 miles west of Bayeux and 30 miles south of Cherbourg). A second force of 2,000, under the constable de Richemont, departed from Coutances (20 miles further south of Carentan) to join Clermont's army.
On 12 April, Kyriell's line of march brought him near Carentan, where his rearguard brushed off a sortie from the town as he by-passed it. Clermont refused to engage the English at this time. On 14 April, Kyriell's army camped near the village of Formigny, about 10 miles from Bayeux. Clermont remained at Carentan, 15 miles to the west; and Richemont was moving through St. Lô, 19 miles southwest, in an effort to join Clermont and intercept the English before they reached Bayeux.

RETURNTo DIRECTORY

First Phase

On the afternoon [1500 hours?] of 15 April, Clermont advanced east and approached the English camp. Alerted by his outposts, Kyriell drew up his army in the long-tested formation used since Crécy. About 800 men-at-arms were in dismounted position among three wedges of longbowmen. Allowing for some of billmen present, the English had close to 2,900 archers who took positions behind planted stakes and shallow moats. The English had their backs to a brook that ran south to the Aure River. A stone bridge over the brook appears to have been behind the mid-point of the English line.
Clermont first attempted a dismounted probing attack and was repulsed. A second French mounted charge of the English two flanks was easily driven back. After two hours [1700 hours?], Clermont brought up two 'culvrin' guns. These were most likely light guns, possibly on two-wheeled carrages. They were also likely to have been breech loaded, as they were able to deliver a sufficiently rapid enough rate of fire to disrupted the English archers, who were evidently beyond effective bow-shot range (300 yards?) to deliver any return fire. The English archers then charged the French positions and sized the two guns. Accounts differ on whether the French recaptured the guns in a counter attack.

RETURNTo DIRECTORY

Second Phase

It was at this moment [1800-1900 hours?] that the English and French were aware of Richemont's approach just beyond the horizon to the south.
Kyriell had no option but to form his men quickly in a semi-circle, so as to hold against Clermont's army to the west and to engage the impending attack of the newly arriving French force, consisting of heavy cavalry, from the south. Richemont's force that reached the field is estimated to be about 1,200, as another 800 archers had not kept pace with the mounted contingent.
Not only was the English semi-circle detrimental to delivering concentrated archery fire, it was a hastly assumed position by a now out-numbered force. When the attack came the French overcame the stout defenders. Kyriell was taken prisoner; his entire army was captured, killed, or fled along with the second in command, Matthew Gough who managed to flee to Bayeux.

RETURNTo DIRECTORY

SUMMARY
and
ANALYSIS

STRENGTHS:
French commander(s): Clermont with 3,000 men, and
Richemont with 1,200 men = 4,200

English commander (s): Kyriell with 3,800+ men.
[The numbers presented here are rough estimates derived from various accounts and obvious judgments of the differnet historians.]
CASUALTIES:
French: est 200.
English: 3,774 (2,300 k; 900 c; 574 m).

The destruction of Kyriell's army left the English without a force in France to protect their holdings in Normandy. The entire region fell to the French in just a few months after the battle of Formigny.
This battle is significant as being one of the first battles in Western Europe where guns significently influenced the course of the battle, though they certainly did not decide the issue. One would have to look to the Hussite Wars (1420-33) for earlier examples. Formigny (1450) definitely illustrated that in a position versus position shoot-out, the English longbow tactic could be disrupted by gunpowder weapons of the time.
There is the question as to how did Richemont arrive at this very point? If he were marching to join Clermont, he should have been further west, at Carentan, or east, at Bayeux. Is it possible that Richemont heard the guns and 'marched to their sound' -- another first in history?

BATTLEFIELD
TODAY

Formigny is not indicated on many modern road maps. It's 1450 historic battle is omitted from much of the regional information found in guide books. It is only a few miles south of the famous OMAHA BEACH landing site of Second World War. The many visitors to the modern D-Day landing region must be puzzled by the a very fine, life-size statue of Clermont and Richemont that stands at one point on the crossroads in the very small village.
There is a stone bridge (where a monument use to be) crossing the brook. Nearby is a refurbished, humble chapel that Clermont had constructed in 1486 to commemorate the victory. Inside are some artifacts collected from the battlefield. If one travels from Trevières north toward Formigny, the rise in the terrain along Richemont's approach is noticable. Though the battlefield -- now farm land -- is flat, the French cavalry really did appear over the horizon in the clamatic final phase of the battle. Hundred Years War, la guerre de cent ans

SOURCES

Robert Blondel's De reductione Normanniae. Gilles le Bouvier's Le Recouvrement de Normandie. Jean Chartier's Chronique de Charles VII. Chronique de Matthieu d'Escoucy. Thomas Basin's Histoire de France. Alfred H. Burne's The Agincourt War is probably the best English account. Charles Oman's The Art of War in the Middle Ages.

Some 'modern' works on the topic are: Charles Joret's La bataille de Formigny d'après les documents contemporains; étude accompagnéed'une carte (Paris: Émile Bouillon, 1903, 88pp.); and J. Lair's Essai historique et topographique sur la bataille de Formigny (15 avril 1450) (Paris: Champion, 1903, 40pp.).

Bibliography for the Hundred Years' War

RETURNTo DIRECTORY

OVERVIEW
of
The Hundred Years'War

Return to Hundred Years' War Web Page.

This page was last updated 15 May 2002.
Comments can be sent to the Société de l'Oriflamme.