Battle of Castillon

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Battle of Castillon
Part of the Hundred Years' War
Français 5054, fol. 229v, Bataille de Castillon 1453 - détail.jpg
The death of John Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury at the battle of Castillon from Vigilles de Charles VII by Martial d'Auvergne (1484)
Date17 July 1453
Location44°51′20″N 0°02′26″W / 44.85556°N 0.04056°W / 44.85556; -0.04056Coordinates: 44°51′20″N 0°02′26″W / 44.85556°N 0.04056°W / 44.85556; -0.04056

Decisive French victory

End of Hundred Years' War in France's favour
Commanders and leaders
Blason John Talbot.svg John Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury 
Talbot arms.svg John Talbot, Viscount Lisle 
Union gascona.png John de Foix, Earl of Kendal (POW)
Blason JeanBureau.svg Jean Bureau
Blason Pierre II de Bretagne (1418-1457) Comte de Guingamp.svg Peter II
c. est. 6,000–10,000[1][2] c. est. 7,000–10,000[1][2]
Casualties and losses
4,000 dead, wounded, or captured 100 dead or wounded
Battle of Castillon is located in Nouvelle-Aquitaine
Battle of Castillon
Location within Nouvelle-Aquitaine

The Battle of Castillon was a battle fought on 17 July 1453 in Gascony near the town of Castillon-sur-Dordogne (later Castillon-la-Bataille), between England and France. It was a decisive French victory and is considered to mark the end of the Hundred Years' War.

On the day of the battle, English commander John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury led his army into a fortified French encampment without waiting for reinforcements, believing that the enemy was retreating. Talbot then refused to withdraw even after realizing the strength of the French position, causing his men to suffer extensive casualties from the French artillery. Castillon is considered the first major battle won through the extensive use of field artillery.[3]

The battle resulted in the English loss of almost all its holding in France especially Gascony (Aquitaine), an English possession for three centuries. There was a shift in the balance of power in Europe, and political instability in England.[4]


The term "Hundred Years' War" is misleading, as the fighting between the English and the French during the period of 1337 to 1453 was more a series of conflicts than a single prolonged war. Thus, the conflict(s) can be examined from the vantage point of various stages.[5] The breakdown of the 1420 Treaty of Troyes began the final stage of the Hundred Years' War.[6] This period from 1420 to 1453 is characterized by Anne Curry as the "wars of the Treaty of Troyes" for control of the crown of France.[7]

After the 1451 French capture of Bordeaux by the armies of Charles VII, the Hundred Years' War appeared to be at an end. The English primarily focused on reinforcing their only remaining possession, Calais, and watching over the seas.[8] After three hundred years of Plantagenet rule, the citizens of Bordeaux considered themselves subjects of the English monarch and sent messengers to Henry VI of England demanding that he recapture the province.[9]

On 17 October 1452, John Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury landed near Bordeaux with a force of 3,000 men.[10] A feared and famous military leader, Talbot was rumoured to be seventy-five or eighty years old, but it is more likely that he was around sixty-six at the time.[11] With the cooperation of the townspeople, Talbot easily took the city on 23 October.[12] The English subsequently took control over most of Western Gascony by the end of the year.[12] The French knew an expedition was coming, but had expected it to come through Normandy.[10] After this surprise, Charles VII prepared his forces over the winter, and by early 1453 he was ready to counter-attack.[10]


Charles invaded Guyenne with three separate armies, all headed for Bordeaux.[10] Talbot received 3,000 additional reinforcements from his fourth and favourite son, John, the Viscount Lisle.[10] The French laid siege to Castillon (approximately 40 kilometres (25 mi) East of Bordeaux) on 8 July.[13] Talbot acceded to the pleas of the town commanders, abandoning his original plan to wait for reinforcements at Bordeaux, and set out to relieve the garrison.[13]

The French army was commanded by committee; Charles VII's ordnance officer, Jean Bureau laid out the camp to maximize French artillery strength.[1] In a defensive setup, Bureau's forces built an artillery park out of range from Castillon's guns.[10] According to Desmond Seward, the park "consisted of a deep trench with a wall of earth behind it which was strengthened by tree-trunks; its most remarkable feature was the irregular, wavy line of the ditch and earthwork, which enabled the guns to enfilade any attackers".[14] The park included up to 300 guns of various sizes, and was protected by a ditch and palisade on three sides and a steep bank of the River Lidoire on the fourth.[1]

Talbot left Bordeaux on 16 July. He outdistanced a majority of his forces, arriving at Libourne by sunset with only 500 men-at-arms and 800 mounted archers.[2] The following day, this force defeated a small French detachment of archers stationed at a priory near Castillon.[1][2] Despite earlier plans to wait for reinforcements, Talbot pressed his men onward to the French camp, believing his reinforcements would arrive soon.[1]


Painting depicting the Battle of Castillon (1453) by the French painter Charles-Philippe Larivière (1798–1876). (Galerie des Batailles, Palace of Versailles). John Talbot is falling from his wounded horse.

Along with the morale boost of victory at the priory, Talbot also pushed forward because of reports that the French were retreating.[2] The cloud of dust leaving the camp which the townsmen indicated as a retreat was created by camp followers leaving before the upcoming battle.[2]

The English advanced, but they ran into the full force of the French army.[13] Despite being outnumbered and in a vulnerable position, Talbot ordered them to continue the fighting.[15] Historian A.J. Pollard suggests this seemingly reckless behaviour from Talbot may be due to the fact that his "pride and honour were at stake for he had already ordered his men to battle when he discovered the strength of the French position".[16] The only Englishman who remained mounted in the battle, he also did not wear armour due to previous agreements with the French when he was released from captivity in Normandy.[2]

According to David Nicolle, the battle itself was "highly characteristic of the period" with the strong field fortification of the French and the small-arms fighting of the battle.[17] In many ways, this battle played out like the Battle of Crécy in "reverse".[17] The French guns obliterated the advancing soldiers. It is reported each shot killed six men at a time.[18][19] Talbot's reinforcements continued to arrive at the battle, only to suffer the same fate.[1] Despite the odds against the English, the battle lasted over an hour until a thousand-strong Breton cavalry force led by Peter II, the Duke of Brittany, crashed into their right flank, sending them into retreat.[20]

In the end, the French routed the English. Both Talbot and his son died in the battle.[1] There is some debate over the exact circumstances of Talbot's death, but it appears as though his horse was killed by a projectile, its mass pinned him down, and then a French archer killed him with an axe.[21][22][23]


With Talbot's death, English authority in Gascony eroded and the French retook Bordeaux on 19 October.[1] It was not apparent to either side that the period of conflict was over.[24] In hindsight, the battle marks a decisive turning point in history, and is cited as the endpoint of the period known as the Hundred Years' War.

Henry VI of England lost his mental capacity in late 1453, which led to the outbreak of the Wars of the Roses in England. Some have speculated that learning of the defeat at Castillon led to his mental collapse.[1] The English Crown lost all its continental possessions except for the Pale of Calais,[1] which was the last English possession in mainland France, and the Channel Islands, historically part of the Duchy of Normandy and thus of the Kingdom of France. Calais was lost in 1558.[25] The Channel Islands have remained British Crown Dependencies to the present day.

A casualty after the battle of Castillon was Pierre II de Montferrand, husband of Mary Plantagenet, illegitimate daughter of the Duke of Bedford and a granddaughter of Henry IV of England. While returning to France, after being exiled in England, Montferrand was arrested and taken to Poitiers where he was tried by a commission. Having been found guilty he was beheaded and quartered, possibly on the orders of Charles VII, at Poitiers, in July 1454. Montferrand was one of only a few nobles known to have been executed for treason during the reign of Charles VII.[26][27]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Wagner 2006, p. 79
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Seward 1978, p. 260
  3. ^ "Castillon, 17 juillet 1453 : le canon, arme fatale de la guerre de Cent Ans". Sciences et Avenir.
  4. ^ Burne, 1953.
  5. ^ Curry 1993, pp. 151–55
  6. ^ Wagner 2006, p. 127
  7. ^ Curry 1993, p. 155
  8. ^ Curry 1993, p. 115
  9. ^ Pollard 1983, p. 135
  10. ^ a b c d e f Seward 1978, p. 159
  11. ^ Pollard 1983, p. 1,
  12. ^ a b Pollard 1983, p. 136
  13. ^ a b c Pollard 1983, p. 137
  14. ^ Seward 1978, pp. 259–60
  15. ^ Pollard 1983, pp. 137–38
  16. ^ Pollard 1983, p. 139
  17. ^ a b Nicolle 2012, p. 52
  18. ^ Seward 1978, p. 261
  19. ^ Lace 1994, p. 94
  20. ^ Seward 1978, pp. 261–262
  21. ^ Lace 1994, p. 93
  22. ^ Seward 1978, p. 262
  23. ^ Pollard 1983, pp. 137–138
  24. ^ Curry 1993, pp. 115–116
  25. ^ Curry 1993, p. 120
  26. ^ Cutler 1981, pp. 205–206
  27. ^ Richardson 2004, p. 550


  • Curry, Anne. (1993). The Hundred Years War. New York: St. Martin's Press.
  • Cutler, S.H (1981). The Law of Treason and Treason Trials in Later Medieval France. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-23968-0.
  • Lace, William W. (1994). The Hundred Years' War. San Diego: Lucent Books.
  • Nicolle, David. (2012). European Medieval Tactics (2): New Infantry, New Weapons, 1260–1500. Botley: Osprey Publishing.
  • Pollard, A. J. (1983). John Talbot and the War in France, 1427–1453. Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, Inc.
  • Richardson, Douglas (2004). Everingham, Kimball G. (ed.). Magna Carta Ancestry: A Study in Colonial and Medieval families. Reprint edition. Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Pub Co. ISBN 0-8063-1750-7.
  • Seward, Desmond. (1978). The Hundred Years War: The English in France, 1337–1453. New York: Atheneum.
  • Wagner, John A. (2006). Encyclopedia of the Hundred Years War. Westport, CN: Greenwood Press.

Further reading[edit]

  • Allmand, C. T., ed. (1973). Society at War: The Experience of England and France During the Hundred Years War. New York: Harper & Row Publishers
  • Allmand, C. T. (1988). The Hundred Years War: England and France at war, c. 1300-c. 1450. New York: Cambridge Press.
  • Burne, A. H. "The Battle of Castillon, 1453: the end of the Hundred Years War" History Today (Apr 1953) 3#4 pp 249-256.
  • Curry, Anne. (2003). The Hundred Years' War, 1337–1453. New York: Routledge.
  • Vale, M. G. A. (1970). English Gascony, 1399–1453: A Study of War, Government, and Politics during the Later Stages of the Hundred Years' War. New York: Oxford Press.
  • Wright, Nicholas. (1998). Knights and Peasants: The Hundred Years War in the French Countryside. Suffolk: Boydell.

External links[edit]