Battle of Auberouche, 21st October 1345
1345 saw the English deciding to take the offensive on three fronts. The French were weakened and, at this time, unable to field enough men to fight on three fronts. Edward, realising this, sought to take advantage. Campaigns were to be launched in the Low Countries, Brittany and from Aquitaine.
The campaign in Aquitaine was led by Henry of Grosmont, Earl of Derby. He sailed from Southampton to Bordeaux with a force of around 2000 men, comprising 500 men-at-arms, 500 mounted archers and 1000 infantrymen. This added to a force that the English Senschenal of Gascony, Ralph Stafford, already had in place.
In 1345 the English territories in Gascony were relatively small. It consisted of Bordeaux, its surroundings, a strip of land along the coast and a handful of strongholds. The French had anticipated that an assault would take place from Gascony and had responded to it. As Henry arrived in the region, the French had forces encamped at Bergarac. Henry immediately went onto the offensive. His force was highly mobile, and its arrival at Bergarac took the French completely by surprise, forcing the Count of Armagnac to retreat to Perigeux. Soon after, some 7000 of the French force began besieging the nearby castle of Auberouge.
This siege has been made famous by a tale recounted by Froissart of a messenger from the Castle to Henry of Grosmont being intercepted by the French and hurled back into the Castle by Trebuchet:
“The following night the servant took the letters, sealed with their seals, and sewed them up in his clothes. He was let down into the ditches: when he was at the bottom, he climbed up the opposite side, and took his road through the army; for he could not avoid passing through it. He was met by the first guard, but was not stopped, for he understood the Gascon language well, and named one of the lords of the army, as if belonging to him; so he was suffered to pass on: but he was afterward arrested, and detained under the tents of some other lords, who brought him to the main watch. He was interrogated, searched, and the letters found upon him, and guarded until morning, when the principals of the army assembled in the tent of the count de Lisle, where the letters were read. They were rejoiced to find that the garrison was so much straitened that they could not hold out longer; and, seizing the servant, they hung the letters round his neck, thrust him into one of the machines, and flung him into Auberoche. The valet fell quite dead amidst the other valets of the castle, who were much terrified at it”.
The English waited at Perigeux for several days, waiting for reinforcements. On the 20th the Earl of Derby held a Council of War with his captains. They decided that in order to maintain the advantage of surprise, they needed to attack whether reinforcements had arrived, or not.
The English force marched by night. The assault combined the archers raining arrows into the French camp from the treeline as Henry of Grosmont led a mounted charge of the men-at-arms into the camp. Many of the French were cut down before they had the time to react. As they began to organise a defence, the English remounted and charged again. The disarray of the French camp also alerted the garrison of Auberouche Castle, which joined the attack to add to the confusion.
Vastly inferior in numbers, the English force inflicted heavy casualties on the French. Those who could, fled. Not all survivors could escape though, resulting in many prisoners being taken, including many of high rank.
Froissart summarises the outcome and aftermath of the battle:
All those who were of the count de Lisle’s party were discomfited, and almost all taken prisoners, or slain. Scarcely any would have escaped, if night had not closed so soon. Nine earls and viscount were made prisoners, and so many barons, knights and squires, that there was not a man at arms among the English that had 135not for his share two or three. This battle before Auberoche was fought on the eve of St. Laurence’s day, in the year 1344. The English treated their prisoners like friends: they received many upon their promises to surrender themselves by a certain day at Bordeaux, or Bergerac. The English retired into Auberoche; and the earl of Derby entertained at supper the greater part of the prisoners, earls, viscounts, barons, and knights. They gave thanks and praises to God, for having enabled them to overcome upwards of ten thousand men, when they themselves were not more than one thousand, including every one, and to rescue the town and castle of Auberoche, in which were their friends, that must have been captured in two days’ time.