On the 24th of April, 1424, Charles VII of France reviewed his Army of Scotland.
Not content with fighting off the English on their own doorstep, the Scots often chose to pop across to the Continent to fight the English. That was as true in the 15th Century as it had been, for example, in the previous Century, when William Wallace took a sabbatical in France and showed them how to defeat the English. One famous Scottish warrior, in the tradition of his ancestor, the ‘Good Sir James’, was Archibald Douglas, 4th Earl and 13th Lord of Douglas, Earl of Wigtown, Lord of Annandale, and Lord of Galloway. Archie fought for the French, whose King made him Duke of Touraine and appointed him as his Lieutenant General. Despite his fancy titles, Archie was a mercenary. He was amply rewarded with lands and titles, but paid the ultimate price in the service of the French King in one of the bloodiest battles of the Hundred Years War. On the 24th of April, 1424, Archie and his Army of Scotland were feted in Bourges prior to the campaign that led his death in the Battle of Verneuil.
The early 1420s was a particularly bleak time in the history of France. It had scarcely recovered from the disaster of Agincourt and most of its northern provinces were in the hands of the English. Following the death of his father, in 1422, the Dauphin was scornfully named ‘the King of Bourges’, since that southern city was the capital of the small part of France that still recognized Valois Royal legitimacy. He lacked loyal Nobility and was opposed by the powerful nobleman, Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy. The death of Henry V, in the same year, brought little relief as Charles was also threatened by English armies under the Regent, John, Duke of Bedford, acting for the infant Henry VI of England.
Charles desperately needed soldiers, and looked to Scotland, France’s old ally, to provide essential military aid. During this time, James Stewart, James I, King of Scots, was held captive in England, giving the Scots another excuse for fighting on the French side against the English. The first large contingent of Scottish troops had come to France in the autumn of 1419, numbering some 6000 men, under the command of John Stewart, 2nd Earl of Buchan. That ‘Army of Scotland’ soon became an integral part of the French war effort. They proved their worth, in 1420, playing a large part in the victory the Battle of Baugé, the first serious setback experienced by the English. The Baugé victory also helped to cement the ‘Auld Alliance’, lifting the reputation of the Scottish soldiers in France.
Buchan went back to Scotland to raise fresh troops and, at the beginning of 1424, he returned to France, bringing with him a further 6500 men. He was accompanied by Archibald Douglas, 4th Earl of Douglas, arguably the most powerful nobleman in Scotland. On the 24th of April 1424, this army, comprising 2500 men at arms and 4000 archers, was reviewed by the Dauphin at his headquarters in Bourges, helping to raise Charles’ spirits.
Obviously, Charles VII had very little money with which to reward his supporters, albeit they were meagre in number. However, he was able to express his gratitude by bestowing honors and fiefdoms. Charles granted Douglas the Duchy of Touraine, including the ‘Castle, town and city’ of Tours, and the ‘Castle and town’ of Loches, ‘to hold in peerage by him and his heirs male of the body’. This made Douglas the first foreigner and also the first non-Royal to be granted Ducal status in France.
Archibald Douglas (called Archambault Douglas in French texts) was also made Constable of France and Lieutenant General to Charles VII at the head of a combined Scottish, French and Italian army. In August, after Ivry surrendered to the English, the Scots and their allies decided to attack the town of Verneuil-sur-Avre. They gained the town by a simple ruse, when a group of Scots, leading some of their fellow countrymen as prisoners, pretended to be English and claimed that Bedford had defeated the allies in battle, whereupon the gates were opened and in they marched.
As Bedford then approached Verneuil, the Scots persuaded the French and Italians to make a stand. However, this heterogeneous army defied all attempts at co-ordinated direction and suffered accordingly. The Battle of Verneuil was joined at 4pm on the 17th of August. Early on, the Italian Lombard cavalry broke through the English archers, but failed to consolidate their attack. Meanwhile, the French division, under Narbonne, broke under Bedford’s onslaught and was chased back to Verneuil. This left Salisbury on the field, closely engaged with the Scots, who were now left to stand alone, badly let down by their French and Italian allies. Bedford’s reserve advanced on the Scots’ now unsupported right wing and the battle reached its closing stages when Bedford returned from the city to attack the Scots rear. Almost completely surrounded, the Scots were forced to make a ferocious last stand.
Verneuil was one of the bloodiest battles of the Hundred Years War and was described by the English as a second Agincourt. Altogether, some 6000 allied troops were killed, including 4000 of the Scots. The English lost 1600 men, an unusually high figure for them, far greater than their losses at Agincourt, which illustrates the ferocity of the battle. Both Douglas and Buchan were killed on the day and Douglas was buried in Tours Cathedral, where his mausoleum is on display. For the next five years the cause of Charles VII seemed hopeless – until the arrival of Joan of Arc and the failure of the English siege of Orleans.
At Verneuil , the Scots army had been severely mauled, but it was not yet ready to march out of history. Greatly saddened by the catastrophe, Charles continued to honour the survivors, one of whom, John Carmichael of Douglasdale, the chaplain of the dead Earl of Douglas, was created Bishop of Orléans. In addition, the remnants of this Scottish force remained in the service of the King of France and were reorganized as the Gardes Écossaises when a permanent French army was formed, in 1475. The ‘Gardes’ remained the premier corps of the King’s Household Troops until the French Revolution, while its command continued to be hereditary in the Stuart of Darnley family until the 17th Century.