"For three hours the forces watched each other, neither willing to attempt an opposed river crossing. Eventually, the Scots archers began shooting into the allied ranks. The allied artillery replied, supported by their own archers and crossbowmen. Seeing the Dauphinists were suffering casualties and becoming disordered, Salisbury took the initiative and his army began to cross the waist-high river..."
The battle of Cravant was fought on the 31 July, 1423 south of Auxerre between an Anglo-Burgundian force under Sir Thomas Montacute, numbering around 4000 men, and a largely Scottish French army under Sir John Stewart of around twice its size.
Although details of the battle are brief, the location can actually be reasonably well identified, and enough was recorded of the forces on the day to make reasonable estimations as to their numbers and disposition.
And so, a couple of Sundays ago, myself, Phil, Martin and Richard got together for a refight of the battle.
The terrain above reflects the battlefield as best it could be identified. At the small town of Cravant to the south of Auxerre, there remains one Medieval bridge, at a point just outside the town where the rive is around 50m wide. This seemed to fit the bill entirely, and so I modelled the course of the river and disposition of some woodland on the plain, on present satellite maps of the spot.
The English were comprised as follows. The Burgundians under Lord Willoughby had one unit of Mounted Men At Arms, one unit on foot, one unit of crossbowmen and a group of 'pioneers' manning the English Cannon. The English under CinC Montacute had four units of longbowmen and a unit of foot men at arms. Each unit represented approximately 500 men. The Mounted troops may have been on foot in fact, but as Richard had recently finished some of the Perry mounted knights I was loath not to let him field them:
For the Franco-Scottish force, Sir John Stewart led a vanguard of foot men at arms, 3 large units of pike and two units of Scottish bowmen. The Comte De Vendome brought two units of mounted knights, 2 of crossbowmen, 2 of spearmen and one unit of local light troops.
The Scots were rated as slightly poorer troops than the English and Burgundians, but were brave, stubborn fighters, as befit the historical accounts. The French were, aside from their knights, rubbish troops.
Nevertheless, the French, under my command, began the advance to the river, as to meet the history.
The English line on the other hand held its position, and was prepared to use its artillery and bowmen to thin out the French lines.
With Martin controlling the Burgundians and Richard the English, the first few turns were mainly just an exchange of fire.
One that the French were loath to maintain. Some of their crossbowmen quickly quit the field, whilst the rest retired and the French light troops ran into the forest on their left.
Fortunately the English didn't yet realise how vulnerable the French were, and were hoping to grind down the Scots around the Bridge. For our part, we recognised we needed to draw the Burgundians into an attack, as we would lose the grinding match of a shooting exchange. So Phil began a slow advance of the Scots on the right of the field, whilst the French tried to redress their lines.
This worked, and once the Burgundians and English were drawn into advancing, I got daring with the incompetant commander of the French forces, and once his line was in order, he led his knights on a long flank march to encircle the English:
Poo-poohing the idea that this represented a realistic threat, Richard crossed the river in force to engage the french light infantry who had being bedevilling him with harassing fire from amongst the trees. It was a short sharp battle, but one the English were only capable of winning at swordpoint.
The French soon routed, but finding the trees too dense for their formations, the English decided instead to return back across the river!
At the other end of the field Martin and Phil clashed.
The Scots came off much the worse, losing both units beyond the bridge. It would now fall to their pikemen to try to save the situation.
However fortune smiled on the French, for the Comte arrived at the rear of the English lines with his cavalry, and managed to charge into their lines.
Initial French success was enough to worry the English, and so they recalled their Burgundian cavalry to deal with the threat. Which gave Phil the opportunity to bring pike units over the bridge.
The French cavalry in the event were smashed by a counter attack from the English men at arms, and the Comte slunk beck to his lines in shame. Relieved of pressure the Burgundians turned on the Scots en masse, whilst the English returned to line the river bank and pepper the French lines with arrows.
The sheer size of the Scottish pike units, and their determination meant that the Burgundians were unexpectedly knocked back. The Comte had by now returned to his lines, and led the second unit of knights into the fray, doing what French nobility apparently does best; shafting their enemies from the rear!
Now a huge gap opened up in the English army, as the Burgundian horse fell or quit the field. The Scottish pike resumed their advance and Richard could only look on and ponder how he could save the situation.
The Pike cleared the rest of the Burgundian infantry from the field, and their remaining pioneers began to withdraw the guns. The arrows of the English bowmen ground down the French spearmen, and thy began to withdraw. But the Comte's knights were able to deliver one further charge, and broke a unit of bowmen, sealing the fate of the English.
And thus history was rewritten, what had been a slaughter of the French and Scottish instead became a slaughter of Burgundians; forcing the English into an unseemly retreat.
All agreed it was a great, and close game. The forces were quite unbalanced in terms of size, as they were historically, the French were some 8000 strong on the day. But the quality gap meant that the English were closer to the French and Scottish than it may seem. I think for the English their initial plan to out shoot the French was sound, but we responded in the only sensible way we could by throwing our best forces at him to force an attack. What the English did not seem to realise was just how weak some of our forces really were, the French crossbows and spearmen and the Scottish bows were very weak indeed, but largely unengaged.
I think if Richard's infantry attack had crossed the river rather than retiring the battle would've been theirs. But that is why I play these games, the chance to rewrite history.
As it was, glory once again, went to the French. Not forgetting the flower of Scotland!