Battle of the Spurs


The Second Battle of Guinegatte, known as the Day of the Spurs, took place on August 16, 1513 at Guinegatte (now Enguinegatte, near Saint-Omer in Pas-de-Calais) and pitted French troops led by Louis XII against the Anglo-German coalition led by Henry VIII and Emperor Maximilian I, united under the banner of the Catholic League.

Following his defeat at the Battle of Novara on June 6, 1513, Louis XII had to evacuate his army from Italy and consider defending French territory. Henry VIII, King of England, landed on June 30, 1513 at Calais and joined the troops led by Emperor Maximilian I. Six weeks later, the French (troops of Louis I de Longueville and Sire de La Palice) were surprised and crushed by the armies of the Holy League (troops commanded by Thomas Wolsey, future Cardinal Archbishop of York) at Guinegatte on August 16, 1513. The two French commanders, as well as Bayard and Jacques d”Amboise, son of Jean IV d”Amboise, were also taken prisoner by the English and held in London.

This battle was also called “Day of the Spurs” because the French cavalry used their spurs (to maneuver) more than their weapons (to fight).

In May 1513, English troops began to mass in Calais to form the army of George Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, Lord Great Steward. Shrewsbury was promoted to lieutenant general on May 12, with command of the invasion fleet falling to John Hopton. On May 17, King Henry announced to the Five Harbors and to Edward Poynings, Constable of Dover Castle, that he was taking command of the invasion in person, and that he had appointed commissioners to requisition any ships fit to sail. In the absence of the sovereign “overseas” (ad partes transmarinas), Catherine of Aragon was to govern England and Wales as sovereign and governor (Rectrix et Gubernatrix).

The English Chronicle of Calais has preserved, from June 6, 1513, the dates of arrival on the continent of Henry VIII”s officers. At the end of the month the English army took the direction of Thérouanne. Shrewsbury commanded the vanguard of 8,000 men, and Charles Somerset, Lord Herbert the rearguard of 6,000 men. Henry VIII landed at Calais on June 30, 1513 with the bulk of his army, some 11,000 men. This army had been assembled by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, who acted as chaplain, and included corps of all arms: chivalry, artillery, infantry and the free marshals, now equipped with iron-tipped arrows to pierce armor more effectively. Eight hundred lansquenets preceded Henri.

Shrewsbury had erected a battery and dug saps in front of the city walls, but during July he made little progress against the French garrison and the German defenders. The city was defended by Antoine de Créquy, Sieur de Pont-Rémy, who responded to the English bombardment with artillery fire to the end. The English had named one of the French cannons “le sifflet” because of the sound it made. The failures of the successive assaults and the inefficiency of the siege were known until Venice. On the road to Thérouanne, the English had to abandon two cannons, one called Jean l”Évangéliste and the other the Red Cannon, and the French, by their skirmish battles, managed to keep them. Edward Hall, the author of the chronicle of Calais, cites Henry Bourchier, Earl of Essex, as one of the protagonists of this operation, and mentions an advice given by Rhys ap Thomas. An agent of Margaret of Savoy reported that “two stubborn men” decided everything, namely Charles Brandon, whom he called the Grand Écuyer, and Chaplain Wolsey.

Henri camped east of Thérouanne, on a strong position, described by the English chronicles as barricaded with artillery: “falconets, serpentines, arquebuses, “tried arrows” (tryde harowes), and trestles of gunpowder sticks (tarasnice, a Hussite firearm projecting tiles). King Henry”s campaign furniture consisted of a wooden cabin heated by a cast-iron stove, covered with a large tent in blue, yellow and white, topped with the king”s heraldic animals: the Lion, the Dragon, the Richmond Hound, the Antelope, and the Dun Cow.

Emperor Maximilian came to Aire-sur-la-Lys in August. Henry put on a cuirass, had his people dressed in gold cloth and then rallied in his turn at Aire on August 11, where Maximilian”s court was mourning the death of the sovereign, Blanche-Marie Sforza. Henry welcomed Emperor Maximilian under a tent of golden cloth on August 13, 1513. According to the chronicles, this day was marked by “the worst of all storms.” Upon hearing that Henry had been able to receive Emperor Maximilian in person, Catherine of Aragon wrote to Wolsey that she saw it as an honor for Henry and an opportunity for Maximilian to grow in fame.

King Louis XII of France decided to break the siege. In July, a corps of 800 estradiots commanded by Captain Fonterailles charged the besiegers” lines and managed to open the road to supplies of food and gunpowder, leaving a reinforcement of 80 soldiers in the city. Fonterailles was covered by the gun batteries of the citadel. The reports sent to Venice mention 300 or more English victims, and quote Fonterailles as saying that “the city could support the siege until the feast of the Nativity” (but the Venetians guessed that their French informants were distorting the reality to gain their support.

The French decided on a new liberating assault on August 16, 1513, and for this purpose the knighthood had regrouped around Blangy to the south. The army corps was made up of Compagnies de gens d”armes and pikemen, supported by some auxiliary units. Edward Hall describes in particular a corps of light cavalry made up of estradiots, equipped with short spurs, hairy caps, spears and scimitars: these were undoubtedly the so-called Albanian auxiliaries of the French.

In response to this new threat, the English pontonniers had thrown five pontoons across the Lys the day before to allow for a possible retreat, and on September 14 Henry VIII cautiously transferred his camp to Guinegate (today Enguinegatte), after having chased away a company of French lancers posted around the keep of Guinegate.

At Blangy, the French army formed into two companies: one under the command of Duke Louis de Longueville, the other under Duke Charles IV of Alençon, each advancing along one bank of the Lys. The attack was made against the siege lines of Shrewsbury and Charles Somerset. But the early French assault turned into a long and bitter fight against the English lines, so that by mid-afternoon the French chivalry turned and fled, pursued by the English and Imperial chivalry. “The cavalry was defeated between the village of Bomy and Henri”s camp at Guinegatte.

This defeat remains in French history as the Day of the Spurs, in allusion to the disorderly flight of the French knights. Still in the summer of 1518 the English ambassador to Spain, Lord Berners, joked about how the knights had learned to gallop at the end of the Jurney of Spurres.

The same evening, the imperial postmaster, Jean Baptiste de Taxis gave news of the victory to Marguerite of Savoy from Aire-sur-la-Lys in Artois:

Henri sent his own version of the battle to Marguerite of Savoy the next day. He writes that the French cavalry first went against Lord Talbot”s lines blockading the city, taking some 44 prisoners and 22 wounded. A maneuver by the imperial cavalry later drove the French knights back within range of the cannons, and the latter had no choice but to flee.

But the chronicler Edward Hall gives an entirely different account. Hall, from whom we know that the French called this confrontation the Day of the Spurs, places the decisive action around a hill, surrounded by English archers posted at the village of “Bomye. The French cavalry is said to have charged after a demonstration by the English organized by Clarenceux”s herald Thomas Benolt (en). Hall states that Maximilian had advised Henry to deploy artillery on another hill “for relief” but does not say how this played a role. Although Henry VIII wished to take part in the battle, he remained, on the advice of his ally, with the Emperor”s foot guard.

At the end of a five-kilometer pursuit, the English captured Jacques de la Palice, Pierre Terrail de Bayard and Louis d”Orléans, duc de Longueville. While letters indicate that the emperor wanted his troops to fight under the English standard, Hall suggests that there was some disagreement between the English fighters and the Imperials, not only during the assault, but also over the division of the prisoners captured by the lansquenets, who were left free without being “presented” to the allies. Henri returned to his camp at Enguinegatte and read the reports of his officers. During the assault, the garrison of Thérouanne had undertaken a sortie and moved against Charles Somerset”s lines. According to Lord Herbert”s report, three valuable English officers were lost, with the French suffering the loss of 3,000 men. Nine enemy standards were taken, and 21 nobles in gold clothes.

On August 20, now safe from French counterattacks, Henri was able to move his camp from Guinegate south of the city. Thérouanne fell on August 22. Diplomatic reports indicate that the garrison of Thérouanne, unmoved by the display of flags taken from the relief forces, surrendered to the Earl of Shrewsbury only by the threat of a famine. Shrewsbury was able to receive King Henry in the square, where he gave him the keys of the city. One charged eight or nine soldiers to finish to cut down the ramparts of the city and especially the three large strongly entrenched bastions. The ditches were in some places overcrusted with fireplaces intended to produce smoke to asphyxiate the attackers. The Milanese ambassador to Maximilian, Paolo da Laude, learned that they would use them to set fire to the city once the ramparts were down. Finally, on September 5, Pope Leo X learned of the English victory from the ambassador of Florence, and he sent his congratulations to Cardinal Wolsey.

As the English completed the demolition of the ramparts of Thérouanne, on September 4, the allied generals decided to continue the campaign by turning against the place of Tournai, although Henry VIII would have preferred to move against the port of Boulogne. Emperor Maximilian and Henry VIII crossed Saint-Pol, Saint-Venant, Neve and Béthune, and on September 10 Henry made a triumphal entry in Lille, where Marguerite de Savoie was holding court. That same evening, Venetian emissaries testify that Henry played the lute, harp, recorder and horn “almost until dawn and, according to the Milanese ambassador, “like a deer. The same day, his army undertook the siege of Tournai, and the two allied sovereigns reviewed the troops on September 13.

Henry VIII”s campaign had been interrupted by rumors of Scottish preparations for an invasion of England to rescue France, and the English ruler had attacked the Scottish herald at Therouanne on August 11. Finally the Scottish army was annihilated at the battle of Flodden Field on September 9, 1513. A few days before the fall of Tournai, Catherine of Aragon had sent John Glyn to Henry VIII to have him hand over the bloody rib and gauntlets of James IV of Scotland. Catherine suggested to her husband that he use the remains as a banner, and even wrote that she would not have hesitated to send him the corpse of her enemy “if English hearts could have been persuaded to do so”. Instead, she was advised to exchange Jacques” corpse with the principal French prisoner, the Duc de Longueville. Longueville, who had been captured at Thérouanne by Baronet John Clarke of North Weston, was handed over to Queen Catherine, and held in the Tower of London. The idea of this macabre exchange was brought to the Duke of Ferrara Alphonse d”Este.

Tournai fell into the hands of Henry VIII on September 23. The defenders of Tournai had already destroyed the houses in front of the great gates on September 11, and burned the suburbs on September 13. On September 15, women and children were asked to help repair the walls bombarded by enemy cannons. On the same day, the council of aldermen voted on the advisability of reversing the alliance with the Holy Empire. This vote was forbidden (postponed) and the citizens sent emissaries to negotiate with Henry VIII. Charles Brandon finally seized one of the gates, having two of his statues taken down as trophies, and on September 20, 1513 the garrison negotiated with Henry VIII and the Bishop of Winchester Richard Fox. The English chroniclers Raphael Holinshed and Richard Grafton (en) misunderstand the course of events in the city during the siege: they write that a desperate vaunt-parler set fire to the suburbs to hasten the surrender, while the provost prepared the opinion of the burghers to the idea of surrender.

Henri attended the mass given in the cathedral of Tournai on October 2 and knighted several of his captains. The city made a gift to Marguerite de Savoie of several tapestries decorated with scenes inspired by the Book of the City of the Ladies of Christine de Pisan. Tournai passed under English command with Baron William Blount as military governor. The fortifications and the citadel were rebuilt between August 1515 and January 1518, at a cost of approximately £40,000. The work was interrupted when Henry VIII was considering returning the place to France. Tournai was effectively returned to France under the treaty of October 4, 1518. The English engineer of Berwick, Thomas Pawne, having not been able to find to resell the building materials which he had already collected for these works, made dispatch the blocks, stones of appearance with the weapons of England and machines of building site from Antwerp towards Calais. English historians believe that these new fortifications of Tournai were of an already obsolete design at the time, due to the lack of a competent engineer, and that they reflect an “essentially medieval” conception compared to the advances made at the same time in Italy.

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  1. Bataille de Guinegatte (1513)
  2. Battle of the Spurs
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