Wednesday, 18 September 2013

The Battle of the Spurs Revisited

This post is a vehicle for a little bit of bad news; the article I wrote for Wargames Illustrated has had to be moved to the November issue (due out on the last Saturday of October) which was a bit disappointing but these things happen in the world of publishing. However, as a consolation, the editor has agreed that I can give a sneak preview of some of the mock up photographs which were taken to support the article. I thought the best way to display these in some sort of context would be to repeat my overview of the Battle of the Spurs which I originally wrote on the 500th anniversary back in August;

The 'Battle of the Spurs' wasn't really a battle as such, however, aside from skirmishing during the siege of Therouanne it was the only open engagement of the French campaign.

Therouanne is situated in a lightly rolling valley in the Pas de Calais, there is sadly nothing much remaining today of its once proud walls and bulwarks. In 1513 it was seen as the key to Picardy and was heavily fortified with an able garrison and plentiful wasn't really the most informed choice for English invasion and was at the time a surprise to Henry's council of war and the French - it was however, a French thorn in Burgundian territory and Maximilian very much had Henry's ear and war chest.

To set the scene, Henry's army had been besieging Therouanne but had not managed to fully encircle the town, there was a gap in entrenchments to the south of the city due to the river Llys which was thought to be an adequate barrier but on the instruction of Maximilian (something of a theme for the young Henry during this campaign) it was ordered that this gap should be sealed. You can get an appreciation for the situation from this slightly later map;

The foreward occupied a position to the North West of the town, and the rearward were to the East, both began siegeworks on 25 June and commenced bombardment on 10 July. Henry's (middle) ward arrived on 1 August and occupied the South, he was joined by mercenaries under Maximilian on 10 August.

During the night of 15 August the master of the ordnance set his carpenters to work building 5 bridges over the Llys which enabled the gap to be sealed and free movement of the army across this barrier, the middle ward with their light and medium artillery were the first to cross in the early hours.

It was thought that the French may soon attempt to re-supply the town before the gap could be fully sealed, this was confirmed on the return of an early morning scouting party of Border Horse under Sir John Neville who reported to Henry that he had seen the French assembling in the neighbourhood of Enguinegatte just a few miles away.

Whilst Neville was advising the king, The Earl of Essex - Henry Bourchier, also on a reconnoitre had stumbled across the same force and taken a prisoner who stated that  large host was marching upon Therouanne from the south and also that a second diversionary host was to attack the town from the North.

Sir Rhys Ap Thomas, also on a scouting mission, confirmed the French approach from the south.

With this intelligence, Henry was now in a position to ensnare the forthcoming french re-supply mission who were completely unaware that the southern approach was now blocked.

Light artillery pieces were arrayed upon the top of a low hill overlooking the southern approach, the foot of which had a low hedge where a body of archers were assembled. The Kings Spears and demilancers began to amble up the low valley to get into position for the French arrival - the trap was set.
Henry and Maximilian were about a mile behind under the protection of a body of a troop of mounted archers.

This is quite an important aspect of the campaign which I only fully appreciated during a visit to Therouanne; due to a gentle slope between Therouanne and Enguinegatte you can appreciate that the forces assembling in Enguinegatte that morning would not have been able to see the English moving into position in Therouanne until it was almost too late. This photograph is from Enguinegatte looking down toward Therouanne, only a couple of miles away, about where the bush is at the end of the road below the slope begins and though gentle it is significant enough to not see the steeple of the church in the town until you are almost there.

Louis XII had ordered de Piennes, commander of the French army, to revictual Therouanne, whatever the cost - The plan was that a number of gendarmerie would screen a body of Stradiots who were to be loaded up with sides of bacon so that they could make a quick dash to throw them near the wall where they could be collected by the garrison whilst a second force should occupy the attention of the English North of the river.

The English were in position exactly at the right moment to meet de Piennes' host as it arrived over the bluff into the low valley - on their flank were the light guns and archers, they paused and the archers loosed at the stationary target with the guns soon adding to the din, the horses, maddened by pain and confusion soon turned heel and rode into their comrades who were still arriving behind them. The chaos was only increased by the arrival of the Stradiots, laden with sides of ham who soon decided their task to be fruitless.

The French saw that they were in danger of being encircled and retreated at a gallop, as the English cavalry arrived and charged with their Burgundian allies not too far behind. The French began to jettison their horse armour in an effort to hasten their flight so that they could return to the safety of their own artillery and infantry lines arrayed at their own encampment - thus the engagement was known as the Battle of the Spurs.

40 Frenchmen were killed and around 120 taken prisoner, being mostly noblemen it was a good day for their English captors keen to ransom their quarry.

Had the French managed to return to their lines with the English in pursuit - and by then with tired horses, it could have been a different story and perhaps a much more significant engagement.

*  *  *  *  *

I hope this post has whet your appetite for more of the same in a month or so, there are still some very nice photographs to come and I'll reveal them here in good time. Apologies for the delay but hopefully it will be worth it.

Bye for now



  1. Wonderful posting, and equally excellent miniatures!!

  2. Beautiful pictures, minis and post! Great work!

  3. Great sneek preview thanks for posting.


  4. Great photos, they really help set the scene

  5. Looking forward to reading the article after seeing those photos.

  6. So great ! I'm waiting for the article now.

  7. More than wetted!!!! Some great looking pics!

  8. Stunning pictures and a greate read !!!

    Best regards Michael

  9. Stuart,

    A great overview run through of the Battle of the Spurs [Skirmish of the spurs ;)] and you can count on me buying a copy of WI when it comes out in November.

    I'mm really quite excited to see the other pics mate.