MILITARY HISTORY DATABASE

BATTLE OF THE HERRINGS
(12 February 1429)

Journée des Harengs (From Les Vigiles de Charles VII by Martial d'Auvergne, written c.1477-84, held by Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris.)

DIRECTORY
Preliminaries First Phase Second Phase
Battle Map
Summary and Analysis

Preliminaries

Strategic:
The strategic context of this battle is intergrated with the English 1428-29 Siege of Orléans and it is strongly recommended one first view the basic webpage Siege of Orléans and Loire Valley Campaign

The French relieving force was based in Blois. It was under command of Charles de Bourbon, comte de Clermont [at this time; not to be confused with his son who would hold that title later in the war]. The season of Lent was approaching, during which fish must be the main diet. The English sent a convoy from Paris to Orléans in early February. It was commanded by John Fastolf, and consisted of 300 wagon-loads of herrings among other items. It was escorted by 1,000 mounted archers and some Paris militia.

On 11 Feb the convoy reached the little village of Rouvray, north of Janville, and spent the night. Next morning the advance patrols of French army appeared to the southwest. Fastolf halted the convoy (about 1.6 km south of Rouvray) and formed his wagons into a leaguer. It had two openings: each was defended with archers (and stakes). French were 3 to 1.

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First Phase

At the head of the French column (which was still moving up) Clermont stopped the van. He ordered that the army remain mounted except for the gunners and crossbowmen, and deployed some small-caliber cannon [culverins or vulgaires] up front and opened a bombardment on the encircled wagons. The battle opened as a most unusual encounter for battles fought during the Hundred Years' War up to that time. The situtation looked dim for the English wagon train, as the gun fire, though slow, was recking havoic and the cannon was beyond the range of the English longbpwmen. A charge by the few English men-at-arms would have been risky against the almost 3 to 1 opposing French and Scot knights who were still in a battle formation.

However, a rash action by the leader of the small Scottish contingent, John Stewart of Darnley, the constable of the Scots in France, managed to bring disaster from almost certain victory. Stewart disregarded Clermont's orders, had his men dismount and advanced against the wagon enclave. Once with in range of the bowmen, the Scots suffered a bloody repulse.

Feeling a need to retrieve the debacle, Clermont had his mounted French men-at-arms launch a follow-on charge, and fared no better than theFrench knights had at Crécy and Agincourt.

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Second Phase

Seeing the disarray of the French and Scots, the experienced English commander recognized the moment was right to send his few men-at-arms out in a counter attack. In a short time, the royal French army that was supposed to liberate Orléans was destroyed. Stewart was killed along with about 120 knights and 600 others. Clermont was among the many wounded who returned to Blois.


 Battle of 'the Herrings'(12 February 1429) 

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SUMMARY
and
ANALYSIS

STRENGTHS:
French commander(s): Clermont with 3,000 men-at-arms and crossbowmen, and Stewart with 1,000 Scot men-at-arms = est 4,000
English commander (s): Fastolf with 500 archers, and 1,000 militia.
CASUALTIES:
French: est 500 to 600 (mostly Scots).
English: 4 men-at-arms, plus a few members of the wagon train.

The battle had an immediate impact on morale. It reinforced a sense of futility on the part of the citizens of Orléans and even among the French military leaders. It signified the nadir of the fortunes of Charles VII and of the hopes of the city of Orléans in early 1429.
The engagement received the named 'Battle of the Herrings' in somewhat derisive reference to the main cargo, much of which was left scattered about the field, associated with the humiliating defeat of the large French-Scot military force. Sometimes the battle is called 'of Rouvray' for the nearby town. French custom often refers to a major battle as 'the day of', and call it 'la journée des Harengs'.
The battle illustrated the dramatic contrast in the professional leadership of the opposing forces. In particular, it illustrated the lack of command-authority that plagued the French royal armies until Richemont gained full power much later in the war. One cannot but wonder as to what might had happened had Charles de Bourbon been allowed to continue with his artillery attack. It should be noted that in 1450, his son Jean II de Bourbon and then holding the title of comte de Clermont, employed two guns on the field against the English longbowmen with much more success at the Battle of Formigny.

BATTLEFIELD
TODAY

The battlefield has not been marked, nor is its exact position known for certain. Burne [p.245, see 'Sources'] suspects that the English wagons formed just short of a mile southeast of Rouvray, on the road towards Janville. He also reports that next to such a spot is some high ground that local tradition has named 'le camp ennemi'.

SOURCES

Indirectly, the engagement is covered in the Journal du siège d'Orléans. Burne's Agincourt War contains one of the most detailed military accounts in English. Most works on Jeanne d'Arc cover give only a brief descritpion of the battle, essentially refering to the same basic documents. Expanded bibliographical references are in:

Bibliography for the Hundred Years' War

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This page was last updated 21 December 1999. Comments can be sent to the Société de l'Oriflamme.