MILITARY HISTORY DATABASE

SAINTONGE WAR
(July 1242)
[Battles of Taillebourg and Saintes (20-24 July 1241)

Detail of 'St-Louis IX at the Battle of Taillebourg',
painted by Eugène Delacroix in 1837 (at 'Galerie des Batailles', Versailles). The decisive engagement of this brief, but critical war was fought on 21 or 22 July 1242, near the strategic bridge over the Charente river just south of the château of Taillebourg.

DIRECTORY
Preliminaries First Phase Second Phase
Strategic Map
Summary and Analysis

Preliminaries

King Louis IX (Saint Louis) of France held a plenary court at Samur in Anjou, in June 1241. Louis IX used this event to announce his intention to invested his younger brother, Alfonso, comted de Poitiers, with fiefs thier father (Louis VIII of France) had held. These were: l'Aunis, le Poitou and part of l'Auvergne, with suzerainety of la Marche, of Angoumois and of part of the Saintonge situated north of the Charente river. Many nobles of the Aquitaine attended the Samur court, among whom was the comte de la Marche, Hugh de Lusignan, and his wife, Isabella de l'Angoulême.
This was the same Hugh de Lusignan to whom Isabella de l'Angoulême had been betrothed when, in 1200, she was accepted John Lackland of England's offer to be his second queen. The incident set in motion events that led to the French king, Philippe II (Auguste), seizing the most of the Plantagenet domaines in France, first by decree, and then physically in the war that was decided at the battle of Bouvines in 1214. Upon the death of John Lackland, the eldest son of Isabella and John became king Henry III of England. The widowed English queen quickly returned to France and married her early betrothed French noble, and now count, Hugh de Lusignan. The marriage affected Hugh de Lusignan's relationship with his two suzerains: the Plantagenet duke-king in England and and his Capetian French king, Rather than being at odds with the king of England, Hugh was now the 'step-father' of the new English monarch. Actually, the Lusignans had, with the exception of John Lackland, always been supporters of their English duke-king and were not fond of the Capetian authority in their region.
After the festivities at Samur, the French king Louis IX went to Poitiers, to formally install his brother, Alphonso, as the new comte de Poitou. The act awarded Alphonso a feudal distinction in Aquitaine that was previously awarded to Plantagenet princes of England. However, the outcome of the Bouvines' war denied John Lackland the occasion to grant such to any of his sons. The installation of Alphonso as comte de Poitou was seen as affront by Isabella de l'Angoulême, the former English queen, mother of the only two legimate sons of John Lackland, and now wife of comte Hugh de Lusignan. She was not alone in resenting the title of comte de Poitou not going to her son, the earl of Cornwall and brother to king Henry III of England. Isabella further resented seeing her status lowered to where she and her new husband were of inferior rank to a mere count of France -- Alphonso, comte de Poitiou.
Soon after arriving at Poitiers, Louis IX learned that the comte de la Marche was assembling men-at-arms in the neighboring town of Lusignam. The count came to Poitiers several times to talk with Louis. Most of the time the count was accompanied by his wife, Isabella de l'Angoulême. King Louis IX and his brother, the comte de Poitou, failed to appease the comte de la Marche, who with his wife by his side, openly denied giving allegiance to the new comte de Poitou during the Christmas feasts held at Poitiers in 1241. Comte Hugh's challenge was effectively a declaration of war against the French king.

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First Phase

In April of 1242, Louis IX began to assemble a force at Chinon. Some contemporary estimates have the French force eventually at 50,000 men. On 20 May 1242 Henry III of England debarked at Royen with "a small number of men" and '30 tons of gold. The English king was soon joined by a host of French nobles that included Hugh de Lusignan as their leader. The combined 'English-French rebel' host was estimated to have about 30,000 men.
The kings of England and France exchanged letters, Henry III anounced that that he had come 'to defend' his father-in-law's position, and he advanced his army to Tonnay-Charente by mid July. Louis IX advanced to Sainte-Jean-d'Angely, just north of Taillebourg. Both armies were interested in reaching the only suitable bridge across the Charente river. It was located at the commune of Tailebourg. Geoffroy de Rancon, the comte de Taillebourg, let it be known that he sided with the French king, Louis IX, whom he welcomed to his fortified château, on 20 or 21 July [dates at this point do not agree in the various historical accounts], that bordered La Charente.
The King of England and the comte de la Marche advanced their army to the village of Saint-James, on the west side [left bank] of the La Charente, and then camped in the adjoining field. They sent an advance guard to take a position on the left bank of the Tailbourg bridge. On the 21st or 22nd, there was a sharp encounter between the English king's advanced guard and some of the French king's forces. Louis XI decided to follow up the encounter immediately. As the narrow stone bridge restricted rapid passage of his full force, the king directed the use of boats and ponton bridges. He pushed for a rapid offensive with his full army. The decsive clash ('the Battle of Taillebourg') took place on the left bank, not far southwest from the bridge at Taillebourg. The agressive attack by the larger French force quickly won the day and the English king, with his French baron allies retreated to the town of Saintes to the south.

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Second Phase

Some of the French pusued the enemy back to Saintes, where they became entangled in a fight and were taken prisoner. The French chronlicler recorded: "Those of our people [French] who had been taken at Saintes reported later that they had heard talk of a serious quarrel between the King of England and the comte de la Marche, in which the king had accused the count of sending for him on the pretext that he would find great support in France. At any rate, on the night of his reverse at Taillebourg, the King of England left Saintes and went back to Gascony."
It is not clear if Henry III retreated to Bordeaux on the 21nd or 22nd. He was not present 22nd or 23rd of July, when the Louis IX's enemies looked out from behind the walls on of Saintes to see the royal French army preparing to lay siege with machines and large host. The contemporary accounts indicate that a number of the rebel barons decided to withdraw. Some of the English lords who accompanied Henry III sought from Louis IX safe passage to return to England. Recognizing the helplessness of the situtation, the eomte de la Marche surendered to the French king. He and his wife went to Louis IX and on their knees pleaded forgivness.
It is not clear if there were any armed encounters associated with the siege. The sparce wording of the chroniclers make it appear that merely setting up the siege was, in itself, was 'the battle of Saintes'. The date being 22, or 23, or both, in July. The surrender is generally given as the 24th of July. King Louis IX dictated immediate peace terms to the count, taking "some of the count's land and made the count pay ten thousand livres parisis into the royal treasury, and a similar sum every subsequent year."

King Louis IX's struggle with the English king Henry III must also be seen in context with the on-going events of the Albigsenian Crusades at the time. For Henry III's invasion and Hugh de Lusignan's revolt had intended to take advantage of the French king's involvement in the crusade. Equally, Raymond VII of Toulouse, who had been forced to accept humulating terms at Meaux in 1229 in order to retain his county fief, decided to take advantage of an emerging alliance between the English king and some other rebelious nobles in Aquitaine. With support from the kings of Castile, Aragón, Navarre, and England, Raymond VII led a May 1242 insurrection in his region. A small force set out from Montségur and massacred several members of the Inquisition in Avignonet. However, Louis IX's swift response to the invasion and defeat of the English king, Henry III, at Taillebourg and at Saints in July 1242, caused Raymond VII's allies to withdraw their support. Raymond VII again submitted to the French king's authority in January 1243 near Montargis.

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SUMMARY
and
ANALYSIS

STRENGTHS:
French commander(s): Louis IX with 50,000 men.
English commander (s): Henry III with 30,000 men.
Both estimates are suspect of being too high, but the order of magnitude appears to be appropriate as to the relative strengths.
CASUALTIES:
French: unknown.
English: unknown.
Saint Louis did not take advantage of his decisive victory and claim the Plantagenet fief in Guyenne [a much reduced 'Aquitaine']. In hindsight, such action appeared most conceivable and might have prevented the later Hundred Years' War. However, the 'international politics' had not yet taken on 'nationalistic' sentiments. Dynastic loyalities and associations were the rule, and Louis IX's fundamental wish was to go on crusade. For such, the Plantagenet-Capetian dispute needed to be put to rest. As the French historian, Duruy, relates: Louis "did not like having to resort to violance to maintain control of the vastly expanded royal domaine [which had trebled in the last fifty years]. By reason of conscientious scruples, he allowed the king of England to take the duchy of Guyenne, on condition of doing hommage to the crown [of France]."

Further, Louis IX was motivated to eliminate distractions in administring France so as to engage in a more worthy mission to rescue the Holy Land. Saint Louis IX signed the Treaty of Corbel (1258) with Aragon and renounced Roussillon and the county of Barcelonia. In turn, Aragon renounced Languedoc and Provence. With the Treaty of Paris (1259) Louis IX rendered the Limousin, the Périgord, l'Agenois, the Quercy and part of the Saintonge to the duke-king of England, who in turn, renounced any calim to Normandy, Touraine, Anjou, Maine, and Poitou.
The 1259 treaty is not often mentioned in English histories of the Hundred Years' War, though it certainly marked the extinguishing of the Plantagenet [English 'Angevin'] fiefs in France. The English kings continued to dukes of Guyenne [the lesser Aquitaine] by terms of the 1259 treaty, An impressive 'monument' to this status is the Royal Abbay at Fontevraud in France, where lies the first and last Plantagenet rulers of their Angevin domaines in France: Henry II, Richard Coeur de Lion, along with Eleanor d'Aquitaine and, strangely, even Isabella de l'Angoulême. John Lackland and Henry III were to be buried in Engalnd, respectively, at Worcester Cathedral and Westminster Abbey.

BATTLEFIELD
TODAY

Ruins [right] of the medieval château, with its fifteenth-century watchtower's underground rooms can still be seen in the commune of Taillebourg. The top of the tower reflects structure modifications of a much later period.









A 1851 stone mounment [left], with a Latin inscription, marks the area of the where the battle of Taillebourg took place. It is located southwest of the commune of Taillebourg, and mounted on an ancient raised road that was constructed in the 12th century and was repared several times. It permitted the crossing the marshy prairie from the commune of Saint-James to a bridge at Taillebourg on the Charente river. The bridge was destroyed as part of modifications to Taillebourg in the 1960s. The raised road is still useful as it permits the passage of vehicles during large floods such as the inundations of 1982 and 1994. This 'chausée' is 1,255 meters long, with 30 arches. It crosses the 'Bois des Héros' and/or the small plateau of 'Peuvolant' that are mentioned in the accounts of the battle.

SOURCES

Jean de Joinville. The Life of Saint Louis, translated by M.R.B. Shaw, from Chronicles of the Crusades, Penguin Books, London, 1963.
Jean de Jonville was a native of Champagne, born to nobility, and became lord of Jonville upon his father's death (his older brother was already dead). He was not yet a knight when he attended the 1241 banquet held by Louis IX at Samur. This is where Jean de Joinville's account begins.
The translator's introduction identifies other works on Saint Louis: One by Guillaume de Beaulieu, the king's confessor, written in Latin. Another by Guillaume de Nangis, written in French, and composed few years later.

Abbé Fouche. Chapter XII, 'Geoffroy V et Geoffroy VI 1194-1263' in Taillebourg et ses seigneurs (1911); work edited, revised and reprinted in Abbé P. Billy's Taillebourg et son passé (Saint-Maixent-l'Ecole, 1968), pp.15-28.

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LINKS to related websites and pages:
The 'War', Campaign and Battle of Bouvines (1202-1214) Webpage.
Albigensian Crusades (1209-1255) Webpage.
Hundred Years' War Website.


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