The Battle of the Spurs or Battle of Guinegate

16 august 1513         FranceFrance,

France, Pas-de-Calais

The Battle of the Spurs or Battle of Guinegate took place on 16 August 1513. As part of the Holy League, during the ongoingItalian Wars, English and Imperial troops under Henry VIII and Maximilian I surprised and routed a body of French cavalry underJacques de La Palice. Henry and Maximilian were besieging the town of Thérouanne in Artois (now Pas-de-Calais). Henry's camp was at Guinegate, now called Enguinegatte[1]After Thérouanne fell, Henry VIII besieged and took Tournai.



Henry VIII had joined in the Holy League on 13 October 1511 with Venice and Spain to defend the Papacy from its enemies and France with military force. Henry promised to attack France at Guyenne, landing 10,000 men at Hondarribia in the Basque in June 1512. This army was conveyed by the admiral Edward Howard, and commanded by Thomas Grey, 2nd Marquess of Dorset. It remained at Bayonne till October 1512 supporting Ferdinand II of Aragon's action in the Kingdom of Navarre, though undersupplied and in poor morale. Maximilian joined the league in November 1512. Louis XII of France hoped that Scotland would aid France against England.

Siege of Thérouanne

In May 1513 English soldiers began to arrive in number at Calais to join an army commanded byGeorge Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, Lord Steward of the Household. Shrewsbury was appointed Lieutenant-General on 12 May, John Hopton commanded the troop ships. On 17 May Henry announced to the Cinque Ports and Edward Poynings, Constable of Dover Castle that he would join the invasion in person, and had appointed commissioners to requisition all shipping. In Henry's absence across the sea (ad partes transmarinas), Catherine of Aragon would rule England and Wales as Rector and Governor (Rectrix et Gubernatrix).

The Chronicle of Calais recorded the names and arrivals of Henry's aristocratic military entourage from the 6 June 1513 onwards. At the end of the month the army set out for Thérouanne. Shrewsbury commanded the vanguard of 8,000, and Charles Somerset, Lord Herbert the rearward of 6,000. Henry VIII arrived in person at Calais on 30 June 1513 with the main grouping, of 11,000 men. The army was provided by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey as Almoner, and comprised several different types of martial forces including cavalry, artillery, infantry and longbows using hardened steel arrows designed to penetrate armour more effectively. Eight hundred German mercenaries marched in front of Henry.

Shrewsbury set up a battery and dug mines towards the town's walls, but made little progress against the defending garrison of French and German soldiers in July. The town was held for France by Antoine de Créquy, sieur de Pont-Remy who returned fire until the town surrendered, and the English called one distinctive regular cannon shot the "whistle."[2] Reports of setbacks and inefficiency reached Venice. On the way to Thérouanne two English cannon called "John the Evangelist" and the "Red Gun" had been abandoned, and French skirmishing hampered their recovery with loss of life. Edward Hall, the chronicle author, mentions the role of the Henry Bourchier, Earl of Essex in this operation and the advice given by Rhys ap Thomas.[3] An Imperial agent of Margaret of Savoy wrote that two "obstinate men" govern everything, these were Charles Brandon, Viscount Lisle who he called the "Grand Esquire" and the Almoner Wolsey.

Henry camped to the east of Thérouanne at a heavily defended position, described by English chronicles as environed with artillery, such as "falcons, serpentines, cast hagbushes, tryde harowes, and spine trestles (bolt firing tarasnice)," with Henry's field accommodation consisting of a wooden cabin with an iron chimney, with large tents of blue water-work, yellow, and white fabric, topped by the King's beasts, the Lion, Dragon, Greyhound, Antelope, and Dun Cow.[4]

The Emperor Maximilian came to Aire-sur-la-Lys in August. Henry donned light armour and dressed his entourage in cloth-of gold and came to Aire on 11 August, where Maximilian's followers were still dressed in black in mourning for his wife Bianca Maria Sforza. Henry hosted Maximilian at a tent with a gallery of cloth-of-gold at his camp over the weekend beginning 13 August 1513. According to the chronicles, the weather on the day of the meeting was the "foulest ever." News of Henry's meeting with Maximilian in person delighted Catherine of Aragon, who wrote to Wolsey that it was an honour for Henry and would raise Maximilian's reputation; he would be "taken for a nother man that he was befor thought".

Louis XII of France determined to break the siege. In July a force of 800 Albanians commanded by Captain Fonterailles pushed through the besieger's lines and successfully delivered gunpowder and supplies including bacon to the gates of the town, leaving 80 soldiers as reinforcements. Fonterailles was helped by covering artillery fire from the town. Reports sent to Venice mentioned 300 English casualties or more, and Fonterailles' statement that the town could hold out till thefeast day of the Nativity of the Virgin, on 8 September. The Venetians were aware that their French sources might have been misrepresenting the situation to gain their support.


A second French attempt was organized for 16 August 1513, with cavalry assembled at Blangy to the south. This French force was made up of companies of gendarmes and pikemen, with some other mixed forces as well. Edward Hall described a type of French light cavalry called "stradiotes(stradiots)," equipped with short stirrups, beaver hats, small spears, and Turkish swords. These may have been Albanian units.

In response to the new threat English military engineers had built five bridges overnight over theriver Lys to allow their army free passage to the other side and Henry moved his camp to Guinegate (now called Enguinegatte), on 14 August, after displacing a company of French horse armed with spears who were stationed at the Tower of Guinegate.

The French infantry were left at Blangy, while the heavy cavalry were divided into two companies, one under the command of La Palice and Louis, Duke of Longueville, the other under Charles IV, Duke of Alençon. Alençon's smaller force made an attack on the besieging positions commanded by Lord Shrewsbury, the larger force against the south of the besieging lines where Lord Herbertcommanded. Both attacks were designed to act as diversions in order that the stradiots be able to reach Thérouanne with supplies. Each stradiot had a side of bacon at his saddlebow and a sack of gunpowder behind him.

The French had hoped to catch the besieging army unprepared by moving out before dawn; however, the English 'border prickers' (light cavalry from the Scottish borders) were out and they detected the movement of the larger of the two bodies of French cavalry. Henry VIII drew up a field force from the siege lines sending out a vanguard of 1,100 cavalry, following this with 10,000-12,000 infantry. La Palice's force encountered English scouts at the village of Bomy, 5 miles from Thérouanne, the French, realising that the English were alert, checked themselves on the edge of a hillside. The stradiots then began their rather forlorn attempt to contact the garrison, riding in a wide arc towards the town.

La Palice made a mistake in staying in this exposed position too long, presumably he was doing so in order to allow the stradiots the greatest possibility of success. The English heavy cavalry of the vanguard drew up opposite Palice's front, while the mounted archers dismounted and shot at the French from a flanking hedgerow. Now aware of the approach of the English infantry in overwhelming numbers, La Palice tardily ordered his force to retreat. At this point the Clarenceux Herald is said to have urged the Earl of Essex to charge. The English men-at-arms and other heavy cavalry charged, just as the French were moving off, throwing them into disorder. To complete the French disarray the stradiots, who had been driven off from approaching the town by cannon fire, crashed in confusion into the flank of the French heavy cavalry, whilst a body of Imperial cavalry also arrived to menace their other flank. Panic now seized the French cavalry, whose retreat became a rout. La Palice tried to rally them, but to no effect. In order to flee more quickly the French gendarmes threw away their lances and standards, some even cut away the heavy armour of their horses. The chase went on for many miles until the French reached their infantry at Blangy. Meanwhile, the smaller French force had been driven off, Sir Rhys ap Thomas capturing four of their standards. The initial cavalry clash took place between the village of Bomy and Henry's camp at Guinegate.

The day was soon called the "Battle of the Spurs" (in French: La Journée d'Esperons) because of the haste of the French horse to leave the battlefield. In the summer of 1518 the English ambassador in Spain, Lord Berners, joked that the French had learned to ride fast at the "jurney of Spurres."

The same evening the Imperial Master of the Posts, Baptiste de Tassis sent news of the battle toMargaret of Savoy from Aire-sur-la-Lys in Artois;

"Early in the day the Emperor and the King of England encountered 8,000 French horse; the Emperor, with 2,000 only, kept them at bay until four in the afternoon, when they were put to flight. A hundred men of arms were left upon the field, and more than a hundred taken prisoners, of the best men in France; as the Sieur de Piennes, the Marquis de Rotelin, and others."

Henry sent his own account to Margaret of Savoy on the following day. He mentioned that the French cavalry had first attacked Shrewsbury's position blockading the town, capturing 44 men and wounding 22. An imperial cavalry manoeuvre brought the French horse within range of the guns, and the French cavalry fled.

The chronicle writer Edward Hall gave a somewhat different account. Hall, who says the French called it the "battle of the Spurs," centers the action around a hill, with English archers at the village of "Bomye." He has the French cavalry break after a show of English banners organized by the Clarenceux Herald Thomas Benolt. Hall mentions that Maximilian advised Henry to deploy some artillery on another hill "for out-scourers" but does not mention any effect on the outcome. Although Henry wished to ride into the battle, he stayed with the Emperor's foot soldiers on the advice of his council.

After a three-mile chase chase, amongst the French prisoners were Jacques de la Palice, Pierre Terrail, seigneur de Bayard and Louis d'Orléans, Duke of Longueville. Although reports mention the Emperor's decision for his troops to serve under Henry's standard, Hall's account suggests friction between the English and Imperial forces, during the day and over prisoners taken by the Empire, who were "not brought to sight" and released. Henry returned to his camp at Enguinegatte and heard reports of the day's actions. During the fighting the garrison of Thérouanne had come out and attacked Herbert's position. According to report, three English soldiers of note were killed, with 3,000 French casualties. Nine French standards were captured, with 21 noble prisoners dressed in cloth-of-gold.

On 20 August, now unthreatened by French counter-attacks, Henry moved his camp from Guinegate to the south of the town. Thérouanne fell on 22 August, according to diplomatic reports the garrison were initially unimpressed by a show of captured colours, but the French and German garrison were drawn into negotiation with Shrewsbury by their lack of supplies. Shrewsbury welcomed Henry to the town and gave him the keys. Eight or nine hundred soldiers were set to work demolishing the walls of the town and three large bastions which were pushed into the deep defensive ditches. The dry ditches contained deeper pits which were designed for fires to create smoke to choke assailants. The Milanese ambassador to Maximilian, Paolo Da Laude, heard that it was planned to burn the town after demolition was completed. On 5 September Pope Leo X was told of the English victories by the Florentine ambassador and his congratulations were conveyed to Cardinal Wolsey


Siege of Tournai

While demolition continued at Thérouanne, after discussions on 4 September, allied attention moved to Tournai, though Henry would have preferred an attack on Boulogne. Maximilian and Henry went to St Pol, St Venan, Neve and Béthune, and on 10 September Henry entered Lille with great ceremony where Margaret of Savoy held court. That evening, Henry played on the lute, harp, lyre, flute, and horn,[8] and danced with "Madame the Bastard" till nearly dawn, "like a stag," according to the Milanese ambassador. The same day the army began the siege of Tournai, and Maximilian and Henry visited on 13 September.

At this time Henry VIII was troubled by Scottish preparations for invasion of England in support of France, and had exchanged angry words with a Scottish herald at Thérouanne on 11 August. The Scots army was defeated at the battle of Flodden on 9 September 1513. Before Tournai fellCatherine of Aragon sent John Glyn to Henry with the blood-stained coat and gauntlets of James IV of Scotland. Catherine suggested Henry should use the coat as his battle-banner, and wrote that she had thought to send him the body too, but 'Englishmen's hearts would not suffer it.' It was suggested that James' body would be her exchange with Henry for his French prisoner, theDuke of Longueville. Longueville had been captured at Thérouanne by John Clarke of North Weston, sent to Catherine, and lodged in the Tower of London. The idea of an exchange was reported to Alfonso d'Este Duke of Ferrara in Italy, that Catherine had promised, as Henry "sent her a captive duke, she should soon send him a king".

Tournai fell to Henry VIII on 23 September. The defenders of Tournai had demolished houses in front of their gates on 11 September, and burnt their suburbs on 13 September. On 15 September the wives and children of the townspeople were ordered to repair damage to the walls caused by the besieger's cannon. On the same day the town council proposed a vote whether the town should declare for France or the Empire. The vote was suspended (mis en surseance) and the people appointed deputies to treat with Henry VIII. Charles Brandon captured one of the gatehouses and took away two of its statues as trophies, and the garrison negotiated with Henry and Richard Foxe Bishop of Winchester on the 20 September 1513. The events within the town were misunderstood in English chronicles, Raphael Holinshed and Richard Grafton wrote that a disaffected "vaunt-parler" had set fire to the suburbs to hasten their surrender, while the Provost canvassed the townspeople's opinion.

Henry attended mass in Tournai Cathedral on 2 October and knighted many of his captains. The town presented Margaret of Austria with a set of tapestries woven with scenes from the Book of the City of Ladies by Christine de Pizan. Tournai remained in English hands, with William Blount, 4th Baron Mountjoy as Governor. The fortifications and a new citadel were reconstructed between August 1515 and January 1518, costing around £40,000. Work ceased because Henry VIII planned to restore the town to France. Tournai was returned by treaty on 4 October 1518. The surveyor of Berwick, Thomas Pawne, could not find a market for the unused building materials there, and sent stones by boat via Antwerp to Calais, some carved with English insignia, along with the machinery of two watermills. The construction work at Tournai has been characterized as retrogressive, lacking the input of a professional military engineer, and an "essentially medieval" conception out of step with Italian innovations.


Henry and Maximilian jointly published an account of their victories, under the title; Copia von der erlichen und kostlichen enpfahung ouch früntliche erbietung desz Küngs von Engelland Keyser Maximilian in Bickardy (Picardy) gethon, Unnd von dem angryff und nyderlegung do selbs vor Terbona (Thérouanne) geschähen. Ouch was un wy vyl volck do gewäsen, erschlagen, und gefangen. Ouch die Belägerung der stat Bornay (sic: Tournai) und ander seltzam geschichten, (1513), which can be translated as; Of the honourable and sumptuous reception and friendly courtesy shown by the King of England to the Emperor Maximilian in Picardy; and of the attack and defeat which took place there before Thérouanne. Also what and how many people there were slain and captured. Also the siege of the town of Tournay and other strange histories.The book contains a woodcut of their meeting and one of Maximilian in battle. The battle at Guinegate was described in this manner;

"About twelve o'clock the French in three divisions appeared upon another hill (for here and there are little hills and valleys); and as soon as the Emperor knew it he got up and sent for the German horsemen, numbering scarcely 1,050, and the Burgundians, about 1,000 (or 2,000), and commanded to muster the troops and to keep the Germans by him. The French united in one division amounting to 10,000 (or 7,000) cavalry in array and fired guns at the Emperor's horsemen, but all went too high and did no hurt. Thus the Burgundians and certain English struck [them], and as they turned and the Emperor saw the Burgundians hard pressed, he at once ordered the German horsemen to attack on the flank; but before they struck the French had turned about and fled. Our horsemen pursued them until within a short mile of their camp and brought back the prisoners and banners hereafter indicated. When the Emperor saw that no more harm could be done them, and they were near their camp wherein were yet 20,000 foot, he retired all the men in good order and marched to the camp, remaining all night in the field. In this skirmish the English used no other cry than Burgundia."

An Italian poem, La Rotta de Francciosi a Terroana on the fall of Therouanne was printed in Rome in September 1513. Maximilian also commissioned woodcut images of his meeting with Henry from Leonhard Beck, and from Albrecht Dürer who included a scene of the mounted rulers joining hands in the Triumphal Arch.[15] Henry commissioned commemorative paintings of the meeting and of the battle which showed him involved in the centre of the action, though Hall pointed out he took advice to stay with the foot soldiers. In Henry's inventory, one painting was noted as "A Table wherein is conteined the Seginge of Torney and Turwyn". Maximilian's tomb at theHofkirche, Innsbruck constructed in 1553 to designs by Florian Abel includes a marble relief of the meeting by Alexander Colyn following Dürer's woodcut.


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