Thursday, February 14, 2013

A Fight to the End

The battle of Bouvines opened on the 27th of July in 1214. In it the Emperor of Germany with a great host of allies, including the Flemish and the English, contested the battlefield with the King of France, Philip Augustus (arguably France's greatest monarch, who as a youth fought Henry II of England). Bouvines is remarkable for several reasons. It is one of the largest medieval battles ever fought, it led to France's conquest of Normandy and Brittany, one of the battles in which very large hosts of knights contested the field, and it weakened King John so that his Barons were able to wrest power from him. As interesting as that is, it doesn't cap Renaud of Dammartin's heroic last stand.

Renaud had been a long time friend of Philip's but in the aftermath of a legal dispute he quit the King's court and took up arms against him. So enraged was he that nothing could reunite him with his King.

As the battle unfolded Renaud charged repeatedly, leading his house knights and a wedge of Brabancon pikemen, he drove into the arms of France time and again. At the head of his knights he would smash into the foe, turn and regroup behind the hedge of pikemen. All through the morning Renaud kept up his battle. But in the end Emperor's forces broke and his army began to disintegrate. The army fell back in route, fleeing to parts unknown, but Renaud refused. Gathering his knights and Brabancons around him he held onto the field, until he and his men alone stood. Time and again the Chivalry of France washed against the iron wall of Renaud's men and will, and time and again they broke against it.

But in the end Thomas of Saint Valery gathered a great army of over 2000 men at arms and with his own knights shattered the exhausted Brabancons, slaying many, capturing few and bringing Renaud to the King in chains.

Renaud would not yield to the King and was imprisoned for it. He died there some years later, the last knight of Bouvines!

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