Today on July 17, 1453, English forces under the Earl of Shrewsbury were annihilated at the battle of Castillon — the last major conflict of the Hundred Years' War.
The Battle of Castillon was a defining moment of the epic war between England and France — it essentially marked the end of the long and bloody war. For over a century, two of Europe's most bitter rivals battled it out for control of the French crown. The war began in 1337 with King Edward III's invasion of Normandy and lasted through several periods of conflict and peace. Following countless stunning victories — most notably at Crecy, Poitiers, and Agincourt — the English were on the verge conquering all of France.
But the tide eventually started to change in favor of France. In 1429, an obscure peasant named Joan of Arc emerged from the chaos. The young girl with no military experience inspired the French people to rally behind King Charles VII. After stopping the English at the siege of Orleans, they began to slowly retake their country, one city at a time.
By 1451, Charles was ready to expel the English for good. The king marched south and reconquered the region of Bordeaux, a long-held English territory. But the citizens of Bordeaux detested their new French lords and sent emissaries to England asking for help. But their pleas largely fell on deaf ears as London was in complete shambles. The man sitting on the throne, King Henry VI, was beyond incompetent and his political rivals in the royal court were vying for control. England's high command was far too preoccupied with internal turmoil to adequately respond to the dire situation in France.
John Talbot, the Earl of Shrewsbury, was seemingly the only man interested in protecting the remaining English territory in France. On October 17, 1452, Shrewsbury landed in Bordeaux along with 3,000 soldiers. As promised, the locals revolted against the French garrisons, giving the English a new foothold in Gascony with little resistance. Outraged at the loss, King Charles spent the winter months preparing for a counterattack.
Despite receiving fresh reinforcements, including his son Lord Lisle, the Earl of Shrewsbury was still heavily outnumbered. To make matters worse, Charles' army was also bolstered by the latest weapons from artillery master Jean Bureau. The French constructed a heavily fortified artillery camp along the Dordogne River to besiege the nearby town of Castillon. In response, the Earl of Shrewsbury immediately left Bordeaux to protect the city.
Upon arriving in Castillon, Shrewsbury charged out and defeated a contingent of French archers. Later that morning, he heard false reports of the enemy retreating from their camp. Desperate to strike a decisive blow, Shrewsbury ordered his men to attack the French camp without sending scouts to survey first. As the English charged, they were shocked to find Bureau's men waiting and ready. French cannons quickly unleashed a barrage of devastating fire — and with that began the bloody battle of Castillon.
Undeterred, the stubborn English commander ordered wave after wave of attacks. Soon after, Shrewsbury himself led a charge across the battlefield. His horse was suddenly struck by a cannonball and fell to the ground. The fallen horse broke the English commander's leg and pinned him to the ground. French soldiers quickly surrounded his guards and killed Shrewsbury on the field. Lord Lisle was also struck down, causing widespread panic and confusion. The English forces were slaughtered en-mass and lost almost two-thirds of their 6,000 soldiers. Survivors from the battle of Castillon fled to Bordeaux for one final stand.
Following a three-month siege, Bordeaux surrendered to Charles and the war was effectively over. It's said that King Henry VI fell into a delusional state upon hearing the news of England's defeat at the Battle of Castillon. The loss and humiliation led to a tumultuous period known as the Wars of the Roses. The English crown switched hands numerous times before Henry Tudor (Henry VII) ultimately emerged victorious at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. England held onto its last French territory, the port city of Calais, for another hundred years until permanently losing it in 1558.