Battle of the Spurs

John Florens | Nov 1, 2022

Table of Content


The second battle of Guinegatte, known as the Day of the Spurs, took place on August 16, 1513 at Guinegatte (today Enguinegatte, in the Pas-de-Calais). It pitted the French troops of Louis de Longueville and Jacques de La Palice, who were trying to liberate the beleaguered town of Thérouanne, against the Anglo-German troops commanded by Thomas Wolsey (the future Cardinal-Archbishop of York), who were victorious in an overwhelming manner. The two French commanders, as well as the knight Bayard and Jacques d'Amboise, son of Jean IV d'Amboise, were taken prisoner by the English and taken to London.

This victory allowed Henry VIII and Maximilian of Austria, united against Louis XII within the Catholic League (1511), to finish victoriously the fourth Italian war.

This battle was immediately called the "Day of the Spurs" because the French cavalry would have made more use of spurs to leave the battlefield than weapons to fight.

In October 1511, Pope Julius II formed the Catholic League coalition with the Republic of Venice and Ferdinand of Aragon to oppose the territorial ambitions of Louis XII, master of the Duchy of Milan; Henry VIII joined in November and Maximilian of Austria in May 1512.

Following his defeat at Novara (June 6, 1513), Louis XII had to bring his army back from Italy to defend French territory, especially against an English expedition being prepared at Calais.

The English preparations in Calais (May-June 1513)

In May 1513, English troops began to gather in Calais to form the army of George Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, Lord Grand Intendant. Shrewsbury was promoted to lieutenant-general on May 12, with John Hopton in command of the invasion fleet.

On May 17, King Henry announced to the Five Harbors and to Edward Poynings, Constable of Dover Castle, that he was taking command of the expedition to France, and that he had appointed commissioners to requisition any ship that was fit to sail. During the king's absence "overseas" (ad partes transmarinas), Catherine of Aragon was to govern England and Wales as Rectrix and Gubernatrix.

Edward Hall's "Chronicle of Calais" preserves the dates of arrival of Henry VIII's officers on the continent from June 6, 1513.

The departure of the English expedition (June 30)

Henry VIII disembarked at Calais on June 30, 1513 with the bulk of his army, some 11,000 men. This army, assembled by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, who acted as chaplain, was composed of all arms: cavalry, artillery, infantry and the franc-archers, now equipped with iron-tipped arrows to pierce armor more effectively. Eight hundred lansquenets preceded Henri.

The English army took the direction of Thérouanne, a French stronghold enclosed in the territory of the county of Artois, which was then under the authority of Maximilien of Austria, as regent of the Netherlands. Shrewsbury commanded the vanguard of 8,000 men and Charles Somerset the rearguard of 6,000 men.

The beginnings of the siege of Thérouanne

Shrewsbury erected a battery and dug saps in front of the city walls, but during July he made little progress against the French and German garrison.

The city was defended by Antoine de Créquy, who responded to the English bombardment with artillery fire to the end. The English nicknamed one of the French cannons "le sifflet" because of the sound it made.

The failure of the successive assaults and the inefficiency of the siege are known as far as Venice. On the road to Thérouanne, the English had to abandon two cannons, one called Jean l'Évangéliste and the other the Red Cannon, and the French, by their skirmish battles, managed to keep them. Edward Hall, the author of the chronicle of Calais, cites Henry Bourchier, Earl of Essex, as one of the protagonists of this operation, and mentions an advice given by Rhys ap Thomas. An agent of Margaret of Savoy reported that "two stubborn men" decided everything, namely Charles Brandon, whom he called the Grand Écuyer, and Chaplain Wolsey.

Henri camped east of Thérouanne, on a strong position, described by the English chronicles as barricaded with artillery: "falconets, serpentines, arquebuses, "tried arrows" (tryde harowes), and trestles of powder sticks (tarasnice, a Hussite firearm projecting tiles). King Henry's campaign furniture consisted of a wooden cabin heated by a cast-iron stove, covered with a large tent in blue, yellow and white, topped with the king's heraldic animals: the Lion, the Dragon, the Richmond Hound, the Antelope, and the Dun Cow.

Meeting of Henry VIII with Maximilian (August 13)

Emperor Maximilian came to Aire-sur-la-Lys in August.

Henri VIII left to meet him, in cuirass, his people dressed in gold cloth, on August 11. Maximilian's court was still in mourning for the emperor's wife, Blanche-Marie Sforza, who had died in 1510.

Henri welcomes the emperor under a tent of golden cloth on August 13, 1513. According to the chronicles, this day is marked by "the worst of all storms."

Learning that Henry was able to receive the emperor in person, Catherine of Aragon wrote to Wolsey that she saw it as an honor for Henry and an opportunity for Maximilian to increase his fame.

The French army to the rescue of Thérouanne

During the summer, Louis XII sent a corps of 800 estradiots (light cavalrymen of Balkan origin) commanded by Captain Fonterailles.

Fpnterailles, covered by the cannon batteries of the citadel, succeeded in breaking through the lines of the besiegers and in bringing food and gunpowder into Thérouanne, leaving a reinforcement of 80 soldiers there.

The reports sent to Venice mention 300 English victims or more, and quote Fonterailles for whom "the city will be able to support the siege until the feast of the nativity of Mary" (but the Venetians assume that their French informers are distorting the reality to obtain their support.

First maneuvers

The French decided on a new assault for mid-August, with larger forces.

The cavalry regrouped around Blangy, south of Thérouanne. This corps was made up of companies of gens d'armes and pikemen, supported by a few auxiliary units. Edward Hall describes in particular a corps of light cavalry made up of estradiots, "equipped with short spurs, hairy caps, lances and scimitars: these are undoubtedly the so-called Albanian auxiliaries" of the French.

In response to this threat, the English pontonniers threw five pontoons on the Lys to allow for a possible withdrawal. On September 14, Henry VIII transferred his camp to Guinegatte, after having chased a company of French lancers posted around the keep of Guinegatte.

The failure of the French offensive

On the morning of August 16, at Blangy, the French army formed into two groups: one under the command of Duke Louis de Longueville, the other under Duke Charles IV d'Alençon, each advancing along one bank of the Lys.

The attack is made against the siege lines of Shrewsbury and Somerset. But the early morning assault by the French turned into a long and bitter fight; by mid-afternoon, the French cavalry turned and fled, pursued by the English and Imperial cavalry. "The cavalry was defeated between the village of Bomy and Henri's camp at Guinegatte.

Reports of the rout

This defeat remains in French history as the Day of the Spurs, an allusion to the disorderly escape of the French cavalrymen. In 1518, the English ambassador to Spain, Lord Berners, joked about how the horsemen had learned to gallop at the end of the Jurney of Spurres.

The same evening of the battle, the imperial postmaster, Jean Baptiste de Taxis, gave news of the victory to Marguerite of Austria, governor of the Netherlands, from Aire-sur-la-Lys:

Henri sent his own version of the battle to Marguerite of Austria the next day. He writes that the French cavalry first went against Lord Talbot's lines blockading the city, and took some 44 prisoners and 22 wounded. A maneuver by the imperial cavalry later pushed the French knights back within range of the guns, and the latter had no choice but to flee.

But the chronicler Edward Hall gives an entirely different account. Hall, from whom we know that the French called this confrontation the Day of the Spurs, places the decisive action around a hill, surrounded by English archers posted at the village of "Bomye". The French cavalry is said to have charged after a demonstration by the English organized by Clarenceux's herald Thomas Benolt (en). Hall states that Maximilian had advised Henry to deploy artillery on another hill "for relief" but does not say how this played a role. Although Henry VIII wished to take part in the battle, he remained, on the advice of his ally, with the Emperor's foot guard.

French prisoners

After a five-kilometer pursuit, the English took Jacques de la Palice, Pierre Terrail de Bayard and Louis de Longueville prisoner.

While the emperor wanted his troops to fight under the command of the English, Hall suggests that there was a disagreement, not only during the assault, but also regarding the fate of the prisoners captured by the lansquenets, who were left free without being "presented" to the allies.

The capture of Thérouanne

During the assault, the garrison of Thérouanne had made a sortie, going against Charles Somerset's lines. According to Lord Herbert's report, three valuable English officers died in this operation, the French losing 3,000 men. Nine enemy standards were taken, and 21 nobles in gold clothes were taken prisoner.

On August 20, now safe from French counter-attacks, Henri moved his camp closer to the city.

Thérouanne was taken on August 22. Diplomatic reports indicate that the garrison of Thérouanne, little moved by the display of the flags taken from the relief forces, surrendered to the Earl of Shrewsbury only by the threat of a famine.

Shrewsbury receives Henry VIII in the square and gives him the keys of the city.

Soldiers were charged with tearing down the city walls, especially the three large, strongly entrenched bastions. As the ditches were in some places overcrusted with fireplaces intended to produce smoke to asphyxiate the attackers, the Milanese ambassador to Maximilian, Paolo da Laude, reported that he had learned that they would be used to set fire to the city once the ramparts were down.

On September 5, Pope Leo X, having learned the victory of the English by the ambassador of Florence, makes address his congratulations to the cardinal Wolsey.

On September 4, the allied generals decided to continue the campaign by turning against the place of Tournai, against the opinion of Henry VIII who would prefer to turn against the port of Boulogne. Tournai was still a vassal city of the king of France, enclosed between the county of Flanders and the county of Hainaut.

Festivities in Lille (September 10)

Maximilian and Henry VIII pass through Saint-Pol, Saint-Venant, Neve and Béthune.

On September 10, Henri made a triumphal entry into Lille, where Marguerite of Austria held court. The Venetian emissaries report that, on the same evening, Henri played the lute, the harp, the recorder and the horn "almost until dawn and, according to the Milanese ambassador, "like a deer".

Interlude: the Anglo-Scottish war of August-September 1513

Henry VIII's campaign had been interrupted by rumors of Scottish preparations for an invasion of England to rescue France, and the English ruler had attacked the Scottish herald at Therouanne on August 11. Finally the Scottish army was annihilated at the battle of Flodden Field on September 9, 1513.

A few days before the fall of Tournai, Catherine of Aragon had sent John Glyn to Henry VIII to have the bloody rib and gauntlets of James IV of Scotland delivered to him. Catherine suggested to her husband that he use the remains as a banner, and even wrote that she would not have hesitated to send him the corpse of her enemy "if English hearts could have been persuaded to do so. Instead, she was advised to exchange Jacques' corpse with the principal French prisoner, the Duc de Longueville. Longueville, who had been captured at Thérouanne by Baronet John Clarke of North Weston, was handed over to Queen Catherine and taken into custody at the Tower of London. The idea of this macabre exchange was brought to the Duke of Ferrara Alphonse d'Este.

The siege of Tournai (September 10-23)

The siege is put in front of Tournai from September 10th. On the 13th, the two allied sovereigns reviewed the troops.

The defenders of Tournai cut down the houses in front of the main gates on September 11, and set fire to the suburbs on September 13. On September 15, women and children were asked to help repair the walls bombarded by the enemy guns.

On the same day, the council of aldermen put to a vote the advisability of reversing the alliance with the Holy Roman Empire. This vote was "put on hold" (postponed) and the townspeople sent emissaries to negotiate with Henry VIII.

Charles Brandon finally takes over one of the doors, having two of his statues taken down as trophies.

On September 20, the garrison negotiated with Henry VIII and the Bishop of Winchester Richard Fox.

The English chroniclers, Raphael Holinshed and Richard Grafton (en), misunderstand the course of events in the city during the siege: they write that a desperate vaunt-parler would have set fire to the suburbs to hasten the surrender, while the provost prepared the opinion of the burghers to the idea of surrender.

The city was taken on September 23.

Henri attended the mass given in the cathedral of Tournai on October 2 and knighted several of his captains. The city made a gift to Marguerite of Austria of several tapestries decorated with scenes inspired by the Book of the City of Ladies by Christine de Pizan.

Tournai came under English command with Baron William Blount as military governor.

The fortifications and the citadel were rebuilt between August 1515 and January 1518, at a cost of approximately £40,000. The works were interrupted when Henry VIII started to consider the retrocession of Tournai to France, which was realized by the treaty of London (October 4, 1518)

English historians believe that these new fortifications were obsolete, reflecting an "essentially medieval" conception compared to the advances made at the same time in Italy.


  1. Battle of the Spurs
  2. Bataille de Guinegatte (1513)
  3. ^ English contemporary sources call the town "Turwyn."
  4. Louis I d'Orléans-Longueville devient marquis de Rothelin (Rötteln en Allemagne) par son mariage avec Jeanne de Hochberg et son fils cadet est à l'origine de la maison d'Orléans-Rothelin. Il est cité par un chroniqueur sous le nom de « Rothelin » (infra).
  5. Rymer, Thomas, ed., Foedera, vol. 13 (1712), p. 367-370 (bilingue latin et anglais)
  6. a b c Clodfelter, Micheal (2017). Warfare and Armed Conflicts: A Statistical Encyclopedia of Casualty and Other Figures, 1492-2015. McFarland, pp. 11. 4ª ed. ISBN 9781476625850.

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