1416 Thomas Beaufort, Earl of Dorset and the Valmont Raid

As Admiral of England, Dorset was responsible for gathering and commanding Henry V’s invasion fleet which sailed for France from Southampton on 12 August 1415. On arrival at Harfleur Dorset commanded the English siege lines near Graville and when the garrison finally capitulated to the English assault on 22 September the King delivered the town into Dorset’s authority with instructions to repair the defences and hold it for the King.

In order to secure food and fodder the small English garrison was forced to launch almost constant raids into the French Countryside and in November one raid, led by John Fastolf, reached within six miles of the gates of Rouen, the Normandy capital.

In January, 1416 the weary garrison was relieved by 900 men-at-arms and 1,500 archers and Dorset briefly returned to England on leave but by the beginning of March Dorset was back in Harfleur and on 9 March 1416 he set out with a force of 1000 mounted men on a three day raid to the north east of Harfleur. On the 11 March having sacked and burned Cany, a small town seven miles south of St. Valery, he turned for home but as the English column passed through Ouainville it was spotted by a French patrol. By the time Dorset reached Valmont later that same day he found the road blocked by a French mounted forces led by Bernard, Count d’Armagnac, Constable of France. The French numbered some 5,000 men and comprised 3,000 Bretons, 650 men from Rouen with the remainder being a mixture of other local militia.

Dorset dismounted his men and, having sent his horses to the rear, formed a single thin line. The French immediately launched one mounted charge after another and before long gaps began to appear in the English formation. At the height of the fighting several French knights broke through but, instead of wheeling around to finish of their opponents, they continued on toward the baggage train and, having killed the grooms, fell to looting. Dorset, though wounded, used the lull in the fighting to reform his men, who by now numbered some 850 (one source records English losses at this point as 22 dead and 200 captured) and leading them into the gardens and orchards of the town he took up a strong defensive position behind a tall hedge and ditch which surrounded them on four sides.

D’Armagnac, not relishing the idea of launching an attack against such a strong defense, attempted to negotiate the English surrender and dispatched a herald to negotiate the English surrender. Dorset was in no mood to discuss terms and advised the Herald to return and
“Tell your Masters that Englishmen do not surrender”.

By this stage darkness had begun to fall and as the French withdrew to obtain food and water Dorset took the opportunity, under the cover of darkness, to lead the small group of Englishmen out of the town and escape to the west in the direction of the town of Fecamp. At Fecamp, Dorset turned south-west toward Harfleur and by dawn the English had reached the dense woods surrounding Les Loges some 14 miles from Valmont. Here they took cover and in order to avoid been discovered again by the French they laid low throughout the day. At the same time the French, in an attempt to relocate the English, divided their force into two and began to search for the English.

As darkness fell on the 12 March the English broke camp and headed away from the woods toward the coast and on reaching the sea at Etretat they turned toward Harfleur which now lay some 30 miles to the west. As dawn broke on the 13 March they were within ten miles of Harfleur and rounding the Cap de la Heve, the estuary of the River Seine hove into view and with rising spirits they quickly reached the foot of the cliffs of Saint Andress. Here the English luck ran out as they were discovered by the mounted column under d’Armagnac’s second-in-command; Marshal de Loigny.

De Loigny’s men quickly dismounted and charged down the steep hill along a number of goat tracks. As a result of the terrain the French lost all semblance of order which allowed the English to form up and fight what ultimately became a one sided engagement with the result that the French were utterly routed losing large numbers of men. As the English fell to looting the French dead, Dorset, who had been further wounded in the melee, was bundled into a small boat and transported to the safety of Harfleur.

Whilst the English were still busy stripping the dead the second French column under d’Armagnac arrived but before they could attack, the English, now under the command of John Fastolf, picked up their weapons and charged up the hill, putting the French to rout. By now the English garrison within Harfleur, having been alerted by the sounds of fighting on the cliff top, sallied forth and engaged the fleeing French for several miles, capturing many prisoners in the process.

The French quickly regrouped and soon Harfleur was besieged by land and blockaded by sea. An English relief expedition was dangerously delayed by the prolonged peace negotiations at Beauvais but following desperate calls for assistance by Dorset a supply convoy was prepared in May 1416 at Southampton under the Earl of Hungerford. Unfortunately only a handful of the ships reached Harfleur and by the time the Duke of Bedford scattered the French fleet at the battle of the Seine on 15 August 1416 the town was on the edge of starvation.

As a reward for his defence of Harfleur, Devon was made a Knight of the Garter and Duke of Exeter on 8 November 1416 with an annuity of £1000.