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John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury (1387-1453)

Wild Reddit Question Appears!

John Talbot became the most feared of the English captains. La Hire himself would run away.

I wasn’t aware of this. I always imagined that the Poitiers-level casualties was the reason the Battle of Castillon doomed the English war effort, but did the death of Talbot play a significant part too?

>>> Original comment on AskHistorians

My Answer

Map. A.J. Pollard, The Theatre of War in Northern France (1427-1450). John Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury
A.J. Pollard, The Theatre of War in Northern France (1427-1450)

In Short: Who’s John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury?

John Talbot was a relentless captain. So relentless in fact that he would find reasons to fight even in times of peace. Once, he came back to England for a few years and he started a judicial quarrel that almost led to an open conflict. The Duke of Bedford was wise enough to summon him in France, on the frontline, where he brought havoc to his enemies. Talbot was very gifted in starting and managing feuds.

This man was to the French people, a very scorge and a daily terror, […] in so much that women in Fraunce to feare their yonge children would cry ‘The Talbot Cometh! The Talbot Cometh!’

Talbot learned the art of war in Ireland where the chivalric code didn’t exist. He grew very attached to it later on–though he had a very technical, heartless and cold take on it–but he first learned his ways through skirmish and guerilla warfare. He was an utmost expert at night attacks, raids and decisive “coups de force”. He was very cruel too: he burnt down churches with people in it, he executed men-at-arms when they didn’t respect a surrender treaty and gave up the fortress too late, he basically scorched the earth in Normandy when the peasants revolted in 1435-1436. I personnally found several occurences of French or Burgundians troop litteraly TURNING BACK when they learned it was John Talbot they were going to face. He was that fearsome.

John Talbot became the most feared of the English captains. He was cruel, crafty and relentless. A terror to the French. Edward Hall wrote an epitaph that Grimgor Ironhide would envy: “This man was to the French people, a very scorge and a daily terror, in so much that his person was fearful and terrible to his adversaries present, so his name and frame was spiteful and dreadful to the common people absent, in so much that women in Fraunce to feare their yonge children would cry ‘The Talbot Cometh! The Talbot Cometh!’

Yet Shakespeare depicted him as a most chivalrous knight in Henry V.

At the time of the battle of Castillon (1453), Charles VII had already recovered most of France from the English. Normandy had been taken back. The Burgundians had fallen back in line. Several military campaigns in southern France meant the English were basically holding onto pretty much nothing concrete. Only Calais would remain the unpenetrable English fortress on French soil for the centuries to come (it still belonged to the British crown when Henry VIII was king!). The Duke of Bedford had passed away. Henry VI of England never grew up to have the military charisma nor the natural authority his father wielded. This sweet and pious king aspired to peace and he married a French princess after all, whilst a English princess was married to the Duke of Burgundy. John Talbot, really, was the last living and kicking remnant of the Hundred Years’ War. Most of his foes were dead or had retired. He was facing a younger generation now.

No one can state as fact that John Talbot’s death led to the end of the Hundred Years’ War. It was only diplomatically ended in 1475! However, no one had the energy nor the shoulders to pick up his mantle and continue the old fight. His death, really, is symptomatic of how times changed. It was certainly a symbolic victory for the French who had to dread no longer the “English Achilles”.

One Story To Remember Him By

Ridiculously Chivalrous John Talbot. Ridiculously Photogenic Guy. Medieval Meme.
Ridiculously Chivalrous John Talbot

Forced to retreat at Orléans, Talbot was met unexpectedly by La Hire and his friends at Patay (1430). Talbot’s troops had covered as much as 100 miles in two days to defend the Loire valley. La Hire and company fell upon the English army before they could organize a defensive line. Talbot was ultimately captured by the archers of Poton de Xaintrailles–La Hire’s best friend and brother-in-arms.

Talbot was put to ransom, but to a ridiculously high amount. Talbot, in fact, came very close to bankruptcy while he was held prisonner from 1429 to 1433. Charles VII of France even acquired Talbot’s as a prisoner of note, exercising his regal priviledges. It was customary that the king could demand any famed knight who was put to ransom by a vassal of his in exchange of a fixed fee. As it turns out, Charles VII later exchanged Talbot for Poton de Xaintrailles! The latter had indeed been captured by Talbot’s father-in-law, the powerful earl of Warwick.

Once released, Talbot couldn’t let it stand. He took it to the Order of the Garter and blamed John Fastolf of cowardice. At Patay, the latter reportedly fled the battlefield and brought great dishonor to his knightly title. Talbot argued so passionately that Falstolf was stripped of his Garter until the early 1440’s. Facing financial ruin rendered him especially callous and mercy wouldn’t be his strongsuit in later installments of the Hundred Years’ War…

Click on this link to read one more story about Talbot. Or this one, if you want to know the role he played at Orléans.

More about Talbot:

  • A.J. Pollard, John Talbot and the War in France: 1427-1453. London & New Jersey: RHS and Humanities Press Inc., 1983.

Fun Fact About Downton Abbey

Downton Abbey' Movie Revival In The Works — Original Cast ...

Henry Talbot (Matthew Goode), who marries Lady Mary Crawley (Michelle Dockery) by the end of the unforgettable Downton Abbey TV series, is a descendant of John Talbot, 1st earl of Shrewsbury!

Needless is to say, when I heard he was a Talbot, I geeked out. Moreover, just the thought that Michelle Dockery portrayed a Talbot lady makes me squeak like a teenage girl. I mean… look at those eyes if they don’t breathe fire!!! Mary Josephine Talbot. What a nice ring to it!

Can’t wait to see her in a spin-off series stretching from the 40s to the 60s.

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