August 16 – The battle that wasn’t a battle – The Battle of Spurs

Posted By on August 16, 2022

On this day in Tudor history, 16th August 1513, in the reign of King Henry VIII, the Battle of Spurs took place at Guinegate, or Enguinegatte, in France.

The battle wasn’t actually a battle, in that it wasn’t a pitched battle.

There was supposed to be a battle, but the French knights fled the scene. Even though there wasn’t any fighting, Henry VIII claimed victory and went on to exaggerate things somewhat.

Let me explain exactly what happened on this day in 1513…

Transcript:

On this day in Tudor history, 16th August 1513, in the reign of King Henry VIII, the Battle of Spurs took place at Guinegate, or Enguinegatte, in France. It was a battle between the English force, backed by Imperial troops, and the French force, and is called the Battle of the Spurs because the French knights, taken by surprise and realising that they were outnumbered and outmanoeuvred, fled on horseback, their spurs glinting in the sunlight.

As historian J J Scarisbrick points out: “There was no pitched battle – only a hurtling gallop across the fields at Guingates”, but the fact that six standards were left behind and a duke, marquis and the vice-admiral of France were captured “was enough to give the skirmish the aura of an heroic victory – the so-called Battle of the Spurs – and to allow Henry to describe it in grandiose terms.”

In a letter to Margaret of Savoy, written on 17th August 1513, Henry VIII reported that:
“The English horse however passed by Geengat and confronted the French, who were three times their number. Several encounters took place and men were wounded on both sides. After this, in the Emperor’s company, advanced straight against the French, causing the artillery to be fired at them, whereupon they immediately began to retire, and were pursued for 10 leagues without great loss to the English. Nine or ten standards were taken and many prisoners”

Henry went on to name some of the prominent prisoners, who included the Duke of Longueville and the Vice Admiral of France, before commenting that “The Emperor has been as kind to him as if he were his real father.”

Although Henry VIII gave an account of the battle as if he had been present, J J Scarisbrick notes that the king actually missed the battle – if it can even be called a battle – because he was laying siege to the nearby town of Therouanne, a town which soon surrendered to the English and Imperial forces along with the town of Tournai. Some sources have Henry present, but behind the front line, rather than in the middle of the action.

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