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John Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury (1388?-1453)

Henry VI and John Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury
Henry VI and John Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury.

                                                    Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words—
Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester—
Be in their flowing cups freshly remember'd.
                                                —Shakespeare, Henry V


Is this the scourge of France?
Is this the Talbot, so much feared abroad,
That with his name the mothers still their babes?
                                                —Shakespeare, Henry VI


I do remember how my father said
A stouter champion never handled sword.
                                                —Shakespeare, Henry VI


JOHN TALBOT, 1ST EARL OF SHREWSBURY, a famous commander, was born at Blechmore, in Shropshire. He was the second son of Sir Richard Talbot of Goodrich castle, in Herefordshire; and on the death of his elder brother, Sir Gilbert, he became heir to that family.

He was called to parliament by Henry IV by the title of Lord Furnival, whose eldest daughter and co-heiress he had married, and was appointed lord-justice of Ireland in 1412, and lord-lieutenant in 1414, in which post he continued seven years, during which he performed great services to the crown, taking prisoner Donald Mac Murrough, a dangerous insurgent. In 1420 he attended on Henry V to France, and was present with him at two sieges, and in his triumphant entry into Paris. Being retained to serve the king in his French wars [cf. Hundred Years' War] with a body of men at arms and archers, he assisted at the siege of Meaux, and remained in France till the death of Henry.

John Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury giving Margaret of Anjou the gift of a book, soon after her marriage to Henry VI
John Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, giving Margaret of Anjou
the gift of a book, soon after her marriage to Henry VI.
At the beginning of Henry the Sixth's reign he was created a knight of the garter, and was a second time made lord-justice of Ireland. He then served in France under the regent Duke of Bedford, and by his exploits rendered his name more terrible to the foe than that of any other English leader. Being raised to the rank of general, he commanded the troops which were sent into the province of Maine to the succour of the Earl of Suffolk, and he made himself master of Alençon. He afterwards took Pontoise, and joined the Earl of Salisbury at the siege of Orleans, which failed through the intervention of the celebrated Maid of Orleans [q.v. Joan of Arc]. The French, recovering their lost courage under the guidance of one whom they thought inspired by Heaven, became assailants in their turn, and in 1429 gave a defeat to the English as Patay, in which Talbot was taken prisoner.

He obtained his liberty by ransom,1 and, raising fresh troops in England, re-crossed the sea, and marched to the Duke of Bedford in Paris. After a conference with that prince,2 he took Beaumont sur Oise by assault, defeated the French at Brunes in Normandy, and recovered Pontoise. For these and other great services he was raised to the dignity of maréchal of France; and in 1442 the title of Earl of Shrewsbury was conferred upon him. In 1443 he was nominated one of the ambassadors to treat of peace with the French king [Charles VII]. In 1446 he was a second time sent to Ireland as lord-lieutenant, and the earldom of Wexford and Waterford in that kingdom was added to his honours.

The English affairs in France continuing to decline, Talbot was again sent thither in 1451, and was constituted lieutenant-general of Aquitaine, with extraordinary powers. His presence restored success; he took Bordeaux, and brought back several towns to their allegiance to the english crown. Receiving intelligence that the French were besieging Castillon, he marched to its relief, and made an attack on the enemy: but fortune at length deserted him; he was shot through the thigh with a cannon-ball, and died on the field of battle, July 20th, 1453. One of his sons was slain in the engagement, Castillon surrendered, and the consequence was the total expulsion of the English from France.3

This great captain, whose merit was acknowledged equally by friends and foes, received the appellation of the Achilles of England. His remains were at first buried in France, along with those of his valiant son; but they were subsequently carried to England, and were interred at Whitchurch, in Shropshire, where a splendid monument was erected to his memory.



[ AJ Notes:
    1 The ransom demanded was so large, that Talbot had to wait almost four years, until he was
        ransomed by exchange for an important French prisoner.
    2 Bedford was the third son of Henry IV, thus the appellation "prince", by the writer of this article.
    3 Further reading, see the death of Talbot and the Battle of Castillon.



A New General Biographical Dictionary. Vol XII.
Hugh James Rose, ed.
London: T. Fellowes, et al., 1857. 172-173.




Other Local Resources:




Books for further study: Talbot, Hugh. The English Achilles: An account of the life and campaigns
           of John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury.
           Chatto & Windus, 1981.

Pollard, A. J. John Talbot and the War in France 1427-1453.
           Pen & Sword, 2006.

Shakespeare, William. Henry VI, parts, I, II, AND III.
           Signet Classics, 1983.





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George Talbot, 6. E. of Shrewsbury
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Images:

Chart of the English Succession from William I through Henry VII

Medieval English Drama

London c1480, MS Royal 16
London, 1510, the earliest view in print
Map of England from Saxton's Descriptio Angliae, 1579
Location Map of Elizabethan London
Plan of the Bankside, Southwark, in Shakespeare's time
Detail of Norden's Map of the Bankside, 1593
Bull and Bear Baiting Rings from the Agas Map (1569-1590, pub. 1631)
Sketch of the Swan Theatre, c. 1596
Westminster in the Seventeenth Century, by Hollar
Visscher's Panoramic View of London, 1616. COLOR
c. 1690. View of London Churches, after the Great Fire
The Yard of the Tabard Inn from Thornbury, Old and New London




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