|"||We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; For he to-day that sheds his blood with me Shall be my brother; "
| -- Shakespeare, "Henry V" 4.3.21-69
The Hundred Years War has its roots over 400 years earlier, and the events leading up to it were typical of claims to power and inheritance. The English ruled over a larger part than the French at one stage, but this dramatically reverted after a series of internal and external conflicts. The French Kingdom, once again, regained its lands in the North, including Normandy. The English had to settle with their remnants in Gascony (which was very valuable and profitable nevertheless).
The ongoing tumultuousness and hostility between the two Kingdoms went on for centuries, with the English claiming rights to the French throne as their ancestors did. The French King died without any heirs and King Edward III of England expressed his claim to the French throne through his mother, Eleanor (The French King’s aunt) Sooner or later, a large scale war was going to break out, and, in the year 1337AD, French ships began raiding and causing turmoil in coastal English settlements.
At this point in history (1337 AD), the French Kingdom contained approximately 17-18 million (along with the greatest number of Knights in Europe), while the English had little more than 4 million.
The first major engagement occurred at Sluys, where the English convincingly defeated the French fleet in a battle aboard the ships, rather than between them. The first attempt at invading had failed and Edward III now had every right to march on . The army he conglomerated was one of very high standards, being veterans and willing mercenaries. His diverse and well-trained troops proved to be the most effective army Europe had seen since the Romans.
Two significant engagements in terms of revolutionary tactics were fought in the remainder of what is known as the Edwardian War (specific [first] part of the Hundred Years War) – The battle of Crécy and the Battle of Poitiers. In both cases, the French were annihilated by the outnumbered English through effective use of the Longbow.
Periods of peace and war continued well into the next century, but, in 1415, King Henry V had his sights set on the French Crown – believing himself, again, to be a rightful heir. Henry set off over the English Channel with no more than ten thousand men, - taking advantage of a civil war within France – to reassert his position to the French throne. He arrived at the French coast and headed straight for the fortress of Harfleur.The siege lasted a month, from his landing in August until the 22nd of September. It had come at a cost; Henry’s army was ravaged by dysentery. He left a garrison of a few hundred men (under the control of the Earl of Dorset), and set off for Calais.
With eight days provisions for his 5-6000 archers and 1,000 men-at-arms, Henry headed off on October 8th. The army was sick and tired, as well as very hungry. Henry divided his army into three segments; the party out front was led by Sir Gilbert Umfraville and Sir John Cornwall, the center by Henry himself (in conjunction with the Earl of Huntington and the Duke of Gloucester), and the rear was headed up by the Duke of York and Earl of Oxford.
The whole time, the two French armies were in hot pursuit of the withering English invaders. One blocked the river Somme, so Henry turned southeast heading for a ford at Bellencourt. The French deployed cavalry as a form of resistance as the English attempted to cross at Voyennes, but were unsuccessful. The English army crossed on the 19th of October, 11 days into the march – 3 days overdue of rations.
Henry and his army were becoming more and more demoralized by the minute. Henry even went to the extent of offering Harfleur back to the French in return for safe passage to Calais. The French rejected and demanded the English to return all provinces except for Guyenne. Henry disapproved greatly and showed his discontent. The terms Henry wanted were not viable with the French and Henry returned at night to his forces. On the eve of the battle, the English were silent and obliging, despite almost certain death on the battlefield the next day. They lit few fires and slept out on the cold and rainy night. On the other hand, the French were up gambling and drinking till the early hours of the morning – so confident in victory they were.
Dawn, and the French took up a disadvantageous position, keeping with the ‘rules’ of chivalry. The recently ploughed field separating the two armies was sodden with mud up to waist height in some places, but ankle-knee deep in most. The French were under the command of Charles D’Albret, Constable of France.
He assembled his forces into the conventional French formation under his command. The first two battle lines were composed of dismounted men, numbering about 7-8000 each. The third line was made up of mounted Knights and nobles, the elite of the elite French Cavalry. On each flank, 600 mounted Knights were positioned, with the sole command to destroy the English Longbowmen.
The French had immense distaste towards the English Longbowmen by this stage, as they saw their practice as not chivalrous – a ‘lower’ class man being able to take out an elite mounted (and heavily armoured) noble, with some rudimentary training. One example of the French hatred towards these infamous bowmen was succeeding the Siege of Soissons, where 300 of the Longbowmen were captured, humiliated and hung
Three thousand (3000) Genoese Crossbowmen, plus some artillery, were present at the battle, but proved literally useless as they were deployed at the very rear. D’Albret and his army waited, everything was in their favour; numbers, mobility, resources and circumstance.
Across the field, Henry’s well rested and fed men were being deployed in the typical English combined arms formation of the day. The English arranged themselves into a concave shape, with the centre comprised of dismounted men-at-arms. The 750-1000 men-at-arms wielded a range of weapons, such as bill hooks, halberds, long swords, daggers, axes and flails. They were rather heavily armed and armoured, and were a formidable force to reckon with, especially under the direct command of Henry V.
Flanking the centre were the 5-6000 Longbowmen, split between each side. The left was under the command of the Lord of Camoys, while the right came under the control of Edward, Duke of York. The archers extended out slightly from the line to form the concave and were flanked by the Woods of Agincourt and Tramecourt.
Four hours passed, and no move was made. D’Albret stood motionless, remembering Crécy and Poitiers, and how they turned out. He maintained his defensive stance, allowing the English to make the initial move, or starve. It was now that Henry decided upon making his move. The army marched towards the French and came to just within firing range.
The Longbowmen – prior to the battle – were ordered to sharpen stakes to jam into the ground in front of them in battle, acting as a physical barrier to halt charges and disrupt formation. The dismounted English could easily navigate through the maze of stakes, but cavalry and charging infantry would find it a tad more challenging.
The sharp stakes were placed into the ground, facing outwards, and the archers let loose. The repetitive and deadly volleys unleashed were already eating away at the French front line, which had no counter, with the Crossbowmen at the rear. Charles had no option but to order an advance. While the Longbowmen were firing, the flanking Knights saw it a prime opportunity to take out the occupied archers.
They charged furiously, each trying to outpace and outdo his ‘rival’. Camoy’s left flank managed to repel the cavalry through arrow fire even before any Knights had engaged, and routed their opposition. On the other flank, the Knights largely avoided the arrow fire and managed to arrive at the stakes. They were promptly impaled, thrown from their mounts or picked out by the English, and the remnants withdrew.
The front line of the French pushed on in their advance through the sodden field. Lead by Charles himself, the force should have been able to destroy the English single-handedly. However, the terrain played a significant role in the playing out of the battle. The enclosing woods acted as a funnel, compressing the French who were unable to effectively wield their weapons.
As the two sides engaged, the fresh English men-at-arms clearly had the upper hand. The Longbowmen even joined in the massacre. Already half destroyed by rider-less horses and routing horsemen, plus the tiring march, the French were annihilated and withdrew. Many were taken as prisoners.
As the first line withdrew, the second approached an engaged in mêlée. This fighting was a lot more intense, with the 800 or so English men-at-arms holding their ground with difficulty against the 8000 Frenchmen. As the fighting progressed, more and more men succumbed to the fate of falling/tripping and drowning or being trampled. The Duke of York died in this fashion. The masses of downed French infantry were killed off by the lightly armoured and agile Longbowmen, with a quick stab through the eye-slit (with a dagger) or by beating to death (maul or hatchet).
A legendary tale has arisen from this, that Sir Peers Legh was severely wounded, but his Mastiff stood over him until the end of the battle. Legh later died of his wounds, but the dog returned to Sir Peer's residence.
So effective was the English method of fighting, that the second French force was destroyed despite the bloody conflict. One group under D’Alencon was assigned to killing Henry or dying trying to do so. They failed miserably, and Henry gained heroic status in the process, saving the Duke of Gloucester. With the defeat of the Second line, the third loomed in the distance, unmoving.
Henry sent out heralds to call it quits, but the arrogant and glory-seeking nobles of the Third line turned it down in spite of some objection. One commander, known as ‘De Fauquemberg’ led a daring assault with the remaining Knights, straight at the English. Henry and his army were very confident now, even though they were still outnumbered by this final battle line.
To Henry’s surprise and discontent, the lord of Agincourt, ‘Isembert’ accompanied a cavalry charge from the rear into the English Camp, plundering Henry’ remaining rations and treasures. Funnily enough, this was only a minor occurrence and Henry kept focused on the approaching Knights. Many of the French prisoners were killed to free up men to fight. The Longbowmen unleashed a final deathly reign of arrows upon the French, who took the easy option and withdrew before even engaging.
The French were defeated. Over half of the French nobility had been lost in one battle – 3 Dukes, 90 Noblemen and 1560 Knights. 200 were further taken prisoner. It is believed that the English only lost 400 men, mainly the very front line of men-at-arms and some Longbowmen. A lot of these were due to drowning/trampling and disease/starvation rather than from fatal wounds.
After the battle, Henry met with a French Herald to decide upon a name for the battle. They agreed on “The Battle of Agincourt” because of the nearby Agincourt castle. It was a tactically sound victory, proving that a smaller force of disciplined men can far outdo a huge force of disorderly and glory-hungry nobles.
Agincourt was a symbol of a changing time, the era of the mounted Knight and chivalry was drawing to a close and after a string of defeats on their hands, the French begun to reconsider their manner and mindset in battle. The started promoting lower classes into the military, as the English had done, and managed to find success in the rest of the war.
Henry had beaten ’s largest field army and now marched on Calais to winter. Triumph was sweet for the English, whilst defeat proved bitter for the French.
Long has the Battle of Agincourt been a battle decided by the ‘invincible Longbow’. Until recently, this has been the case; however historians are now questioning and investigating the actual decisiveness and importance of the legendary English Longbow.
The typical English Longbow had a maximum range of 350m but was only effective as a killing weapon at 250m. A bodkin point arrow could penetrate full plate armour at 50m. The archers in the English Army at the time of Agincourt were fully professional soldiers of the ‘Yeoman’ class.
It is said, that within 50m, a Longbowman could aim for the head, a hit. Another tactic of the Longbowmen was to fire volleys at an almost 90 degree angle over their own battle line. The arrows would hit the apex and descend straight down onto the opponent’s heads and horse’s backs.
The English triumph at the Battle of Agincourt has long been attributed to the Longbow. However, new evidence has proven that it was not the sole deciding factor in the English victory.
The terrain of Agincourt was much in favour of the smaller English force - flanked by dense woods, and a large ploughed field separating the two armies. The English could not be outflanked and possibly (though not likely) put some archers in the woods. Also, the days before Agincourt, torrential rain poured down. This made for a very soggy battlefield, with some mud up to waist height. For the French, this was terrible – their heavy plate armour would be very disadvantageous.
On the other hand, the lightly clad (cloth and padded leather) Longbowmen could easily navigate their way through the muddy field.
Another factor leading up to Henry’s victory was on the French part. The French were impetuous and glory-seeking. Each Knight wanted to outdo his fellow Knight. This led to serious ordering and positioning of units problems. The French were raring to go, and though their charge would be furious, it was to be rather disorderly and promptly repelled.
Also, the French were tired and hungry from staying up late and sleeping in.
In conclusion, the English victory did have a lot to do with the accuracy, rate of fire (up to 13 per minute) and power of the Longbow. Nevertheless, the terrain and mindset of the French were very significant as well. Furthermore, Henry’s avid and endurant nature, along with his enlightening charisma, was monumental in the gallant English victory at the Battle of Agincourt.
Devries, K. Dougherty, M. Dickie, I. Phyllis, J. Christer, J. (2006). “Battles of the Medieval World 1000 ~ 1500” pp176-187. Published by Amber Books Ltd, London.
Grant, R.G. (2005). “Battle – A visual journey through 5,000 years of combat” Published by Dorling Kindersley Limited, London.
Shakespeare, W. (1599). "Henry V" 4.3.21-69
Beck, S. (2001). "The Agincourt Campaign" <http://www.geocities.com/beckster05/Agincourt/AgCampaign.html> Retrieved 24/3/07, 25/3/07 and 27/3/07
Agincourt Computing. (2004). "The Battle of Agincourt" <http://www.aginc.net/battle/> Retrieved 23/3/07
Daniel, W. (1999). "The Battle of Agincourt Resource Site" <http://home.austin.rr.com/wdaniel/agincourt/> Retrieved 23/3/07 and 24/3/07
Knights, A; Runge, S. (2006) "The Battle of Agincourt, 1415"
 For further information see <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rollo_of_Normandy> Rollo the Viking was allowed by Charles the Simple to settle in what he named Normandy.
 According to <http://www.theotherside.co.uk/tm-heritage/background/100yearswar.htm>
 One of the most decisive elements of the Hundred Years War, climaxing at Agincourt
 Three segments determined from <http://www.geocities.com/beckster05/Agincourt/AgCampaign.html>
 Guyenne is a region in south-western along the Atlantic Ocean and the Pyrenees mountain range on the border with
 Though did hire Genoese mercenaries for Agincourt, many were French levies and middle class crossbowmen
 Though usually exaggerated, two-handed weapons such as bearded axes and halberds were deemed useless in this situation
 Mastiffs are a large and stocky breed of dog, often accompanying the English in battle. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mastiff>
 This dog gave rise to the Lyme Park mastiffs. They symbolized loyalty and bravery, and are still existent today. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lyme_Park>
 According to Devries, K. Dougherty, M. Dickie, I. Phyllis, J. Christer, J. “Battles of the Medieval World 1000 ~ 1500” (2006) Published by Amber Books Ltd. London. These numbers vary among sources but remain high nevertheless
 Source: <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle>
 These figures are taken from Devries, K. Dougherty, M. Dickie, I. Phyllis, J. Christer, J. (2006). “Battles of the Medieval World 1000 ~ 1500” pp176-187. Published by Amber Books Ltd, London.