The Battle of Agincourt (October 25, 1415) was a pivotal battle in the Hundred Years’ War (1337–1453), resulting in an English victory over the French.
The English King Henry V and his troops were marching to Calais to embark for England when he was intercepted by forces which outnumbered his. The French wanted to annihilate him before he could get to England.
The battle was fought in the gorge formed by the wood of Agincourt. The French army was positioned at the northern exit so as to bar the way to Calais. The night of 24 October was spent by the two armies on open ground, and the English had little shelter from the heavy rain. Many were sick and numbers were severely reduced to about 5,900 men; most modern historians would accept that they were outnumbered by three to one or more by the French. What was to happen, once again showed English resilience and courage.
Early on the 25th, Henry V deployed his army (900 men-at-arms and 5,000 Longbowmen) across a 750 yard part of the defile. It is likely that the English adopted their usual battle line of Longbowmen on either flank, men-at-arms and knights in the centre, and at the very centre roughly 200 Longbow archers.
The Longbow is the development of a Welsh design, the first appearing in the early 12th century. As with any bow, it is essentially a platform for launching arrows, a means of getting missiles to their target. But the Longbow signifies much more than that – it empowered the peasant soldier and was a great leveller on any battlefield. Archers were used to great effect as lightly armed yet highly mobile forces; their arrow storms were almost always guaranteed to halt an enemy advance. In England, the cult of the archer ran deep, with men developing deformed arms at the strength required. Ancient laws forced compulsory archery practice on all men, so that a trained force was always ready. In addition to the archers in the infantry, mounted archers had great reputations and status. They all had one thing in common though; The Longbow. The English men-at-arms in plate and mail were placed shoulder to shoulder four deep. The English archers on the flanks drove pointed wooden stakes called ‘palings’ into the ground at an angle to force cavalry to veer off.
The French were arrayed in three lines called ‘battles’, each with roughly 6,000; however, the first is thought to have swelled to nearly 9,000. Situated on each flank were smaller ‘wings’ of mounted men-at-arms and French Nobles (probably 2,400 in total, 1,200 on each wing), while the centre contained dismounted men-at-arms, including 12 Princes of royal blood. The rear was made up of 6,000-9000 of late arriving men-at-arms. The 4,000-6,000 French crossbowmen and archers were posted in front of the men-at-arms in centre.
The battlefield was very muddy from the recent rain. This deep mud favoured the English force because, once knocked to the ground, the heavily armoured French knights would find it very difficult to stand back up, eliminating them as an effective fighting force. The mud was deep enough that more than one knight suffocated after being knocked into it. The mud also increased the ability of the English archers to fight in the close combat. Lightly armoured or even unarmoured compared to the men-at-arms on both sides, the archers suffered only minor problems from the mud.
Map of the Battle of Agincourt 1415
On the morning of October 25th the French were still waiting for additional troops to arrive. For three hours after sunrise there was no fighting; then Henry, finding that the French would not advance, moved his army further into the gorge. Within extreme bowshot from the French line (400 yards), the archers dug in palings, and opened the engagement with a barrage of arrows.
The French at this point lost some of their discipline and the wings charged the archers, but were decimated and then driven back in confusion. The French ‘Constable’ himself headed the leading line of dismounted men-at-arms, but weighed down by their armour and sinking deep into the mud with every step, they struggled to reach and engage the English men-at-arms. Wallowing in the mud, they were easy targets for the English bowmen. Once the French reached the English line it became worse: because of the number of men they had brought into the gorge, the French were far too closely packed to even lift their weapons to attack the enemy. However, as casualties mounted and prisoners were taken, the French started to engage the line to good effect.
The thin line of defenders was pushed back and Henry himself was almost beaten to the ground. But at this moment, the English archers, using hatchets, swords and other weapons, penetrated the gaps among the now disordered French, and were slaughtered or taken prisoner. By this time the second line of the French had already attacked, only to be engulfed in the morass. Its leaders, like those of the first line, were killed or captured, and the commanders of the third line sought and found their death in the battle, while their men rode off to safety. The English, despite the confusion and pressure of close combat kept going. Kept fighting. Their ethos of fighting for each other unbending. This was the mentality of the Saxon Shield Wall coming out again. And it began to take its toll on the French. Imagine the pressure of so much close combat. The thirst, noise, and death.
15th Century Knight. Artist: Skworus.
One of the best tales to emerge from the battle occurred when the Duke of Gloucester, Henry V’s youngest brother, was wounded in the abdomen. According to the story, Henry, upon hearing of his brother’s wound, took his household guard and cut a path through the French and stood over his brother’s body beating back waves of soldiers until Gloucester could be dragged to safety. True courage from this English leader.
The only success for the French was a sneak attack behind the lines. They seized the English baggage train with 1,000 peasants. Thinking his rear was under attack and worried that the prisoners would rearm themselves (with the weapons that were strewn across the field,) Henry ordered the slaughter of the captives. The nobles and senior officers, wishing to ransom the prisoners, refused, so the task fell to the common soldiers mainly the archers. This is mercilous stuff by the English King, but caused by French treachery.
In the morning, Henry returned to the battlefield and ordered the killing of any wounded Frenchmen who had survived the night out in the open. All the nobility had already been taken away, and any commoners left on the field were too badly injured to survive without medical care.
It is probable that the English lost an estimated 450 casualties. This is a not insignificant number in an army of 6,000, but far less than the thousands of French who were lost.
The French suffered heavily, mainly because of the massacre of the prisoners. The Constable, 3 Dukes, 5 Counts and 90 Barons. This total included the Marshall of France.
This battle has been immortalised by Shakespeare in his play Henry V and in films.
Agincourt stands in English history like a beacon. Using a ‘Wall’ (of archers not Shields,) tactic to break a superior enemy the English once again demonstrated their ability to take on far more numbers than their own. It demonstrates the ability of the English to stand shoulder to shoulder and fight for each other, almost relishing the prospect of being outnumbered. This can be seen through history. It dictates their unity and strength of purpose that others find so enviable.
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Link will appear as Hanson, Marilee. "Battle of Agincourt" https://englishhistory.net/middle-ages/battle-of-agincourt/, February 17, 2022