The Full Wiki

Battle of Agincourt: Map

Advertisements
  
  

Wikipedia article:

Map showing all locations mentioned on Wikipedia article:



The Battle of Agincourt was an English victory against a larger French army in the Hundred Years' War. The battle occurred on Friday 25 October 1415 (Saint Crispin's Day), in northern France. Henry V's victory, which brought France to her knees, started a new period in the war, in which Henry married the French king's daughter and his son was made heir to the throne of France, but his achievement was squandered by his heirs, notably Henry VI.

While Henry V led his troops into battle and actually participated in hand to hand fighting, the French king of the time, Charles VI, did not command the French army himself as he suffered from mental illness and delusions which rendered him incapacitated. Instead the French were commanded by Constable Charles d'Albret and various prominent French noblemen of the Armagnac party.

The battle is notable for the use of the English longbow, which Henry used in very large numbers, with English and Welsh longbowmen forming the vast majority of his army. The battle is also the centrepiece of the play Henry V, by William Shakespeare.

Campaign

Henry V invaded France following the failure of negotiations with the French. He claimed the title of King of France through his great-grandfather Edward III, although in practice the English kings were generally prepared to renounce this claim if the French would acknowledge the English claim on Aquitainemarker and other French lands (the terms of the Treaty of Bretigny). He initially called a great council in the spring of 1414 to discuss going to war with France, but the lords insisted that he should negotiate further and moderate his claims. In the following negotiations Henry said that he would give up his claim to the French throne if the French would pay the 1.6 million crowns outstanding from the ransom of John II (who had been captured at the Battle of Poitiers in 1356), and concede English ownership of the lands of Normandy, Touraine, Anjou, Brittany and Flanders, as well as Aquitaine. Henry would marry Princess Catherine, the young daughter of Charles VI, and receive a dowry of 2 million crowns. The French responded with what they considered the generous terms of marriage with Princess Catherine, a dowry of 600,000 crowns, and an enlarged Aquitaine. By 1415 negotiations had ground to a halt, with the English claiming that the French had mocked their claims and ridiculed Henry himself. In December 1414, the English parliament was persuaded to grant Henry a "double subsidy", a tax at twice the traditional rate, to recover his inheritance from the French. On 19 April 1415, Henry again asked the great council to sanction war with France, and this time they agreed.

Morning of the Battle of Agincourt, 25th October 1415
Henry's army landed in northern France on 13 August 1415 and besieged the port of Harfleurmarker with an army of about 12,000. The siege took longer than expected. The town surrendered on 22 September, and the English army did not leave until 8 October. The campaign season was coming to an end, and the English army had suffered many casualties through disease. Henry decided to move most of his army (roughly 9,000) to the port of Calaismarker, the English stronghold in northern France, where they could re-equip over the winter.

During the siege, the French had raised an army which assembled around Rouenmarker. This was not strictly a feudal army, but an army paid through a system quite similar to the English. The French hoped to raise 9,000 troops, but the army was not ready in time to relieve Harfleur. Then after Henry V marched to the north, the French moved to blockade them along the River Somme. They were successful for a time, forcing Henry to move south, away from Calais, to find a ford. The English finally crossed the Somme south of Péronne, at Béthencourt and Voyennes and resumed marching north. Without the river protection, the French were hesitant to force a battle. They shadowed Henry's army while calling a semonce des nobles, calling on local nobles to join the army. By October 24 both armies faced each other for battle, but the French declined, hoping for the arrival of more troops. The next day the French initiated negotiations as a delaying tactic, but Henry ordered his army to advance and to start a battle that, given the state of his army, he would have preferred to avoid. The English had very little food, had marched 260 miles in two-and-a-half weeks, were suffering from sickness such as dysentery, and faced much larger numbers of well equipped French men at arms. Henry needed to get to the safety of Calais and knew that if he waited, the French would gain yet more reinforcements.

Battle

King Henry V at the Battle of Agincourt, 1415

Situation

The battle was fought in the narrow strip of open land formed between the woods of Tramecourtmarker and Agincourtmarker (close to the modern village of Azincourtmarker). The French army was positioned by d'Albret at the northern exit so as to bar the way to Calaismarker. The night of 24 October was spent by the two armies on open ground.

The battle of Agincourt


Early on the 25th, Henry deployed his army (approximately 1,500 men-at-arms and 7,000 longbowmen, the latter commanded by Thomas Erpingham) 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 archers. The English men-at-arms in plate and mail were placed shoulder to shoulder four deep. The English and Welsh archers on the flanks drove pointed wooden stakes into the ground at an angle to force cavalry to veer off. This use of stakes may have been inspired by the Battle of Nicopolismarker of 1398, where forces of the Ottoman Empire successfully used the tactic against French cavalry.

One English account describes the day before the battle as a day of remorse in which the English soldiers cleansed themselves of their sins to avoid Hell if they died. French accounts state that, prior to the battle, Henry V gave a speech reassuring his nobles that if the French prevailed, the English nobles would be spared, to be captured and ransomed; however, the common soldiers would have no such luck, and he told them that they had better fight for their lives.

By contrast, the French were confident that they would prevail and were eager to fight. The French believed they would triumph over the English not only because their force was larger, fresher and better equipped, but also because the large number of noble men-at-arms would have considered themselves superior to the large number of commoners (such as the longbowmen) in the English army.

The French were arrayed in three lines called "battles". The French chronicler, Jehan de Waurin, writes that there were 8,000 men-at-arms, 4,000 archers and 1,500 crossbowmen in the vanguard, with two wings of 600 and 800 mounted men-at-arms, and the main battle having "as many knights, esquires and archers as in the vanguard", with the rearguard containing "all of the rest of the men-at-arms". The Herald of Berry uses somewhat different figures of 4,800 men-at-arms in the first line, 3,000 men in the second line, with two "wings" containing 600 mounted men-at-arms each, and a total of "10,000 men-at-arms". The Herald does not mention a third line.

Approximately 8,000 of the heavily armoured French men-at-arms fought on foot, and needed to close the distance to the English army to engage them in hand-to-hand fighting. If they could close the distance however, they outnumbered the English men-at-arms by more than 5–1. The English longbowmen would have been considered inferior in a fight, both because they were commoners and because they wore far less armour. Many French troops had fathers and grandfathers who had been humiliated in previous battles such as Crécy and Poitiers, and the French nobility were determined to get revenge. Several French accounts emphasise that the French leaders were so eager to defeat the English that they insisted on being in the first line. For example: "All the lords wanted to be in the vanguard, against the opinion of the constable and the experienced knights".

There appear to have been thousands of troops in the rearguard, containing servants and commoners who the French were either unable or unwilling to deploy. De Waurin gives the total French army size as 50,000. He says: "They had plenty of archers and crossbowmen but nobody wanted to let them fire. The reason for this was that the site was so narrow that there was only enough room for the men-at-arms."The majority of the rearguard played little part in the battle, however, with English and French accounts agreeing that many of the French army fled after seeing so many French nobles killed and captured in the fighting.

Terrain

The field of battle was arguably the most significant factor in deciding the outcome. The recently ploughed land hemmed in by dense woodland favoured the English, both because of its narrowness, and because of the thick mud which the French knights had to walk through. An analysis by Battlefield Detectives has looked at the crowd dynamics of the battlefield. The 1,000–1,500 English men-at-arms are described as shoulder to shoulder and four deep, which implies a tight line about 250–300 men long (perhaps split in two by a central group of archers). The remainder of the field would have been filled with the longbowmen behind their palings. The French first line contained men-at-arms who had no way to outflank the English line. The French, divided into the three battles, one behind the other at their initial starting position, could not bring all their forces to bear: the initial engagement was between the English army and the first battle line of the French. When the second French battle line started their advance, the soldiers were pushed closer together and their effectiveness was reduced. Casualties in the front line from longbow fire would also have increased the congestion, as the following men would have to walk around the fallen. The Battlefield Detectives state that when the density reached four men per square metre, soldiers would not even be able to take full steps forward, lowering the speed of the advance by 70%. Accounts of the battle describe the French engaging the English men-at-arms before being rushed from the sides by the longbowmen as the melée developed. The English account in the Gesta Henrici says: "For when some of them, killed when battle was first joined, fall at the front, so great was the undisciplined violence and pressure of the mass of men behind them that the living fell on top of the dead, and others falling on top of the living were killed as well". Although the French initially pushed the English back, they became so closely packed that they are described as having trouble using their weapons properly. The French monk of St. Denis says: "Their vanguard, composed of about 5,000 men, found itself at first so tightly packed that those who were in the third rank could scarcely use their swords", and the Burgundian sources have a similar passage. In practice there was not enough room for all these men to fight, and they were unable to respond effectively when the English longbowmen joined the hand-to-hand fighting. By the time the second French line arrived, for a total of about eight thousand men (depending on the source), the crush would have been even worse. The press of men arriving from behind actually hindered those fighting at the front.

As the battle was fought on a recently ploughed field, and there had recently been heavy rain leaving it very muddy, it proved very tiring to walk through in full plate armour. The French monk of St. Denis describes the French troops as "marching through the middle of the mud where they sank up to their knees. So they were already overcome with fatigue even before they advanced against the enemy". The deep, soft mud particularly favoured the English force because, once knocked to the ground, the heavily armoured French knights struggled to get back up to fight in the melée. Barker (2005) states that several knights, encumbered by their armour, actually drowned in it. Their limited mobility made them easy targets for the volleys from the English archers. The mud also increased the ability of the much more lightly armoured English archers to join in hand-to-hand fighting against the heavily armed French men-at-arms.

Fighting

On the morning of 25 October the French were still waiting for additional troops to arrive. The Duke of Brabant, the Duke of Anjou and the Duke of Brittany, each commanding 1,500–2,000 fighting men, were all marching to join the army. This left the French with a question of whether or not to advance towards the English.

For three hours after sunrise there was no fighting. The French, knowing that the English were trapped, and perhaps aware of their previous failures attacking English prepared positions, would not attack. Henry would have known as well as the French did that his army would perform better in a defensive battle, but he was eventually forced to take a calculated risk, and move his army further forward. This entailed pulling out the palings (long stakes pointed outwards toward the enemy) which protected the longbowmen, and abandoning his chosen position. (The use of palings was an innovation for the English: during the Battle of Crécy, for example, the archers were instead protected by pits and other obstacles.) If the French cavalry had charged before the palings had been hammered back in, the result would probably have been disastrous for the English, as it was at the Battle of Patay. However, the French seem to have been caught off guard by the English advance. The tightness of the terrain also seems to have restricted the planned deployment of their forces. A battle plan had originally been drawn up which had archers and crossbowmen in front of the men-at-arms, with a cavalry force at the rear specifically designed to "fall upon the archers, and use their force to break them," but in the actual event, the archers and crossbowmen were deployed behind and to the sides of the men-at-arms (where they seem to have played almost no part in the battle, except possibly for an initial volley of arrows at the start of the battle). The cavalry force, which could have devastated the English line if it had attacked while they moved their position, seems to have charged only after the initial volley of arrows from the English. It is unclear whether this is because the French were hoping the English would launch a frontal assault (and were surprised when the English instead started firing from their new defensive position), or whether the French mounted knights simply did not react fast enough to the English advance. French chroniclers agree that when the mounted charge did come, it did not contain as many men as it should have; Gilles le Bouvier states that some had wandered off to warm themselves and others were walking or feeding their horses.

In any case, within extreme bowshot from the French line (approximately 300 yards), the longbowmen dug in their palings, and then opened the engagement with a barrage of arrows.

The French cavalry, despite being somewhat disorganised and not at full numbers, charged the longbowmen, but it was a disaster, with the French knights unable to outflank the longbowmen (because of the encroaching woodland) and unable to charge through the palings that protected the archers. Keegan (1976) argues that the longbows' main influence on the battle was at this point: armoured only on the head, many horses would have become dangerously out of control when struck in the back or flank from the high-elevation shots used as the charge started. The effect of the mounted charge and then retreat was further to churn up the mud the French had to cross to reach the English. Barker (2005) quotes a contemporary account by a monk of St. Denismarker who reports how the panicking horses also galloped back through the advancing infantry, scattering them and trampling them down in their headlong flight. The Burgundian sources similarly say that the mounted men-at-arms retreated back into the advancing French vanguard.

The constable himself led the attack of the dismounted French men-at-arms. French accounts describe their vanguard alone as containing about 5,000 men-at-arms, which would have outnumbered the English men-at-arms by more than 3 to 1, but before they could engage in hand-to-hand fighting they had to cross the muddy field under a bombardment of arrows.

The heavy armour of the French men-at-arms allowed them to close the 300 yards or so to the English lines while being under what the French monk of Saint Denis described as "a terrifying hail of arrow shot". However they had to lower their visors and bend their heads to avoid being shot in the face (the eye and airholes in their helmets were among the weakest points in the armour), which restricted both their breathing and their vision, and then they had to walk a few hundred yards through thick mud, wearing armour weighing 50–60 pounds.

The French men-at-arms reached the English line and actually pushed it back, with the longbowmen continuing to fire until they ran out of arrows and then dropping their bows and joining the melée (which lasted about three hours), implying that the French were able to walk through the fire of tens of thousands of arrows while taking comparatively few casualties. But the physical pounding even from non-penetrating arrows, combined with the slog in heavy armour through the mud, the heat and lack of oxygen in plate armour with the visor down, and the crush of their numbers meant they could "scarcely lift their weapons" when they finally engaged the English line.

When the English archers, using hatchets, swords and other weapons, attacked the now disordered and fatigued French, the French could not cope with their unarmoured assailants (who were much less hindered by the mud). The exhausted French men-at-arms are described as having been knocked to the ground and then unable to get back up. As the mêlée developed, the French second line also joined the attack, but they too were swallowed up, with the narrow terrain meaning the extra numbers could not be used effectively, and French men-at-arms were taken prisoner or killed in their thousands. The fighting lasted about three hours, but eventually the leaders of the second line were killed or captured, as those of the first line had been. The English Gesta Henrici describes three great heaps of the slain around the three main English standards.

According to contemporary English accounts, Henry was directly involved in the hand-to-hand fighting. Upon hearing that his youngest brother Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, had been wounded in the abdomen, Henry took his household guard and cut a path through the French, standing over his brother and beating back waves of soldiers until Humphrey could be dragged to safety.

The assault on the baggage train and the killing of the prisoners

The only French success was a sally from Agincourt Castle behind the lines attacking the lightly protected English baggage train, with Ysembart d'Azincourt (leading a small number of men-at-arms and about 600 peasants) seizing some of Henry's personal treasures, including a crown. In some accounts this happened towards the end of the battle, and led the English to think they were being attacked from the rear. Barker (2005) prefers the Gesta Henrici however, believed to have been written by an English chaplain who was actually in the baggage train, who says that the attack happened at the start of the battle.

Regardless, there was definitely a point after the initial English victory where Henry became alarmed that the French were regrouping for another attack. The Gesta Henrici puts this after the English had overcome the onslaught of the French men-at-arms, and the weary English troops were eyeing the French rearguard ("in incomparable number and still fresh"). Le Fevre and Waurin similarly say that it was signs of the French rearguard regrouping and "marching forward in battle order" which made the English think they were still in danger.

In any event, Henry ordered the slaughter of what was perhaps several thousand French prisoners, with only the most illustrious being spared. His fear was that they would rearm themselves with the weapons strewn upon the field, and the exhausted English (who had been fighting for about three hours) would be overwhelmed. This was certainly ruthless, but arguably justifiable given the situation of the battle; perhaps surprisingly, even the French chroniclers do not criticise him for this. This marked the end of the battle, as the French rearguard, having seen so many of the French nobility captured and killed, fled the battlefield.

Aftermath

Due to a lack of reliable sources it is impossible to give a precise figure for the French and English casualties. However, it is clear that though the English were outnumbered, their losses were far lower than those of the French. The French sources all give 4,000–10,000 French dead, with up to 1,600 English dead. The lowest ratio in these French sources has the French losing six times more dead than the English. The English sources vary between about 1,500 and 11,000 for the French dead, with English dead put at no more than 100.

Barker identifies from the available records "at least" 112 Englishmen who died in the fighting (including Edward of Norwich, 2nd Duke of York, a grandson of Edward III), but this excludes the wounded. One widely used estimate puts the English casualties at 450, not an insignificant number in an army of about 8,500, but far less than the thousands the French lost, nearly all of whom were killed or captured. Using the lowest French estimate of their own dead of 4,000 would imply a ratio of nearly 9–1 in favour of the English, or over 10–1 if the prisoners are included.

The French suffered heavily. The constable, three dukes, five counts and 90 barons all died. Estimates of the number of prisoners vary between 700 and 2,200, amongst them the Duke of Orléans (the famous poet Charles d'Orléans) and Jean Le Maingre, Marshal of France. Almost all these prisoners would have been nobles, as the less valuable prisoners were slaughtered.

It took several years' more campaigning, but Henry was eventually able to fulfil all his objectives. He was recognised by the French in the Treaty of Troyes (1420) as the regent and heir to the French throne. This was cemented by his marriage to Catherine of Valois, the daughter of King Charles VI.

Notable casualties



Numbers at Agincourt

Anne Curry in her 2005 book Agincourt: A New History, argues (based on research into the surviving administrative records) that the French army was about 12,000 strong, and the English army about 9,000, giving odds of 4–3. By contrast, Juliet Barker in her Agincourt: The King, the Campaign, the Battle (also published in 2005) argues the English and Welsh were outnumbered "at least four to one and possibly as much as six to one". She suggests figures of about 6,000 for the English and 36,000 for the French, based on the Gesta Henrici's figures of 5,000 archers and 900 men-at-arms for the English, and Jehan de Waurin's statement "that the French were six times more numerous than the English". The 2009 Encylopædia Britannica uses the figures of about 6,000 for the English and 20,000 to 30,000 for the French. The 1911 Britannica used somewhat different figures of 6,000 archers, 1,000 men-at-arms and "a few thousands of other foot" for the English, with the French outnumbering them by "at least four times".

Having both one of the lowest estimates for the size of the French army and also one of the highest estimates for the size of the English army, Curry is currently in a minority in suggesting that the odds were as equal as 4–3. While not necessarily agreeing with the exact numbers Curry uses, some historians have however given support to her assertion that the French army was much smaller than traditionally thought, and the English somewhat bigger. Bertrand Schnerb, a professor of medieval history at the University of Lille, has said that he thinks the French probably had 12–15,000 troops. Ian Mortimer, in his 2009 book 1415: Henry V's Year of Glory, notes how Curry "minimises French numbers (by limiting her figures to those in the basic army and a few specific additional companies) and maximises English numbers (by assuming the numbers sent home from Harfleur were no greater than sick lists)", but still broadly supports her research, suggesting "the most extreme imbalance which is credible is fifteen thousand French troops against 8,100 English: a ratio of about two-to-one".

However, Clifford J. Rogers, professor of history at the United States Military Academy at West Point, has recently argued that archival records are too incomplete to substantially change his view that the English were outnumbered about 4–1. Juliet Barker also disagrees with Curry's arguments in the acknowledgments section of her 2005 book on Agincourt, saying: "Surviving administrative records on both sides, but especially the French, are simply too incomplete to support [Curry's] assertion that nine thousand English were pitted against an army only twelve thousand [French]. And if the differential really was as low as three to four then this makes a nonsense of the course of the battle as described by eyewitnesses and contemporaries."

Those supporting a greater imbalance have generally put more store by contemporary (and especially eyewitness) accounts. The Gesta Henrici gives plausible figures for the English of 5,000 archers and 900 men-at-arms, but Mortimer notes it is "wildly inaccurate" in stating the English were outnumbered 30–1, and there have also been doubts as to how much it was written as propaganda for Henry V. The proportions also seem incorrect, as from surviving records we know that Henry set out with about four times as many archers as men-at-arms, not five and a half times as many. Those who have supported the Gesta figures for the English army have generally thought that although the English army may have left Harfleur with eight or nine thousand men, it is plausible that after weeks of campaigning and disease in hostile territory they would have lost two or three thousand fighting men; however Mortimer states: "Despite the trials of the march, Henry had lost very few men to illness or death; and we have independent testimony that no more than 160 had been captured on the way."

As Mortimer notes, the Burgundian numbers for the size of the French vanguard of 8,000 men-at-arms in the vanguard with 1,400 men-at-arms in the wings correspond roughly with the figures of ten thousand men-at-arms recorded by the duke of Berry's herald. The Burgundians also recorded 4,000 archers and 1,500 crossbowmen in the vanguard, although it should be noted that they give the total size of the French army as an implausible 50,000, and the numbers they use do not correspond closely to the odds they describe. Using very similar numbers, Jean Le Fevre states that the English were outnumbered 3-1, whereas Waurin states that the English were outnumbered 6–1.

One particular cause of confusion may have been the number of servants on both sides. Mortimer suggests that because there was a much higher proportion of men-at-arms on the French side, the number of non-combatants was much higher. Each man-at-arms could be expected to have a page, who would have ridden one of his spare horses. The French army would therefore have had about an extra 10,000 men (as opposed to only 1,000 or 1,500 extra for the English), meaning that the size of the French encampment (at 22–25,000) was roughly three times the size of the English (at about 10,000).

It is open to debate whether these should all be counted as non-combatants; Rogers (for example) accepts that the French probably had about 10,000 men-at-arms, but explicity includes one armed "gros valet" (military servant) per French man-at-arms in his calculation of the odds. There may therefore be less difference between these different positions than there initially appears, given that the various accounts generally agree that the battle was almost entirely fought between the French men-at-arms and the English army, with French crossbowmen, archers and other infantry playing little or no part.

See also

  • Dafydd Gam: Welsh hero who reputedly saved Henry V's life at Agincourt
  • The Agincourt Carol: a well-known 15th century English folk song concerning the battle.
  • Henry V
  • Henry V
  • Henry V
  • V sign, for more on the "two-fingers salute" which some claim derives from the gestures of longbowmen fighting in the English army at the battle of Agincourt.


Fictional accounts

A fictional portrayal of an archer in the Battle of Agincourt is Bernard Cornwell's Agincourt (US Title), Azincourt (UK Title).

Notes

  • a. Pronunciation: The story of the battle has been retold many times in English, from the fifteenth-century Agincourt song onwards, and an English pronunciation of has become established. Merriam-Webster has a small audio file here. The modern tendency, however, is to use pronunciations closer to the original French , such as or , as exampled in this interview with Juliet Barker on Meet the Author, here.
  • b. Dates in the fifteenth century are difficult to reconcile with modern calendars: see Barker (2005) pp. 225–7 for the way the date of the battle was established.


References

  1. Barker (2005) p. 13.
  2. Barker (2005) pp. 67–69.
  3. Barker (2005) pp. 107, 114.
  4. Battle of Agincourt 1415, de Waurin
  5. Quoted in Curry, 2000, p. 181.
  6. Quoted in Curry, 2000, p. 107.
  7. Barker (2005) p. 273.
  8. Barker, (2005) p. 291.
  9. Barker (2005) pp. 297–298.
  10. Barker (2005) pp. 302–305.
  11. All figures on number of dead from table in Curry, 2000, p. 12
  12. Barker (2005) pp. 337, 367, 368.
  13. For a fuller list of French casualties, see [1]
  14. Historians Reassess Battle of Agincourt, Glanz
  15. Mortimer, op.cit., p.565
  16. Mortimer, op.cit., pp.421-2


Bibliography

Books


  • Barker, Juliet (2005). Agincourt: The King, the Campaign, the Battle (U.S. Title: Agincourt : Henry V and the Battle That Made England.) London: Little, Brown. ISBN 9780316726481.


  • Curry, Anne (2000). The Battle of Agincourt: Sources and Interpretations. The Boydell Press. ISBN 0851158021.
  • Curry, Anne (2005). Agincourt: A New History. Pub: Tempus UK. ISBN 978-0-7524-2828-4
  • Dupuy, Trevor N. (1993). Harper Encyclopedia of Military History. Pub: New York: HarperCollins. ISBN 978-0-06-270056-8
  • Keegan, John (1976). The Face of Battle: A Study of Agincourt, Waterloo, and the Somme. Pub: Viking Adult. ISBN 978-0-14-004897-1 (Penguin Classics Reprint)


Articles


Other




External links






Embed code:
Advertisements






Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address
Message