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Battle of Agincourt

History -- Military history -- List of battles -- History of France -- History of England

Battle of Agincourt
ConflictHundred Years' War
DateOctober 25, 1415
PlaceAgincourt, France
ResultDecisive English victory
Henry V of EnglandCharles VI of France,
Charles d'Albert
5,900 troops25,000 troops
400 8,000

The Battle of Agincourt was fought on St. Crispian's Day October 25, 1415 in Northern France as part of the Hundred Years' War between the heavily outnumbered army of King Henry V of England and that of Charles VI of France, the latter under the command not of the incapacitated king himself but of the Constable Charles d'Albret and various notable French noblemen of the Armagnac party. One of the greatest moments in this battle was even before it happened. The English King Henry V gave a great speech that rallied his men to fight. This speech was adapted into Shakespeare's Henry V. The English army prevailed against the heavily armoured French cavalry which floundered in the mud and was wiped out in the hail of arrows rained down on them.

The battle was fought in the defile formed by the wood of Agincourt and that of Tramecourt, at the northern exit of which the army under d'Albret, constable of France, had placed itself so as to bar the way to Calais against the English forces which had been campaigning on the Somme. The night of the 24th of October was spent by the two armies on the ground, and the English had but little shelter from the heavy rain which fell. Early on the 25th, St Crispin's day, Henry arrayed his little army (about 1000 men-at-arms, 6000 archers, and a few thousands of other foot). It is probable that the usual three "battles" were drawn up in line, each with its archers on the flanks and the dismounted men-at-arms in the centre; the archers being thrown forward in wedge-shaped salients, almost exactly as at the Battle of Crécy. The French, on the other hand, were drawn up in three lines, each line formed in deep masses. They were at least four times more numerous than the English, but restricted by the nature of the ground to the same extent of front, they were unable to use their full weight (compare Bannockburn); further, the deep mud prevented their artillery from taking part, and the crossbowmen were as usual relegated to the rear of the knights and men-at-arms. All were dismounted save a few knights and men-at-arms on the flanks, who were intended to charge the archers of the enemy. Prior to the battle King Henry spoke to his troops from a little gray horse. French accounts state that in his speech he told his men that he and the dukes, earls and other nobles had little to worry about if the French won because they would be captured and ransomed for a good price. The common soldier on the other hand was worth little and so he told them that they had better fight hard.

For three hours after sunrise there was no fighting; then Henry, finding that the French would not advance, moved his army farther into the defile. The archers fixed the pointed stakes, which they carried to ward off cavalry charges, and opened the engagement with flights of arrows. The chivalry of France was not an army but a group of knights who came together by request from Charles VI. They were undisciplined and careless of the lessons of the battles of Crécy and Poitiers, were quickly stung into action; the French mounted men charged, only to be driven back in confusion. The constable himself headed the leading line of dismounted men-at-arms; weighted with their armour, and sinking deep into the mud with every step, they yet reached and engaged the English men-at-arms. For a time the fighting was severe. The thin line of the defenders was borne back and King Henry was almost beaten to the ground. But at this moment the archers, taking their hatchets, swords or other weapons, penetrated the gaps in the now disordered French, who could not move to cope with their unarmoured assailants, and were slaughtered or taken prisoners to a man. The second line of the French came on, only to be engulfed in the mèlée; its leaders, like those of the first line, were killed or taken, and the commanders of the third sought and found their death in the battle, while their men rode off to safety. The only success for the French was a sally from Azincourt castle behind the lines. Ysambart D'Azincourt took over the King's baggage. While this was happening the King was trying to get his own nobles to kill their prisoners. Unlike him, they profited from the battle by getting ransom and they refused to kill their captives. In addition, they knew it was unchristian and against their code. The King had to order the commoners to do his butchery.

The closing scene of the battle was a half-hearted attack made by a body of fugitives, which led merely to the slaughter of the French prisoners, which was ordered by Henry because he had not enough men both to guard them and to meet the attack. In the morning Henry came back to the battlefield and killed any wounded French who survived the night in the open. The total loss of the English is stated at thirteen men-at-arms (including Edward, Duke of York, grandson of Edward III) and about 100 of the foot. The French lost 5000 of noble birth killed, including the constable, 3 dukes, 5 counts and 90 barons; 1000 more were taken prisoners, amongst them the duke of Orléans (the Charles d'Orléans of literature). It should also be noted that this was before the time of Joan of Arc.