The BATTLE OF AGINCOURT (/ˈæʒɪnkʊr/ ; in French, AZINCOURT
French pronunciation: ) was a major English victory in the Hundred
Years\' War . The battle took place on Friday, 25 October 1415 (Saint
Crispin\'s Day ) in the
County of Saint-Pol ,
Henry V led his troops into battle and 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 severe psychotic illnesses with moderate mental incapacitation. Instead, the French were commanded by Constable Charles d\'Albret and various prominent French noblemen of the Armagnac party .
This battle is notable for the use of the
* 1 Contemporary accounts * 2 Campaign
* 3 Battle
* 3.1 The battlefield
* 3.1.1 English deployment * 3.1.2 French deployment
* 3.2 Terrain
* 3.3 Fighting
* 3.3.1 Opening moves * 3.3.2 French cavalry attack * 3.3.3 Main French assault * 3.3.4 Attack on the English baggage train * 3.3.5 Henry orders the killing of the prisoners
* 3.4 Aftermath
* 3.5 Notable casualties
* 3.5.1 French * 3.5.2 English * 3.5.3 Prisoners
* 4 Numbers at Agincourt * 5 Popular representations * 6 Agincourt today * 7 See also
* 8 Notes and references
* 8.1 Notes * 8.2 References * 8.3 Bibliography
* 9 Further reading * 10 External links
Battle of Agincourt
Hundred Years War
Henry V invaded
Henry's army landed in northern
The French had raised an army during the siege which assembled around
The location of the battle is not precisely fixed in contemporary accounts. Most authors believe it was fought in the narrow strip of open land formed between the woods of Tramecourt and Azincourt (close to the modern village of Azincourt ). However, the lack of archaeological evidence at this traditional site has led to suggestions it may have been fought to the west of Azincourt.
The battle of Agincourt
Early on the 25th, Henry deployed his army (approximately 1,500
men-at-arms and 7,000 longbowmen ) across a 750-yard (690 m) part of
the defile . The army was organised into three "battles" or divisions:
the vanguard , led by the
The English made their confessions before the battle, as was customary. Henry, worried about the enemy launching surprise raids, and wanting his troops to remain focused, ordered all his men to spend the night before the battle in silence, on pain of having an ear cut off. He told his men that he would rather die in the coming battle than be captured and ransomed.
Henry made a speech emphasising the justness of his cause, and reminding his army of previous great defeats the kings of England had inflicted on the French. The Burgundian sources have him concluding the speech by telling his men that the French had boasted that they would cut off two fingers from the right hand of every archer, so that he could never draw a longbow again. Whether this was true is open to question; as previously noted, death was the normal fate of any soldier who could not be ransomed.
The French force was not only larger than that of the English, their noble men-at-arms would have considered themselves superior to the large number of archers in the English army, whom the French (based on their experience in recent memory of using and facing archers) considered relatively insignificant. For example, the chronicler Edmond de Dyntner stated that there were "ten French nobles against one English", ignoring the archers completely. Several French accounts emphasise that the French leaders were so eager to defeat the English (and win the ransoms of the English men-at-arms) that they insisted on being in the first line; as one of the contemporary accounts put it: "All the lords wanted to be in the vanguard, against the opinion of the constable and the experienced knights."
The French were arrayed in three lines or "battles". The first line
was led by Constable d'Albret, Marshal Boucicault , and the Dukes of
Orléans and Bourbon , with attached cavalry wings under the
Thousands of troops appear to have been in the rearguard, containing servants and commoners whom the French were either unable or unwilling to deploy. Wavrin gives the total French army size as 50,000: "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." A different source says that the French did not even deploy 4,000 of the best crossbowmen "on the pretext they had no need of their help".
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 through which the French knights had to walk.
Accounts of the battle describe the French engaging the English men-at-arms before being rushed from the sides by the longbowmen as the mêlée 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 were 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.
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 had a hard time getting back up to fight in the mêlée. Barker states that some knights, encumbered by their armour, actually drowned in their helmets.
Morning of the Battle of Agincourt, 25th October 1415, painted by Sir John Gilbert in the 19th century
On the morning of 25 October, the French were still waiting for
additional troops to arrive. The
For three hours after sunrise there was no fighting. Military textbooks of the time stated: "Everywhere and on all occasions that foot soldiers march against their enemy face to face, those who march lose and those who remain standing still and holding firm win." On top of this, the French were expecting thousands of men to join them if they waited. They were blocking Henry's retreat, and were perfectly happy to wait for as long as it took. There had even been a suggestion that the English would run away rather than give battle when they saw that they would be fighting so many French princes.
Henry's men, on the other hand, were already very weary from hunger, illness and marching. Even though Henry knew as well as the French did that his army would perform better on the defensive, he was eventually forced to take a calculated risk, and move his army farther forward to start the battle. This entailed abandoning his chosen position and pulling out, advancing, and then re-installing the long sharpened wooden stakes pointed outwards toward the enemy, which helped protect the longbowmen from cavalry charges. (The use of stakes was an innovation for the English: during the Battle of Crécy , for example, the archers had been instead protected by pits and other obstacles. )
The tightness of the terrain also seems to have restricted the planned deployment of the French forces. The French had originally drawn up a battle plan that had archers and crossbowmen in front of their 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 event, the French archers and crossbowmen were deployed behind and to the sides of the men-at-arms (where they seem to have played almost no part, 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 stakes, charged only after the initial volley of arrows from the English. It is unclear whether the delay occurred because the French were hoping the English would launch a frontal assault (and were surprised when the English instead started shooting from their new defensive position), or whether the French mounted knights instead did not react quickly 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.
The French cavalry, despite being somewhat disorganised and not at full numbers, charged towards 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 forest of sharpened stakes that protected the archers. John Keegan argues that the longbows' main influence on the battle at this point was injuries to horses: 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 long range shots used as the charge started. The mounted charge and subsequent retreat churned up the already muddy terrain between the French and the English. Juliet Barker quotes a contemporary account by a monk of St. Denis who reports how the wounded and panicking horses galloped through the advancing infantry, scattering them and trampling them down in their headlong flight from the battlefield.
Main French Assault
King Henry V at the Battle of Agincourt, 1415, by Sir John Gilbert in the 19th century.
The plate 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". A complete coat of plate was considered such good protection that shields were generally not used, although the Burgundian contemporary sources specifically distinguish between Frenchmen who used shields and those who did not, and Rogers has suggested that the front elements of the French force may have used axes and shields. Modern historians are somewhat divided on how effective the longbow fire would have been against plate armour of the time, with some modern texts suggesting that arrows could not penetrate, especially the better quality steel armour, but others suggesting arrows could penetrate, especially the poorer quality wrought iron armour. Rogers suggests that the longbow could penetrate a wrought iron breastplate at short range and penetrate the thinner armour on the limbs even at 220 yards (200 m). He considers a knight in the best quality steel armour would have been more or less invulnerable to an arrow on the breastplate or top of the helmet, but would still have been vulnerable to shots hitting the limbs, particularly at close range. In any case, to protect themselves as much as possible from the arrows, the French had to lower their visors and bend their helmeted heads to avoid being shot in the face—the eye and air-holes in their helmets were among the weakest points in the armour. This head lowered position restricted both their breathing and their vision. Then they had to walk a few hundred yards through thick mud, a press of comrades and wearing armour weighing 50–60 pounds (23–27 kg), gathering sticky clay all the way. Increasingly they had to walk around or over fallen comrades. Miniature from Vigiles du roi Charles VII. The battle of Azincourt 1415.
The surviving French men-at-arms reached the front of the English line and pushed it back, with the longbowmen on the flanks continuing to shoot at point-blank range. When the archers ran out of arrows, they dropped their bows and using hatchets , swords and the mallets they had used to drive their stakes in, attacked the now disordered, fatigued and wounded French men-at-arms massed in front of them. The French could not cope with the thousands of lightly armoured longbowmen assailants (who were much less hindered by the mud and weight of their armour) combined with the English men-at-arms. The impact of thousands of 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 the French men-at-arms could "scarcely lift their weapons" when they finally engaged the English line. The exhausted French men-at-arms are described as being knocked to the ground by the English 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. Rogers suggests that the French at the back of their deep formation would have been attempting to push forward and quite literally add their weight to the advance, without realising that they were hindering the ability of those at the front to manoeuvre and fight, actually pushing them into the English formation of lancepoints. After the initial wave, the French would have had to fight over and on the bodies of those who had fallen before them. In such a "press" of thousands of men, Rogers finds it plausible that a significant number could have suffocated in their armour, as is described by several sources, and is also known to have happened in other battles.
The French men-at-arms were taken prisoner or killed in the
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
Attack On The English Baggage Train
1915 depiction of Henry V at the
Battle of Agincourt
The only French success was an attack on the lightly protected English baggage train, with Ysembart d' Azincourt (leading a small number of men-at-arms and varlets plus about 600 peasants) seizing some of Henry's personal treasures, including a crown. Whether this was part of a deliberate French plan or an act of local brigandage is unclear from the sources. Certainly, d' Azincourt was a local knight but he may have been chosen to lead the attack because of his local knowledge and the lack of availability of a more senior soldier. In some accounts the attack happened towards the end of the battle, and led the English to think they were being attacked from the rear. Barker, following the Gesta Henrici, believed to have been written by an English chaplain who was actually in the baggage train, concludes that the attack happened at the start of the battle.
Henry Orders The Killing Of The Prisoners
Regardless of when the baggage assault happened, at some point after the initial English victory, Henry became alarmed that the French were regrouping for another attack. The Gesta Henrici places 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 Fèvre and Wavrin 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. A slaughter of the French prisoners ensued. It seems it was purely a decision of Henry, since the English knights found it contrary to chivalry, and contrary to their interests to kill valuable hostages for whom it was commonplace to ask ransom. Henry threatened to hang whoever did not obey his orders.
In any event, Henry ordered the slaughter of what were perhaps several thousand French prisoners, sparing only the most high ranked (presumably those most likely to fetch a large ransom under the chivalric system of warfare). According to most chroniclers, Henry's fear was that the prisoners (who, in an unusual turn of events, actually outnumbered their captors) would realize their advantage in numbers, rearm themselves with the weapons strewn about the field and overwhelm the exhausted English forces. Contemporary chroniclers did not criticise him for it. In his study of the battle, John Keegan argued that the main aim was not to actually kill the French knights but rather to terrorise them into submission and quell any possibility they might resume the fight, which would probably have caused the uncommitted French reserve forces to join the fray, as well. Such an event would have posed a risk to the still-outnumbered English and could have easily turned a stunning victory into a mutually-destructive defeat, as the English forces were now largely intermingled with the French and would have suffered grievously from the arrows of their own longbowmen had they needed to resume shooting. Keegan also speculated that due to the relatively low number of archers actually involved in killing the French knights (roughly 200 by his estimate), together with the refusal of the English knights to assist in a duty they saw as distastefully unchivalrous and combined with the sheer difficulty of killing such a large number of prisoners in such a short space of time, the actual number of French knights killed might not have even reached the hundreds before the reserves fled the field and Henry called an end to the slaughter.
The lack of reliable sources makes it impossible to give a precise
figure for the French and English casualties (dead, wounded, taken
prisoner). 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 men 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 killed in the fighting, including Edward of
One widely used estimate puts the English casualties at 450, not an insignificant number in an army of about 8,500, but far fewer 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 to 1 in favour of the English, or over 10 to 1 if the prisoners are included.
The French suffered heavily. Three dukes , at least eight counts , a
viscount , and an archbishop died, along with numerous other nobles.
Of the great royal office holders,
Although the victory had been militarily decisive, its impact was
complex. It did not lead to further English conquests immediately as
Henry's priority was to return to England, which he did on 16
November, to be received in triumph in London on the 23rd. Henry
returned a conquering hero, in the eyes of his subjects and European
powers outside France, blessed by God. It established the legitimacy
of the Lancastrian monarchy and the future campaigns of Henry to
pursue his "rights and privileges" in France. Other benefits to the
English were longer term. Very quickly after the battle, the fragile
truce between the Armagnac and Burgundian factions broke down. The
brunt of the battle had fallen on the Armagnacs and it was they who
suffered the majority of senior casualties and carried the blame for
the defeat. The Burgundians seized on the opportunity and within 10
days of the battle had mustered their armies and marched on Paris.
This lack of unity in
Notable casualties (most named by
Enguerrand de Monstrelet
* Charles I d\'Albret ,
* Antoine of Burgundy ,
Six counts (seven with d'Albret):
* Philip of Burgundy ,
and some 90 bannerets and others, including:
* Jean de Montaigu,
Notable casualties included:
Among the circa 1,500 prisoners taken by the English, were the following French notables:
Jean Le Maingre ("Boucicaut") , the Marshal of
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 proportions of four to three. By contrast, Juliet Barker in her book 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 Jean de Wavrin 's statement "that the French were six times more numerous than the English". The 2009 Encyclopædia 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".
With 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 ratio of
forces were as near equal as four to three. 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 12,000–15,000
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
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 acknowledgements section of her 2005 book on Agincourt, saying: "Surviving administrative records on both sides, but especially the French, are simply too incomplete to support assertion that nine thousand English were pitted against an army only twelve thousand strong. 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
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 (or 2,400) 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", which would suggest "fourteen or fifteen thousand fighting men". (It should be noted that the Burgundians actually 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 Wavrin 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 were 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. If the French army had an extra 10,000 mounted men (as opposed to only 1,500 extra for the English), then "the English probably did see an army about three times the size of their own fighting force".
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 explicitly includes one "gros valet" (an armed, armoured and mounted military servant) per French man-at-arms in his calculation of the odds.
The 15th century Agincourt Carol
Soon after the English victory at Agincourt, a number of popular folk
songs were created about the battle, the most famous being the
Agincourt Carol , produced in the first half of the 15th century.
Other ballads followed, including King Henry Fifth\'s Conquest of
The most famous cultural depiction of the battle today, however, is
The play introduced the famous St Crispin\'s Day Speech ; Shakespeare
has Henry give a moving narration to his soldiers just before the
battle, urging his "band of brothers" to stand together in the
forthcoming fight. One of Shakespeare's most heroic speeches, critic
David Margolies describes how it "oozes honour, military glory, love
of country and self-sacrifice", and it forms one of the first
instances of English literature linking solidarity and comradeship to
success in battle. Partially as a result, the battle was used as a
metaphor at the beginning of the
First World War
Shakespeare's version of the battle of Agincourt has been turned into (several minor and) two major films – by Laurence Olivier in 1944 , and by Kenneth Branagh in 1989 . Made just prior to the invasion of Normandy, Olivier's gives the battle what Sarah Hatchuel has termed an "exhilarating and heroic" tone, with an artificial, cinematic look to the battle scenes. Branagh's version gives a longer, more Realist portrayal of the battle itself, drawing on both historical sources and images from the Vietnam and Falkland Wars. In his film adaptation, Peter Babakitis uses digital effects to exaggerate realist features during his battle scenes, producing a more avant-garde interpretation of the fighting at Agincourt.
The battle remains an important symbol in popular culture. For example, a mock trial of Henry V for the crimes associated with the slaughter of the prisoners was held in Washington, D.C. in March 2010, drawing from both the historical record and Shakespeare's play. Participating as judges were Justices Samuel Alito and Ruth Bader Ginsburg . The trial ranged widely over whether there was just cause for war and not simply the prisoner issue. Although an audience vote was "too close to call", Henry was unanimously found guilty by the court on the basis of "evolving standards of civil society". Battlefield today
Agincourt Memorial A list of English archers killed at Agincourt, as recorded in the village's museum
There is a modern museum in Agincourt village dedicated to the battle. The museum lists the names of combatants of both sides who died in the battle.
* V sign , for more on the "two-finger salute" which legends claim derives from the gestures of longbowmen fighting in the English army at the battle of Agincourt.
NOTES AND REFERENCES
* 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 /ˈædʒᵻŋkɔːrt/ has become
* ^ Barker 2005 , p. 227.
* ^ A B C Curry 2006 , p. 192.
* ^ A B C Barker 2005 , p. 320.
* ^ "Agincourt aftermath". Archived from the original on 27 October
2009. Retrieved 2010-10-11. CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status
unknown (link )
* ^ de Monstrelet 1853 , p. 340.
* ^ Keegan 1976 , p. 86.
* ^ Curry 2000 , pp. 22–6.
* ^ Honig, Jan Willem (2012). "Reappraising Late Medieval Strategy:
The Example of the 1415 Agincourt Campaign". War in History. 19 (123):
123–151. Retrieved 8 December 2014.
* ^ Barker 2005 , p. 13.
* ^ Barker 2005 , pp. 67–69.
* ^ Barker 2005 , pp. 107, 114.
* ^ Guardian newspaper:French correction: Henry V\'s Agincourt
fleet was half as big, historian claims, 28 July 2015
* ^ Hibbert 1971 , p. 67.
* ^ Barker 2005 , p. 219.
* ^ Wylie & Waugh 1914 , p. 118.
* ^ Seward 1999 , p. 162.
* ^ "Living dictionary of the French language". 25 May 2013.
Archived from the original on 14 December 2013.
* ^ A B Mortimer 2009 , pp. 436–7.
* ^ Sutherland (2015)
* ^ Barker 2005 , pp. 271, 290.
* ^ Curry 2006 , p. 166.
* ^ Barker 2005 , pp. 267–8.
* ^ Barker 2005 , pp. 283–4.
* ^ A B Mortimer 2009 , p. 422.
* ^ Rogers 2008b , p. 107.
* ^ Barker 2005 , pp. 276–8.
Battle of Agincourt
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* Hansen, Mogens Herman (Copenhagen Polis Centre) The Little Grey
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* Jones, Michael J. (2005). Agincourt 1415. Barnsley: Pen & Sword.
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* Nicolas, Harris (1833). History of the Battle of Agincourt, and of
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* The Agincourt Battlefield Archaeology Project website http://tls509.wixsite.com/archaeologyagincourt by Tim Sutherland (Project Director)
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