The Battle of Agincourt was a battle fought during the Hundred Years’ War. It was an English victory against a larger French army. The battle took place in northern France, on October 25, 1415. Henry V’s victory 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.
When Henry V ascended to the throne of England in April 1413, he resolved to revive the war against France to press his claim to the French throne. Negotiations between the two countries had resumed, but the French emissaries rejected Henry’s demands with increasing alarm, for they deemed them unacceptable. Meanwhile England prepared for war.
In the winter of 1415, King Henry ordered his officers to organize the shipping to carry his army of 12,000 men, which had assembled at Southampton, across the Channel. In August 1415 Henry’s army landed at Harfleur, which was sieged by the English. Harfleur finally surrendered on September 22, 1415. But the siege had taken longer than expected. 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 to the port of Calais, the English stronghold in northern France, where they could reequip over the winter.
By October 23 both armies faced each other for battle, but the French declined, hoping for the arrival of more troops. The next day the French began negotiations as a delaying tactic, but Henry ordered his army to advance, despite the fact his men had no much food left. They had marched 260 miles in two-and-a-half weeks and were suffering from sickness such as dysentery; besides, they faced much larger numbers of well equipped French men at arms. Henry needed to get to the safety of Calais. He knew that if he waited, the French would get more reinforcements.
As Henry V and his troops marched to Calais to embark for England, they were intercepted by French forces which outnumbered his in a ratio of 4 to 1. English effectiveness and readiness was questionable as a result of their prior maneuvres consisting of an 18-day-march across 250 miles of hostile territory under constant harassment. They were exhausted and were further hampered by inclement weather.
Early on the October 25, Henry deployed his army approximately 1,000 men-at-arms and 5,000 longbowmen, the latter commanded by Thomas Erpingham across a 750 yard part of the defile. The English adopted their usual battle line of longbowmen on either flank, men-at-arms and knights in the center, 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 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. There were 10,000 men-at-arms, 4,000 archers and 2,000 crossbowmen in the vanguard, with two wings of 1,000 mounted men-at-arms each, plus a rabble of french commoners in the rearguard. Although the rearguard played little or no part in the battle.
The English waited for the French to begin the attack but there was no movement in the opposing army. It seemed that there was inadequate overall command and no central decision made when to start the assault or perhaps the French were waiting for further reinforcement to arrive and take their positions. Finally, King Henry ordered his commanders to begin the battle and the English army advanced blowing their trumpets.
Once Henry saw that the french were within arrow range, he gave the command to halt and the divisions closed up, the archers setting their long pointed stakes in the ground forming a fence leaning outwards towards the French. Now within the confines of the two woods Henry directed parties of archers and men-at-arms to move through the trees nearer to the French. On the king’s signal the English archers opened a devastating fire on the compact mass of French knights and men-at-arms.
After the initial attack, the front line of the French army moved forward to the charge. In the narrow confines of the muddy rain soaked ploughland the charge quickly reduced to a stumbling walk, impeded by the floundering men and horses shot down by the archers. Thus French knights were unable to outflank the longbowmen, because of the encroaching woodland, and unable to charge through the palings that protected the archers. The shower of arrows shot by the English longbowmen was so intense that easily decimated the French knights bogged down in the mud. The battle raged over the stake fence along the English line, the archers abandoning their bows and joining the knights and men-at-arms in hand to hand combat with the French cavalry, much of it now dismounted; the soldiers from the woods attacking on the flanks.
After two hours of vicious fighting, it was clear that the English had won the Battle of Agincourt. Individual French soldiers fought hard to no avail, for they had been overwhelmed by English men-at-arms and archers, who took as prisoner those who might be worth a ransom and killing the rest.