Sunday, 10 May 2015


Taking advantage of faction war in France during the summer of 1415, King Henry V of England planned to press his claim to the French throne by accomplishing a swift take over of the coastal port of Harfleur and then, in a symbolic gesture, storming through the formerly held English territory of Normandy on his way to English held Calais.

Since Harfleur took longer to fall then expected and since its eventual take over unified warring factions in France, Henry V’s triumphant march to Calais turned into a dysentery filled attempt to escape a superior French force that was bent on their destruction.

By the time the two forces met just outside the town of Agincourt, Henry’s army had dwindled to a force of 7000 sick and weakened soldiers.  Across the field, the might of the French army stood ready with numbers estimated at 30,000 strong.  One English scout reported back to his commander, “you are just about to fight against a world of innumerable people” (Fiennes, 192).

For hours the two armies eyed each other, neither wanting to make the first move.  Then Henry ordered his army to march steadily forward in a straight line; when the column was within 700 metres of the enemy, the English archers hammered their 6 foot stakes into the ground and waited for the command to fire. 

As a means to insure that they would never be a threat to France again, the over-confident French army had vowed to cut-off the two key active fingers of any English archer captured alive; so, as a final act of defiance, each man now held two fingers up to the great French host, daring them to come and collect their prize.  When the order to fire was finally given, 5000 skilled archers sent volley after volley into the air; the French charged and, within the first 90 minutes of the battle, 8000 Frenchmen were killed.

It is believed that the deciding factors in England’s stunning victory at Agincourt were the awesome killing power of the English longbow, and a terrain which worked against the great numbers of the French army, funneling them into a killing corridor that also created a crowd effect, as knights in heavy armour lost their footing in the mud of freshly plowed, rain-soaked fields, line upon line of them were pulverized by the English directly in front as well as crushed by a continuous surge of their own attacking troops from behind.

From the French perspective the chronicler Pierre Cochon recorded that the defeat “was the ugliest and most wretched event that happened in France over the last one thousand years” (Fiennes, 235).  The nobility of France, who had made up a disproportionately large part of the French army, were decimated: entire dynasties were wiped out as family members, often covering two generations of a family, were killed (Fiennes, 233). 

For Henry V, King of England, the victory set the stage for his recognition as heir-apparent to the French throne and regent of France.

Fiennes, Ranulph.  Agincourt: My Family, the Battle, and the Fight for FranceLondonHodder & Stoughton, 2014.

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