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Battle of Agincourt

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Battle of Agincourt
Part of the Hundred Years' War
The Battle of Agincourt, 15th century miniature
Date 25 October ( Saint Crispin's Day) 1415
Location Agincourt, France
Result Decisive English victory
England Arms 1405.svg Kingdom of England Blason France moderne.svg Kingdom of France
Commanders and leaders
Henry V of England Charles d'Albret  
About 5,900 (but see Modern re-assessment). 5/6 archers, 1/6 dismounted men-at-arms. Between 20,000 and 30,000 (but see Modern re-assessment). Estimated to be 1/6 crossbowmen and archers, 1/2 dismounted men-at-arms, 1/3 mounted knights.
Casualties and losses
At least 112 dead, unknown wounded 7,000-10,000 (mostly killed) and about 1,500 noble prisoners

The Battle of Agincourt was fought on Friday 25 October 1415 ( Saint Crispin's Day), in northern France as part of the Hundred Years' War.

The armies involved were those of Kings Henry V of England and Charles VI of France. Charles did not command the French army himself, as he was incapacitated. 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 longbowmen forming the vast majority of his army. The battle was also immortalised by William Shakespeare as the centrepiece of his play Henry V.


Henry V invaded France for several reasons. He hoped that by fighting a popular foreign war, he would strengthen his position at home. He wanted to improve his finances by gaining revenue-producing lands, lands he believed had been stolen from him by the King of France. As was the international custom at the time, nobles taken prisoner would be ransomed by the relatives of the loser in exchange for their return. Evidence also suggests that several lords in the region of Normandy promised Henry their lands when they died, but the King of France took their lands and described it as 'confiscating'.

Henry's army landed in northern France on 13 August 1415 and besieged the port of Harfleur 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 7,000) to the port of Calais, 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 Rouen. This was not a feudal army, as sometimes has been said, but an army paid through a system very 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 Somme river. 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. However Henry needed to get to the safety of Calais, and knew if he waited, the French would get more reinforcements.

The French suffered a catastrophic defeat, not just in terms of the sheer numbers killed, but also because of the number of high-ranking nobles lost. Henry was 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.



Henry V and his troops were marching to Calais to embark for England when he was intercepted by French forces which outnumbered his. English effectiveness and readiness was questionable as a result of their prior maneuvers consisting of an 18 day march across 250 miles of hostile territory under constant harassment. They suffered from dysentery, exhaustion and were further hampered by inclement weather.

The lack of reliable and consistent sources makes it very difficult to accurately estimate the numbers on both sides. Estimates used by recent historians vary from 6,000 to 9,000 for the English, and from about 12,000 to about 36,000 for the French. Some modern research has questioned whether the English were as outnumbered as traditionally thought (see below). The English were probably not outnumbered as badly as the legend would have it; many modern British historians (for example, Juliet Barker, Christopher Hibbert) would accept that they were outnumbered by three to one or more, although Anne Curry estimates the odds were much more even than that.

The battle was fought in the narrow strip of open land formed between the woods of Tramecourt and Agincourt (close to the modern village of Azincourt). The French army was positioned by d'Albret at the northern exit so as to bar the way to Calais. The night of 24 October was spent by the two armies on open ground, and the English had little shelter from the heavy rain.

The battle of Agincourt

Early on the 25th, Henry deployed his army (approximately 900 men-at-arms and 5,000 longbowmen) 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 archers on the flanks drove pointed wooden stakes called palings into the ground at an angle to force cavalry to veer off. It has been argued that fresh men were brought in after the siege of Harfleur; however, other historians argue that this is wrong, and that although 9,200 English left Harfleur, after more sickness set in, they were down to roughly 5,900 by the time of the battle.

The English must have feared that they wouldn't get out alive. In fact, an English account describes the day before the battle as a day of remorse in which all soldiers cleaned themselves of their sins to avoid hell. The English nobles were lucky to be able to ransom themselves back if they were captured. 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 instead. However, the common soldier would have no such luck and therefore he told them they had better fight for their lives.

The French, on the other hand, were confident that they would prevail and eager to fight. The French believed they would triumph over the English not only because their force was considerably larger, because they were fresh 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. Another reason for impatience was that many had fathers and grandfathers who had been humiliated in previous battles such as Crecy and Poitiers, and the French nobility were determined to get revenge.

The French were arrayed in three lines called "battles". The two primary sources which give detailed numbers do not agree on the size of these "battles". Waurin says there were about 13,500 in each of the first two lines (8,000 men-at-arms, 4,000 archers and 1,500 crossbowmen), with the remainder in the third line. The Herald of Berry says that there were 4,800 in the first line, with 3,000 in the second line, joined by some hundreds of late arriving men-at-arms. (He does not mention a third line.) Situated on each flank were "wings" of mounted men-at-arms and French Nobles (1,200 or 1,400 depending on the source), while the centre contained dismounted men-at-arms, many of whom were French scions, including twelve princes of royal blood. The rear was made up of late arriving men-at-arms and armed servants known as "gros varlets". Waurin says that this line contained the remainder of the French army, which with the numbers he uses would imply it was larger than the first and second lines. These troops played little part in the battle however.


Arguably, the deciding factor for the outcome was the terrain. The narrow field of battle, recently ploughed land hemmed in by dense woodland, favoured the English. An analysis by Battlefield Detectives has looked at the crowd dynamics of the battlefield. The 900 English men-at-arms are described as shoulder to shoulder and four deep, which implies a tight line about 225 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 between four and eight thousand men-at-arms, outnumbering the English men-at-arms at least four to one, but they 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 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 melee developed. Although the French initially pushed the English back, they became so closely packed that they are described as having trouble using their weapons properly. 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 perhaps 8,000 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 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 melee. 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.


On the morning of the 25th 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 1,000–2,000 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: during the battles of Crécy and Poitiers, two similar engagements between the French and the English, the archers did not use them.) 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" (Barker, 2005, p.273). However in the 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. The cavalry force, which could have devastated the English line if it had attacked while they moved their position, only seems to have charged after the initial volley of arrows from the English. It is unclear if this is because the French were still hoping the English would launch a frontal assault themselves, or because they simply did not expect the English to advance at the exact moment they did. French chroniclers agree that when the mounted charge did come, it did not contain as many men as it should; Gilles le Bouvier states that some had wandered off to warm themselves and others were walking or feeding their horses (Barker, 2005, p.291).

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, made their way through the lines of infantry in front of them and 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: only armoured 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 to further churn up the mud the French had to cross to reach the English. Barker (2005) quotes a contemporary account by a monk of St. Denis who reports how the panicking horses also galloped back through the advancing infantry, scattering them and trampling them down in their headlong flight.

Following the French knights' charge, the constable himself then led the attack of the dismounted French men-at-arms. They outnumbered the English men-at-arms by several times, but weighed down by armour and sinking deep into the mud with every step, they struggled to close the distance and reach their enemies. The mud was knee-deep or worse in places, and the French men-at-arms would have been very slow, and easy targets for the English bowmen. Armour technology at this stage in history had become more advanced than in the earlier medieval period though. Of the mounted knights' charge, three of the leaders had their horses brought down by the stakes and were then killed on the ground, but Barker records twelve French nobles in the charge who escaped. The longbow could still penetrate the plate visors of the French and similar weak points, especially at close range. However longbowmen carried approximately 72 arrows in a battle, which they could fire off in minutes at their maximum rate of fire. Despite this, at Agincourt the French men-at-arms reached the English line and actually pushed it back, with the longbowmen dropping their bows and joining the melee (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. The physical pounding even from non-penetrating arrows, combined with the slog in heavy armour through the mud, and the heat and lack of oxygen in plate armour with the visor down, meant they would already have been fatigued when they finally reached the English line however.

The thin line of English men-at-arms was pushed back and Henry himself was almost beaten to the ground. However, because of the number of men they had brought into the battlefield, and the fact that the battlefield narrowed towards the English end, the French found themselves far too closely packed, and had trouble using their weapons properly (Keegan 1976). At this moment, the English archers, using hatchets, swords and other weapons, attacked the now disordered and fatigued French, who could not cope with their unarmoured assailants (who were much less hindered by the mud). 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 French third line seems to have barely engaged the English at all, although its commanders sought and found their death in the battle.

One of the best anecdotes of the battle involves Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, Henry V's youngest brother. According to the story, Henry, upon hearing that his brother had been wounded in the abdomen, 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 only French success was a sally from Agincourt Castle behind the lines attacking the unprotected English baggage train. Ysambart D'Agincourt with 1,000 peasants seized the King's personal belongings and killed the unarmed attendants and 'page boys' (usually children). Thinking his rear was under attack and worried that the prisoners would rearm themselves with the weapons strewn upon the field, Henry ordered the slaughter of his French prisoners. The nobles and senior officers, wishing to ransom the captives (and perhaps from a sense of honour, having received the surrender ['passeport'] of the prisoners), refused. The task fell to the common soldiers.


The next morning, Henry returned to the battlefield and ordered the coup de grâce for any wounded Frenchmen which was de rigueur and considered merciful at the time. All of the nobility had already been taken away. It is likely that most commoners left on the field were too badly injured to survive without medical care.

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 considerably outnumbered, their losses were much lower than those of the French.

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 fairly widely used estimate puts the English casualties at 450, not an insignificant number in an army of 6,000, but far less than the thousands the French lost, nearly all of whom were killed or captured.

The French suffered heavily. Thousands died, including the constable, three dukes, five counts and 90 barons. 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.

Notable casualties

  • Antoine of Burgundy, Duke of Brabant and Limburg (b. 1384)
  • Philip of Burgundy, Count of Nevers and Rethel (b. 1389)
  • Charles I d'Albret, Count of Dreux, the Constable of France
  • John II, Count of Bethune (b. 1359)
  • John I, Duke of Alençon (b. 1385)
  • Frederick of Lorraine, Count of Vaudemont (b. 1371)
  • Robert, Count of Marles and Soissons
  • Edward III, Duke of Bar (the Duchy of Bar lost its independence as a consequence of his death)
  • John VI, Count of Roucy
  • Edward of Norwich, 2nd Duke of York (b. 1373)
  • Michael de la Pole, 3rd Earl of Suffolk

Sir Peers Legh

When Sir Peers Legh was wounded, his mastiff stood over him and protected him for many hours through the battle. Although Legh later died, the mastiff returned to Legh's home and became the forefather of the Lyme Park mastiffs. Five centuries later, this pedigree figured prominently in founding the modern English Mastiff breed.

Modern re-assessment of Agincourt

Were the English as outnumbered as traditionally thought?

Until recently, Agincourt has been fêted as one of the greatest victories in English military history. But, in Agincourt, A New History (2005), Anne Curry contradicts what previous historians have argued, and other contemporary Agincourt historians continue to argue; in Curry's view, the scale of the English triumph at Agincourt has been overstated for almost six centuries.

According to her research, the French still outnumbered the English, but at worst only by a factor of three to two (12,000 Frenchmen against 7,000 to 9,000 Englishmen). According to Curry, the Battle of Agincourt was a "myth constructed around Henry to build up his reputation as a king". The legend of the English as underdogs at Agincourt was given credence in popular English culture with William Shakespeare's Henry V in 1599. In the speech before the battle, Shakespeare puts in the mouth of Henry V the famous words, "We few, we happy few, we band of brothers," immediately after numbering English troops at twelve thousand, versus sixty thousand Frenchman. (Westmoreland: "Of fighting men they have full three-score thousand." Exeter: "There's five to one ..." (Act IV, scene 3). Shakespeare equally overstated the French and understated the English casualties as well; at the end (Act IV, Scene 8), when Henry's herald delivers the death toll, the numbers are 10,000 French dead and just "five and twenty" English. (The well known Olivier film version of 1944 has this as "five and twenty score" i.e. 500, which is closer to the modern estimate of casualties.)

Juliet Barker in Agincourt: The King, the Campaign, the Battle (published slightly after A New History) argues the English and Welsh were outnumbered "at least four to one and possibly as much as six to one". She prefers the figures given by Jehan Waurin (a Burgundian in the French army) who is relatively detailed about the French army, and suggests figures of about 6,000 for the English and 36,000 for the French, "based on {Waurin's} suggestion that the French were six times more numerous than the English". Curry's book was published too late to significantly influence Barker's work. In the Acknowledgments, however, while paying tribute to Curry's scholarship, Barker says: "Surviving administrative records on both sides, but especially the French, are simply too incomplete to support her 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."

Many documentaries about the Battle of Agincourt use the figures of about 6,000 English and 36,000 French, with a French superiority in numbers of 6–1. The 1911 Encylopædia Britannica puts the English at 6,000 archers, 1,000 men-at-arms and "a few thousands of other foot", with the French outnumbering them by "at least four times". Other historians put the English numbers at 6,000 and the French numbers at 20,000–30,000, which would also be consistent with the English being outnumbered 4–1. Curry is currently alone among English scholars in putting the odds at significantly less than this, although she is also the only one to have used French documentary sources. From those sources she estimates the English army c. 9,000 and the French army c. 12,000. Curry's figures for the French are consistent with other documentary evidence from the period about the size of French armies, before and after the battle of Agincourt. However, Curry does not include the numbers of armed French locals who answered the call to arms (for which there is little good documentary evidence to provide a precise figure).

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