October 25, 1415 – Battle of Agincourt

The Battle of Agincourt was a major English victory against the more numerous French that took place on this day in history during the Hundred Years War. The English, led by King Henry V, had between 6,000 and 9,000 men. The French army had between 12,000 and 36,000 men.

The Hundred Years War lasted from 1337 to 1453, and was fought over the ongoing struggle for succession to the French throne. Five generations of kings fought during this period. The conflict began when France’s King Carol IV died in 1328 without an heir. A cousin, Philip VI, declared himself King of France but the English king, Eduard III, Carol’s nephew, also laid claim to the throne.

Philip VI of France

As significant as this battle was at the time, we probably now remember it most because of Shakespeare’s play Henry V, in which Henry (the former “Prince Hal”) inspired his men before the battle by declaring them “a band of brothers.” Although the English were outnumbered five to one, they went on to defeat the French at Agincourt.

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our English dead!
In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man,
As modest stillness and humility;
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger . . . (Henry V, Act III, Scene I)

And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,

From this day to the ending of the world,

But we in it shall be remembered-

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers . . . (Henry V, Act IV Scene iii)”

Battle of Agincourt via UK Telegraph

Part of the reason the English won is said to have been superior leadership. Henry V is described by historians as “pious, athletic, chivalrous, acquisitive, ruthless and eager to gain honour on the field of battle.” He was also highly respected by his troops.

King Charles VI of France, on the other hand, also called “The Mad King,” was known for bouts of insanity. Thus he was absent from the battle, and his son was too young for a leadership position. Command of the French forces was given to Charles d’Albert, Constable of France, and the marshal Jean II le Meingre, called Boucicault. They were both experienced soldiers, but did not have a high enough rank to command respect from the French nobles in their command. The division of the leadership of the army was also a critical mistake as each of the men had his own personal plans for the battle, creating a confusion in the army.

In addition, the French wore heavy suits of armor, exhausting the soldiers who also had to trudge through muddy fields with all that weight. (The armor weighted up to 50 kg, or 110 pounds!) The English and Welsh archers who formed up to 80 percent of Henry’s army, on the other hand, were more lightly attired. The decimation of the French cavalry at their hands is regarded as an indicator of the decline of cavalry and the beginning of the dominance of ranged weapons on the battlefield. According to a UK Telegraph history of the battle, the English longbow had greater accuracy and killing power and a farther range than a crossbow. “A trained archer could shoot between 10 and twelve aimed arrows a minute which could wound at 400 yards, kill at 200 and penetrate armour at 100 yards.”

English longbow at Agincourt via Radio Canada International

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