Battle of Agincourt: Date & Conflict:
The Battle of Agincourt was fought October 25, 1415, during the Hundred Years' War (1337-1453).
Armies & Commanders
Battle of Agincourt: Background:
In 1414, King Henry V of England began discussions with his nobles regarding renewing the war with France to assert his claim on the French throne. He held this claim through his grandfather, Edward III who begun the Hundred Years' War in 1337. Initially reluctant, they encouraged the king to negotiate with the French. In doing so, Henry was willing to renounce his claim to the French throne in exchange for 1.6 million crowns (the outstanding ransom on French King John II - captured at Poitiers in 1356), as well as French recognition of English dominion over occupied lands in France.
These included Touraine, Normandy, Anjou, Flanders, Brittany, and Aquitaine. To seal the deal, Henry was willing to marry the young daughter of the chronically insane King Charles VI, Princess Catherine, if he received a dowry of 2 million crowns. Negotiations quickly stalled on the latter issue as the French refused to offer such a large dowry. With talks deadlocked and feeling personally insulted by French actions, Henry successfully asked for war on April 19, 1415. Assembling an army, Henry crossed the Channel with around 10,500 men and landed near Harfleur on August 13/14.
Moving to Battle:
Quickly investing Harfleur, Henry hoped to take the city as a base before advancing east to Paris and then south to Bordeaux. Meeting a determined defense, the siege lasted longer than the English had initially hoped and Henry's army was beset by a variety of diseases such as dysentery. When the city finally fell on September 22, the majority of the campaigning season had passed. Assessing his situation, Henry elected to move northeast to his stronghold at Calais where the army could winter in safety. Leaving a garrison at Harfleur, his forces departed on October 8.
Hoping to move quickly, the English army left their artillery and much of the baggage train as well as carried limited provisions. While the English were occupied at Harfleur, the French struggled to raise an army to oppose them. Gathering forces at Rouen, they were not ready by the time the city fell. Pursuing Henry, the French sought to blockade the English along the River Somme. These maneuvers proved somewhat successful as Henry was forced to turn southeast to seek an uncontested crossing. As a result, food became scarce in the English ranks.
Finally crossing the river at Bellencourt and Voyenes on October 19, Henry pressed on towards Calais. The English advance was shadowed by the growing French army under the nominal command of Constable Charles d'Albret and Marshal Boucicaut. On October 24, Henry's scouts reported that the French army had moved across their path and was blocking the road to Calais. Though his men were starving and suffering from disease, he halted and formed for battle along a ridge between the woods of Agincourt and Tramecourt. In a strong position, his archers drove stakes into the ground to protect against cavalry attack.
Though Henry did not desire battle due to being badly outnumbered, he understood that the French would only grow stronger. In deploying, men under the Duke of York formed the English right, while Henry led the center and Lord Camoys commanded the left. The archers assumed positions on the flanks with another group possibly being located in the center. Conversely the French were eager for battle and anticipated victory. Their army formed in three lines with d'Albret and Boucicault leading the first with the Dukes of Orleans and Bourbon. The second line was led by the Dukes of Bar and Alençon and the Count of Nevers.
The Battle of Agincourt:
The night of October 24/25 was marked by heavy rain which turned the newly plowed fields in the area into a muddy quagmire. As the sun rose, the terrain favored the English as the narrow space between the two woods worked to negate the French numerical advantage. Three hours passed and the French, awaiting reinforcements and perhaps having learned from their defeat at Crécy, did not attack. Forced to make the first move, Henry took a risk and advanced between the woods to within extreme range for his archers. The French failed to strike with the English were vulnerable (Map).
As a result, Henry was able to establish a new defensive position and his archers were able to fortify their lines with stakes. This done, they unleashed a barrage with their longbows. With the English archers filling the sky with arrows, the French cavalry began a disorganized charge against the English position with the first line of men-at-arms following. Cut down by the archers, the cavalry failed to breach the English line and succeeded in doing little more than churning the mud between the two armies. Hemmed in by the woods, they retreated through the first line weakening its formation.
Slogging forward through the mud, the French infantry was exhausted by the exertion while also taking losses from the English archers. Reaching the English men-at-arms, they were able to initially push them back. Rallying, the English soon began inflicting heavy losses as the terrain prevented the greater French numbers from telling. The French were also hampered by the press of numbers from the side and behind which limited their ability to attack or defend effectively. As the English archers expended their arrows, they drew swords and other weapons and began attacking the French flanks. As a melee developed, the second French line joined the fray. As the battle raged, d'Albret was killed and sources indicate that Henry played an active role at the front.
Having defeated the first two French lines, Henry remained wary as the third line, led by the Counts of Dammartin and Fauconberg, remained a threat. The only French success during the fighting came when Ysembart d'Azincourt led a small force in a successful raid on the English baggage train. This, along with the menacing actions of the remaining French troops, led Henry to order the killing of the majority of his prisoners to prevent them from attacking should the battle resume. Though criticized by modern scholars, this action was accepted as necessary at the time. Assessing the massive losses already sustained, the remaining French troops departed the area.
Aftermath of Agincourt
Casualties for the Battle of Agincourt are not known with certainty, though many scholars estimate the French suffered 7,000-10,000 with another 1,500 nobles taken prisoner. English losses are generally accepted to be around 100 and perhaps as high as 500. Though he had won a stunning victory, Henry was unable to press home his advantage due to the weakened state of his army. Reaching Calais on October 29, Henry returned to England the following month where he was greeted as a hero. Though it would take several more years of campaigning to achieve his goals, the devastation wrought upon the French nobility at Agincourt made Henry's later efforts easier. In 1420, he was able to conclude the Treaty of Troyes which recognized him as the regent and heir to the French throne.