Battle of Agincourt (Hundred Years War - 25th October 1415)

One of the most famous battles in English history, fought during the Hundred Years' war when Henry V of England had invaded France. The English had besieged and captured Harfleur and were retreating to Calais, where they intended spending the winter. During the march they were cut off by a massive French army led by Charles d'Albret, Constable of France. The battle was to be fought just east of a small village called Agincourt. The name was to go down in history.

The French blocked the way with a huge army of 3,000 crossbowmen, 7,000 mounted and 15,000 dismounted men-at-arms; a total of approximately 25,000 men (this is a conservative estimate, some modern estimates put the force as high as 40 - 50,000 men). So confident of victory were the French that they had already prepared a specially painted cart in which to parade the captured English king. Massively out numbered Henry had around 4,950 archers and 750 men-at-arms, a total of 5,700 men.

The English took up a position across the narrowest gap between the woods bordering the village of Agincourt and Tramcourt. With the archers in position on the flanks and in two wedges in the centre, behind a line of iron tipped spikes the tiny English army awaited the charge from the full might of the core of the French army. Somehow Henry managed to raise the moral of his troops with a speech and gave the order to advance at a slow march towards the French lines. Shakespeare has Henry addressing his men "anyone shedding his blood with the king will become the king's brother". His call to arms immediately prior to the battle, "We few, we happy few, we band of brothers" has become a rallying cry of the English idea of heroism. The chroniclers record that the English soldiers all knelt, made the sign of the cross, and kissed the soil, crumbling a little of it into their mouths.

As wave after wave of French armour charged at the English, the mass of the French army were compacted by the converging tree line and the withering hail of English arrows. As the massive formation reached its target, the English centre fell back a short distance, though the archers at the flanks held their ground. This packed the French soldiers into a narrow space between the two woods with those at the front surrounded on three sides by English archers. The compression was so great that the attackers were unable to use there weapons and panic set into the front line of the French army. The English, men-at-arms and archers alike charged headlong into the French cavalry; one of the few recorded times that infantry has charged at fully armoured knights; and began to slaughter at will. The French reserve, which alone outnumbered the entire English army eventually attacked, but disheartened were easily driven from the field.

During the Battle of Agincourt, one of the most famous victories in English history, Henry's "Band of Brothers", a force of fewer than 6,000 men took on the full might of the French army a combined cavalry and infantry strength of around 25,000 men. Henry suffered around 400 casualties including the Duke of York while the French lost approximately 8,000 men, including their leader d'Albret, three dukes, 90 nobles and 1,560 knights with 200 captured.

Following the battle the English army resumed its march to Calais. The French retreated leaving over half of their entire nobility dead in the mud of Agincourt. Bishop Beaufort told his parliament that the French defeat was punishment from God.

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