by Jamie Bradshaw
|A contemporary portrayal of the battle|
Henry V invaded France following the failure of negotiations with the French. He claimed the title of King of France through his great-grandfather Edward III, although in practice the English kings were generally prepared to renounce this claim if the French would acknowledge the English claim on Aquitaine and other French lands (the terms of the Treaty of Bretigny). He initially called a Great Council in the spring of 1414 to discuss going to war with France, but the lords insisted that he should negotiate further and moderate his claims. In the following negotiations Henry said that he would give up his claim to the French throne if the French would pay the 1.6 million crowns outstanding from the ransom of John II (who had been captured at the Battle of Poitiers in 1356), and concede English ownership of the lands of Normandy, Touraine, Anjou, Brittany and Flanders, as well as Aquitaine.. The French responded with what they considered the generous terms of marriage with Princess Catherine, a dowry of 600,000 crowns, and an enlarged Aquitaine. By 1415, negotiations had ground to a halt, with the English claiming that the French had mocked their claims and ridiculed Henry himself. In December 1414, the English parliament was persuaded to grant Henry a "double subsidy", a tax at twice the traditional rate, to recover his inheritance from the French. On 19 April 1415, Henry again asked the Great Council to sanction war with France, and this time they agreed.
Henry’s army of 12,000 landed northern France on 13 August 1415. They immediately laid siege to the port of Harfleur. The siege took much longer than expected. The town surrendered on 22 September, and the English army did not leave until 8 October. The siege season was coming to a close, and the English had lost a lot of men to disease. Rather than retire directly to England for the winter, with his costly expedition resulting in the capture of only one town, Henry decided to march most of his army (roughly 9,000) through Normandy to the port of Calais, the English stronghold in northern France, to demonstrate by his presence in the territory at the head of an army that his right to rule in the duchy was more than a mere abstract legal and historical claim.
During this time, the French had raised an army, which assembled around Rouen. The French hoped to raise 9,000 troops, but the army was not ready in time to relieve Harfleur. After Henry V marched to the north the French moved to blockade them along the River Somme. 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. By 24 October both armies faced each other for battle, but the French declined, hoping for the arrival of more troops. The two armies spent the night of 24 October on open ground. 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, or to fight defensively. His troops were tired, hungry and suffering from dysentery, but he knew that if he waited any longer the French would gain more troops.
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 at the northern exit so as to bar the way to Calais. On the 25th , Henry deployed his army (approximately 1,500 men-at-arms and 7,000 longbowmen. he French force was not only larger than the English, their noble men-at-arms would have considered themselves superior to the large number of archers in the English army, whom the French (based on their experience in recent memory of using and facing archers) considered relatively insignificant. he French force was not only larger than the English, their noble men-at-arms would have considered themselves superior to the large number of archers in the English army, whom the French (based on their experience in recent memory of using and facing archers) considered relatively insignificant.
The French force was not only larger than the English, their noble men-at-arms would have considered themselves superior to the large number of archers in the English army, whom the French (based on their experience in recent memory of using and facing archers) considered relatively insignificant. The Constable of France himself led the attack of the dismounted French men-at-arms. French accounts describe their vanguard alone as containing about 5,000 men-at-arms, which would have outnumbered the English men-at-arms by more than 3 to 1, but before they could engage in hand-to-hand fighting they had to cross the muddy field under a bombardment of arrows. After this, the exhausted French men-at-arms are described as being knocked to the ground by the English and then unable to get back up.
Why this anniversary is important
1. This was a turning point in the hundred years war. If the English had not won this the Hundred Years War may have been won by the French.
The English were outnumbered six to one. This showed a suprerior understanding on Henry’s part of the understanding of war.
3. It spelled the end of plate and chain armour as a significant defence, as English longbows proved exceedingly effective at piercing it at close range.