England – the underdogs
For years England and France were bitter enemies. 600 years ago, on October 25 1415, when they met on the battlefield, the odds were stacked against King Henry V of England. At the port town of Harfleur in Northern France, he had fought a hard-won siege and lost many men. He then marched his army through the French countryside to the English territory of Calais. Their numbers were depleted by dysentery, the army exhausted and demoralized, and now the French stood in their way near the French village of Agincourt.
However, only three hours later, Henry won the battle. This battle is still considered one of England’s most amazing military successes. So how did Henry V conquer all odds to secure an amazing victory at Agincourt against the French?
Featuring Kings and Nobles
In the era of King Henry V, dukes and kings fought alongside common soldiers. Here are some key players in the Battle of Agincourt.
King Henry V had gone through military failures, but he was a charismatic and strong leader. Even though his army was exhausted, his presence boosted morale.
Henry V enrolled knowledgeable military commanders. The Duke of York, his cousin, was a trusted councilor and raised a company of 400 to support the king.
King Charles VI’s persistent bouts of insanity plunged France into disorder. His absence at the battle meant the French lacked a clear line of command.
This lack of clear command meant that inexperienced noblemen like the 21 year old Duke of Orleans overthrew the authority of the more seasoned French commanders.
- Total – 12,000. Deaths – 2,000
- Archers 25%; Men-at-arms 70%; Men-at-arms on horseback 5%
- Total – 8,500. Deaths – 100
- Archers 85%; Men-at-arms 15%
Although Henry V did not choose to fight at Agincourt, he secured a strong defensive position. Henry V placed archers in nearby woods and on the flanks, ready to attack the French army. Archers were ordered to place sharpened wooden stakes along their front line.
The medieval machine gun
It is widely believed that the English longbow was the most important factor in Henry V’s success.
From the 1360s, medieval England’s men were ordered to practice the longbow after church at least once a week, and were persuaded to shoot daily. In order to avoid distraction, other sports including football were forbidden. This guaranteed a large supply of skilled archers ready for military campaigns.
A skilled bowman could shoot up to 10 arrows per minute. This made the longbow almost twice as efficient as the French’s crossbow which could only shoot up to 6 arrows per minute.
Archers only cost 6 pence per day, which was half the cost of a man-at-arms with sword and shield. As a result, two-thirds of Henry V’s army was archers.
The day before the battle, Henry V’s route to Calais was blocked by the French. Readying his men, Henry V stated that he would rather die than be taken for ransom.
Henry V made the first move at 10am on October 25, and by 10:30am the French cavalry was failing. At 10:45am the French vanguard advanced. Henry fought more as a knight than as a king, providing an example to his men through his bravery. At 1pm, Henry ordered a massacre.