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Something for the weekend.  Agincourt by the ever talented folks at History for Music Lovers, to the tune of As Tears Go By, by Marianne Faithful.

October 25, 1415 was an amazing day for the English.  The English longbow had long proved in the Hundred Years War to be a devastating weapon in the hands of skilled archers, but rarely had the English faced such long odds as they did at Agincourt.  Approximately 6,000 English, exhausted and worn from their march, faced approximately 30,000 French.  About five out of six of the English were archers with the remainder men-at-arms, knights and nobility.  The French had about 10,000 men-at-arms, knights and nobility, and 20,000 archers, crossbowmen and miscellaneous infantry.

The English established their battle line between the woods of Agincourt and Tramecourt, which offered excellent protection to both of their flanks.  The English archers made up the front line with stakes set in the ground before them to impale charging horses.  Archers were also placed in the woods to provide flanking fire against advancing French.  The men at arms and knights and nobility, were divided into three forces behind the archers.  They fought on foot.

The terrain between the woods that the French would have to cross in their attack of the English consisted of newly ploughed, and very muddy, fields.  Having walked through muddy fields on several occasions in rural Illinois, I can attest that simply getting from point A to point B in such terrain can be exhausting, let alone fighting at the end of the tramp through the morass.

For three hours there was no fighting, the French waiting for reinforcements.  King Henry tiring of this had his army advance to put pressure on the French to attack.  Alarmed by this offensive movement by the English, the French finally attacked.

The French advanced in three battles, or lines, one behind the other.  The mounted French, only about 1200 men, were in the first line.  All the other French fought afoot.

The charge of the mounted French was a complete disaster  and set the tone for the entire battle.  Due to the woods, the English archers could not be outflanked, and their blizzard of arrows wreaked havoc with the horses of the French as they made their frontal charge.  The French cavalry fell back on the advancing dismounted French men-at-arms.  These advanced against heavy fire from the longbowmen, who fired into the French men-at-arms until they ran out of arrows, and then joined in the melee with the English men-at-arms.  The French initially succeeded in forcing back the English line.  However, their success was short-lived.  Exhaustion set in among the French after their trek through the muddy fields, and the English longbowmen, wearing no armor and therefore much more agile than their adversaries in the mud, attacked with surprising success, aiming their blows at unarmored portions of the bodies of the French men-at-arms.  The fighting lasted about three hours before the French withdrew in defeat.  The stunned English slowly realized that they had won one of the most incredible against the odds victory in military history.

Go here to view four versions of the band of brothers speech of Henry V.  Go here to read a discussion of the doctrine of just war as applied to King Henry’s war.  Go here to view a mock appellate court hearing of an appeal of a trial decision holding that Henry V was justified in ordering the slaying of French prisoners during the battle after a French attack on the baggage train of the English army in which non-combatant English were killed.

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  1. John Keegan’s book, The Face of Battle, has a fair (I assume it’s factual) depiction of the battle and the men.

    Another famous battle and example of Catholic courage is depicted in Ernle Bradford’s, The Knights of the Order, chapters 19 through 23. It tells the story of the famous siege of Malta. The siege was endured about 70 years after Comumbus’ discoveries and 23 years before the tragedy of the Invincible Armada in 1588.

  2. Excellent post.

    I love the way the History teachers get the essence of major event in 3 minutes.

    Henry V was in a bind. He was being chased by a larger French army that move dfaster than his army and could defeat hin in open country. Almost by luck he stopped at Agincourt where the woods protected his flanks. He did not have food more than two days and would have to move into open ground in a losing race to Calias if the French did not attack him. All the French had to do was sit and wait. The reason Henry V moved forward was to provoke the French. Luckily patience is not a French virtue.

    Keegan’s face of Battle is an accurate and excellent description of the battle. This is a ground breaking book that looked at the ‘face of Battle” in a very clinical manner. Do not read on a full stomach.

    Bernards Cornwell’s novel <a href= in additon to placing one in his view of the cultural milieu sets of the context of the campaign and battle in an entertaining style

  3. Thank you Hank for first making me aware of History for Music Lovers. If the French had simply raided Henry’s army with small parties, and cut his force off from villages and towns where they could get resupplied, they would probably have bagged the entire English army with minimal French casualties. King Henry’s gambit at Agincourt to advance was a daring one, but it played upon the French dilemma of a large hit to the morale of their army if they seemed to be backing down from a much smaller English army. Morale in medieval battles was all important, as the troops were usually ill-trained except for the knights and men-at-arms, and once a force panicked, it was almost impossible for it to be reassembled before a battle was completely lost.

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