Battle of Agincourt
The Battle of Agincourt (/ - /( ),; French: Azincourt [azɛ̃kuʁ]) was one of the English victories in the Hundred Years' War. It took place on 25 October 1415 (Saint Crispin's Day) near Azincourt, in northern France. England's unexpected victory against the numerically superior French army boosted English morale and prestige, crippled France, and started a new period of English dominance in the war.
|Battle of Agincourt|
|Part of the Hundred Years' War|
The Battle of Agincourt, 15th-century miniature, Enguerrand de Monstrelet
|Commanders and leaders|
6,000 to 9,000 |
(modern estimates; see Numbers at Agincourt)
• About 5⁄6 archers
• 1⁄6 dismounted men-at-arms in heavy armour
12,000 to 36,000|
(modern estimates; see Numbers at Agincourt)
• 10,000 men-at-arms (with an equal number of gros valets)
• 4,000–5,000 archers and crossbowmen
• Possibly thousands more as "residue of the host" or gros valets
|Casualties and losses|
Approx. 6,000 killed|
After several decades of relative peace, the English had renewed their war effort in 1415 amid the failure of negotiations with the French. In the ensuing campaign, many soldiers died from disease, and the English numbers dwindled; they tried to withdraw to English-held Calais but found their path blocked by a considerably larger French army. Despite the disadvantage, the following battle ended in an overwhelming tactical victory for the English.
King Henry V of England led his troops into battle and participated in hand-to-hand fighting. King Charles VI of France did not command the French army himself, as he suffered from psychotic illnesses and associated mental incapacity. Instead, the French were commanded by Constable Charles d'Albret and various prominent French noblemen of the Armagnac party.
Agincourt is one of England's most celebrated victories and was one of the most important English triumphs in the Hundred Years' War, along with the Battle of Crécy (1346) and Battle of Poitiers (1356). It forms the centrepiece of William Shakespeare's play Henry V, written in 1599.
The Battle of Agincourt is well documented by at least seven contemporary accounts, three from eyewitnesses. The approximate location of the battle has never been disputed, and the site remains relatively unaltered after 600 years.
Immediately after the battle, Henry summoned the heralds of the two armies who had watched the battle together with principal French herald Montjoie, and they settled on the name of the battle as Azincourt, after the nearest fortified place. Two of the most frequently cited accounts come from Burgundian sources, one from Jean Le Fèvre de Saint-Remy who was present at the battle, and the other from Enguerrand de Monstrelet. The English eyewitness account comes from the anonymous Gesta Henrici Quinti, believed to have been written by a chaplain in the King's household who would have been in the baggage train at the battle. A recent re-appraisal of Henry's strategy of the Agincourt campaign incorporates these three accounts and argues that war was seen as a legal due process for solving the disagreement over claims to the French throne.
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 of England, 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 Brétigny). 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 ensuing 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 Anjou, Brittany, Flanders, Normandy, and Touraine, as well as Aquitaine. Henry would marry Catherine, Charles VI's young daughter, and receive a dowry of 2 million crowns.
The French responded with what they considered the generous terms of marriage with 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 landed in northern France on 13 August 1415, carried by a fleet described by Shakespeare as "a city on the inconstant billows dancing / For so appears this fleet majestical". It was often reported to comprise 1,500 ships, but was probably far smaller. Theodore Beck also suggests that among Henry's army was "the king's physician and a little band of surgeons". Thomas Morstede, Henry V's royal surgeon, had previously been contracted by the king to supply a team of surgeons and makers of surgical instruments to take part in the Agincourt campaign. The army of about 12,000 men and up to 20,000 horses besieged the port of Harfleur. The siege took longer than expected. The town surrendered on 22 September, and the English army did not leave until 8 October. The campaign season was coming to an end, and the English army had suffered many casualties through 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. He also intended the manoeuvre as a deliberate provocation to battle aimed at the dauphin, who had failed to respond to Henry's personal challenge to combat at Harfleur.
During the siege, the French had raised an army which assembled around Rouen. This was not strictly a feudal army, but an army paid through a system similar to that of the English. 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 block 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.
Without a river obstacle to defend, the French were hesitant to force a battle. They shadowed Henry's army while calling a semonce des nobles, calling on local nobles to join the army. 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: that was how Crécy and the other famous longbow victories had been won. The English had very little food, had marched 260 miles (420 km) in two and a half weeks, were suffering from sickness such as dysentery, and were greatly outnumbered by well-equipped French men-at-arms. The French army blocked Henry's way to the safety of Calais, and delaying battle would only further weaken his tired army and allow more French troops to arrive.
The precise location of the battle is not known. It may be in the narrow strip of open land formed between the woods of Tramecourt and Azincourt (close to the modern village of Azincourt). However, the lack of archaeological evidence at this traditional site has led to suggestions it was fought to the west of Azincourt. In 2019, the historian Michael Livingston also made the case for a site west of Azincourt, based on a review of sources and early maps.
Early on the 25th, Henry deployed his army (approximately 1,500 men-at-arms and 7,000 longbowmen) across a 750-yard (690 m) part of the defile. The army was divided into three battalions, with the right wing led by Edward, Duke of York, the centre led by the king himself, and the left wing under the old and experienced Baron Thomas Camoys. The archers were commanded by Sir Thomas Erpingham, another elderly veteran. It is likely that the English adopted their usual battle line of longbowmen on either flank, with men-at-arms and knights in the centre. They might also have deployed some archers in the centre of the line. The English men-at-arms in plate and mail were placed shoulder to shoulder four deep. The English and Welsh archers on the flanks drove pointed wooden stakes, or palings, into the ground at an angle to force cavalry to veer off. This use of stakes could have been inspired by the Battle of Nicopolis of 1396, where forces of the Ottoman Empire used the tactic against French cavalry.
The English made their confessions before the battle, as was customary. Henry, worried about the enemy launching surprise raids, and wanting his troops to remain focused, ordered all his men to spend the night before the battle in silence, on pain of having an ear cut off. He told his men that he would rather die in the coming battle than be captured and ransomed.
Henry made a speech emphasising the justness of his cause, and reminding his army of previous great defeats the kings of England had inflicted on the French. The Burgundian sources have him concluding the speech by telling his men that the French had boasted that they would cut off two fingers from the right hand of every archer, so that he could never draw a longbow again. Whether this was true is open to question; death was the normal fate of any soldier who could not be ransomed.
The French army had 10,000 men-at arms plus some 4,000–5,000 miscellaneous footmen (gens de trait) including archers, crossbowmen (arbalétriers) and shield-bearers (pavisiers), totaling 14,000–15,000 men. Probably each man-at-arms would be accompanied by a gros valet (or varlet), an armed servant, adding up to another 10,000 potential fighting men, though some historians omit them from the number of combatants.
The French were organized into two proper battalions, with a large vanguard of 4,800 men-at-arms and behind it the main battalion (as it was called) with another 3,000 men-at-arms. They were flanked by two wings of 600 dismounted men-at-arms each. There was also a rearguard which served as a "dumping ground" for the surplus troops; its soldiers were mounted and it included the remaining 1,000 men-at-arms as well as the bulk of the armed servants of the lords who were fighting on foot in the front lines. The archers and crossbowmen, who were originally intended to be deployed in front of the wings of foot, were now placed behind them due to the lack of space between the woods, effectively curtailing their role in the coming battle. Finally, some 1,000–1,200 men-at-arms, picked from "all the companies" aforementioned, formed a special cavalry force whose purpose was to ride down and overwhelm the English archers. In an earlier plan their initial position was at the rear, but were now placed in the flanks of the vanguard itself (standing forward like horns) since the woodlands on either side would hinder any flanking maneuver from the former position.
Most leaders of consequence, eager to acquire glory and valuable ransoms, demanded places in the front lines. The vanguard was led by Constable Charles d'Albret, Marshal Jean Le Maingre ("Boucicaut"), the dukes of Orléans and Bourbon and the Count of Eu. Commanding the main battalion would be the dukes of Alençon and Bar, joined by the counts of Nevers, Marle, Vaudémont, Blâmont, Salm, Grandpré and Roucy. The counts of Dammartin and Fauquembergue shared the leadership of the rearguard, together with the lord of Laurois, who had brought men from the region of Boulogne. The left wing of foot was led by the Count of Vendôme, and was tasked to "attack the English on the flank". His counterpart on the right was the Count of Richemont, whose division was apparently quickly absorbed into the vanguard. The special cavalry force was led by the knights Clignet de Bréban and Louis de Bosredon.
The field of battle was arguably the most significant factor in deciding the outcome. The recently ploughed land hemmed in by dense woodland favoured the English, both because of its narrowness, and because of the thick mud through which the French knights had to walk.
Accounts of the battle describe the French engaging the English men-at-arms before being rushed from the sides by the longbowmen as the mêlée developed. The English account in the Gesta Henrici says: "For when some of them, killed when battle was first joined, fall at the front, so great was the undisciplined violence and pressure of the mass of men behind them that the living fell on top of the dead, and others falling on top of the living were killed as well."
Although the French initially pushed the English back, they became so closely packed that they were described as having trouble using their weapons properly. The French monk of St. Denis says: "Their vanguard, composed of about 5,000 men, found itself at first so tightly packed that those who were in the third rank could scarcely use their swords," and the Burgundian sources have a similar passage.
Recent heavy rain made the battle field very muddy, proving very tiring to walk through in full plate armour. The French monk of St. Denis describes the French troops as "marching through the middle of the mud where they sank up to their knees. So they were already overcome with fatigue even before they advanced against the enemy". The deep, soft mud particularly favoured the English force because, once knocked to the ground, the heavily armoured French knights had a hard time getting back up to fight in the mêlée. Barker states that some knights, encumbered by their armour, actually drowned in their helmets.
On the morning of 25 October, the French were still waiting for additional troops to arrive. The Duke of Brabant (about 2,000 men), the Duke of Anjou (about 600 men), and the Duke of Brittany (6,000 men, according to Monstrelet), were all marching to join the army.
For three hours after sunrise there was no fighting. Military textbooks of the time stated: "Everywhere and on all occasions that foot soldiers march against their enemy face to face, those who march lose and those who remain standing still and holding firm win." On top of this, the French were expecting thousands of men to join them if they waited. They were blocking Henry's retreat, and were perfectly happy to wait for as long as it took. There had even been a suggestion that the English would run away rather than give battle when they saw that they would be fighting so many French princes.
Henry's men were already very weary from hunger, illness and retreat. Apparently Henry believed his fleeing army would perform better on the defensive, but had to halt the retreat and somehow engage the French before a defensive battle was possible. This entailed abandoning his chosen position and pulling out, advancing, and then re-installing the long sharpened wooden stakes pointed outwards toward the enemy, which helped protect the longbowmen from cavalry charges. (The use of stakes was an innovation for the English: during the Battle of Crécy, for example, the archers had been instead protected by pits and other obstacles.)
The tightness of the terrain also seems to have restricted the planned deployment of the French forces. The French had originally drawn up a battle plan that had archers and crossbowmen in front of their men-at-arms, with a cavalry force at the rear specifically designed to "fall upon the archers, and use their force to break them," but in the event, the French archers and crossbowmen were deployed behind and to the sides of the men-at-arms (where they seem to have played almost no part, except possibly for an initial volley of arrows at the start of the battle). The cavalry force, which could have devastated the English line if it had attacked while they moved their stakes, charged only after the initial volley of arrows from the English. It is unclear whether the delay occurred because the French were hoping the English would launch a frontal assault (and were surprised when the English instead started shooting from their new defensive position), or whether the French mounted knights instead did not react quickly enough to the English advance. French chroniclers agree that when the mounted charge did come, it did not contain as many men as it should have; Gilles le Bouvier states that some had wandered off to warm themselves and others were walking or feeding their horses.
French cavalry attack
The French cavalry, despite being disorganised and not at full numbers, charged towards the longbowmen, but it was a disaster, with the French knights unable to outflank the longbowmen (because of the encroaching woodland) and unable to charge through the forest of sharpened stakes that protected the archers. John Keegan argues that the longbows' main influence on the battle at this point was injuries to horses: armoured only on the head, many horses would have become dangerously out of control when struck in the back or flank from the high-elevation, long-range shots used as the charge started. The mounted charge and subsequent retreat churned up the already muddy terrain between the French and the English. Juliet Barker quotes a contemporary account by a monk of St. Denis who reports how the wounded and panicking horses galloped through the advancing infantry, scattering them and trampling them down in their headlong flight from the battlefield.
Main French assault
The plate armour of the French men-at-arms allowed them to close the 1,000 yards or so to the English lines while being under what the French monk of Saint Denis described as "a terrifying hail of arrow shot". A complete coat of plate was considered such good protection that shields were generally not used, although the Burgundian contemporary sources distinguish between Frenchmen who used shields and those who did not, and Rogers has suggested that the front elements of the French force used axes and shields. Modern historians are divided on how effective the longbows would have been against plate armour of the time. Modern test and contemporary accounts conclude that arrows could not penetrate the better quality steel armour, which became available to knights and men-at-arms of fairly modest means by the middle of the 14th century, but could penetrate the poorer quality wrought iron armour. Rogers suggested that the longbow could penetrate a wrought iron breastplate at short range and penetrate the thinner armour on the limbs even at 220 yards (200 m). He considered a knight in the best-quality steel armour invulnerable to an arrow on the breastplate or top of the helmet, but vulnerable to shots hitting the limbs, particularly at close range. In any case, to protect themselves as much as possible from the arrows, the French had to lower their visors and bend their helmeted heads to avoid being shot in the face, as the eye- and air-holes in their helmets were among the weakest points in the armour. This head-lowered position restricted their breathing and their vision. Then they had to walk a few hundred yards (metres) through thick mud and a press of comrades while wearing armour weighing 50–60 pounds (23–27 kg), gathering sticky clay all the way. Increasingly, they had to walk around or over fallen comrades.
The surviving French men-at-arms reached the front of the English line and pushed it back, with the longbowmen on the flanks continuing to shoot at point-blank range. When the archers ran out of arrows, they dropped their bows and using hatchets, swords and the mallets they had used to drive their stakes in, attacked the now disordered, fatigued and wounded French men-at-arms massed in front of them. The French could not cope with the thousands of lightly armoured longbowmen assailants (who were much less hindered by the mud and weight of their armour) combined with the English men-at-arms. The impact of thousands of arrows, combined with the slog in heavy armour through the mud, the heat and difficulty breathing in plate armour with the visor down, and the crush of their numbers meant the French men-at-arms could "scarcely lift their weapons" when they finally engaged the English line. The exhausted French men-at-arms were unable to get up after being knocked to the ground by the English. As the mêlée developed, the French second line also joined the attack, but they too were swallowed up, with the narrow terrain meaning the extra numbers could not be used effectively. Rogers suggested that the French at the back of their deep formation would have been attempting to literally add their weight to the advance, without realising that they were hindering the ability of those at the front to manoeuvre and fight by pushing them into the English formation of lancepoints. After the initial wave, the French would have had to fight over and on the bodies of those who had fallen before them. In such a "press" of thousands of men, Rogers suggested that many could have suffocated in their armour, as was described by several sources, and which was also known to have happened in other battles.
The French men-at-arms were taken prisoner or killed in the thousands. The fighting lasted about three hours, but eventually the leaders of the second line were killed or captured, as those of the first line had been. The English Gesta Henrici described three great heaps of the slain around the three main English standards. According to contemporary English accounts, Henry fought hand to hand. Upon hearing that his youngest brother Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester had been wounded in the groin, Henry took his household guard and stood over his brother, in the front rank of the fighting, until Humphrey could be dragged to safety. The king received an axe blow to the head, which knocked off a piece of the crown that formed part of his helmet.
Attack on the English baggage train
The only French success was an attack on the lightly protected English baggage train, with Ysembart d'Azincourt (leading a small number of men-at-arms and varlets plus about 600 peasants) seizing some of Henry's personal treasures, including a crown. Whether this was part of a deliberate French plan or an act of local brigandage is unclear from the sources. Certainly, d'Azincourt was a local knight but he might have been chosen to lead the attack because of his local knowledge and the lack of availability of a more senior soldier. In some accounts the attack happened towards the end of the battle, and led the English to think they were being attacked from the rear. Barker, following the Gesta Henrici, believed to have been written by an English chaplain who was actually in the baggage train, concluded that the attack happened at the start of the battle.
Henry executes the prisoners
Regardless of when the baggage assault happened, at some point after the initial English victory, Henry became alarmed that the French were regrouping for another attack. The Gesta Henrici places this after the English had overcome the onslaught of the French men-at-arms and the weary English troops were eyeing the French rearguard ("in incomparable number and still fresh"). Le Fèvre and Wavrin similarly say that it was signs of the French rearguard regrouping and "marching forward in battle order" which made the English think they were still in danger. A slaughter of the French prisoners ensued. It seems it was purely a decision of Henry, since the English knights found it contrary to chivalry, and contrary to their interests to kill valuable hostages for whom it was commonplace to ask ransom. Henry threatened to hang whoever did not obey his orders.
In any event, Henry ordered the slaughter of what were perhaps several thousand French prisoners, sparing only the highest ranked (presumably those most likely to fetch a large ransom under the chivalric system of warfare). According to most chroniclers, Henry's fear was that the prisoners (who, in an unusual turn of events, actually outnumbered their captors) would realise their advantage in numbers, rearm themselves with the weapons strewn about the field and overwhelm the exhausted English forces. Contemporary chroniclers did not criticise him for it. In his study of the battle John Keegan argued that the main aim was not to actually kill the French knights but rather to terrorise them into submission and quell any possibility they might resume the fight, which would probably have caused the uncommitted French reserve forces to join the fray, as well. Such an event would have posed a risk to the still-outnumbered English and could have easily turned a stunning victory into a mutually destructive defeat, as the English forces were now largely intermingled with the French and would have suffered grievously from the arrows of their own longbowmen had they needed to resume shooting. Keegan also speculated that due to the relatively low number of archers actually involved in killing the French knights (roughly 200 by his estimate), together with the refusal of the English knights to assist in a duty they saw as distastefully unchivalrous, and combined with the sheer difficulty of killing such a large number of prisoners in such a short space of time, the actual number of French prisoners put to death may not have been substantial before the French reserves fled the field and Henry rescinded the order.
The French had suffered a catastrophic defeat. In all, around 6,000 of their fighting men lay dead on the ground. The list of casualties, one historian has noted, "read like a roll call of the military and political leaders of the past generation". Among them were 90–120 great lords and bannerets killed, including three dukes (Alençon, Bar and Brabant), nine counts (Blâmont, Dreux, Fauquembergue, Grandpré, Marle, Nevers, Roucy, Vaucourt, Vaudémont) and one viscount (Puisaye), also an archbishop. Of the great royal office holders, France lost its constable (Albret), an admiral (the lord of Dampierre), the Master of Crossbowmen (David de Rambures, dead along with three sons), Master of the Royal Household (Guichard Dauphin) and prévôt of the marshals. According to the heralds, 3,069 knights and squires were killed, while at least 2,600 more corpses were found without coats of arms to identify them. Entire noble families were wiped out in the male line, and in some regions an entire generation of landed nobility was annihilated. The bailiffs of nine major northern towns were killed, often along with their sons, relatives and supporters. In the words of Juliet Barker, the battle "cut a great swath through the natural leaders of French society in Artois, Ponthieu, Normandy, Picardy."
Estimates of the number of prisoners vary between 700 and 2,200, amongst them the dukes of Orléans and Bourbon, the counts of Eu, Vendôme, Richemont (brother of the Duke of Brittany and stepbrother of Henry V) and Harcourt, and marshal Jean Le Maingre. Record evidence identifies at least 112 Englishmen killed in the fighting, while Monstrelet reported 600 English dead. These included the Duke of York, the young Earl of Suffolk and the Welsh esquire Dafydd ("Davy") Gam.
Although the victory had been militarily decisive, its impact was complex. It did not lead to further English conquests immediately as Henry's priority was to return to England, which he did on 16 November, to be received in triumph in London on the 23rd. Henry returned a conquering hero, seen as blessed by God in the eyes of his subjects and European powers outside France. It established the legitimacy of the Lancastrian monarchy and the future campaigns of Henry to pursue his "rights and privileges" in France. Other benefits to the English were longer term. Very quickly after the battle, the fragile truce between the Armagnac and Burgundian factions broke down. The brunt of the battle had fallen on the Armagnacs and it was they who suffered the majority of senior casualties and carried the blame for the defeat. The Burgundians seized on the opportunity and within 10 days of the battle had mustered their armies and marched on Paris. This lack of unity in France allowed Henry eighteen months to prepare militarily and politically for a renewed campaign. When that campaign took place, it was made easier by the damage done to the political and military structures of Normandy by the battle.
Numbers at Agincourt
Anne Curry in her 2005 book Agincourt: A New History, argues (based on research into the surviving administrative records) that the French army was about 12,000 strong, and the English army about 9,000, giving proportions of four to three. By contrast, Juliet Barker in her book Agincourt: The King, the Campaign, the Battle (also published in 2005) argues the English and Welsh were outnumbered "at least four to one and possibly as much as six to one". She suggests figures of about 6,000 for the English and 36,000 for the French, based on the Gesta Henrici's figures of 5,000 archers and 900 men-at-arms for the English, and Jean de Wavrin's statement "that the French were six times more numerous than the English". The 2009 Encyclopædia Britannica uses the figures of about 6,000 for the English and 20,000 to 30,000 for the French. The 1911 Britannica use somewhat different figures of 6,000 archers, 1,000 men-at-arms and "a few thousands of other foot" for the English, with the French outnumbering them by "at least four times".
While not necessarily agreeing with the exact numbers Curry uses, Bertrand Schnerb, a professor of medieval history at the University of Lille, states the French probably had 12,000–15,000 troops. Ian Mortimer, in his 2009 book 1415: Henry V's Year of Glory, notes how Curry "minimises French numbers (by limiting her figures to those in the basic army and a few specific additional companies) and maximises English numbers (by assuming the numbers sent home from Harfleur were no greater than sick lists)", but agrees that previous estimates have exaggerated the odds, and suggests that "the most extreme imbalance which is credible is fifteen thousand French troops against 8,100 English: a ratio of about two-to-one".
However, Clifford J. Rogers, professor of history at the United States Military Academy at West Point, has recently argued that archival records are too incomplete to substantially change his view that the English were outnumbered about 4–1. Juliet Barker also disagrees with Curry's arguments in the acknowledgements section of her 2005 book on Agincourt, saying: "Surviving administrative records on both sides, but especially the French, are simply too incomplete to support [Curry's] assertion that nine thousand English were pitted against an army only twelve thousand strong. And if the differential really was as low as three to four then this makes a nonsense of the course of the battle as described by eyewitnesses and contemporaries."
Those supporting a greater imbalance have generally put more store by contemporary (and especially eyewitness) accounts. The Gesta Henrici gives plausible figures for the English of 5,000 archers and 900 men-at-arms, but Mortimer notes it is "wildly inaccurate" in stating the English were outnumbered 30–1, and there have also been doubts as to how much it was written as propaganda for Henry V. The proportions also seem incorrect, as from surviving records we know that Henry set out with about four times as many archers as men-at-arms, not five and a half times as many. Those who have supported the Gesta figures for the English army have generally thought that although the English army may have left Harfleur with eight or nine thousand men, it is plausible that after weeks of campaigning and disease in hostile territory they would have lost two or three thousand fighting men; however Mortimer states: "Despite the trials of the march, Henry had lost very few men to illness or death; and we have independent testimony that no more than 160 had been captured on the way."
As Mortimer notes, the Burgundian numbers for the size of the French vanguard of 8,000 men-at-arms in the vanguard with 1,400 (or 2,400) men-at-arms in the wings correspond roughly with the figures of ten thousand men-at-arms recorded by the duke of Berry's herald. The Burgundians also recorded 4,000 archers and 1,500 crossbowmen in the "vanguard", which would suggest "fourteen or fifteen thousand fighting men". The Burgundians actually give the total size of the French army as an implausible 50,000, and the numbers they use do not correspond closely to the odds they describe. Using very similar numbers, Jean Le Fevre states that the English were outnumbered 3–1, whereas Wavrin states that the English were outnumbered 6–1.
One particular cause of confusion may have been the number of servants on both sides. Mortimer suggests that because there were a much higher proportion of men-at-arms on the French side, the number of non-combatants was much higher. Each man-at-arms could be expected to have a page, who would have ridden one of his spare horses. If the French army had an extra 10,000 mounted men (as opposed to only 1,500 extra for the English), then "the English probably did see an army about three times the size of their own fighting force".
It is open to debate whether these should all be counted as non-combatants; Rogers (for example) accepts that the French probably had about 10,000 men-at-arms, but explicitly includes one "gros valet" (an armed, armoured and mounted military servant) per French man-at-arms in his calculation of the odds.
The battle remains an important symbol in popular culture. Some notable examples are listed below.
Soon after the English victory at Agincourt, a number of popular folk songs were created about the battle, the most famous being the "Agincourt Carol", produced in the first half of the 15th century. Other ballads followed, including "King Henry Fifth's Conquest of France", raising the popular prominence of particular events mentioned only in passing by the original chroniclers, such as the gift of tennis balls before the campaign.
The most famous cultural depiction of the battle today is William Shakespeare's Henry V, written in 1599. The play focuses on the pressures of kingship, the tensions between how a king should appear – chivalric, honest, and just – and how a king must sometimes act – Machiavellian and ruthless. Shakespeare illustrates these tensions by depicting Henry's decision to kill some of the French prisoners, whilst attempting to justify it and distance himself from the event. This moment of the battle is portrayed both as a break with the traditions of chivalry and as key example of the paradox of kingship.
Shakespeare's play presented Henry as leading a truly English force into battle, playing on the importance of the link between the monarch and the common soldiers in the fight. The original play does not, however, feature any scenes of the actual battle itself, leading critic Rose Zimbardo to characterise it as "full of warfare, yet empty of conflict."
The play introduced the famous St Crispin's Day Speech, considered one of Shakespeare's most heroic speeches, which Henry delivers movingly to his soldiers just before the battle, urging his "band of brothers" to stand together in the forthcoming fight. Critic David Margolies describes how it "oozes honour, military glory, love of country and self-sacrifice", and forms one of the first instances of English literature linking solidarity and comradeship to success in battle. Partially as a result, the battle was used as a metaphor at the beginning of the First World War, when the British Expeditionary Force's attempts to stop the German advances were widely likened to it.
Shakespeare's version of the battle of Agincourt has been turned into several minor and two major films. The latter, each titled Henry V, star Laurence Olivier in 1944 and Kenneth Branagh in 1989. Made just prior to the invasion of Normandy, Olivier's rendition gives the battle what Sarah Hatchuel has termed an "exhilarating and heroic" tone, with an artificial, cinematic look to the battle scenes. Branagh's version gives a longer, more realist portrayal of the battle itself, drawing on both historical sources and images from the Vietnam and Falkland Wars.
In his 2007 film adaptation, director Peter Babakitis uses digital effects to exaggerate realist features during the battle scenes, producing a more avant-garde interpretation of the fighting at Agincourt. The battle also forms a central component of the 2019 Netflix film The King (2019).
In March 2010, a mock trial of Henry V for the crimes associated with the slaughter of the prisoners was held in Washington, D.C., drawing from both the historical record and Shakespeare's play. Participating as judges were Justices Samuel Alito and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The trial ranged widely over whether there was just cause for war and not simply the prisoner issue. Although an audience vote was "too close to call", Henry was unanimously found guilty by the court on the basis of "evolving standards of civil society".
- V sign, for more on the "two-finger salute" which legends claim derives from the gestures of longbowmen fighting in the English army at the battle of Agincourt.
- Pronunciation: The story of the battle has been retold many times in English, from the fifteenth-century Agincourt song onwards, and an English pronunciation of // has become established. Merriam-Webster has a small audio file here. The modern tendency, however, is to use a style closer to the original French pronunciation French pronunciation: [azɛ̃kuʁ], such as // or //, as exampled in this interview with Juliet Barker on Meet the Author, here.
- Dates in the fifteenth century are difficult to reconcile with modern calendars: see Barker 2015, pp. 226–228 for the way the date of the battle was established.
- The first known use of angled stakes to thwart a mounted charge was at the Battle of Nicopolis, an engagement between European states and Turkish forces in 1396, twenty years before Agincourt. French knights, charging uphill, were unseated from their horses, either because their mounts were injured on the stakes or because they dismounted to uproot the obstacles, and were overpowered. News of the contrivance circulated within Europe and was described in a book of tactics written in 1411 by Boucicault, Marshal of France.
- Presumably some 2,000 gros varlets were placed on the main division, which was said to be of the same size – 5,000 men – as the van. The rest were stationed in the rearguard.
- According to the chronicler Monstrelet, Richemont was in the vanguard and the wings were formed by Vendôme and Clignet de Bréban (only the latter was specified to have been mounted). Waurin contradicts this by writing that, during the battle, Bréban charged from the left wing – the same at which Vendôme was located. It has sometimes been assumed (based on Monstrelet's account) that Vendôme formed one of the cavalry wings, but nowhere does it say that his division, or that of Richemont, were mounted. An earlier plan of battle specifically discerned two infantry wings from a separate cavalry force; that this was the plan ultimately adopted by the French is confirmed by the herald Gilles Le Bouvier, who offers "the most detailed account" of their deployment.
- As reported by Thomas Walsingham. Other sources agree closely, citing 4,000 dead in this group. Reportedly 1,500 knights died.
- Barker 2015, pp. xvi–xvii, xxi, 220, 229, 276, 388–392.
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aj-in-kor/ˈadʒɪnˌkɔː(r)/ the established anglicization
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Battle of Agincourt.|
- The Agincourt Battlefield Archaeology Project website http://tls509.wixsite.com/archaeologyagincourt by Tim Sutherland (Project Director)
- Azincourt Museum, Le Centre Historique Médiéval, Azincourt, France Accessed 2 December 2017.
- Battle of Agincourt on In Our Time at the BBC – Bragg, Melvyn (presenter), with Anne Curry, Michael Jones and John Watts, 16 September 2004.
- Detailed list of French casualties
- Contemporary account of battle written by Enguerrand de Monstrelet (d.1453), governor of Cambrai and supporter of the French crown.
- Battle of Agincourt on Medieval Archives Podcast
- "An animated map of the Battle of Agincourt" by David Crowther
- "An animated map of the Agincourt campaign" by David Crowther