Battle of Agincourt

Summary

50.46361111112.14166666667Coordinates: 50° 27′ 49″ N, 2° 8′ 30″ E

The Battle of Azincourt (French Bataille d”Azincourt, English Battle of Agincourt) took place on October 25, 1415, on Saint Crispinian”s Day, near Arras in what is now the Pas-de-Calais department of northern France. The troops of King Henry V of England fought against the army of King Charles VI of France, various French noble lords and the Armagnacs. It was one of the greatest military victories of the English over the French during the Hundred Years War.

The Battle of Azincourt is unusually well documented for a medieval battle. The precise location of the main battle is undisputed; there is uncertainty about the chronology only in matters of detail. The number of participants in the battle, on the other hand, has long been disputed, as chronicles differ widely here. For nearly 600 years, however, the consensus was that the Anglo-Welsh army was vastly outnumbered by French troops. Modern historians have often assumed a 4:1 balance of forces in favor of the French side. Recent research by British historian Anne Curry disputes this. In a departure from previous doctrine, she argues (based on documented pay) that the French army outnumbered the Anglo-Welsh army by only a 3:2 ratio of forces. The exact balance of forces, however, remains in dispute.

The Battle of Azincourt is considered one of the most significant battles in military history because – as previously at the Battle of Crécy – foot troops armed with longbows played a decisive role in the outcome of the battle. The attack of the French heavy cavalry remained ineffective not least because of the massive use of the longbowmen, i.e. the attack of the heavily armed French nobles was slowed down and impaired by their use. France”s military defeat was so lasting that Henry V was able to impose the Treaty of Troyes on France in 1420, which gave him a claim to the French throne through the marriage of the French king”s daughter Catherine of Valois.

Causes of the dispute

The starting point and core point of contention of the Hundred Years” War, of which the Battle of Azincourt is a part, was the English claim to the French throne. After the English victories at Crécy (1346) and Maupertuis (1356), the first phase of this war ended with the Peace of Brétigny, concluded in 1360, which secured English rule over large parts of France. By 1396, the French had recovered much of the land they had lost to the English and secured it through a renewed peace treaty with England. Henry V, who ascended the English throne in 1413, renewed the claim to the French kingdom and resumed diplomatic talks to that end while recruiting an army of experienced soldiers paid directly by the English crown. After diplomatic negotiations broke down, he and his army landed at Harfleur (now the Seine-Maritime department) in Normandy on August 14, 1415.

On the French side, he was opposed by the insane King Charles VI. Among his imperial administrators were the Duke of Burgundy, John Fearless, and the Duke of Orleans, Charles de Valois, who with their parties of Bourguignons and Armagnacs fought a power struggle that almost paralyzed the French side in the war against the English. The town of Harfleur, besieged by the Anglo-Welsh army, was not helped by any French army and the town surrendered on September 22. Although a mobilization of the feudal armies in the French provinces took place after the fall of Harfleur, the armies of the dukes of Orleans and Burgundy would probably have fought each other if they had met. Thus, the army of the Burgundian Duke John Fearless remained behind and the Connétable, Charles I d”Albret commanded the French force.

The English march to Azincourt

About a third of the Anglo-Welsh army was dead or unable to fight after the week-long siege of Harfleur. With a remnant army weakened from day to day by an epidemic of rest, Henry V wanted to move to Calais, which had been the last bastion of the English crown in northern France since 1396. There he wanted to prepare himself for coming hostilities. The direct route from Harfleur to Calais was about 200 kilometers and led along the coast. Only the Somme represented a major obstacle on this route. In order to cross this river above the estuary, the Anglo-Welsh army moved further inland from October 13.

Along the Somme, French troops had occupied the crossings in time, so the English force had to penetrate further and further inland in search of a way to cross the Somme. It followed the course of the river, however, the French army on the north bank of the Somme kept pace with it. Henry V therefore decided to stop following the course of the river and, in order to throw off the French army, crossed the Santerre plain in a forced march. Near the towns of Bethencourt and Voyennes, they found two unguarded, though damaged, dams that allowed them to cross the Somme. By this time they had covered 340 km in twelve days. Therefore, Henry V let his army rest on October 20. From October 21 to 24, the army covered another 120 km. Henry V was aware that the French army must be on their right flank. Scouts were able to confirm this assumption on October 24. Although the French had already formed up in battle formation on October 24, the battle did not take place because of nightfall. The two armies camped within earshot of each other during the very rainy night.

The Battle of Azincourt is sometimes shortened to a clash between knights and archers. Knights in the broader sense of the word are the heavily armed, mounted warriors of the Middle Ages. In the narrower sense, knight is the name of a class to which many, but by no means all, medieval nobles belonged. For financial and family reasons, many nobles preferred to remain noble servants and thus knightly and armor-bearing warriors throughout their lives. In Azincourt, heavily armed cavalry, used only by the French side, played a role only at the beginning of the battle; the actual and decisive battle took place on foot between heavily armed nobles, not all of whom belonged to the knighthood. English historiography therefore distinguishes between knights (= knights in the narrow sense) and men-at-arms (= heavily armed warriors who wore plate armor). In German literature, the English term men-at-arms is occasionally used for these warriors as well. In the following, this part of the combatants in the Battle of Azincourt will be referred to as “Gewappnete”, a term also used by Hermann Kusterer, who translated John Keegan”s analysis of the Battle of Anzincourt into German.

Armored equipment

The armored men of both armies each wore plate armor, a full suit of armor consisting of several dozen metal plates flexibly connected by numerous straps, rivets, and hinges, making the wearing of a shield unnecessary. On many, chain mail under the plate armor protected the armpits and genital area. The head was protected by a pelvic hood to which a movable visor was attached. Depending on the wealth of the client, the armor was custom made for him or was composed of several inherited or individually purchased pieces. The production of a custom-made armor usually took several months. The price differences between plate armors could be very large, but usually they cost at least as much as a craftsman of that time earned in several years. Together with the helmet, the armor spread over the whole body weighed between 28 and 35 kilograms. A well-made armor allowed its wearer to get on his horse without assistance or to get up after a fall without any problems.

Equipment of the English longbowmen

Very little is known about the equipment of the English longbowmen essential to the outcome of the battle. Some of them may have worn a short-sleeved chainmail over a padded doublet. The padded doublet had evolved from the gambeson worn under the chainmail. It was tight-fitting on the torso and arms and consisted of several layers of strong linen fabric quilted lengthwise. It was often padded with wool, absorbent cotton, felt, hemp or hay. A doublet dating from the 1460s has survived and features 23 layers of linen and wool on the front and 21 layers on the back. Some sources report that archers otherwise fought bareheaded and barefoot. They were far inferior in a direct fight with an armored man due to their other weapons and the little protection their clothing offered. However, compared to a fighter wearing plate armor, they were considerably more agile.

Their decisive strength lay in their skilled use of the longbow. An archer had to be able to shoot at least ten arrows per minute to be accepted into the Anglo-Welsh army. Archers were proficient in a variety of shooting techniques. These included shooting arrows in such a way that they followed a high parabolic trajectory. Several rows of archers standing behind each other could fire their arrows simultaneously in this way. This technique was mainly used when the enemy”s attack was to be slowed down by a dense swarm of arrows.

The arrows carried a wrought iron point. The so-called “Type 16 War Point” according to the British Museum classification was about five centimeters long, lancet-shaped with a flat elliptical cross-section and barely pronounced barbs. Based on modern shooting tests, it is known that these arrows could penetrate chainmail and plate armor. Bodkin points were also used, which could also penetrate plate armor and chain mail due to their short, strong square point. Again, modern shooting tests have shown that Bodkin-tipped arrows can penetrate plate armor of 1.5 mm plate thickness at an angle of impact of 50 degrees.

The arrows were transported in bundles of 24 arrows each in canvas containers. During the battle, the archer carried them either as a bundle in his belt or in a transport container. Often the archer stuck his arrows into the ground in front of him. Such tips contaminated by soil often caused serious inflammation of the wounds of those hit.

The French battle formation

The French side is sometimes said to have faced the English troops without preparing for battle, given their numerical superiority. However, a French battle plan has been preserved, which was probably drawn up a few days before the Battle of Azincourt. According to it, the French planned a three-part battle formation with the armed men in the center. They were to be flanked by archers and crossbowmen, who were to decimate the English archers with their arrows and bolts in the first minutes of battle. A 1,000-man cavalry force, also placed on the flanks, was then to overrun and cut down the archers. The main attacking forces in the second line were to be led by Charles I d”Albret and the Dukes of Alençon, Orléans and Brittany. The two wings were to be under the command of Arthur de Richemont and Tanneguy du Chastel. The leadership of the front line, which was to fight after the cavalry attack, according to this plan was Jean I de Bourbon, Jean II. Le Maingre and Guichard II. Dauphin, the Grand Master of France.

However, the original order of battle was never implemented. The Duke of Brittany, as well as Tanneguy du Chastel and the Count of Charolais (Philip the Good) appeared late or not at all on the battlefield. The nobles present, on the other hand, demanded to be in the prestigious front line and refused to take a leading role on the flanks or in the rear. The dispute was resolved by having the highest nobles and holders of the most important French grand offices take up positions in the front line. They were to attack the English Welsh army on foot after an attack by mounted men on the English archers. The Dukes of Alençon and Bar were to lead the main attacking forces. Assuming that eight thousand men each formed the vanguard and main forces, the vanguard and main forces each consisted of eight lines. The rear guard, or third line, was made up of mounted men whose task would be to pursue the English and Welsh once their line was destroyed by the mounted men, the vanguard, and the main force. Two detachments of about five hundred horsemen each were posted on the two wings. The French archers, who had been placed on the front line of the wings according to the original plan, were now placed behind the armored soldiers. This made it almost impossible for them to intervene in the battle.

The English battle formation

On the English side, the battle was to be fought mainly on foot. The battle order consisted of three blocks, between which two groups of archers were probably placed. The right block was commanded by Edward of Norwich, 2nd Duke of York, the middle one by Henry V and the left one by Lord Thomas Camoys. The line of armed men was about four to five men deep. The wings again consisted of archers and may have been slightly forward. The archers were led by Sir Thomas Erpingham, a very battle-hardened knight who had served under Henry IV.

The Anglo-Welsh archers had been carrying stout stakes sharpened on both sides since the tenth day of the march. The order to carry them had been given by Henry V because they were an effective measure against surprise attacks by horsemen. These stakes were driven into the ground at an angle by the archers. According to analyses by John Keegan, it is most likely that the stakes were driven in six or seven rows, each about ninety centimeters apart and at an angle. This allowed the archers the freedom of movement that played a role in the later course of the battle.

Troop strength

The number of those fighting on the French side has long been the subject of considerable dispute, while the troop strength of the Anglo-Welsh side was widely agreed to have consisted of about 1,000 men-at-arms and 5,000 archers. Anne Curry, however, believes that the British side is underestimated based on documented English pay, and assumes at least 1,593 men-at-arms and 7,139 archers. What was unusual about the Anglo-Welsh army, therefore, was not its small size, but a composition in which the armored made up less than a quarter of the troops.

Contemporary British sources mention 60,000 to 150,000 men on the French side, whereas contemporary French sources tend to downplay the number of battle participants on the French side and mention between 8,000 and 50,000 men. However, the sometimes extremely high figures in contemporary sources of 60,000 participants or even more do not correspond to modern research findings and are untenable from a logistical point of view alone. The historian Juliet Barker estimates the French participants in the battle at just under 22,000, while Anne Curry assumes a troop strength of only 12,000 men, at least two-thirds of whom were armed men. She argues that the French failed to rally their troops in time. While most modern historians attribute the absence of some French high nobles and their retinues exclusively to the contemporary intra-French power struggle, Anne Curry allows this to apply only to a few.

Moreover, there are good arguments even for a numerical inferiority of the French. Thus, the French contemporary sources are to be attributed to the pro-English side and insofar interested in an exaggeration of the defeat. In addition, a five-day parallel march, which the French completed more quickly by moving at a faster pace while leaving slower units behind to get in the way of the English, meant that the French troops were not assembled as a unit. Finally, the defensive formation of the French and the knights dismounted in the center, who traditionally relied on their offensive power on horseback, speaks against their numerical superiority. Hans Delbrück even estimates the strength of the French at only 4,000-6,000 men.

The two armies differed in their social composition. On the French side, nobles fought with their respective retinues. This retinue also belonged predominantly to the (lower) nobility. In the English army, the nobles, who made up the force of the armed, played a lesser role. The essential force of the English was represented by the archers, who came from non-aristocratic classes and were directly enlisted by Henry V. Anne Curry sees this as a decisive advantage for the Anglo-Welsh side. In her view, the French side fought an army that was only loosely knit together and marked by internal strife, with an unclear order of battle. The Anglo-Welsh troops, on the other hand, had a clear command structure and a stronger sense of community.

Advance of the Anglo-Welsh Army

With the first dawn, the French and the Anglo-Welsh armies took up their respective battle formations. Between them at this point was an open and almost flat piece of farmland about 900 to 1,000 meters long, lined on both sides by woods. It had been plowed shortly before the battle to sow winter wheat. On the French side, the distance between the two groves was about 1,100 meters.

Before the battle began, emissaries of both armies negotiated one last time in the middle of the probable battlefield in order to reach a peaceful agreement. Juliet Barker is convinced that the initiative for this came from Henry V, because it was part of his duties as a Christian king to make one last effort to prevent bloodshed. Anne Curry, on the other hand, sees these negotiations as a delaying tactic by the French, who wanted to buy time until further reinforcements arrived. The negotiations were inconclusive. Thereafter, the two armies faced each other for more than three or four hours without any hostilities. According to the military doctrine of that time, the one who marched his troops first took a disadvantage. Two of the contemporary chroniclers of the battle report that during this hour-long wait, Frenchmen sat down in the front line, ate, drank, and buried old quarrels among themselves. Finally, it was Henry V who ordered his troops to approach the French to a distance of about 250 to 300 meters. At this distance the arrows of the Anglo-Welsh archers could reach the French side. John Keegan suggests that it took the Anglo-Welsh army a good ten minutes to cover the 600 or so yards of rain-softened farmland. For the English side, the period of advance was a very critical moment. The English archers had to pull out the stakes that had been driven into the ground for their protection and drive them in again further ahead. Had the attack of the French mounted men occurred at this moment, they would have been largely defenseless against the assault.

Contemporary accounts contradict each other as to why there was no French mounted attack at this obvious moment. French sources agree that at this moment the mounted men were not in the places that the order of battle called for them to be. Gilles le Bouvier, one of the contemporary chroniclers of the battle, recorded that no one expected any movement on the English side at that moment and many of the mounted men had left their positions to warm up, feed and water their horses, or ride warmly. This may not have been just indiscipline. Only stallions were used as war horses, and their natural aggressiveness made it impossible to stand quietly side by side for several hours. Thanks to the element of surprise, the Anglo-Welsh army reached the narrowest point between the forests of Azincourt and Tramecourt. The width of the English position at this point may have been about 860 meters. Because of the directly adjacent woods, the French mounted troops could no longer ride pincer-like around the English army and attack from the sides, but now had to attack head-on.

Attack of the French Mounted

Immediately after the Anglo-Welsh army advanced, the archers opened the actual battle. It is not known how the orders were synchronized between the different divisions of archers. What is certain, however, is that the English-Welsh archers fired their arrows largely simultaneously. English archers were skilled at hitting a target using a high, parabolic trajectory of fire, and this shooting technique was used here. The primary objective of this hail of arrows was to provoke the French army into attacking. The arrows themselves did not do much damage to the French men-at-arms because of their low terminal velocity and steep angle of impact. However, the padded cloth capes of the horses were pierced by the sharp points of the arrows even at this distance, so injury to at least some of the horses on the French side is likely.

The French army responded to the arrow attack with the attack of their mounted men. However, instead of 1,000 (or – depending on the author – 800 to 1,200) mounted men, only about 420 French horsemen attacked the archers. The attack of the French cavalry remained ineffective not only because of the small number. Because of the heavy and soggy field soil, the horses of the French cavalry did not reach their full attack speed, partly slipping and falling, so that the line of the horsemen was widely dispersed. The reduced speed of the equestrian attack also exposed the horses to archer fire for longer. War horses were trained to charge forward against a target such as another rider or a foot soldier. Even a trained horse, however, would have shied away from an obstacle it could not avoid or jump over.

It is therefore considered certain that the archers stood in front of their stakes until the French cavalry had approached to within lancing distance and the horses could not turn in front of the stakes. Some horsemen broke into the ranks of the Anglo-Welsh archers. Three leaders of the French mounted men are known to have died in the process. The horses of Robert de Chalus, Poncon de la Tour, and Guillaume de Saveuse had been brought down by the stakes, and their riders fell between the Anglo-Welsh archers and were slain by them. Numerous other leaders of the mounted men, on the other hand, survived. Contemporary chroniclers of the battle, such as Gilles de Bouvier, used the much lower death rate of the mounted men compared to the French men in arms as an opportunity to accuse them of cowardly failure.

The attack of the French horsemen, intended to put the Anglo-Welsh archers out of action, not only failed, but ultimately turned against the French army. Only some of the mounted men and some of the masterless horses escaped into the woods that bordered the battlefield. Most of the horses and French horsemen turned back and galloped back. In the process, some of the horses collided with the French vanguard, which had begun its attack at the same time as the horsemen.

Attack of the French armored

The first detachment of French foot troops – probably eight thousand men in eight closely packed lines – set out on the march at the same time as the attack by the French mounted troops. They would have reached the line of English foot troops in three to four minutes under normal circumstances, according to John Keegan”s estimates. Several factors prevented this. Those of the foot troops who dispensed with a shield – as was already largely the case by this time – were forced to lower their visors to protect their faces from the arrows. However, this hindered breathing and significantly limited visibility. Because of the dense line, however, even if the horses galloping toward them were spotted early, they were unable to open the lines quickly enough to let them through. Some of the men were trampled to the ground, and the movement of the dodging and falling men stalled the advance.

The heavy weight of the plate armor, to which were added lance, sword, dagger and possibly mace, posed a relatively minor problem for the approaching French nobles. They had been used to fighting and moving in this armor and with this equipment since their youth. Similar to the French mounted men, they were hindered primarily by the sodden, heavy ground. They sometimes sank into the clay up to their knees, which greatly slowed the advance and made it unusually strenuous for them. Those who fell during the advance in the front ranks had little opportunity to get back up because of the retreating ranks behind them. The slowing of the French advance gave the Anglo-Welsh archers an opportunity to fire several volleys of arrows at those approaching. This likely resulted in casualties and deaths among the French men in arms at this point. Weak points of the armor were the shoulder sections and the slits in the visor. Archers now shot their arrows flat, so they could easily penetrate armor plates at shorter ranges.

Clash of the armed

Several chroniclers report that the French men-at-arms met the English front line in three columns and that the battle was concentrated on the relatively short front line where the Anglo-Welsh men-at-arms, and thus the Anglo-Welsh nobility, stood. From the point of view of a French noble, there was neither honor nor ransom in fighting simple foot soldiers such as archers. Moreover, these were still protected by the stakes driven into the ground at an angle, which would have hindered an armored man in combat against archers who were only lightly armed or not armed at all, and thus more capable of movement.

According to the chroniclers” reports, the English retreated by “a lance length” when they met the French. The priests behind the Anglo-Welsh line interpreted the retreat as the first indication of English defeat and burst into loud wailing. Although outnumbered, the Anglo-Welsh men-at-arms regained their composure and in turn attacked the French. The French armored men had shortened their lances. This made them easier to handle in close combat. The Anglo-Welsh armored men, on the other hand, had not shortened their lances. This gave them an advantage in the first direct encounter between the two troops. Presumably, the lance thrusts of the Anglo-Welsh armorers were directed primarily at the abdomen and legs of the attacking French and were aimed at bringing the armorers down.

John Keegan, Anne Curry, and Juliet Barker all agree that at this moment the numerical superiority of the French was detrimental to them. To fight effectively, a warrior needed space so that he could move laterally or backward to avoid the blows and thrusts of his opponent. The seven to eight hundred French who faced the English and Welsh directly did not have this, because thousands of French armored men were pressing forward behind them. The English, on the other hand, were staggered in only four lines and thus outnumbered the French in direct one-on-one combat. The French who fell in the first few minutes of the battle further limited the movement of the remaining French. Keegan believes that this was the decisive factor that decided the Battle of Azincourt in favor of the English:

A few, like young Raoul d”Ailly, were lucky enough to be pulled alive from the pile of the fallen during the battle. Most of the wounded and fallen French were crushed by the weight of their comrades-in-arms or suffocated in the mud. Chroniclers spoke of “dead bodies piled up to form a wall” or of “man-sized heaps” of corpses. According to John Keegan”s analysis, this is one of the exaggerations of medieval chroniclers. The dead were indeed piled up on the front line, but based on studies of 20th century battles with heavy losses, we know that bodies of the fallen do not pile up into walls. Therefore, even in the most heavily contested places, there were no more than two or three bodies on top of each other.

Intervention of the English Welsh archers

The chroniclers are unanimous in reporting that at this point the Anglo-Welsh archers intervened directly in the battle. They may have had no arrows left at this point. Archers usually had one or two quivers, each containing 24 arrows, which they could shoot at intervals of ten seconds each. Therefore, it is certain that half an hour after the first battles between the armed, they had no arrows left. Their attack was made with daggers, swords, battle axes and hammers, which they used to drive the stakes. Since they would have been outnumbered in an open fight with an armored man, John Keegan assumes that their attacks were directed against the French, who were on the fringes of the fighting and had already fallen or been wounded.

The lateral attack of the archers and the frontal assault of the English Welsh armored men meant that most of the front line of the French had either already fled, were dead, wounded, or ready to surrender when the second line of French attacked. Contemporary chroniclers report very little about this reinforcement of the French side. John Keegan suggests that the chroniclers were silent about this reinforcement on the French side because the experience of the first line was repeated and the reinforcement had no noticeable effect. Their attack was largely neutralized by the counter-movement of the fleeing forces and robbed of its effect by the numerous dead on the battlefield.

At first, the fighters on the English side did not take any prisoners. Only with increasing certainty of victory did the English refrain from killing French high nobles, because ransoming them promised a lot of ransom. A large part of the French high nobility was captured by English foot soldiers in the process. The Duke of Bourbon fell into the hands of Sir Ralph Fowne, a man in Ralph Shirley”s retinue; Jean II. Le Maingre, Marshal of France, was taken prisoner by William Wolfe, a simple Esquire. Arthur de Richemont and the Duke of Orleans were pulled out wounded by archers from under the bodies of French armored men.

Killing the prisoners

Henry V could not be completely sure of his victory even three hours after the start of the battle, as shown by three incidents that occurred shortly after each other or in parallel: The Duke of Brabant, fighting on the French side, arrived late on the battlefield with a small retinue, but attacked immediately. His courageous attack, however, was in vain. He was overpowered and captured. The duke”s courageous example caused the Counts of Masle and Fauquemberghes, who belonged to the third French line, to also attack with a small force. They, however, were killed during the attack. Almost at the same time, shouts and noise made the English conclude that the baggage train, which was behind the Anglo-Welsh troops and hardly guarded, was attacked by Frenchmen. Henry V gave the order to kill all but the most important captured Frenchmen. It is known that Henry”s subordinates refused to obey the order and that the English king finally ordered 200 archers under the command of an armored man to execute the order. It is no longer possible to reconstruct how many French prisoners were killed in response to this order. After the battle, between 1,000 and 2,000 French prisoners accompanied the Anglo-Welsh army back to England, most of whom had been captured before the order. The chroniclers also report that the order was withdrawn after Henry V was sure that the French third line had refrained from attacking.

Juliet Barker calls Henry V”s killing order consequential and points out that this order was not even criticized by contemporary French chroniclers. Henry”s troops were physically and emotionally exhausted after the three hours of fighting. He had no information about the strength of the regrouping French troops and had to expect that the French prisoners, who were merely disarmed and guarded by a few Englishmen, would take up arms again. Anne Curry”s source research has led her to a similar conclusion to Juliet Barker, but she doubts that Henry V knew of the attack on the Bagagetross at this point. Historian Martin Clauss, on the other hand, argues that the English, on Henry V”s orders, broke common martial conventions of their time, whose chivalric norms and rules called for sparing prisoners. Contemporary English chronicles, in his view, conceal this war atrocity or only hint at it because they were written around the English royal court. Contemporary French sources focus on the misconduct of their own side against the backdrop of intra-French power struggles. Burgundian chroniclers, for example, see the responsibility for the attack on the English troop in the hands of Armagnac army commanders, who are thus also to blame for the deaths of the French prisoners.

John Keegan considers the number of prisoners killed to be small. He considers a mass execution in which English archers successively slew French prisoners with axes or cut their throats with daggers impossible, without the French high nobles objecting to being killed by foot troops they despised as socially inferior. He considers much more likely a scenario in which English privates loudly protested that the prisoners, so valuable to them because of the ransom payments, were to be killed, there was a quarrel between them and the firing squad, the prisoners were led away from the battlefield where weapons were within easy reach of them, and the archers killed individual French privates on the sides during this departure. However, there is an eyewitness account that makes clear how possibly the execution order was complied with: Ghillebert de Lannoy had been wounded in the head and knee during the battle. He was found among the French corpses and captured and locked in a hut with ten to twelve other prisoners. When the order came to kill him, this hut was set on fire. Ghillebert de Lannoy managed to escape from the burning hut. However, he was captured again shortly after.

The number of dead on both sides is not known. On the English side, there are at least 112 dead. The number is almost certainly incomplete and does not count those who died of their wounds after the battle. All contemporary sources emphasize the high number of casualties on the French side, while the English chronicles in particular downplay their own casualties. After the siege of Harfleur, the English dead were accurately recorded, because their deaths ended the king”s obligation to pay pay for them. After Azincourt, such a careful listing was omitted. Possibly the number of dead was so small that it was of little consequence to the crown if its captains collected pay for the fallen for a few weeks. Anne Curry does not think it impossible that Henry V deliberately downplayed the number of his own dead, since it was foreseeable that more campaigns in France would soon follow.

What is striking is the very large difference in the number of high nobles from the English-Welsh and French sides who died in the battle. On the English side, of the high nobles, only Edward of Norwich, 2nd Duke of York, and the only 21-year-old Michael de la Pole, 3rd Earl of Suffolk, fell. Among the casualties on the French side were John I, Duke of Alençon; Antony, Duke of Brabant and Limburg; Edward III, Duke of Bar; Jean de Montaigu, Archbishop of Sens; Charles I d”Albret, Count of Dreux; Frederick I, Count of Vaudémont; John VI, Count of Roucy and Braine; Philip of Burgundy, Count of Nevers and Rethel; William IV, Count of Tancarville; Jean IV de Bueil; the 19-year-old Charles de Montaigu, Vidame de Laon; Jean de Craon, Vice Count of Châteaudun; Pierre d”Orgemont, Lord of Chantilly; and Hugues III d”Amboise, father of Pierre d”Amboise.

Among the prisoners who survived the killing order were Charles, Duke of Orleans; John I, Duke of Bourbon; Georges de La Trémoille, Count of Guînes; Jean II. Le Maingre, Marshal of France; Arthur de Richemont, later Duke of Brittany; Louis de Bourbon, Comte de Vendôme; and Charles d”Artois, the Count of Eu. For Henry V, these captives were valuable not only because of the high ransom demands. Their captivity in England symbolized for many years the devastating defeat suffered by the French army at the Battle of Azincourt. How many other French captives accompanied the Anglo-Welsh army back to England from Calais is not certain. Contemporary sources cite between 700 and 2,200. What is certain is that a number of prisoners were able to post their ransom while still at Calais and therefore never left French soil. Anne Curry, according to her source studies, has been able to prove a total of only 282 prisoners who spent part of their captivity in England.

Militarily, France was so soundly defeated that the English regent Henry V was able to impose his war aims in the following years, occupying Caen and finally, five years later, imposing the Treaty of Troyes on the French crown, by which he married the French princess Catherine of Valois and made himself the successor of the French king Charles VI.

The scale of France”s defeat also led to a realignment of Burgundian policy, which came to fruition in the Treaty of Troyes in 1420. The King of England was recognized by the Burgundians as King of France in order to work towards the formation of an independent empire.

The Battle of Azincourt is the best and most extensively documented battle of the Middle Ages. Many of the original documents such as muster rolls, tax records, letters and even the battle plan prepared by the French about two weeks before the event have been preserved over the centuries and are scattered in numerous libraries. In addition, many contemporary chroniclers on the English and French side have reported on this battle.

The closest contemporary source is the Gesta Henrici Quinti, the account of Henry V”s deeds, which was written by an English eyewitness whose name is not known, probably at the beginning of 1417. The Vita Henrici Quinti by Tito Livio Frulovisi from 1438 was written at the court of the Duke of Gloucester and also describes the battle from an English perspective.

French chroniclers from the mid-15th century include Pierre de Fénin, Enguerrand de Monstrelet, and Jean de Wavrin.

The memory of the battle was transfigured into a national myth in Great Britain. As late as 1944, in the middle of the Second World War, Shakespeare”s drama Henry V (starring Olivier) was filmed in Great Britain at great expense and under the direction of Laurence Olivier, in order to give the British propaganda support in the fight against the Germans.

Even after more than 600 years, the battle is still deeply anchored in the collective consciousness of the British as the greatest English victory in (military) history – not least because it was a victory against the “arch enemy,” the French. Thus, alongside the battles of Trafalgar (1805 against Villeneuve) and Waterloo (1815 against Napoleon), Azincourt crops up at more or less regular intervals in the British tabloids when discussing the kingdom”s current (in these cases always tense) relationship with its neighbor France. In the February 1, 2017 debate on Brexit, Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg said in the House of Commons that the day of the EU referendum would go down “as one of the most important days” in British history and would in the future be equated with the battles of Azincourt and Waterloo.

For several hundred years, the English interpretation of events had held true: Henry V and his men faced a huge enemy superiority. Until a few years ago, a 4:1 ratio in favor of the French was still believed. However, recent research by Anne Curry indicates that the numerical superiority of the French may have been much smaller. After extensive study of sources, she concludes that the French led only a few thousand more men into battle. The exact balance of forces, however, remains in dispute.

British zoologist and behaviorist Desmond Morris explains in the first episode of his six-part 1994 BBC documentary series The Human Animal: “In Britain, the main insult is a two-finger gesture, which dates back to the Battle of Agincourt. It”s a gesture that foreigners sometimes confuse with the ”V for Victory” sign, but that”s performed with the hand the other way around.” Translated, “In Britain, the greatest insult is a two-finger gesture [consisting of an outstretched middle and index finger each, both spread slightly apart] that can be dated back to the Battle of Azincourt. It is a gesture that foreigners occasionally confuse with the ”V for Victory” sign, but which is depicted with the hand the other way around” (i.e., with the back of the hand facing the actor). The V sign thus depicted probably symbolizes the Latin dynastic numeral suffix in the name of the victorious English king and commander Henry V.

Sources

  1. Schlacht von Azincourt
  2. Battle of Agincourt
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