By Macabee Callard
Pretext of battle
Today I am writing about what is possibly the most famous medieval battle, Agincourt. (Finally!) But first let’s get some background. The battle was one of many that took place in the Hundred years war between the Kingdoms of England and France. The war started when King Henry 5 of England Invaded the French coast. The reasons for this are blurred, but from what I can find, it was mostly because of Rising Tensions. The French And the English have never got along, and have had a number of wars, (eg. William The Conqueror, French-Indian wars…) but the other reason was the Fact that England had declared war on Scotland, who was a close ally of France.
There were a lot of political disputes, hereditary claims, accusations, exploitations, and a heck of a lot of other stuff, but this paper is supposed to be fun and interesting, so I’m gonna skip it. In the end, it came down to this: Henry V invades France. They fight a number of battles, win most of them, but eventually his army is sick and tired of fighting. (literally sick- his army was suffering some pretty terrible diseases.) He was retreating back to the English held region of Calais, but found a French army blocking his path. Their numbers were greater, and they weren’t sick, tired, or hungry. They were fresh from the box. But that can also be a downside: They were fresh from the box. While Henry’s army was an army of battle-hardened veterans and professional soldiers, the French had more of a collection of arrogant nobles. This is just my speculation, but my guess is most probably hadn’t fought before.
The French army numbered 25,000, and was composed almost completely of heavy Mounted knights. Mostly wielding lances and swords, they were meant to charge and break the enemy line and formation with the shock of their lance. To give you a sense of how dangerous these lances are gonna be, let’s do some quick calculations. According to wikipedia, the average 15+ French boy weighs 170 pounds. Of course, average weights in 1415 were probably different than in 2020, but it’s hard to find a reliable source that has average french body weights in 1415. Anyways, let’s get on to the armor. According to wikipedia, armor from the 1420 plate armor would weigh 33-55 pounds. Let’s say 40. Let’s move on to horse weight. The average adult horse weight is 1520 pounds, but since these are heavy warhorses lets call it 1700. Barding (horse armor) would generally weigh 30 pounds. So lets add that all together. In total, that’s 1940 pounds of weight- almost a ton. So lets see how fast this would be going. The average hore, at full gallop, goes 30-35 mph. Btt this horse is wearing 30 pounds of armor. That is going to significantly slow it down. I don’t really like estimating like this, but there is no source I can use for this, so I’m gonna estimate that’s gonna slow the horse down 15 mph. So that’s 20 mph. So that’s almost a ton of force travelling at you at 20 mph which is putting all that weight into a armor piercing point. Yikes. That’s a lot of damage. The rest of the French army is pretty simple. Some dismounted knights, maybe lighter infantry, and genoese crossbowmen. These were extremely dangerous Italian mercenaries, made to be the ranged support of th French army. If you have not read my paper on crossbows, read it.
The English army was an army completely made of footmen. It was, taking averages, 7,500 strong, shrinking in the face of the massive French army. King Henry V led an assortment of billmen and swordsmen. The billhook was a versatile weapon, used in hooking, slashing, tripping and various gory things. But actually close-combat infantry was only the front line. Most of his army were the elite english longbowmen, the pride of his army.
(Left) A cool drawing I found of an infantryman wielding a billhook.
(Right) A probably video game generated image of a longbowmen
Ok, don’t skip this part just because it looks boring. It is the most important part of the battle. OK, the key to the victory in this battle wasn’t valor, morale, sheer numbers, or better equipment. It was something pretty simple: Rain. The night before the battle, it rained. This doesn’t seem like anything at first, but think harder: The rain did two key things to the French:
- It absolutely soaked their crossbow strings. The crossbow is a complicated weapon, and can only be taken apart in a shop. While the english longbowmen easily unwound their bowstrings and put them under their caps, the Italian crossbowmen had to let their strings get soaked. These strings were made of the fibers of animal intestine, and were rendered completely useless. So, goodbye, crossbowmen. You are useless.
- The space dividing the two armies was a large freshly plowed field, and the dirt turned into mud. Now that 20mph charge turned into a much-less-than 20mph charge. Lets say, for this purpose, 10 mph.
The English formed a common formation, with his right wing led by Edward, the duke of York, he led the center himself, and the right wing was led by Baron Thomas Camoys. Behind them were his archers who probably used sharpened stakes, a simple fortification where you sharpen the ends of a log and stick it in the ground, so that any horses running towards it will either stop abruptly and halt the charge, or get impaled and the rider will fly off.
The two forces deployed in the early morning. Earlier he had told his archers to deploy behind his infantry, but he told them to move in front of the protection of his infantry. At first, this would seem a stupid move. They were now lightly armored soldiers, certainly not fit for a melee, completely exposed to the heavily armored French knights! The French knights saw this, and blatantly charged the Longbowmen. Henry had the advantage of funneling the french knights through the small clearing, so they would be more packed and easier to hit. The mass of French knights and heavy cavalry walked forth, and then slowly turned into a run. The english longbowmen wreaked havoc among the knights as a mass of arrows fell down on them.
Though this inflicted heavy casualties, the English archers were still being charged. But Henry was a more than capable commander, and would not have done this blatant move without a reason. Now his archers pulled out there sharpened stakes and placed them in the ground in front of them. The French knights were rendered helpless, because since they were flanked by forests they could not go around and were crushed. Eventually they drew back, retreating under heavy arrow fire. Now, the main French assault commenced. The French charged their dismounted men at arms and knights whose horses had been killed. The front line is noted to have axes and shields, while the main mass had an assortment of hacking and slashing weapons.
They hit the english, and a melee commenced. The more lightly armored english was more flexible and the French were hindered by the mud and heat. In addition to that, overall French morale was extremely low and eventually they were broken and routed. Henry had News that The French were regrouping for another attack, and he realized he had so many French prisoners that if they managed to break free they could completely overrun his army! He ordered a mass slaughter of all but the highest French nobility, who could be ransomed back to the French. And that is the Battle of Agincourt in 4 pages.
If you want to know more about this intriguing battle you can go to either of these interesting websites: https://www.ancient.eu/Battle_of_Agincourt/ https://ancienthistory.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/1986524?terms=agincourt&sTypeId=2
Both are awesome and secure websites! And I highly suggest watching the movie The King. It’s on Netflix and it’s very informative. Plus it has cool fight scenes.