The build-up to Henry V’s battle of Agincourt
Henry V lay claim to the title of king of France through his great-grandfather Edward III.
The English already had an agreement with France through the Treaty of Bretigny involving the region of Aquitaine among other French lands.
This was not enough for Henry and in 1414 he called a Great Council meeting to discuss going to war with France.
The Lords of the Council voted that he should reconvene negotiations and reduce his claims.
Henry then offered to give up his claim to the French throne if the outstanding ransom of 1.6 million crowns for the return of the French King John II was settled.
(King John ll was captured at the Battle of Poitiers in 1356).
Henry would also give up English ownership of all the territories of Anjou, Aquitaine, Brittany,Flanders and Normandy.
Also under the arrangement Henry would marry Princess Catherine of Valois (the tenth child of King Charles VI of France) and collect a dowry of 2 million crowns.
The French reply was to offer the marriage of Princess Catherine with a dowry of 600,000 crowns together with an enlarged Aquitaine.
By the beginning of 1415 negotiations came to a stop with the English claiming that the French were treating Henry with total contempt.
The English parliament allowed Henry a “double subsidy”,a tax set to twice the normal rate,for the purpose of acquiring his inheritance from the French.
On 19 April 1415 Henry,for the second time, asked the Great Council to sanction going to war with France,this time they agreed.
The journey to Agincourt.
On the 11 August 1415 Henry, at the age of 28, set sail from Southampton crossing the English channel heading for the small port of Harfleur with his 12,000 strong army.
He expected to seize it with ease and use it as a base from where he could overthrow Normandy and possibly Paris.
Harfleur had a secure defence wall surrounding it with a strong garrison and although Henry had cannon fire-power which had some impact, the siege went on for more than a month.
Harfleur had a plentiful supply of sea food and because of the lengthy siege Henry’s supplies were running low and so the temptation was there to indulge.
It was then discovered that some the sea food was contaminated from the local sewers and dysentery broke out and 2,000 of Henry’s men died and others had to be shipped back to England.
Meanwhile the French, defending the town from their garrison, realized that if Henry took the town by force they would be massacred.
By mid September they concluded that there would be no French relief force ,so they decided to open the gates to the English to surrender and have a chance of survival.
Many of the inhabitants of Harfleur had sheltered from the English cannon-fire in the 11Century Church of St-Martin where, on 23 September, Henry walked in bare-foot to give thanks for the victory. The victory had cost him one quarter of his army and he had to reconsider his plans.
He was advised to contain Harfleur,set up an English garrison and head back to England but Henry was convinced that he was right to continue with his plan to march through France to Calais.
Henry, despite his young age, had the experience of fighting alongside his father against the Welsh and various English resistance.
He now planned to move quickly across France with 9,000 men-at-arms and 5,000 archers.
He assembled a garrison of men at Harfleur strong enough to maintain control before marching onwards.
It took 3 days to reach Arques, some 60miles along the cost toward Calais consuming food from the local population along the way. When Henry reached the huge castle at Arques on 16 September 1415 he found the gates were closed and barred.
He sent a request to the castle governor for food.
The governor was aware of what had happened at Harfleur and new that there was unlikely to be any relief from the French army. Henry’s army was free to take what they needed from the town and march on.
He then arrived at his main obstacle,the river Somme.
He hoped to cross it at the ford of Blanche-Taque but found that it was too heavily fortified by a substantial garrison on the other side. It soon became apparent that all the bridges and fords were too heavily protected by a growing French army, to be able to cross. Henry made his way along the marshy Somme valley with many of his men suffering from dysentery, along the way he ordered his archers to each cut out a six foot wooden stake and sharpen it at both ends.
This was to prove to be highly effective later in the campaign.
On 16 October 1415 he arrived at the town of Boves, his men were tired and moral was low and Henry realized that the campaign was going wrong.
He could not get his men across the Somme and they were running out of food supplies.
He threatened the town garrison to hand over all the bread that they had or he would burn the whole town.
There was not enough to go round and many of the men had to search around the local fields for nuts and berries.
The Somme remained an obstacle with every bridge and ford guarded but at Bethencourt and nearby Voyennes there were fords which were not guarded but the French had broken the causeways to make them impassable.
Henry’s men raided local houses and gathered timber to make a crossing.
By the end of that day Henry was finally across the River Somme, the last natural obstacle between him and Calais.
However there was one last major obstacle of the amassing French army which out-numbered the English by 5 to 1.
Henry tried to avoid them but a few miles from the village of Agincourt his way was blocked.
The battle of Agincourt.
The night before the battle the English made their confessions. Henry was anxious that his men should remained focused in case of any surprise attack so he ordered that they remain silent.
He announced that he would rather die than be taken captive as there would be a ransom demand.
The numbers attending the battle are an estimate, it is generally understood that Henry’s army consisted of 6,000 made up of men-at-arms and archers.
Whichever account of events is taken, there is no doubt that the English were significantly out numbered.
Both sides were mainly on foot and heavily armoured.
Henry arranged his army into three divisions to be flanked either side by the longbow- men who had some protection from pointed wooden stakes driven into the ground at an angle.
These were to deflect the charging French cavalry.
Henry led the main central division.
The other two divisions were led by the Duke of York and Lord Camoys.
After the battle Camoys was made Knight of the Garter in recognition of his services.
The Duke of York did not survive and was the highest-ranking casualty of the battle.
The French army, around 30,000, took a position arranged in three lines at the northern end of the valley between Agincourt and Tramecourt.
The first line was commanded by Constable D’Albret, the second line by the Dukes of Bar and the third line by the Counts of Dammartin.
They took the view that , as well as being larger in numbers, they were far superior to the English and based on previous experience they considered the English archers to be insignificant.
The battle field location and conditions favoured the English as it had been recently ploughed and became muddy making progress for the heavily armoured French Knights very difficult.
It was also narrow due to the thick woodland on either side preventing the French from outflanking the English.
Henry dismounted his pony at the mid-front of his battle-formed army and waited for the French to advance.
The French stay put and eventually Henry ordered his men forward. It was a slow march forward over the wet ploughed ground and some of the archers in the front line took off their shoes to make staying upright easier.
The advance stopped regularly to allow the line to straighten.
When the archers had reached a longbow shot from the French line, they drove their pointed stakes into the ground,leaning toward the French and waited for the command to launch their first volley of arrows.
The signal was given by Sir Thomas Erpingham, one of Henry’s most experienced knights to release the first launch of arrows.
The French cavalry advanced with the intention of manoeuvring around the flanks of the English and get behind them but with thick woodland in their way they were forced to charge head-on.
Many of the horses were struck by arrows and panicked.
They turned and ran back into the men-at-arms on foot many of whom were trampled as well as being struck by English arrows.
The French fell into a state of chaos from which they did not recover. The French men-at-arms of the first division advanced under a hail of arrows to be challenged hand-to-hand by the English.
The Bowmen dropped their bows and moved in to strengthen the English line.
The French first division was forced back and collided with the advancing second division where many were crushed.
During the battle hundreds of French were taken prisoner.
Later in the day a collection of French knights and peasants attacked Henry’s baggage train.
Fearing that the French prisoners may take advantage of the situation, Henry ordered that the must all be executed.
It is unknown how many French died but it has been estimated to be around 6,000.
They were stripped of their armour and buried in huge grave pits.
The consequences of the battle of Agincourt.
Although this English victory was decisive, the effect was complex. King Charles VI agreed that Henry should succeed him when he died.
There were no more conquests straight after the battle as Henry thought it necessary to return to England where he was received in triumph in London.
The campaign had established the Lancastrian monarchy and Henry’s rights and privileges in France.
One of the main consequences of the battle was the truce between the French internal factions of Armagnac and Burgundian, fell apart. The Armagnacs had suffered the most casualties and carried most of the blame for the defeat.
The Burgundians took their opportunity and within 10 days of the battle they marched on Paris.
This disunity in France allowed Henry eighteen months to prepare for the next campaign of which there were many over the years. Henry was eventually recognised by the French in the Treaty of Troyes in 1420 as the regent and heir to the French throne.
This was completed by his marriage to Catherine of Valois,the daughter of King Charles VI.
This great English victory did not give Henry what he most wanted as at the age of thirty-six Henry died, just six weeks before Charles.
Henry’s infant son Henry VI technically became King of France on the death of Charles six weeks later but the English only controlled the north of the country.
The south was in the control of Charles VII the disowned son of Charles VI.