It rained for most of the night
turning the ground sodden with ankle deep mud in some places.
Both armies rose before dawn and assembled for battle, the English numbering
5000 archers and 900 men-at-arms and the French between 20-30,000. The rules
of chivalry dictate that the field of battle should favor neither side but the
French freely took up a position that was disadvantageous to them. They assembled
perhaps 1000 yards apart, separated by a ploughed field sown with young corn.
A slight dip between them ensured that the armies were in full view of each
other. Either side of the field was bordered by forest that narrowed from 1200
yards where the French assembled to only 900 where the armies could be expected
to meet. This greatly restricted the free movement that the French would require
to exploit their far greater numbers, preventing them from outflanking and enveloping
the smaller force.
The English formed into a single line, with no reserves, into three groups of
men-at-arms, comprising the advance, mainbody and rearguard, each around four
deep. The right was commanded by the Duke of York, the center by Henry and the
left by Lord Camoys. There is some debate as to the formation of archers. The
traditional view is that each the three groups of men-at-arms were separated
by a large wedge of archers with a body of archers on each flank. This would
allow the archers to fire on the French not only from the front but also the
flank. More recent research suggests that this would have considerably weakened
the line. If heavily armed men-at-arms were to come in contact with a body of
lightly armed archers, they could be expected to quickly disperse them breaking
the line. As such, the archers would have been positioned on the flanks, in
accordance with usual English practice, 2,500 to a side, angled forward to allow
converging fire on any attack to the lines center.1.
This formation was to have important consequences later in the battle.
It is possible that a small formation of archers may have been positioned in
the Tramcourt woods to the rear of the French lines. Its role would be to cause
confusion in the French ranks and divert troops from the main battle. As the
French advanced to make contact with the main English body, they would also
have been in a position to provide flanking fire. The existance of such a force
has been vigorously denied by English chroniclers.
The French formed three lines, the first two made up of dismounted men-at-arms
and the third mounted. Cavalry was placed on each flank, 1600 commanded by the
Count of Vendome on the left and 800 commanded by Clignet de Brebant on the
right. On the flanks to the rear, some ineffectual cannon were placed that never
fired more than a few shots during the battle. Between the first and second
lines were placed the archers and crossbowmen. The reality of the French lines,
however, was far different. Every French nobleman wanted to be in the first
line and to have his banner prominently displayed. This resulted in much jostling
for position, crowding out the archers and crossbowmen to the flanks so that
the first two lines became more or less one large chaotic mass. "The strength
of the armies of Philip and John of Valais was composed of a fiery and undisciplined
aristocracy that imagined itself to be the most efficient military force in
the world, but was in reality little removed from an armed mob"2.
The two sides thus assembled, waited unmoving for four hours from about 7am to
about 11am. The wise counsel of d'Albret and Boucicaut prevailed, at least temporarily,
arguing that they should let the English attack where their inferior numbers would
have placed them at a greater disadvantage. In fact, it was argued that they should
not attack at all and let the English starve. In such a way, the English would
be defeated without having to give battle. The French, still confident of victory,
used this time to jostle for position, eat, settle quarrels and throw insults
at the English. While many sat, some remained standing as not to muddy their armor.
One thousand yards away, Henry knew that they would have to fight that day as
his troops, without food, would only get weaker. On council from his advisors,
he ordered the English advance
The English quietly and steadily advanced on the French position to within extreme
longbow range (approx. 250 yards). To advance in good order, this would have taken
up to ten minutes. If the French had attacked during this period, it would have
been disatrous for the English. Having gained information that the French intended
to attack his archers with massed cavalry, Henry had ordered each archer to carve
an eight foot long stake, pointed at each end. Upon reaching their position, the
archers drove their stakes into the ground at such an angle as to impale a horse
as it charged. These stakes would have been planted in a thicket in the archers
positions; dangerous for a mounted rider to enter but offering enough space for
a lightly armed archer to freely move. Within this thicket, the archers would
have stood in a loose belt with their flanks resting against the woods.
At the order, the archers let loose the first arrow strike. The "air was darkened
by an intolerable number of piercing arrows flying across the sky to pour upon
the enemy like a cloud laden with rain." While this may not have caused too much
damage, having been fired from extreme range, it must have produced a deafening
thunderclap of noise as it hit the French lines. As an English archer could loose
up to ten flights a minute, by the time the first landed another would have been
in the air. In the confusion of what had just happened, amidst the noise of outraged
Frenchmen, injured animals and soldiers, the French cavalry on the flanks charged
forth, followed by the first line of dismounted men-at-arms.
If it is to retain any sort of order, a cavalry charge can move at only 12-15
miles an hour. It would have taken about 40 seconds to cover the distance to the
English lines; enough time for three to four further volleys of arrows. During
the morning wait, lax command had allowed many of the cavalry on the flanks to
wander off out of position. Caught by surprise by the English assault, the charge
was severely undermanned. Moreover, due to the woods on either side of the field,
they were unable to outflank the archers necessitating a frontal assault. The
few who did reach the lines of archers, perhaps not seeing the stakes in between
the mass of archers, crashed straight into the thicket of spikes and were unable
to breach the lines. As the survivors retreated in disarray, they were followed
by further volleys of arrows. Horses crazed and uncontrollable by injury and fright,
with no space to manouver, crashed directly into the advancing men-at-arms breaking
their orderly advance.
To march the distance to the English lines would have taken three to four minutes
giving some breathing space for the English. This was done over muddy ground further
broken up by the mad cavalry charge. As the distance closed, the English archers
were able to fire at right angles to their targets. Their arrows were fixed with
the "Bodkin point", specially designed to penetrate armor. As the French advanced,
they formed into three columns to attack the English men-at-arms. This was partially
forced, partially planned. The French men-at-arms saw archers as inferior in social
standing and, therefore, not worthy opponents whereas there was ransom to be gained
by capturing an English noble. Furthermore, as the French advanced on the English
position, the field narrowed by 150 yards compacting the French line. This was
compounded by those on the flanks shying away from the hail of arrows pressing
further inward. By the time they arrived at the English line, the French did not
have enough room to fight freely.
Using lances cut down for fighting on foot, the attacking line would have rushed
the last few meters to maximize the shock of impact to knock over the defenders,
open gaps in the line, isolate individuals and push back the line in disorder.
The English may have stepped back at the last moment to wrongfoot the French spearmen
or if they had possessed greater numbers, they may have been able to rush forward
themselves to steal the momentum. The French line attacked largely unsupported,
in disorder and close to exhaustion from their trudge over broken ground. The
French artillery, reduced to a position of impotence by a lack of a clear field
of fire, and the archers and crossbowmen, outclassed by the faster, longer and
more accurate rate of fire of the longbow, had been pushed out of position by
the men-at-arms. When the French reached the English line, it had very little
Still, as the two forces clashed, the English line buckled but soon rallied, neither
side was willing to give way. The English not willing to leave their secure place
for the open battlefield which would mean almost certain annihilation, and the
French certain of victory and the force of numbers pushing from behind. With the
press of numbers, the French were unable to attack or defend effectively meaning
that the English would win in a one on one contest. As the attackers fell, they
presented obstacles to those following. As the English pressed forth, cutting
through the French attackers, a tumbling effect would have developed where the
French were pushed forward from behind but also back by the English. As the shaken
French line spilled out towards the archers, the archers downed their bows and
grabbed their swords, axes and other weapons, including those dropped by the French,
and fell on the flank. The heavily armed men-at-arms would not have been overwhelmed
by this onslaught; it is much more likely that the archers in groups of two or
three would have singled out those men-at-arms shaken by the initial charge. As
one or two attacked the French man-at-arms, the third would maneuver behind to
slash at unprotected parts such as behind the knee. Once down, the exhausted knight
could be quickly dispatched with a blade through a joint in the armor or through
the grills of the faceplate. This would have gradually repeated the tumbling effect
on the flanks, lengthening the killing zone and enveloping the French. Many slightly
injured, or knocked down were unable to rise through exhaustion, weight of their
armor in the mud and were trampled underfoot by the press behind them.
The first French line was almost totally destroyed, either killed or taken prisoner.
As the second line arrived on the scene, many quit the battlefield upon seeing
the result of the first attack. Those who attacked met largely the same fate.
The Duke of Barabant, arriving late to the battle due to a christening party the
previous night led a brief charge which was quickly broken up and for which he
lost his life.
Contemporary observers describe the piles of French bodies as "as high as a man",
an exaggeration, but befitting what had happened. Within half an hour, the first
two French lines were annihilated. Henry was careful not to let individuals sequester
prisoners as the third French line remained on the field as a very real threat.
As prisoners were moved to the rear, in greater numbers than the whole English
army, simultaneous reports came to Henry's attention. A mob of peasants with three
knights under the command of the Lord of Agincourt attacked the baggage train
to the rear. As the English could afford no more than a token guard, they were
quickly overwhelmed and the attackers made off with their plunder, including one
of Henry's crowns. This may, in fact, have been a poorly timed flanking attack,
based on the French plan to cause disruption to the rear of the English position.
As this occurred, the Counts of Marle and Fauquemberghes rallied 600 men-at-arms
for a counter attack which ended as disastrously as the others. In response, to
the ensuing panic, Henry ordered the killing of the prisoners. The English men-at-arms
refused, probably not so much on moral grounds (killing an equal after their surrender
was dishonorable) as financial. They stood to lose the ransom from the prisoners.
As a result, 200 archers were given the job as they were tough, professional soldiers
outside the bounds of chivalry.
There are many possible reasons for this order. It may simply have been revenge
for the attack on the baggage train. It has also been suggested that it may have
been used as a terror weapon to control the prisoners. As between one and two
thousand prisoners were returned to England, those on the field would have greatly
outnumbered the archers, at least 10-1 so it may have been an effective, even
if brutal method of moving them quickly to the rear and knocking the last bit
of fight out of them. More importantly, there were more prisoners than the English,
all still in armor on a battlefield littered with weapons. With the third French
line threatening to attack, Henry would have been worried about this threat from
the rear. How many were killed is unknown but contemporary observers say it was
more than were killed in battle. Modern scholars have roundly condemned Henry
for this action but it is interesting to note that no observers of the day, even
the French, have done so. In fact many argued it was justified and even went so
far as to criticize the third French line for acting in a was as to force it.
From the viewpoint of a 15th century knight, it was seen as necessary, the French
also having done similar previously. The attack never materialized, and the killing
of prisoners stopped as the threat evaporated. With the two first lines destroyed
and the third slinking away, the battle of Agincourt was won.
discusion see: Bradbury J. The Medieval Archer, The Boydell Press,
Woodbridge, 1985, pp.95-101
2.Oman C.W.C. The Art of War in the Middle Ages
AD 378-1515, Cornwall University Press, London, 1953, p.125