October 25, 1415. St. Crispin’s Day. Agincourt
Posted by Exile on October 25, 2007
After a cold and wet night the English rose early and Henry began the disposition of his troops. He had decided to use the woods on each side of the field as cover for his archers. Splitting them into two great companies, he sent 2,500 men to each side of the field and into the woods overlooking it. The archers were ordered to cut 8 foot long stakes and sharpen them at one end. these stakes would be driven into the ground at 45 degrees to form a barrier that would impale horses and men. The archers then took up a position, each man behind their stake. The 900 men at arms, nobles and knights formed a line on the ridge, in full view of the French, at the south of the field. Henry was ready.
It was still raining. The English archers, knowing that wet bowstrings were useless and would stretch, had destringed their bows and, rolling the strings up, placed them under their helmets to keep them dry. (Hence the age old term – “keep it under your hat”). As the rain stopped, they restringed their bows and waited.
The French had also made it known, that any archer taken prisoner would have his index and middle finger from his right hand removed, thus making him unable to use the longbow again. Now, taunting the French, the archers raised their right hands in a fist and then extended their two first fingers and waved them at the French. The first sign of the “V”. It was never a sign of peace, and certainly not of victory. It is a sign of defiance and an insult to the enemy.
The French drew up in three lines. Two lines of cavalry in front and the footsoldiers to the rear. Men in armour on heavy horses, also in armour, and infantry to follow them into the coming fight. The first line set off across the 1,000 yard gallop over the ploughed and now soaking wet field that seperated the two sides. Henry prepared himself to meet the onslaught.
The maximum range of the English longbow was estimated at 400 yards. Maximum effective range, about 250 yards. The English archers would wait until the effective range had been met. Firing arrows tipped with armour piercing bodkin points, they could put ten arrows into the air per minute. As the French cavalry reached the critical distance the arrows began to fly. The sky darkened with them and the French began to fall. Bravely the French rode on but as the distance closed, the accuracy of the archers improved. Fired upon from both flanks, the charge soon died out as both men and horses fell victim to deadly volleys of arrows. The ploughed field had become a muddy mass and horses, mad with the pain of wounds ran in all directions churning up the ground. Injured and dead men laid in the mud. Some of the injured, unable to move for the weight of armour, were trampled to death by those that came charging behind them. The first wave of cavalry was beaten off and they began retreating still under fire from the archers.
The second wave fared no better. Hampered by the mad riderless horses breaking their ranks and having to gallop over the mud and dead men and horses before them, they were unable to hold the line. The English archers continued to shoot them down and finally more French laid dead on the field than were still capable of combat. Those French that made it to the woods were attacked by the bowmen wielding swords and axes. Generally, two or three would confront an armoured knight. One would attack directly and two would get behind the man and cut him down from the rear. A few French reached the English line on the ridge and were equally as quickly dealt with.
The English took over two thousand prisoners.
The last assault came with the foot soldiers and the remains of the French cavalry. Henry, realising that the field was littered with weapons and that two thousand armoured prisoners behind him could effectively attack him with these weapons, ordered them executed. The knights refused, on the grounds of chivalry or ransom, to kill them. Henry enlisted the help of some of his yeomen. They were paid soldiers, not reliant on ransom to recieve their blood money. The French prisoners were duly slaughtered.
The final attack petered out quickly. Most of the footsoldiers ran off and the French attack was over. The French herald petitioned for permission to clear the field of French dead and awarded the English king the day.
Henry asked what was the nearby castle called. “It is called Agincourt”, was the reply.
French losses range from 7-10,000, according to scholars. In addition, 1500-1600 prisoners, all nobility, were taken to England as prisoners. Many of these, unable to pay the demanded ransom, never returned. This resulted in the loss of nearly half of the French nobility and the French king’s support base. Most came from the northern provinces where the French recruited most of their military. The highest estimate of English losses, however, is 500 with more reliable sources estimating closer to 100.
The battle was fought on October 25, St. Crispins day,1415. It is known as the Battle of Agincourt.