The Battle of Agincourt originated in 1328. On February 1, 1328, King Charles IV of France died without an heir. Upon his death, a French assembly formed to appoint a male successor. The two candidates with the strongest claims were Edward III of England, who was the son of Charles’s sister, and Philip, Charles’s paternal cousin. Ultimately, the assembly chose Philip and, he became King Philip VI of France.
Edward III of England
Initially, Edward III supported this decision. The young king didn’t have much interest in claiming the French throne. Due to this stance, Edward and Philip VI originally had a good relationship. However, over the next nine years, it would begin to sour.
By 1337, Edward III and Philip VI’s mutual hostility reached a breaking point. After a dispute involving England’s control of Aquitaine, Philip confiscated the duchy from Edward. In retaliation, an angry Edward claimed the French throne as his own and declared war on France. During the first half of the Hundred Years’ War, England managed to destroy France’s navy. Despite this success, Edward tended to be short on funds and resources. By 1342, the English king was forced to make a truce with Philip.
In 1346, Edward III renewed the war with France. The English achieved victories against the French at the Battle of Crecy (1346) and the Battle of Poitiers (1356). The English army was victorious but couldn’t subjugate France entirely. In 1396, Edward’s successor, Richard II, made a 28-year truce with the French. Richard hoped to end the conflict between both nations and achieve lasting peace. However, a majority of the English disagreed with their king’s decision.
Henry V of England
On March 21, 1413, Henry V became the king of England. The king’s father, Henry IV, had previously overthrown Richard II in September 1399. Unlike his predecessor, Henry IV sought to renew the war with France. However, since many viewed him as a usurper, the king had to contend with domestic rebellions in England. After Henry IV’s death, Henry V inherited a secure kingdom and decided to press his claim to the French throne.
At first, Henry V attempted to acquire what he wanted through negotiation. The king’s demands were steep though. In exchange for not invading France, Henry asked for the return of all former English held lands and to marry King Charles VI‘s daughter Catherine. French officials felt that Henry’s demands were unreasonable. They attempted to counter with a smaller offer instead. In response, Henry ended the negotiations in June 1415.
Invasion of France
In August 1415, Henry V landed in Normandy, France with his 12,000 troops. The king attacked Harfleur, which resulted in a prolonged siege. After six weeks, the city surrendered. Although his forces had been depleted, the king decided to leave Harfleur on October 8. As the English headed north to Calais, the French began to assemble their army.
While traveling to Calais, the English attempted to cross the Somme River. However, the French prevented Henry V from doing so. As a consequence, the English army had to travel further upstream. The delay allowed the French to build up a larger army to combat the English. On October 24, the French army finally met the English near Agincourt.
Before the Battle
Henry V knew that his army was at a disadvantage. His soldiers were tired from the long march, sick from dysentery, and outnumbered by a larger French force. The French army numbered 20,000 troops while the English only had 6,000 left. Henry understood that to win the upcoming battle; he’d have to use Agincourt’s terrain to his advantage.
Fortunately for Henry V, the English were in a good situation before the battle. The king ordered his forces to take a position on a recently plowed field nearby. The area was surrounded by a forest, which reduced entry for the advancing French army. By choosing the field, Henry prepared his troops on solid ground with the forest as a defensive barrier.
Another advantage that the English held over the French was their tactics. Henry V created a formation with his knights at the center and had them surrounded by archers. The archers planted stakes into the ground in front of them. During the battle, the stakes would act as a defensive deterrent against French cavalry. The archers were also equipped with longbows. This deadly weapon had a range of 250 yards and already had a proven reputation for success.
The Battle of Agincourt
On October 25, 1415, the Battle of Agincourt commenced. The French initiated the battle by leading with their knights. Their cavalry followed close behind. Due to prior rainstorms, French forces were slowed by a muddy field. As they struggled to cross the field, English archers began to rain down arrows. The remaining French cavalry suffered further casualties after running into the archer’s stakes. The English then swiftly dispatched the survivors.
The French commander proceeded to order his second line of troops to attack. However, the narrow entryway to the English occupied field proved to be their undoing. French knights found themselves packed into the field and weighed down by their armor. As a result, they were unable to use their weaponry effectively and were cut down by English archers. At this point, the battle began to favor the English.
A third and final line of French soldiers attacked the English position. Due to the carnage inflicted on the first two lines, the French were unable to make a meaningful charge towards the English. Once again, the English capitalized on their advantage and launched a successful counter-attack. After the massacre, the remaining French forces retreated. The French had lost 6,000 men while the English had only lost 400.
After the Battle
The Battle of Agincourt proved to be a resounding success for the English. For Henry V, this victory increased his prestige and solidified his support in England. The battle crippled France’s military and led to further English victories. Henry built upon Agincourt by conquering Normandy (1419) and having Charles VI sign the Treaty of Troyes (1420). The treaty cemented Henry as the French king’s heir and allowed him to marry Charles’s daughter, Catherine.
Cole, T. (2016). Henry V: The Life of the Warrior King & the Battle of Agincourt 1415. Stroud: Amberley.
Martinez, J. (2019, October 18). Battle of Agincourt. Retrieved January 25, 2020, from https://www.britannica.com/event/Battle-of-Agincourt
Battle of Agincourt. (2010, July 21). Retrieved February 6, 2020, from https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/battle-of-agincourt