Bataille de Azincourt
25 October 1415
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From here Henry set out for Calais. It is possible to follow his route on the map (from Bacquet's Azincourt.) He followed the coast to the Somme but unlike Edward III in the march leading up to Crecy, did not cross at the mouth of the river. He paralleled the river on the south side looking for a crossing. Meanwhile, the French were organizing a force near Rouen to counter the English incursion. This was organized under Constable D'Albret and Marchal Boucicaut. Boucicaut made a quick march and placed himself on the north bank of the Somme, blocking an easy crossing for Henry. This forced Henry to go further east to look for a crossing and to endure a longer march, actually moving away from Calais. He finally crossed at Voyenne and headed towards Calais.
Near Agincourt, the French placed themselves in a position blocking the road to Calais. Henry, as was the case of his predecessors at Crecy and Poitiers, was not looking for a fight but negotiations failed. Henry was not willing to renounce his claim to the French throne, and was forced to fight. He was seriously outnumbered, as were the English at Crecy and Poitiers. His troops were also hungry and tired, being on a hard march. It was raining and both armies were wet. More significantly, so was the battlefield - wet and muddy.
On the morning of August 25 the English aligned themselves in three groups, led by York, Camoys and the king in the center. The French were also aligned in three groups, one behind the other, their pattern in earlier battles. The English were aligned in a long thin line, whereas the French were battle behind battle, with flanking forces near the first battle.
The French were led by D'Albret and Boucicaut.While these were senior officers, they did not have the command authority the king would have had. As a result, many of the French nobles put themselves at the front of the first battle, leaving subsequent groups without strong commanders. This weakened the effectiveness of the second battle attack. The French also sent their bowmen to the rear, where they would not be able to play an effective role in the fight and counter the English longbow men. Charles VI, king of France, was not present at this fight.
In this type of fight, there is an advantage of having a stationary place and letting the other come to you. After both armies were aligned, there was a standoff for several hours. The French restrained themselves and did not advance. Henry, being aware of the strain on his forces, decided to take the initiative. Juliet Barker has written a very engaging book (Agincourt) about the campaign. (See a review below). The following is a fairly extensive quote from her book, that captures some of the drama of the moment. She starts off with a quote from a chaplain traveling with Henry and who chronicled the events of the campaign.
"I, who am now writing this and was then sitting on a horse among the baggage at the rear of the battle, and other priests present did humble our souls before God and ... said in our hearts: 'Remember us, O Lord, our enemies are gathered together and boast themselves in their excellence. Destroy their strength and scatter them, that they may understand, because there is none other that fighteth for us but Thou, our God.' And also, in fear and trembling, with our eyes raised to heaven we cried out that God would have compassion upon us and upon the crown of England."
Also from Barker: "With the words of his priests ringing in his ears, the king gave the order for the army to prepare to advance. Every man, regardless of rank, now knelt at his command, kissed the ground and took a morsel of the earth from between his feet and placed it in his mouth. This extraordinary ritual was conducted with all the solemnity of a genuine Church sacrament. It combine both the elements of the Last Supper and its commemoration, the Eucharist, ... but also of the committal words of the burial service, 'earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.' Physical death and spiritual salvation were thus represented in the single act."
To advance, the English bowmen had to pull up the stakes they had placed in front of their position, placing their backs to the French, advance to a new position and reset their stakes, again turning their backs to the French. The French did not take advantage of this moment of high vulnerability and attack, allowing the English to re-establish their line closer to the French. The English had now advanced to a narrower front and made it no longer possible for the French to encircle their position.
The battlefield looks much the same today as it did to Henry V, although Barker says the tree lines have moved.. This photo is from Henry's perspective, looking down a slight decline to the French.
There is a woods to the right, as well as to the left. The English line was about 950 yards wide, the French line about 1200 yards. This was to turn out to be very disadvantageous to the French. The sketch below shows the position of the English advance. The picture next to the sketch shows the road evident in the sketch and a modern marker (line of bowmen) showing the approximate final English position. This photo is looking up hill towards the English position and shows the tree line bounding the left of their line.
The French finally started a ragged calvary charge and the men at arms, on foot began their advance. They were met by a barrage of arrows let loose by 5000 English bowmen.
As noted, the weather had been wet and the battle field was a sea of mud. This hindered the French, but the first rank attacked and pressed the English. The English bowmen stopped shooting and came to the aid of the men at arms. The French second rank also attacked and faced heavy casualties. The French fought without good organization or clear leadership, their problem in earlier battles. They were unable to capitalize on their superiority in numbers. The also suffered because as they advanced their line was compressed from the original length of 1200 yards to the actual frontage between the armies of only 950 yards. This meant that the French were getting in each other's way and were unable to adequately maneuver against the English. Burne also argues that the French were more focussed on the men at arms than on the archers and ignored the attack of the archers, to their disadvantage. These 15th century miniatures show representations of the battle. The first is from a French manuscript in the V&A in London, the second is from the Chronique de St.-Alban. Both are in Bacquet's Azincourt.
The English held and as the fighting slowed English troops began to collect prisoners from among the French wounded. When it appears that the French might rally and attack again, Henry ordered his prisoners slaughtered, something very much against the tenets of chivalry. Some were burned alive in a hut where they were being held captive. The miniature below shows French prisoners being led off the field. Note the fleur de lis on their vests over their armour.
The third rank of French, looking out over their slaughtered colleagues, did not advance. In the several hours of battle the smaller English army defeated a much larger French force, killing 10000 Frenchmen. (Burne argues the issue was decided within the first 30 minutes.) This was to be the last of the great English set piece victories. While the English tide was still rising, the French were to do better a generation later.
The battle was disastrous to the French. Once again, a significant piece of the nobility was lost, including several people who had coinage in their own right. Antoine of Bourgogne, duc of Brabant was one of these people.
Image and description from Jean Elsen et fils, with permission
BRABANT, Duché, Antoine de Bourgogne (1406-1415), AR double gros botdrager, 1410-1412, Louvain. Droit : Lion assis à gauche, coiffé d'un heaume. A l'exergue, LOVAN'. Revers : Ecu écartelé de Brabant-Bourgogne sur une croix longue. Ref.: W., 435. 2,53g.
The house of Bar suffered grievously. Comte Robert d'Bar de Marle, duc Edouard d'Bar and Jean d'Bar, sire de Puisaye all died. The first two had coinage. Other deaths included the Constable de France Albert, the duc of Alencon (nephew of king Philippe), and several other counts. Marshal Boucicaut also died.
Recommended reading. "Juliet Barker's Agincourt: The King, the Campaign, the Battle (Brown Little, 2005) is a very engaging work that goes beyond the simple logistics and mechanics of the campaign and battle. It is brings the major players to life in a way that the reader comes to understand their motivations and allegiances with biographical sketches woven throughout the book. Henry V is the main figure and is sympathetically treated. His sense of the noble purpose of the campaign and belief in the righteousness of his cause comes through clearly. By contrast, Charles VI and the Dauphin are no more than shadow characters, as they were in the entire Agincourt story. The book is rich in details of chivalry. For example, the story of Raoul de Gaucourt is followed from his life before the siege of Harfleur and through his leadership of the defense of the city. The strong defense of the city slowed Henry down and cost him unexpected men and material. When Harfleur fell, de Gaucourt surrendered to the king's justice. He was paroled with the expectation that he would appear at Calais to see what fate awaited him. After Agincourt, de Gaucourt presented himself to Henry at Calais and remained an English prisoner for some time. The reader gains a good appreciation of early 15th century chivalry. Barker also addresses other elements, often surprising to the modern reader, about the difficulties of a medieval campaign. Henry landed without maps as we know them and relied on local information and scouting parties to plan his route. Her discussion of the challenges an invading army has in findings its direction is just one of many that broadens the perspective beyond the Agincourt campaign. If you have an interest in the Hundred Years War or medieval warfare you'll find this book worth your time."
Barker, J, Agincourt
Burne, A.H., The Agincourt War
Desmond Seward, The Hundred Year's War, Atheum, N.Y., 1978 (Map
- p 167.)