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Reenactment of the Battle of Agincourt

592nd Anniversary

Agincourt 1415

25th October 1415 | 22 July 2007*

Six members of the Medieval Combat Society traveled to Azincourt, France to commemorate and reenact the Battle of Agincourt fought on the 25th October 1415 between the English led by king Henry Vth and the French led by king Charles VI. The English were outnumbered by around three to one and had suffered from illness and long marches. Through the use of their tactics and the longbow, the English inflicted a resounding defeat over the French. Today the battle at Azincourt reflects a battle of the hundred years war to represent the victories and defeats of both sides during the war, *and is celebrated in July when the weather is generally fairer.

Prelude to the battle of Agincourt

Haut Poitiou Blanc

English Knight from the time of the battle of Agincourt, from the Azincourt museum

The English March to Calais

Henry Vth invaded France on 15th August 1415 with the intention of recovering lands lost by England to France, and besieged Harfleur with about 12,000 men, capturing it on the 22nd September 1415. The English left Harfleur on 7th October and marched with about 7,000 men to the English stronghold of Calais. The French had assembled an army and stopped the English from crossing the river Somme, forcing the English army further along the river from Calais, until they finally crossed at Voyenne. The French avoided giving battle waiting for more soldiers to arrive. On the 24th October both armies faced each other ready for battle between the villages of Tramecourt and Agincourt. On the 25th October the French intended to delay with negotiations, and the English army waited for the French advance, as they had done in many previous battle during the hundred years war. It is thought that the archers were positioned on the flanks of the army with stakes driven in the ground before them to stall cavalry charges.

English road to Agincourt

The English army

English formation at the Battle of Agincourt
 
Rear- South East
Duke of York
Henry Vth
Lord Camoys
English Right Wing
Front - North West
English Left Wing

The English army at Agincourt is thought to have numbered about 6,000 men, consisting of 1000 men-at-arms who fought on foot, as was the usual English tactic in the hundred years war, and let the French attack the English. The remainder was 5,000 archers with the English longbow. King Henry Vth commanded the centre with men ranked about four deep. The Lord Camoys lead the left wing and the Duke of York the right wing. The archers were positioned either on the wings of the whole army or on the wings of each of the units of men at arms. The English had no reserve.

The French army

French formation at the Battle of Agincourt
 
Front - South East
Count of Vendome
Constable, Boucicault and Orleans
Clignet de Brebant
     
 
Dukes of Bar and Alencon
 
     
mounted men at arms
French Left Wing
Rear - North West
French Right Wing

The numbers of the French army vary considerably from 9,000 to 36,000 men, but it is thought by many that they outnumbered the English by 3 to 1. The French army consisted of 3 battles of 6,000 men each, although it is thought that the first may have grown to 9,000 men. 4-6,000 French crossbow men and archers were positioned before the main army. The French were awaiting the arrival of the Dukes of Brittany, Anjou and Brabant each commanding an additional 1-2,000 men. The first battle had cavalry on the flanks with men at arms on foot in the centre. The French tactic as advised by d'Albret and Boucicaut was to le the English starve or for them to attack the French.

Battlefield map

The English army advance

The armies assembled, probably around 07:00 and waited with neither side moving until about 11:00. The English were running low on food and suffering dysentery and needed to engage the French or march off, so Henry advanced bringing the French within range of the longbows and began the battle. The army was flanked on each side by forest and the new position was slightly narrower thus preventing flanking attacks by the larger French army. It is possible that English archers were within the woodlands

Agincourt Battlefield looking from where the English line advanced, to the French Encampment

English line looking over battlefield

 

 

The French cavalry attack

The arrows coming down into the French ranks caused the French cavalry on each wing to charge towards the English, but the French were not prepared and the attack was not at full strength, and they were funneled into a frontal assault and the stakes set by the english archers, all the while thousands of arrows rained down upon them. The attack failed and the remaining cavalry rode back to the French army.

The French men-at-arms attack

This was followed up by the French army of dismounted men who marched across muddy recently ploughed ground wet from recent rain and churned up by the cavalry charge. The men at arms were keen to fight the English and capture English nobles for ransom thus the French aimed at each of the English armies, with the English archers loosing arrows into their flanks behind their stakes as they advanced. However the space between the woodlands narrowed as they reached the English lines compressing the army as it moved forwards giving them little room to fight. By the time the attack reached the English, the French army had lost a lot of momentum, but initially pushed the English army back. The two lines battled at each other, with the French rear ranks pushing forwards with eagerness to fight. The Duke of Alencon killed the Duke of York, and attacked Henry Vth knocking one of the florets from his crown, however the Duke of Alencon had become cut off and was cut down by one of Henry's bodyguards whilst trying to surrender. The archers then joined in the hand to hand combat attacking the French flanks. The first army faltered and retreated.

Henry Vth Agincourt

The French second French army attack

The second army consisting of many of those who had arrived late attacked , but many fled after seeing the ferocity of the fight. The Duke of Brabant who hastily entered the fight had his throat cut as he was not recognised as a noble after he had hastily armoured and borrowed a tabard of a servant. The second army was quickly defeated. The English took a huge number of prisoners, possibly exceeding their own numbers, who were passed to the rear and piles of bodies littered the battlefield. The third French army stood ready to attack.

The French assault the English baggage

The Lord of Agincourt what may have been a flanking attack against the English baggage train, which was lightly defended. At the same time the Counts of Marle and Fauquemberghes led a counter attack with around 600 men. Henry thinking himself attacked from the front and rear ordered the killing of all but the most noble of prisoners. The English men-at-arms refused so the job was given to 200 archers. It is unknown how many prisoners were killed but the third French army never attacked, and after it was seen that the French army were retreating from the battlefield the killings were ordered stopped.

The Battle Aftermath

Around 7-10,000 French lay dead on the battlefield, and were 1,500 prisoners returned to England for ransom, many of which could not afford to pay their ransoms and never returned. English losses were thought to be around 1-500 men including Edward of Norwich, 2nd Duke of York, a grandson of Edward III. The English army continued and arrived in Calais on the 29th October 1415.

Crecy Windmill

Crecy Windmill

Archers Salute at the site of the Battle of Crecy, the victory of Edward III against the French in 1346

Archers Salute

The Archers Salute

Legend has it that the French threatened to cut the first two fingers off of each hand of any archers that they captured to stop them pulling the longbow. To show that they had not been captured and to taunt the French, the English archers were said to wave these two fingers at the French. It is often said that Froissard makes reference of the English waving their fingers at the French, but there is no evidence for this in his works. In the second half of the XVth century, Jean de Wavrin or Jehan de Wavrin (also pronounced Waurin) (1400-1471), a noble knight from Artois who witnessed the battle of Agincourt and wrote 'Recueil des Croniques et Anchiennes Istories de la Grant Bretaigne, a present nommé Engleterre' or 'A collection of the chronicles and ancient histories of Great Britain, now called England'. In it he gives the best evidence for a the reason of an archers salute, however it is based on 3 fingers:

Based on the Translation of William Hardy and Edward Hardy, 1887

"These things being arranged, the King went along the ranks to see if nothing was wanting to the work of his army; and made fine speeches everywhere begging them to do well; saying that he had come into France to recover his rightful heritage, and that he had good and just cause for so doing; saying further that they should remember that they were born of the realm of England, where they had been brought up, and where their fathers, mothers, wives and children were living; wherefore it became them to exert themselves, that they might return with great joy and approval. And he told them how the French were boasting that they would cut off three fingers of the right hand of all the archers that should be taken prisoner to the end that neither man nor horse should ever again be killed with their arrows."

The earliest reference to the V sign in the 16th Century by François Rabelais in his comic epic, Gargantua And Pantagruel (1532), in which he described a duel of gestures between two characters, Panurge and Thaumast:

"Then (Panurge) stretched out the forefinger and middle finger or medical of his right hand, holding them asunder as much as he could, and thrusting them towards Thaumast... Thaumast began then to wax somewhat pale, and to tremble..."

The first photographic evidence for the V sign as an offensive gesture comes from a photograph of 1901. Another fallacy is that the two fingered salute originated from the 1970's, this probably dates from 1971, when Harvey Smith gave the two fingered salute to the judges at a show jumping competition, it was at this point that it was considered not too obscene to show be shown on television broadcasts.

Another unlikely reason put forward for the two fingered salute is that it represents the V of the arrow nock, whereby the English bowstrings were thinner and the French could not knock the arrows of the English and return any collected.

The one fingered salute (or in the USA known as giving the bird), is not related to the archers of England and dates from at least the Roman times where it represent the penis. The term 'Plucking the Yew' as the basis of a swear word is also incorrect.

Fact or myth it is an interesting story that reenactors like to recount.

Practicing at the Archery butts, from the Luttrel Psalter 1325-1340

Lurrel Psalter Archery Practice

 

Crossing the English Channel

On route to Agincourt

English Encampment outside Agincourt museum, Azincourt

English Encampment Agincourt

 

English battle line at Agincourt

English Army at Agincourt

Visiting the Agincourt Battlefield

Visiting Battle of Agincourt

 

With Thanks to:

The Azincourt Alliance

The Agincourt Museum

 

Agincourt Memorial

Medieval Combat Society re-enactment©2007 The Medieval Combat Society

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