November 1, 2008


The Battle of Agincourt: Once more unto the breach: The Battle of Agincourt took place almost 600 years ago – and historians have been fighting about it ever since. So was this our finest hour, or a source of national shame? (Jerome Taylor, 1 November 2008, The Independent)

Whether it is Kenneth Branagh's rousing rendition of Henry V's "St Crispin's" speech in his 1989 adaptation of Shakespeare, or the new historical novel on Agincourt by Sharpe author Bernard Cornwell, the Battle of Agincourt fascinates us like no other medieval campaign.

Fought in knee-high mud on the morning of 25 October 1415, it is to this day regarded by many as one of the greatest battles in British military history. Agincourt was glorified by Shakespeare as the moment when a feckless Henry V became a true king as he led his exhausted army to victory, and evokes images ofstalwart English bravery against seemingly impossible odds.

English historical sources have long described the battle, fought in a narrow strip of land between the villages of Azincourt and Tramecourt, north west France, as a military masterstroke.

Exhausted by their month-long siege of Harfleur and ravaged by dysentery, Henry V's bedraggled army of English nobles and local mercenaries were forced to fight a much larger French army which had intercepted them on their way to Calais. Contemporary English sources describe the enemy as 10 times the size of Henry's forces – which had none of the heavy cavalry that the French nobles possessed.

Undeterred by the odds, Henry deployed on his flanks 5,000 longbow archers and waited for the French to attack. But squashed between the woods and unable to outflank the English, when the French finally did launch their assault they were undone by the long range of the archers' bows. It was the first time that cheaply trained archers, armed with little more than a single piece of flexible yew, were able to bring down knights on horseback in such great numbers.

And thus was democracy born.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 1, 2008 8:46 AM
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