27. The Hundred Years War Witnessed a Turning of the Tide on the Battlefield
A common image of medieval warfare is that of heavily armored knights on horseback riding down and scattering foot soldiers. It is an image with a solid basis in reality: for roughly a thousand years since late antiquity, cavalry dominated warfare, until infantry – especially after the development of firearms – regained control. However, even before firearms became widespread, there were early harbingers that foot soldiers with projectile weapons could go toe to toe with mounted knights, and beat them. The best examples of that occurred during the Hundred Years Wars, when in a trio of battles – Crecy, Poitiers, and Agincourt – English archers on foot wrecked and routed French mounted knights.
At Agincourt (1415), a French army of about 36,000 men, including thousands of mounted knights, was humiliated by a smaller English army of 5000 longbow archers and 1000 knights. England’s King Henry V was marching through Normandy to Calais, when his path was blocked by a French army six times bigger than his. Henry picked a defensive position where his flanks were protected by woods. That forced the French to attack head-on along a narrow front comprised of recently plowed muddy fields. Henry placed longbow archers on his flanks, and his dismounted knights and more longbow men in the center. He then had his men hammer pointed stakes in front of their positions, and waited for the French. He did not wait long.