3 – Battle of Agincourt (1415)
The Battle of Agincourt is arguably England’s most famous victory over France, and it also marked the last significant English victory in the Hundred Years’ War. The next phase of the war, also known as the Caroline Phase, began in 1369 when Charles V announced that all of England’s territories in France were forfeited. In return, Edward III resumed his claim as the King of France.
The French began a counter-attack, and by 1380, Calais was the only territory still in English hands. The Black Prince had died in 1376, and Edward III perished the following year, so there was significant turmoil on the English side. However, Charles V died in 1380, and the result was a halt in French progress. By now, both sides faced internal power struggles, so the Hundred Years’ War was of secondary importance.
Henry V became King of England in 1413, and he immediately decided to take advantage of the ongoing French Civil War to launch another invasion. The French King Charles VI had descended into madness, and there was a battle for power between John the Fearless (backed by the Burgundians) and Louis of Orleans (backed by the Armagnac’s). Henry told envoys of the French king that he wanted to marry the daughter of Charles VI and outlined his territorial demands in France. The French rejected Henry’s claims and the English monarch prepared for war.
Henry wasted little time assembling an army of 11,000 men, and he crossed the English Channel with and besieged Harfleur in Normandy in August 1415. He took the town after five weeks but lost half his army to disease and casualties sustained in the siege. Henry decided to march to Calais and return home with his fleet. However, the French blocked the path with a formidable army of 20,000 men. As was the case with the Black Prince almost 60 years before, the English commander was low on supplies, outnumbered and forced into a battle he didn’t want.
Luckily for Henry, the battle took place on a relatively small tract of open land between two woods. As a result, it was practically impossible to launch large-scale manoeuvres which was bad news for the numerically superior French. The Battle of Agincourt began at 11 am on October 25, and the French advanced on their enemy. The English were pushed back slowly, but the muddy ground was taking a major toll on the heavily armored French knights. It seems as if the French commanders completely ignored the presence of the English archers as they clearly had no plan to deal with them.
The archers fired at the French infantry, and the French cavalry was unable to attack the longbowmen because there was a line of pointed stakes in the way. The French made a serious blunder by continuing to march forward on the soft ground and soon, they had no room to move. It got to the stage where they didn’t have room to swing their weapons. Henry saw what was happening and ordered his archers to take up axes and swords and charge. The lightly equipped archers massacred the encumbered French and won a devastating victory for Henry.
Only 400 Englishmen died at Agincourt compared to 6,000 French deaths. Up to 40 percent of the French nobility died in battle or were executed afterward. Henry soon made inroads into France and took most of Normandy by 1419 and in the Treaty of Troyes in 1420, Henry was declared as the heir to the French throne upon the death of Charles VI. After further victories, the English were dealt a devastating blow when Henry died suddenly in 1422. At that time, England was close to victory, but Henry’s death completely turned the tide of the war.