On this day in 1415, in the decisive blow of the Hundred Years’ War between England and France, young Henry V of England leads his forces to stirring victory at the Battle of Agincourt in northern France.
Two months previous Henry had crossed the English Channel with 11,000 men and laid siege to Harfleur in Normandy. After five arduous weeks the town surrendered, but Henry lost half his men to disease and battle casualties, and found himself with 5,000 or so sick and tired troops.
And herein lurk the fates of the story. Henry decided to march his army northeast to Calais, where he would meet the English fleet and return to England. At Agincourt, however, stood a massive French army of 20,000 blocking the routes and greatly outnumbering the exhausted English archers, knights, and men-at-arms by three to one.
On a 1,000-yard field favoring close combat, at 11 a.m. on October 25, the battle was joined. The English stood their ground as French knights, weighed down by their heavy armor, began a slow advance across the muddy battlefield. The French were met by a furious bombardment of artillery from the English archers, who wielded innovative longbows with a range of 250 yards. French cavalrymen tried in vain to overwhelm the English positions, but the archers were protected by a line of pointed stakes.
As more French knights made their way onto the crowded battlefield, fighting quarters grew ever tighter with many lacking the room to raise their arms and strike a blow. At this point, Henry ordered his lightly equipped archers to rush forward with swords and axes, and the unencumbered Englishmen massacred the French.
So stirring was the victory, Henry’s exploits at Agincourt have been depicted on the page by Shakespeare, on the big screen by Lawarence Oliver (1944), Kenneth Branagh (1989), and whispy Timothee Chalamet (2019), with Branagh’s version netting him a BAFTA Award for Best Director, and a European Film Award for Best Actor, among others.
Back to real-life, the French lost 6,000 troops to Henry’s loss of 400. Henry had won one of the great victories in military history, he married the French princess Catherine of Valois, was made heir to the throne of France, and died two years later from camp fever; fame and glory, it seems, are fickle and fleeting.
And here endeth the lesson.