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After several decades of relative peace, the English had renewed their war effort in amid the failure of negotiations with the French. In the ensuing campaign, many soldiers died from disease, and the English numbers dwindled; they tried to withdraw to English-held Calais but found their path blocked by a considerably larger French army. Despite the disadvantage, the following battle ended in an overwhelming tactical victory for the English.

King Henry V of England led his troops into battle and participated in hand-to-hand fighting. King Charles VI of France did not command the French army himself, as he suffered from psychotic illnesses and associated mental incapacity.

Instead, the French were commanded by Constable Charles d'Albret and various prominent French noblemen of the Armagnac party. This battle is notable for the use of the English longbow in very large numbers, with the English and Welsh archers comprising nearly 80 percent of Henry's army.

It forms the centrepiece of William Shakespeare 's play Henry V , written in The Battle of Agincourt is well documented by at least seven contemporary accounts, three from eyewitnesses.

The approximate location of the battle has never been disputed, and the site remains relatively unaltered after years. Immediately after the battle, Henry summoned the heralds of the two armies who had watched the battle together with principal French herald Montjoie, and they settled on the name of the battle as Azincourt , after the nearest fortified place. The English eyewitness account comes from the anonymous Gesta Henrici Quinti , believed to have been written by a chaplain in the King's household who would have been in the baggage train at the battle.

Henry V invaded France following the failure of negotiations with the French. In the ensuing negotiations Henry said that he would give up his claim to the French throne if the French would pay the 1. The French responded with what they considered the generous terms of marriage with Catherine, a dowry of , crowns, and an enlarged Aquitaine. By , negotiations had ground to a halt, with the English claiming that the French had mocked their claims and ridiculed Henry himself.

On 19 April , Henry again asked the Great Council to sanction war with France, and this time they agreed. It was often reported to comprise 1, ships, but was probably far smaller. Theodore Beck also suggests that among Henry's army was "the king's physician and a little band of surgeons". The town surrendered on 22 September, and the English army did not leave until 8 October. The campaign season was coming to an end, and the English army had suffered many casualties through disease.

Rather than retire directly to England for the winter, with his costly expedition resulting in the capture of only one town, Henry decided to march most of his army roughly 9, through Normandy to the port of Calais , the English stronghold in northern France, to demonstrate by his presence in the territory at the head of an army that his right to rule in the duchy was more than a mere abstract legal and historical claim. During the siege, the French had raised an army which assembled around Rouen.

This was not strictly a feudal army, but an army paid through a system similar to that of the English. The French hoped to raise 9, troops, but the army was not ready in time to relieve Harfleur.

They were successful for a time, forcing Henry to move south, away from Calais, to find a ford. Without a river obstacle to defend, the French were hesitant to force a battle. They shadowed Henry's army while calling a semonce des nobles , [33] calling on local nobles to join the army. By 24 October, both armies faced each other for battle, but the French declined, hoping for the arrival of more troops. The two armies spent the night of 24 October on open ground.

The French army blocked Henry's way to the safety of Calais, and delaying battle would only further weaken his tired army and allow more French troops to arrive. The precise location of the battle is not known.

It may be in the narrow strip of open land formed between the woods of Tramecourt and Azincourt close to the modern village of Azincourt. However, the lack of archaeological evidence at this traditional site has led to suggestions it was fought to the west of Azincourt.

The army was divided into three battalions, with the right wing led by Edward, Duke of York , the centre led by the king himself, and the left wing under the old and experienced Baron Thomas Camoys. The archers were commanded by Sir Thomas Erpingham , another elderly veteran.

They might also have deployed some archers in the centre of the line. The English men-at-arms in plate and mail were placed shoulder to shoulder four deep. The English and Welsh archers on the flanks drove pointed wooden stakes , or palings, into the ground at an angle to force cavalry to veer off.

This use of stakes could have been inspired by the Battle of Nicopolis of , where forces of the Ottoman Empire used the tactic against French cavalry. The English made their confessions before the battle, as was customary.

He told his men that he would rather die in the coming battle than be captured and ransomed. Henry made a speech emphasising the justness of his cause, and reminding his army of previous great defeats the kings of England had inflicted on the French. The Burgundian sources have him concluding the speech by telling his men that the French had boasted that they would cut off two fingers from the right hand of every archer, so that he could never draw a longbow again.

Whether this was true is open to question; death was the normal fate of any soldier who could not be ransomed. Probably each man-at-arms would be accompanied by a gros valet or varlet , an armed servant, adding up to another 10, potential fighting men, [10] though some historians omit them from the number of combatants. The French were organized into two main battalions or battles , a vanguard up front and a main battle behind, both composed principally of men-at-arms fighting on foot and flanked by more of the same in each wing.

The French vanguard and main battle numbered respectively 4, and 3, men-at-arms. The field of battle was arguably the most significant factor in deciding the outcome. The recently ploughed land hemmed in by dense woodland favoured the English, both because of its narrowness, and because of the thick mud through which the French knights had to walk. The English account in the Gesta Henrici says: "For when some of them, killed when battle was first joined, fall at the front, so great was the undisciplined violence and pressure of the mass of men behind them that the living fell on top of the dead, and others falling on top of the living were killed as well.

Although the French initially pushed the English back, they became so closely packed that they were described as having trouble using their weapons properly.

The French monk of St. Denis says: "Their vanguard, composed of about 5, men, found itself at first so tightly packed that those who were in the third rank could scarcely use their swords," [66] and the Burgundian sources have a similar passage.

Recent heavy rain made the battle field very muddy, proving very tiring to walk through in full plate armour. Denis describes the French troops as "marching through the middle of the mud where they sank up to their knees.

So they were already overcome with fatigue even before they advanced against the enemy". Barker states that some knights, encumbered by their armour, actually drowned in their helmets. On the morning of 25 October, the French were still waiting for additional troops to arrive. The Duke of Brabant about 2, men , [68] the Duke of Anjou about men , [68] and the Duke of Brittany 6, men, according to Monstrelet , [69] were all marching to join the army.

For three hours after sunrise there was no fighting. Military textbooks of the time stated: "Everywhere and on all occasions that foot soldiers march against their enemy face to face, those who march lose and those who remain standing still and holding firm win.

They were blocking Henry's retreat, and were perfectly happy to wait for as long as it took. There had even been a suggestion that the English would run away rather than give battle when they saw that they would be fighting so many French princes. Henry's men were already very weary from hunger, illness and retreat. Apparently Henry believed his fleeing army would perform better on the defensive, but had to halt the retreat and somehow engage the French before a defensive battle was possible.

The tightness of the terrain also seems to have restricted the planned deployment of the French forces. The French had originally drawn up a battle plan that had archers and crossbowmen in front of their men-at-arms, with a cavalry force at the rear specifically designed to "fall upon the archers, and use their force to break them," [74] but in the event, the French archers and crossbowmen were deployed behind and to the sides of the men-at-arms where they seem to have played almost no part, except possibly for an initial volley of arrows at the start of the battle.

The cavalry force, which could have devastated the English line if it had attacked while they moved their stakes, charged only after the initial volley of arrows from the English. It is unclear whether the delay occurred because the French were hoping the English would launch a frontal assault and were surprised when the English instead started shooting from their new defensive position , or whether the French mounted knights instead did not react quickly enough to the English advance.

French chroniclers agree that when the mounted charge did come, it did not contain as many men as it should have; Gilles le Bouvier states that some had wandered off to warm themselves and others were walking or feeding their horses.

The French cavalry, despite being disorganised and not at full numbers, charged towards the longbowmen, but it was a disaster, with the French knights unable to outflank the longbowmen because of the encroaching woodland and unable to charge through the forest of sharpened stakes that protected the archers. John Keegan argues that the longbows' main influence on the battle at this point was injuries to horses: armoured only on the head, many horses would have become dangerously out of control when struck in the back or flank from the high-elevation, long-range shots used as the charge started.

Juliet Barker quotes a contemporary account by a monk of St. Denis who reports how the wounded and panicking horses galloped through the advancing infantry, scattering them and trampling them down in their headlong flight from the battlefield. The plate armour of the French men-at-arms allowed them to close the 1, yards or so to the English lines while being under what the French monk of Saint Denis described as "a terrifying hail of arrow shot".

A complete coat of plate was considered such good protection that shields were generally not used, [78] although the Burgundian contemporary sources distinguish between Frenchmen who used shields and those who did not, and Rogers has suggested that the front elements of the French force used axes and shields.

Modern test and contemporary accounts conclude that arrows could not penetrate the better quality steel armour, which became available to knights and men-at-arms of fairly modest means by the middle of the 14th century, but could penetrate the poorer quality wrought iron armour. He considered a knight in the best-quality steel armour invulnerable to an arrow on the breastplate or top of the helmet, but vulnerable to shots hitting the limbs, particularly at close range.

This head-lowered position restricted their breathing and their vision. Increasingly, they had to walk around or over fallen comrades. The surviving French men-at-arms reached the front of the English line and pushed it back, with the longbowmen on the flanks continuing to shoot at point-blank range.

When the archers ran out of arrows, they dropped their bows and using hatchets , swords and the mallets they had used to drive their stakes in, attacked the now disordered, fatigued and wounded French men-at-arms massed in front of them. The French could not cope with the thousands of lightly armoured longbowmen assailants who were much less hindered by the mud and weight of their armour combined with the English men-at-arms.

The impact of thousands of arrows, combined with the slog in heavy armour through the mud, the heat and difficulty breathing in plate armour with the visor down, [86] and the crush of their numbers meant the French men-at-arms could "scarcely lift their weapons" when they finally engaged the English line.

Rogers suggested that the French at the back of their deep formation would have been attempting to literally add their weight to the advance, without realising that they were hindering the ability of those at the front to manoeuvre and fight by pushing them into the English formation of lancepoints.

After the initial wave, the French would have had to fight over and on the bodies of those who had fallen before them. In such a "press" of thousands of men, Rogers suggested that many could have suffocated in their armour, as was described by several sources, and which was also known to have happened in other battles.

The French men-at-arms were taken prisoner or killed in the thousands. The fighting lasted about three hours, but eventually the leaders of the second line were killed or captured, as those of the first line had been. The English Gesta Henrici described three great heaps of the slain around the three main English standards.

Upon hearing that his youngest brother Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester had been wounded in the groin, Henry took his household guard and stood over his brother, in the front rank of the fighting, until Humphrey could be dragged to safety. The king received an axe blow to the head, which knocked off a piece of the crown that formed part of his helmet. The only French success was an attack on the lightly protected English baggage train, with Ysembart d'Azincourt leading a small number of men-at-arms and varlets plus about peasants seizing some of Henry's personal treasures, including a crown.

Certainly, d'Azincourt was a local knight but he might have been chosen to lead the attack because of his local knowledge and the lack of availability of a more senior soldier. Barker, following the Gesta Henrici , believed to have been written by an English chaplain who was actually in the baggage train, concluded that the attack happened at the start of the battle.

Regardless of when the baggage assault happened, at some point after the initial English victory, Henry became alarmed that the French were regrouping for another attack. The Gesta Henrici places this after the English had overcome the onslaught of the French men-at-arms and the weary English troops were eyeing the French rearguard "in incomparable number and still fresh".

It seems it was purely a decision of Henry, since the English knights found it contrary to chivalry , and contrary to their interests to kill valuable hostages for whom it was commonplace to ask ransom.


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Battle of Agincourt




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