Skip to 0 minutes and 7 seconds ANNE CURRY: The Battle of Agincourt, we don’t know exactly what time it started, but a common mention in chronicles is Prime. Prime was one of the monastic services,
Skip to 0 minutes and 19 seconds it’s often thought to be to about 6:00 am in the morning, maybe a little bit later at this time in the winter. But we’ve got to imagine then that early morning, really daybreak, the two armies would be drawn up. We have the French to the north, just in front of the village of Ruisseauville, and therefore they’d have drawn up their troops sort of south of that village, between the villages of Azincourt on their right and Tramecourt on their left. The English were south of that position overnight at the village of Maisoncelles. They, therefore, were drawing up their troops north of Maisoncelles village, again between Azincourt on their left and Tramecourt on the right.
Skip to 1 minute and 2 seconds We’re going to imagine then that this is early in the morning, and the troops are drawn up, and the main debate for the English is exactly where the archers were positioned.
Skip to 1 minute and 13 seconds Battle formations follow pretty traditional arrangements in this period. So we’d have the men-at-arms grouped into three battles, as they were known, in the centre with the archers on the flanks and probably also archers in front of the men-at-arms. The main debates then have been whether there were archers positioned in front of the men-at-arms and also whether the archers were positioned as one continuous line there, or whether they were intermingled with the men-at-arms. Some people see them as kind of clusters, if you like, V-shaped clusters in front of the battles of men-at-arms. You have to say, well why don’t we know?
Skip to 1 minute and 55 seconds The problem is the wording of the chronicles, particularly the Gesta Henrici Quinti, the main source from the English position written by a priest who was with the army, but he wrote it in Latin. And therefore, we’ve got the difficulty of interpreting what his terms mean in the Latin language. So let’s look at the three battles of men-at-arms. We would have the King in the centre, and we believe that most of his royal household would’ve been with him there.
Skip to 2 minutes and 25 seconds On the right then, we have the battle commanded by the Duke of York in which the Earl of Suffolk was also present, and this was the battle that was to get the greatest amount of action in the actual fighting with the French. That vanguard on the right, they may have been positioned slightly further forward from the main centre battle under the King. On the left, we have the rear guard, and that was commanded by Thomas Lord Camoys, a veteran commander, 65 years old at this point. These then were battles of men-at-arms, which is to say, they may have had archer groups, either intermingled with them in some way or in front of them.
Skip to 3 minutes and 7 seconds Most of the archers though, maybe 5,000 or more, were on the flanks on both sides, and therefore with their backs against the woodland and so curving around in a horseshoe kind of shape there. And they all, all of the archers had stakes in front of them. The archers are likely armed, and therefore the stakes gave them extra protection, particularly against a cavalry charge. The English drew up their first position in the formation I’ve described. But the French didn’t attack, and therefore Henry moved his whole formation forward. And that must have been quite a challenge, you’ve got to imagine that the archers picked up their stakes, and the whole army moved forward. So Henry was goading the French into attacking him.
Skip to 3 minutes and 58 seconds As an interesting point, this is to why the French are not the ones eager to give battle. It does seem as though they’re still waiting for troops to come. We also need to consider another feature of Henry’s goading the French, and that is that he’s sent 200 archers round on his right side, the Tramecourt side, behind French lines, if you like, into a meadow. And they were there to be shooting their arrows from behind, again, to stimulate the French into forward movement against the English. Henry also brings his baggage up to the rear. That, again, is a usual formation in medieval warfare, maybe in the form of a corral of some sort.
Skip to 4 minutes and 44 seconds So turning to the French, we know much less about their formation, but we know that they had a very large vanguard, one large battle at the front, which is made up of perhaps 5,000 men-at-arms. Everybody rushed to get into that one because they wanted to be involved in the hand to hand fighting against Henry, the Duke of York, Lord Camoys, those soldiers in the main battles of men-at-arms on the English side. Behind them, there was another second battle. We know some people were in that and then maybe a third battle, although the jury is out really as to whether the French had enough troops. We know that the French did have crossbowman and some archers.
Skip to 5 minutes and 31 seconds We don’t know where they were positioned. They seem to have been pushed to the back. Chronicles often tell us that’s because the French wanted all the glory for themselves. The princes and the nobles wanted all the glory for themselves, and so they didn’t want these gens de trait, these missile men to participate. It’s more likely that the French realised they had so many fewer archers than the English, that the crossbowman were very vulnerable when they were reloading and couldn’t really see a use for them in the battle. But it’s possible they worked the rear and indeed did do some shooting over the heads of the men-at-arms. Finally, we have the French cavalry.
Skip to 6 minutes and 11 seconds The French plan had been, as Henry had anticipated, to send a cavalry charge on both sides of the English army to override the English archers. But on the day, the French could not get enough men to volunteer to be in that cavalry. And this raises interesting points. Possibly, they wanted to be on foot in the main battle in order to win all the glory and perhaps to capture the King, but it’s also possible that they realised the damage that the arrows could do to very expensive horses, and therefore they didn’t want to lose their horse fighting against archers.
The Battle: preparations to fight
In this video, Anne describes the preparations for battle at Agincourt and outlines French and English positions on the field.
How do you think the French and English armies were feeling on the eve of battle? Who would be feeling most confident on the field?
© University of Southampton 2015