Hundred Years’ War: Siege of Harfleur
The decision to lay siege to the townThe besiegers began by attempting to surround the town, so as to cut off the defenders from any possible reinforcements or supplies. Henry’s brother, Thomas, duke of Clarence, was therefore sent with part of the army to the east side of the settlement. This measure was too belated, however, to prevent a French company of 300 men-at-arms under the command of Raoul de Gaucourt from entering the town. The English then initiated a formal siege by bringing up their siege weapons, such as their guns and mechanical artillery close to the walls.Gunpowder artillery in particular needed to be deployed at close range to be effective; this meant that these weapons and their operators were vulnerable to the missile fire of the defenders though. It was for this reason that trenches were dug by labourers and large wooden screens known as ‘mantlets’ were created to protect the artillery.The author of the Gesta gives a vivid account of the destruction inflicted by these weapons, which within a few days had caused significant damage to the walls and towers of Harfleur, in addition to
‘really fine buildings, almost as far as the middle of the town, were either totally demolished or threatened with inevitable collapse’. (Taylor and Roskell, p. 39: 1975)
The French response
Effects of the lengthening siege
The author also stated that the townspeople were frightened of the prospect of the settlement being taken by storm, as the law of Deuteronomy permitted the inhabitants to be put to the sword if they refused to surrender on terms. This led to further negotiations with the townspeople and the leaders of the French garrison who entered the English camp to meet with Henry. On 18 September they undertook to yield the town within four days if not relieved by an army of relief, delivering hostages and oaths as surety for this. The message was taken by the sire de Haqueville to the Dauphin who was at Vernon, on the Seine between Rouen and Paris. But at this point the French had not gathered enough troops to give battle to the English, especially as Henry still had his whole army with him.‘struck terror into our enemies, who were quite broken in spirit at the loss of the barbican…sorely troubled by the scourge of the stones and almost despairing of being rescued by the French’. (ibid. p.49)
SurrenderThe defenders of Harfleur formally surrendered the town to Henry on 22 September. The Sire de Hacqueville, ‘along with the others of his company’, returned to the English camp at 8 o’clock in the morning to deliver the keys of the town to the king and the inhabitants gave themselves up to his mercy. On the same day, Henry wrote a letter to the mayor and aldermen of London in which he described the terms under which the inhabitants had surrendered the settlement. He explained that due to the efforts of ‘our faithful lieges’ and the ‘strength and position of our cannon’, the ‘people who were within the town made great urgency to have divers parleys with us’. Despite this, Henry had wished to order an assault on 18 September, but the inhabitants terrified by this agreed to negotiate a surrender which was accepted so as to ‘avoid the effusion of human blood’ on 18 September (Riley, 1868).On 23 September, Henry rode to the gates of the town, where he dismounted, and then walked barefoot to the parish church of St. Martin where he gave prayers to thank God for his victory. The leading members of the garrison of the town were then permitted to leave on condition that they gave themselves up as prisoners at Calais on 11 November.
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Agincourt 1415: Myth and Reality
ReferencesCurry, A. The Battle of Agincourt: Sources and Interpretations (Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 2009). This book includes translations of all the key documents relating to the Agincourt campaign.The link takes you to Amazon.co.uk [accessed 16 October 2015].Riley, H. T. (ed.) ‘Memorials: 1415’, in Memorials of London and London Life in the 13th, 14th and 15th Centuries, (London, 1868), pp. 601-624 [accessed 16 July 2015]Taylor, F. and Roskell, J. S. (eds.), Gesta Henrici Quinti: The Deeds of Henry the Fifth (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975)
Agincourt 1415: Myth and Reality
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