Agincourt is not remembered today for its place in the Hundred Years’ War, a petty dynastic squabble which England lost. It is remembered as a David-and-Goliath story and, thanks to a 1944 movie version, as a symbol of unlikely victory in a much more serious European conflict, one in which the French were our brave allies.
IN 1340, Edward III was persuaded by his Flemish allies to assume the title of ‘King of France’, precipitating the Hundred Years’ War.* Initial success gave way to a truce in 1396, and in 1415 the young Dauphin, Charles, impatiently demanded that Henry V renounce his great-grandfather’s claims, or come over and prove them in battle.**
The warlike Harry set out for Normandy at once.
After landing at Harfleur, Henry made for Calais, at that time an English town. But a French army met him near a castle called Agincourt on October 25th, the feast day of St Crispin.
The French vastly outnumbered the English, were in better health, and had the advantage of cavalry. Yet, the English won.
Rain-soaked mud bogged the heavily-armoured French cavalry down, and their ill-discipline contrasted with Henry’s inspirational leadership. But perhaps the most important factor was the English archers with their longbows, at that time a new and deadly weapon, for which the French simply had no answer.
* King John of England (r. 1199-1216) largely threw away the French dukedoms he had inherited from his father Henry II, and in 1259 Henry III reluctantly renounced them at the Treaty of Paris. Edward’s renewed claims were a diplomatic gesture for his Flemish allies; subsequent victories at Crécy in 1346 and Poitiers ten years later made Edward take the whole matter more seriously.
** Henry V’s father Henry IV was a son of John of Gaunt, who was Richard II’s uncle. John of Gaunt was a son of Edward III, making Henry V Edward III’s great-grandson.