As dawn broke on the morning of 25 October 1415, the prospects for the English army camped around the village of Maisoncelles in northern France could hardly have seemed worse. Ten weeks previously, England’s 26-year-old King Henry V had landed an expeditionary force in Normandy where he planned to take Harfleur on the Seine estuary before marching on Paris. Henry shared with his forefathers the ambition to add France to his domains; in fact England had been at war with France intermittently since 1340. Today we know this series of conflicts as the Hundred Year's War.
The citizens of Harfleur were unimpressed with Henry’s ambitions and put up a spirited defence despite being heavily outnumbered. To add to this problem, the English besiegers were camped in swampland and disease ravaged the camp.
Finally, after six weeks, Harfleur fell but at a serious cost. Of Henry’s original army of 10,000, 2,000 had died and a further 2,000 wounded and sick had to be returned to England. Henry realized he no longer had the strength to march on Paris and instead decided on a cheveauege, a march through enemy territory designed to annoy the enemy but avoid battle. He would take his remaining troops 100 miles along the coast to the English enclave of Calais at the narrowest point on the English Channel. The 5,700-man army expected to reach it quickly and took provisions for only seven days.
Their route included just one obstacle, the River Somme, but on reaching it, they found French troops guarding the crossings, forcing them to march further inland to find a safe crossing. The locals were eager to help with advice, not out of support for Henry but because the last thing they wanted near their villages were several thousand hungry troops. Eventually an unguarded crossing was found. Unfortunately this involved a 50-mile diversion, doubling the time of the planned march. Heavy rains that turned the roads to mud further slowed the journey. Once the Somme was safely crossed, the army continued its journey towards Calais. The consequences of the delay now became apparent. The army was short of food but worse, the French had managed to raise a huge army and assemble near the village of Agincourt, blocking the English path to Calais.
Sources vary greatly on the size of the French army: the lowest estimates put it at 30,000 but figures as high as 150,000 are quoted, the lower estimates are probably closer to the truth. Henry tried to avoid battle, offering to return Harfleur and the prisoners taken there. The French replied in addition he must renounce his claim to the French throne in order to pass unharmed. This Henry refused to do and battle became inevitable. The French, supremely confident of victory on the following day because of their enormous numerical superiority, spent the night carousing, taunting the English across the lines and dicing for the captives they were sure they would take.
To offset their miserable condition, the English had a number of things in their favour. Henry had planned his expedition carefully and his army was not typical of the times. Throughout Europe it was normal for an army to be made up of a number of knights, who regarded warfare as almost sport, and as many peasants as the local feudal levy could raise. In contrast, Henry’s army was specially recruited; his men were well paid, well trained and disciplined. Most of his army comprised expert archers using the English longbow. Henry preferred a small, professional army to a large untrained force. In addition, Henry was a charismatic commander, popular with his men and able to motivate his troops. One of the most famous speeches in Shakespeare’s plays is Henry’s address to his men prior to the battle.
Some of the real conversation prior to the battle has come down to us. One of his commanders, Sir Walter Hungerford, regretted that “they had not but one ten thousand of those men in England who do no work today”. Henry replied, “Wot you not that the Lord with these few can overthrow the pride of the French?” Shakespeare’s version of this sentiment is more elegant:
If we are marked to die, we are enough,
To do our country loss; and if to live,
The fewer men, the greater share of honour.
The French had the numbers and the confidence but they lacked the organization. France’s King Charles VI, weak and mentally ill, was quite unfit to lead his army, this role falling to Charles D’Albert, Constable of France, and Boucicault, the Marshal. Both were experienced soldiers, but their rank was not considered high enough to deserve respect from the snobbish French nobles who largely ignored their commands.
The huge French army had chosen the field of battle poorly. Near Agincourt the road to Calais passed between two thick forests, 1,300 yards apart at the northern (French) end but narrowing towards the English lines.
Henry arranged his troops carefully with his archers taking up positions on the flanks and between the men-at-arms. Despite the French advantage in numbers, they refused to attack. At 11 o’clock on what was St Crispin’s Day, Henry, tired of waiting, gave the order “In the name of God Almighty and of Saint George, Avount Banner in the best of the year, and Saint George this day be thine help”. With a cry of “Hurrah! Hurrah! Saint George and Merrie England” the English advanced to within 300 yards of the French lines. There they planted sharpened stakes angled to check any cavalry charge. When this was done, they loosed the first of their arrows.
In the longbow, the English had perfected an extraordinary weapon. A trained archer could shoot six aimed arrows a minute, which could wound at 400 yards, kill at 200 and penetrate armour at 100 yards. The English had separate arrowheads for penetrating armour while others were designed to kill or maim horses.
The French had arranged themselves in three dense lines flanked by the forests; in fact they were so crowded that their crossbows and cannons could not be fired effectively. Despite these problems, the French charged.
As they advanced, the knights were forced into each other by the narrowing front formed by the two forests: the converging mass made movement very difficult. As the heavily armoured knights advanced, they turned the rain-saturated ground into deep mud; all but the first ranks slipped and stumbled. The front ranks of the French cavalry that were able to advance received the full effect of English archers.
Even as the front ranks were killed by the deadly hail of arrows, the cavalry behind, unaware of what was happening up ahead, pressed forward through the mud, piling up on the dead and wounded at their front. Those who did reach the front had to climb a wall of dead and dying men and horses before they in turn were slain. Taking advantage of this confusion, the English slung their bows and laid into the confused mass with their swords.
To make matters worse, the French sent in a second wave, crushing their own men. The English grabbed some 1,700 prisoners from the mess — rich pickings in an age when noble prisoners could yield a substantial ransom — and sent them to the rear to be guarded with the baggage train.
The local French villagers, loath not to profit from the events of the day, took advantage of the poorly guarded baggage train to help themselves to whatever they could find. When Henry learned of this disturbance, he took it as an attack from the rear and ordered that the prisoners be killed to prevent their escape. At first the guards refused, not from any humanitarian principle but because of the loss of potential ransom. Henry even had to withdraw 200 archers from the battle to threaten his own men. The slaughter began and only ceased when the truth became known. But by this time most of the prisoners had been killed, only the most illustrious were spared.
As the battle progressed, the French became aware of the scale of the disaster. As the word spread the French army started to slip away into the countryside and this quickly became a rout. One of the few consolations for the French was that the English were too tired and too few in numbers to make chase.
Figures vary greatly for the English losses. Shakespeare gives the English
dead as four nobles and 25 regular troops. Some estimates go as high as 500 or
even 1,000 but the most widely accepted figure is 100-200 English dead. French
losses are better known; the French themselves estimated these at between 8,000
and 11,000 of whom 1,200-1,800 were slaughtered prisoners. A generation of
French nobles had been destroyed: there was hardly a French noble family who did
not lose someone and countless family lines came to the end on the field of
The English troops collected so much loot on the battlefield that the army simply could not move. Henry ordered almost all of it to be placed in a local barn along with the English dead and this was then set ablaze.
Henry, a deeply religious man, refused to accept credit for the victory, ascribing it to God alone. The immediate consequences were excellent for the English. Although the army returned to England, further expeditionary forces won battle after battle until in 1420 Charles VI agreed that on his death Henry would acquire the title King of France and gave his daughter Catherine in marriage to Henry. But the glory did not last. Henry died of dysentery in 1422. A few years later France produced her own hero, Joan of Arc, who began the reverse of English fortunes, eventually leading to the loss of all Henry’s territories in France except Calais.
Shakespeare’s Henry V contains perhaps the best known description of the battle, which forms a major part of the play. Shakespeare’s version of Henry’s pre-battle oration is one of the most stirring passages of English literature.
Agincourt was a brilliant flash of English glory but had little effect on long-term history and does not qualify as a world-changing event.
BARONS, KNIGHTS, ESQUIRES, SERVITEURS, AND OTHERS THAT WER WITHE THE EXCELLENT PRINCE HENRY THE FIFTE, AT THE BATTELL OF AGINCOURT
The list is the complete index of the Battle of Agincourt Honour Roll. The listings comprise about 1,200 names (just 21%) of the 5,700 participants. In recreating the list, we have been as true to the original as possible. We have maintained the organization and spelling of the original document, and replicated the original's system of
Roman numerals. To see if you had a namesake look carefully at the alphabetical listings, and use your imagination. Spelling at this time was casual -- even apparent brothers have their names spelled differently in adjacent listings. The names are also a good demonstration of the adoption of surnames in England. The majority have conventional names but a few have "de" (meaning "of"), some of the last vestiges of identifying people from their place of origin.
For your own researches try the web site: www.familychronicle.com/agincort.htm
Copied from the records in Ashton Manor Hall by John Thorpe, Herald, Resident
of Ashton Manor, County of Warwick, England.
I, Ernest G. Graham, on this 17 day of March, 1927, have literally transcribed the above from an old document found in the library of the deceased John W. Parle, father of the present Dr. John W. Parle, St. Louis, Mo. USA.
Copied by Francis Parle, Excelsior Springs, mo., (Montana?) Aug. 9 1944.
Copied by Nell Parle (Mrs. Paul H. Parle), Louisville, Kentucky., Aug. 22, 1944.
Copied by John P Parle, Pontiac, Michigan., Feb. 7, 1997.
NOTE FROM JOHN P PARLE:
I copied the above language from a document that my father Jerome B Parle gave me in the late 1970s. I first saw it sometime in the mid 1960s. The document title above the beginning phrase "By the authority of John Thorpe..." is my own. The spelling of words like "Calvary," "Parlby," "en," "Englicized," and "defense" are the same here as on the copy I received.
There is a typed note on the bottom of my original copy, that seems to indicate that members of our branch of the Parle family in Pontiac or Detroit received this document in a letter dated August 22, 1944; from Nell Parle in Kentucky (Paul's wife, the sister-in-law of my father). Nell said that she received it from Francis Parle, of Excelsior Springs, Mo., on August 21, 1944. There seems to be no easy way to verify the above information or the document's contents.
On the following page is my drawing of a Coat of Arms that appeared on top of my copy of the original Ashton Manor document. I don't know for sure who drew the original. Under the sketch on the Ashton document is the title: "Sort of sketch of Parle Coat of Arms." The list of "copied by's" on top of this page is the same as on the original Ashton document, except for my entry. My original Ashton Manor Document was typed on a typewriter, with words faintly standing out at times; it is not a visually fancy-looking document.
Website by Michael A Parle
This page last changed on 02 December 2009