pursuit of his claim to the French throne, Henry V of England and an army of
about 11,000 men invaded Normandy in August 1415. They took Harfleur in
September, but by then half their troops had been lost to disease and battle
casualties. Henry decided to move northeast to Calais, whence his diminished
forces could return to England. Large French forces under the constable Charles
I d'Albret blocked his line of advance to the north, however.
French force, which totaled 20,000 to 30,000 men, many of them mounted knights
in heavy armour, caught the exhausted English army at Agincourt (now Azincourt
in Pas-de-Calais département). The French unwisely chose a battlefield with a
narrow frontage of only about 1,000 yards of open ground between two woods. In
this cramped space, which made large-scale maneuvers almost impossible, the
French virtually forfeited the advantage of their overwhelming numbers. At dawn
on October 25, the two armies prepared for battle. Three French divisions, the
first two dismounted, were drawn up one behind another. Henry had only about
5,000 archers and 900 men-at-arms, whom he arrayed in a dismounted line. The
dismounted men-at-arms were arrayed in three central blocks linked by projecting
wedges of archers, and additional masses of archers formed forward wings at the
left and right ends of the English line.
led his troops forward into bowshot range, where their long-range archery
provoked the French into an assault. Several small French cavalry charges broke
upon a line of pointed stakes in front of the English archers. Then the main
French assault, consisting of heavily armored, dismounted knights, advanced over
the sodden ground. At the first clash the English line yielded, only to recover
quickly. As more French knights entered the battle, they became so tightly
bunched that some of them could barely raise their arms to strike a blow. At
this decisive point, Henry ordered his lightly equipped and more mobile English
archers to attack with swords and axes. The unencumbered English hacked down
thousands of the French, and thousands more were taken prisoner, many of whom
were killed on Henry's orders when another French attack seemed imminent.
The battle was a disaster for the French. The constable himself, 12 other members of the highest nobility, some 1,500 knights, and about 4,500 men-at-arms were killed on the French side, while the English lost less than 450 men. The English had been led brilliantly by Henry, but the incoherent tactics of the French had also contributed greatly to their defeat.
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