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Battle of Agincourt


Battle of Agincourt
The Battle of Agincourt is one of Europe’s most famous battles, echoing down the centuries in historical record, song and even dramatic re-enactment on stage and film. The battle itself was part of the Hundred Years’ War, a series of conflicts that actually waged for over a century (1337-1453) between the Kingdoms of England and France for control of the French throne.

The two contenders for the throne were the House of Valois, a noble French family from the Capetian dynasty that had claimed the throne under Salic Law, and the House of Plantagenet’s Angevin family, who contested the claim due to the ancestral marriage of Edward II of England to Isabella of France. These contested claims led to a number of brutal battles throughout the 14th and 15th centuries, which came to a head in the Battle of Agincourt, a horrific battle fought between King Henry V and King Charles VI on 25 October 1415.

Battle of Agincourt

The battle itself was a major English victory against a numerically superior French army – see ‘Agincourt battle map’ for a comprehensive rundown– that rested on a series of tactical mistakes by the French, commanded by Constable Charles d’Albret, and a series of tactical masterstrokes by King Henry V. Indeed, Agincourt has gone down in French history as one of their most disastrous defeats for the French, with around 8,000 French troops killed and hundreds of others wounded or taken prisoner. In contrast, the English losses were in the low hundreds.
Interestingly, however, despite the conflict being such an obvious and celebrated English victory, the battle is remembered today more for its vivid representation of the polarised views and consequences that war in general generates (for William Shakespeare’s take on this, see ‘The turning of the tide’ boxout over the page). There are a number of reasons why opinions about it are so divided.
The first is due to the sheer magnitude of the casualties and the way in which they died. Records indicate men were decapitated, cleaved in two, had their bones shattered, were trampled to death, suffocated and had their major organs shredded by arrows. The battle was, without doubt, one of the bloodiest meat-grinders ever witnessed.
The second, and arguably more poignant reason, is despite Henry winning the day at Agincourt and later being named regent and heir to the French throne – a goal he had chased all his adult life – he died before he could be crowned and his successors proceeded to quickly lose both the throne and much of the territory in mainland France that he had won through his campaign.
Lastly, despite Henry’s actions being accepted as justified at the time by both French and English chroniclers, his actions were heavily criticised both morally and ethically in later times. Arguments not only contested his right to invade, but also his decision to execute all but a handful of the French prisoners taken at the battle, which while numbers are unclear, probably approached, or even exceeded, a thousand men. Indeed, the French losses at Agincourt largely obliterated their aristocracy, with hundreds of noblemen (including three dukes, eight counts and one viscount), knights and even an archbishop killed in the fighting.
In this feature we break down the main events of the battle itself, and analyse the surrounding context, highlighting the key players and exploring the ramifications that Agincourt had on the economic, social and political spheres of Europe in the Late Middle Ages and beyond.