Battle of Agincourt - 600 Years

We’ve finally arrived at the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt, one of the most famous battles in French or English history. Many of us first learned about the battle from Shakespeare’s Henry V, and in particular are familiar with the king’s St. Crispin’s Day speech, with its famous “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers” line, supposedly delivered to his troops on the eve of battle. 
Agincourt Marker

As with so much history, there is still debate regarding this battle. In fact, the name of the town is actually Azincourt, and the arguments only get larger from there. The rote story, so to speak, is that the English were tremendously outnumbered, but with the aid of the longbow and a type of underdog courage, prevailed over the feckless French. That traditional view is challenged, even today, and the evolution of the story is still happening. As study of the battle continues, perhaps someday we will have more clarity on the actual history. Regardless, it is likely that the French held a distinct numerical advantage, and that their attack on a well-situated English army was reckless. 

Road into Agincourt

What cannot be debated is that the English won an incredible battle at Agincourt, their last major victory of The Hundred Years War, and the longbowmen of the English side are to thank. The French pushed themselves into the fray in such a way as to make fighting almost impracticable for themselves, and it’s likely that many French were caught in a crush - almost incapable of fighting for that reason alone. English archers devastated the front lines with their arrows, and were able to advance through the muddy terrain and kill many with knives and heavy mallets. Still, there’s no doubt the French knights and soldiery showed their bravery, and the result of the battle with such terrible casualty rates purely reflects that fact. 

The battlefield today is still very much as it was on that Friday in 1415. The town is small, the area is still rural, and the battlefield is practically all farmland. It’s possible to stand on the field and picture the French knights spurring their horses, with their finest trappings, alongside others on foot advancing in full armor through the mud and into the ranks of the English. There have been enough findings of relics throughout the years to verify that the field is accurately known. While there are a few historical markers and stones, the town has gone to a higher level and added historic decorations, with those leading to a very nice museum.  

Agincourt Monument

I’ve been fortunate enough to visit the battlefield a couple or three times, and admit my surprise and delight at such a detailed and complex museum in a small town. You’re able to step through pictures and text (in French and English) that guide you through the events leading to the battle, as well as the combat, itself. The displays range from reproductions of the weapons, clothing, and armour, to actual relics from the field; miniature soldiers on a scale field and a great in-the-round “video” of the battle complete the experience. Most importantly, this museum gives you enough to understand and interpret what happened there. 

In the large scheme of things Agincourt is difficult for me to assess. It once again demonstrated the effectiveness of the English longbow, but the war was lost regardless, and Henry V was never able to take the French throne. It can be argued that the French loss was actually beneficial, giving rise to the advent of Joan of Arc, a more consolidated French army, and the final victory for the French in the series of conflicts that we now call The Hundred Years War. It also gave us a historic battlefield, a lesson in bravery and frustration, and a great Shakespeare story. What more could we ask for? 

Agincourt Museum

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