It’s been a little while since I’ve made fun of the French, so I figured I was due.
Fought on October 25, 1415, near the three quarter mark of the 116 year long Hundred Years War, The Battle of Agincourt featured an army of French nobles getting their asses kicked by a much smaller English army that consisted mainly of peasants.
It is debatable just how badly the English were outnumbered in the battle. Some estimates range as high as 30 to 1, or as low as 4-3. The accepted consensus puts the numbers around 6,000 men for the English and between 20,000 and 30,000 for the French, putting the French advantage between 3 and 5 to 1.
The battle was fought on a narrow strip of land between two heavily wooded areas. The English King Henry V was attempting to move his army to Calais after a long but successful siege of the French port of Harfleur. The French had hounded the English all the way, and finally forced the English into a stand-up fight. The English army was starving and sick, the French fresh and convinced of their impending victory.
As was the way of things back in the day, the two armies lined up at opposite ends of a field and had at it. The English assumed a defensive posture with their formidable longbowmen on the flanks behind defensive stakes, and men-at-arms in the middle. The field was muddy from recent rains.
The French had the English trapped, and refused to open the battle as they were waiting for more troops. The English knew they could not wait, and so they actually dug up their stakes and moved forward to within bowshot of the French. Amazingly, the French still did not attack–had the French cavalry hit the English while they were in the process of digging back in, it is likely the battle would have turned out rather differently.
After digging back in, the English opened the battle with a volley of arrows. Finally, the French decided they couldn’t wait any longer, and the cavalry charged. However, some of the French cavalry had apparently gotten bored and wandered away while waiting for the fighting to start, because the charge was not as large as it should have been. The French Knights were not able to outflank the longbowmen, nor get through their defensive stakes. The cavalry retreated in disarray, with riderless horses running amok through the advancing French lines.
The cavalry charge did little more than to churn up the ground over which the French men-at-arms would now have to walk to reach the English, all while taking volley after volley from the English archers. They were exhausted when they reached the English lines, and because the confines of the narrow field made it impossible for them to bring their superior numbers fully to bear, the English were able to force a retreat after three hours of hard fighting.
The French had the advantage of superior numbers, of overall health and condition of the men, and they had numerous cavalry that the English lacked. However, at the end of the day, they were decisively beaten.
Is anybody surprised?