597 Years Since Agincourt

The anniversary of the long ago battle of Saint Crispin’s Day gives us yet another opportunity to recall the immortal “Band of Borthers Speech” that Shakespeare put into the mouth of Henry V, a speech that could put fight into a dog dead three days, or, mirabile dictu, even a live Congress Critter:

WESTMORELAND. O that we now had here

    But one ten thousand of those men in England      

That do no work to-day!

  KING. What’s he that wishes so?

    My cousin Westmoreland? No, my fair cousin;      

If we are mark’d to die, we are enow

    To do our country loss; and if to live,

    The fewer men, the greater share of honour.

    God’s will! I pray thee, wish not one man more.

    By Jove, I am not covetous for gold,     

Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost;

    It yearns me not if men my garments wear;

    Such outward things dwell not in my desires.     

But if it be a sin to covet honour,      

I am the most offending soul alive.

    No, faith, my coz, wish not a man from England.      

God’s peace! I would not lose so great an honour

    As one man more methinks would share from me

    For the best hope I have. O, do not wish one more!    

  Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host,    

  That he which hath no stomach to this fight,      

Let him depart; his passport shall be made,

    And crowns for convoy put into his purse;

    We would not die in that man’s company

    That fears his fellowship to die with us.      

This day is call’d the feast of Crispian.

    He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,

    Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam’d,

    And rouse him at the name of Crispian.

    He that shall live this day, and see old age,

    Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,

    And say ‘To-morrow is Saint Crispian.’

    Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,      

And say ‘These wounds I had on Crispian’s day.’

    Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,

    But he’ll remember, with advantages,

    What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,

    Familiar in his mouth as household words-     

Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,

    Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester-

    Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb’red.

    This story shall the good man teach his son;      

And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,

    From this day to the ending of the world,     

But we in it shall be remembered-      

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;

    For he to-day that sheds his blood with me

    Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,      

This day shall gentle his condition;    

  And gentlemen in England now-a-bed

    Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,

    And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks

    That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.


October 25, 1415 was an amazing day for the English.  The English longbow had long proved in the Hundred Years War to be a devastating weapon in the hands of skilled archers, but rarely had the English faced such long odds as they did at Agincourt.  Approximately 6,000 English, exhausted and worn from their march, faced approximately 30,000 French.  About five out of six of the English were archers with the remainder men-at-arms, knights and nobility.  The French had about 10,000 men-at-arms, knights and nobility, and 20,000 archers, crossbowmen and miscellaneous infantry.

The English established their battle line between the woods of Agincourt and Tramecourt, which offered excellent protection to both of their flanks.  The English archers made up the front line with stakes set in the ground before them to impale charging horses.  Archers were also placed in the woods to provide flanking fire against advancing French.  The men at arms and knights and nobility, were divided into three forces behind the archers.  They fought on foot.

The terrain between the woods that the French would have to cross in their attack of the English consisted of newly ploughed, and very muddy, fields.  Having walked through muddy fields on several occasions in rural Illinois, I can attest that simply getting from point A to point B in such terrain can be exhausting, let alone fighting at the end of the tramp through the morass.

For three hours there was no fighting, the French waiting for reinforcements.  King Henry tiring of this had his army advance to put pressure on the French to attack.  Alarmed by this offensive movement by the English, the French finally attacked.

The French advanced in three battles, or lines, one behind the other.  The mounted French, only about 1200 men, were in the first line.  All the other French fought afoot.

The charge of the mounted French was a complete disaster  and set the tone for the entire battle.  Due to the woods, the English archers could not be outflanked, and their blizzard of arrows wreaked havoc with the horses of the French as they made their frontal charge.  The French cavalry fell back on the advancing dismounted French men-at-arms.  These advanced against heavy fire from the longbowmen, who fired into the French men-at-arms until they ran out of arrows, and then joined in the melee with the English men-at-arms.  The French initially succeeded in forcing back the English line.  However, their success was short-lived.  Exhaustion set in among the French after their trek through the muddy fields, and the English longbowmen, wearing no armor and therefore much more agile than their adversaries in the mud, attacked with surprising success, aiming their blows at unarmored portions of the bodies of the French men-at-arms.  The fighting lasted about three hours before the French withdrew in defeat.  The stunned English slowly realized that they had won one of the most incredible against the odds victory in military history.

Published in: on October 25, 2012 at 12:17 pm  Comments (7)  
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  1. Dear SIR!
    Check: Anne Curry, Agincourt
    A new story
    But dream on with your fairy tale…
    Thanks for your posts anyhow!
    I like them
    But mine favorite is La Pucelle
    By the way, even the favorite of my colleagues wife, Ingrid Bergman

    • I have it in my library Ulf, along with some 15 other volumes on Agincourt. I tend to agree with Juliet Barker in her recent study of the Agincourt campaign that the English were heavily outnumbered.

  2. The fact is that Henry had no business being in France, that England did not have the resources to complete the conquest of so much larger a country, and that his military genius only led to prolonging a war that was a bleeding sore in the French body, strengthened royal tyranny, weakened civic institutions, and made the English nobility so used to the sword that when they no longer could weld it in France, they straightaway turned it on each other in the “wars of the roses”. And Shakespeare seems to realize it: after all, in spite of the gorgeous workmanship, what does this speech have to say except: “Toeay I’ll win and you’ll have some stories to take home”?

    • Here is a post Fabio that I had on looking at the war of Henry V from a Just War perspective, both that in vogue at the time of Henry V and that in vogue today.


      In regard to Henry and France, it is a simple fact the English monarchy had been involved in France for centuries. One might deplore English involvement in France, but the monarch of England had since the time of the Norman Conquest been a major player in France, and Henry V was merely carrying on a struggle that had been going on for centuries. I differ with you in your contention that the Hundred Years War strenthened royal tyranny, at least if we are talking about England. I think Parliament was greatly strengthened by the need for funds of English monarchs throughout the Hundreds Years War. I doubt if the Wars of the Roses had that much to do with the ending of the Hundred Years Wars. Civil Wars were fairly endemic in England throughout this period. We note the Wars of the Roses largely because they brought the Tudors eventually in power, because they were the last major civil wars until the Seventeenth Century, and because of the brilliance of Shakespeare.

      • She died in Montreal. I have always found the term Native American to be a fairly useless formulation, probably due to my Cherokee blood, and my knowledge that most Indians refer to themselves by their tribe or simply as Indian. Better for her to be noted as the first Mohawk saint.

      • Have to be short. Not having and not ever being able to have the resources to conquer France, Henry ought not to have started the war again of his own initiative (you ought to remember, from Shakespeare if nothing else, that the war he was fighting was started by him on an indefensible claim to the French throne, no matter what had happened in previous centuries). The royal tyranny I meant is of course France’s – didn’t we have a bit of a barney on that one a while back? But had Henry’s heir not been weak to the point of imbecility, it’s easy to see England go the same direction. And Parliament,like all other institutions, suffered nearly to extinction in the Wars of the Roses – the inevitable sequel to the Hundred Years War. Was any of it worth it? i don’t think so.

      • We will have to agree to disagree on this one Fabio. In regard to France during the Hundred Year’s War, I do not think the problem was royal tyranny, but rather chaos. The monarchs during the war, except for the brilliant Charles V, tended to be a fairly poor lot. Henry VI of England was of the same stamp, and that led to defeat in France and Civil War in England. I do not think that Parliament was weak during the War of the Roses. The danger point for Parliament I think was under the Tudors, where the Kings and Queens came close to succeeding in converting Parliament into a rubber stamp. Thank God they were followed by the inept, albeit colorful, Stuarts!

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