The Battle of Agincourt

If we are mark'd to die, we are enowMap
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.

-- Wm. Shakespeare, King Henry V

Given the historical importance of the Hundred Years' War and the battle of Agincourt within it, there is surprisingly little information about them on the Web.  Like anything else, some of the information that is there is good and some of it is very bad.  Most pages describing the battle itself are cribbed from one or another encyclopedia article.  Most of the pages talking about the battle talk about the supposed origin of the “middle finger salute” from the battle of Agincourt.  (I'm not going to give pointers.  Those pages seem to change hourly.  If you're really interested, see your friendly local search engine.)  Accurate?  Given that most of the URLs have “humor” somewhere in the path and the main authorities quoted are “Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers”, I wouldn't trust them.  One chronicler mentioned that the French threatened to cut off the fingers (plural) of any captured archers, but didn't mention which fingers.  (Topic for research -- what was the normal fate of captured yeomen?  They're worthless for ransom, they can't just be sent home, and they can't just be killed outright.  Can they?)

The English, of course, wrote many songs, poems, etc. about the battle.  (I am not aware of any French ballads, carols, poems, etc).  The traditional “Agincourt Carol” is given here.  An English illustration of the battle is here (144KB).

Michael Drayton (a contemporary of Shakespeare) wrote a well-known poem, known mostly for providing titles for at least 20 other works.  In my opinion it shows that there are worse things to read than Shakespeare, and serves as the definitive example of “forced rhyme”.

Mr William Shakespeare and the Internet Shakespeare's Henry V is a reasonably good source of information about Henry and Agincourt, but it has a few historical problems.  You can download a text copy of Henry V here, or get the complete works of Shakespeare and a lot of other neat stuff from Project Gutenberg.  For general Shakespeare stuff, see Mr William Shakespeare and the Internet.

Some General Notes

The Supposed Invincibility of the English Archers

Contrary to popular ideas, English arrows were not very effective against plate armor at the time of Agincourt.  Arrows would penetrate the arm and leg armor with a reasonably direct hit from close range, but would be ineffective against the head or body.  Reference:  Peter N. Jones, “The Metallography and Relative Effectiveness of Arrowheads and Armor During the Middle Ages.” Materials Characterization, vol. 29, pp.111-117 (1992).  [A periodical published by Elsevier Science Publishing Co., Inc., 655 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10010.  Be prepared for some serious metallurgy.]

Does this mean that the English archers were ineffective?  Not at all.  They were devastating against foot soldiers, and even the knights were at severe risk, as their horses couldn't carry enough armor to protect them at all.  Knights were very protective of their horses.  See Henry V, Act III, Scene VII, where the French are trading boasts about the battle to come.

The English have an almost worshipful attitude toward the longbow and the yeomen who used it.  See, for example, the Song of the Bow, from Arthur Conan Doyle's The White Company.

For some interesting papers on ancient archery, here are some articles from the Journal of the the Society of Archer-Antiquaries

Misconceptions about Plate Armor

The helplessness of an unhorsed knight in plate armor has been vastly exaggerated.  A typical suit of Agincourt- era combat plate armor weighs about 30 - 35 kg.  This is roughly the same as a modern infantryman's field pack, and it is better balanced.  There are descriptions of knights being lifted onto their horses with a block and tackle, but these are either:

Falling off of a horse is nobody's idea of fun.  Falling off a horse while wearing armor is probably even less fun (I haven't tried it, and don't intend to.)  However, remember that the knight's favorite sport was the tourney, where many of the events (the joust in particular) involved falling off of horses.  While there are records of fatalities from knights falling off of their horses in tourneys, the most common cause of death was a splintered lance going through a helm's eye slits.


The key word for describing the battle of Agincourt is mud.  The battlefield was a freshly plowed field, and at the time of the battle, it had been raining continuously for several days.  Soon after the battle started, it had thousands of English and French soldiers and horses running through it.  Anywhere near the battlefield, the mud was at least ankle deep.  Much of the time, it was up to the combatants' knees.  Occasionally, it reached their waists.  There are descriptions of horses floundering around in mud up to their bellies.

Falling off of a horse in the kind of mud that was at Agincourt was no joke, especially in armor.  Indeed, many of the deaths (including that of the Duke of York) were caused by drowning.

The mud was undoubtedly a major factor in the lopsided English victory.  The barefoot and in many cases bare legged English foot soldiers were vastly more mobile than the armored French. 

So What Really Happened?

Here's a brief description of Henry's little jaunt through France, with some maps.

WARNING!!! This section is somewhat incomplete  It would be so much easier if I just cribbed from an encyclopedia like everybody else ....

A Short Bibliography

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