Refer to the route map to see where Henry was going.

The Road to Agincourt

Henry left Harfleur on 8 October, 1415, with the force carrying eight days' rations.  The plan was to march directly to Calais, and sail back to England from there.  Henry's advisers unanimously recommended against this, but Henry overruled them.  Among other things, Henry probably hoped to escape the dysentery epidemic that was raging in Harfleur.  The risks were considerable, as Constable d'Albret was known to be gathering a large force at Rouen.

Things went reasonably well until they reached the river Somme.  They had planned to cross just below Abbeville, but there two problems with this.  First, the river was flooded, making the ford very dangerous.  Second, there was a large French force waiting on the other side.  Henry marched upstream, looking for a safer ford, but be didn't find one until 18 October, at Nesle.  By this time, the army was in pretty bad shape.  Not only were rations low, but the epidemic had come along with them.

d'Albret harassed the English for six more days.  On 24 October, the English camped at Maisoncelles, and scouts reported that a very large French force was camped on the road to Calais.  The English had marched 260 miles in 17 days, and they were not in good shape.

Henry ordered total silence in the camp, so that everybody to get a good night's sleep.  They were so quiet that some of the French thought that they had snuck away in the night.

St. Crispin's Day (October 25th)

Refer to the battlefield map to see what's going on.

At dawn, both Henry and d'Albret laid out their forces near their respective camps.  To start, the lines were a little over a mile apart.  The plain between the armies was a gently rolling field, freshly plowed and planted, about 900 yards wide.  It had been raining continuously for two weeks, and the field was a sea of mud.

The French had two very dense lines of armored foot soldiers with crossbowmen and bombards between.  Mounted knights guarded the flanks and formed a reserve in the rear.  d'Albret's plan was to use the bombards to cut the English lines into smaller sections that could be handled individually.  Unfortunately, everybody (including d'Albret!) wanted to be in the front line.  It got so dense that the bombards couldn't be fired, as they would hit more French than English.  They actually were fired once, to no effect.

Henry laid out his forces in the traditional English fashion, with men-at-arms flanked by wedges of archers, protected by large pointed stakes.  (Horses won't charge at big pointy things.)  The archers at the ends of the lines were positioned forward from the rest of the troops to give covering fire along the main front.  This is an excellent defensive position, but it gives very little scope for attack.

After the forces were arranged, they sat and stared at each other for four hours.  The English had no desire to attack, and the French were presumably not pleased at the idea of wading through a mile of mud.

About 11 AM, as some of the French were sending their servants back to camp to bring lunch, Henry decided to force the issue.  He ordered his troops to move the line forward, and to reset the positions within extreme longbow range from the French lines.  He didn't have enough men-at-arms to form a reserve or to guard the camp.  This was to have dramatic consequences later on.

As Henry had planned, the first volley of arrows goaded the French into attacking.  The first attack was from the mounted knights on the flanks of the French position, intending to overrun the longbowmen protecting the English flanks.  It was a disaster.  While an English arrow would not normally penetrate a knight's plate armor, a horse cannot carry enough armor to be effective.  Wounded horses threw their riders into the mud and trampled through the close-packed ranks of French foot soldiers.  They also churned up the mud in front of the English positions, making things more difficult for future French attacks.

The main French attack was from the first line of men-at-arms.  Unfortunately, everybody tried to push their way into the first line, including Constable d'Albret.  As they marched toward the English, their line was squeezed together by the narrowing field, until they were so close together that they couldn't lift their arms to use their weapons.  However, even with the mud and the crowding, the shock of the French men-at-arms hitting the English line was terrific, throwing the lines back for several yards.

It was, however, ineffectual.  Despite some terrific fighting, the English line was never in any serious danger.  While men-at-arms in plate armor are normally quite mobile, the combination of the mud and the crowding made them almost helpless.  The English simply knocked them down, to drown or suffocate under fallen bodies.

The second line of men-at-arms followed the first.  Now, however, there was the added complication that the English positions were blocked by a wall of bodies.  The second line had no better luck against the arrows, mud, and English men-at-arms than the first.

After the collapse of the second line, the English common soldiers started in on the traditional battlefield activity of taking prisoners for rensom and stripping the armor and jewelry from the dead.  However, the remaining French forces, both the survivors of the first two lines and the entire third line, plus the crossbowman, easily outnumbered the English.  As the counts of Marle and Fauquembergues tried to rally the French for a third attack, Henry gave the order to kill the prisoners.  This removed the risk of the prisoners turning on their captors and freed their guards for duty elsewhere.

At roughly the same time, a group of French knights cut through the woods and attacked the English camp.  In Shakespeare, the raid on the camp was Henry's reason for ordering the prisoners killed; I suspect that it was a later justification.  Remember, the murdered prisoners represented a very large amount of ransom money, which Henry needed very badly.

The attack of Marle and Fauquembergues was defeated with no particular effort. Their charge (in which both of them were killed) was the last offensive action that the French mounted.

The Trip to Calais

One of the main reason for joining the expeditionary force was the possibility of loot.  While many prisoners had been killed, the highest ranking (and most valuable) were spared.  At first, the soldiers were overjoyed with the quantity of arms and armor stripped from fallen Frenchmen.  Unfortunately, arms and armor are heavy, and many picked up more than they could carry.  Remember, they still were sick and very short of food, and now they had prisoners to feed.

Henry, of course, was not short of food.  He forced the prisoners to wait on him at his table; they were not pleased.

The citizens of Calais were also rather less than enthusiastic.  Most of the yeomans' captured armor and prisoners went to pay for food and lodging.

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