Doug's Darkworld

War, Science, and Philosophy in a Fractured World.


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In a recent post I commented that I couldn’t think of a major battle where the victor was really badly outnumbered by a technologically equivalent foe. And then looking at historical events that occurred on 25 October, oops. In one of the most famous battles in English history, 25 October 1415, an English army defeated a French army that likely outnumbered them at least three to one, maybe considerably more. This would be the Battle of Agincourt, near modern day Calais in Northern France. It’s an interesting battle, so here we go. I should mention though that as this was over 600 years ago, the records we have are fragmentary and unreliable, so a lot of the details are still being debated by contemporary historians.

This was during the Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453) between England and France. Which was really a string of wars, or one war with occasional bursts of violence, which finally ended with England giving up their claim to the French throne and losing all their lands on the continent except Calais. At this point in the war King Henry V was marching through lands he was claiming in France, and not necessarily seeking battle at all. Showing the flag as it is called. He only had maybe 6-9,000 men, and most of those were archers. Archers were cheaper to hire than other types of soldiers, which may be the reason why Henry had so many of them. At the time of the battle Henry was trying to get his army to Calais, and himself back to England. However, there was a large French army between him and Calais …

A French Army not commanded by the French King Charles VII, who was psychotic at this point and in no condition to lead an army. At one point he thought he was made of glass, so he was afraid to move for fear he would break. That was just one of many unpleasant instances, he “reigned” for 42 years and was called “Charles the Mad” by his subjects. Not to his face though, then he was Charles the Beloved. In any event the French army was considerable larger, 12,000-36,000 men. And most of them were armoured knights, including several thousands with horses. They were very confident of victory should battle be joined. And while they had some good commanders nominally in charge, they were outranked by many of the French nobles present, so they did not have a central effective leader in the battle. King Henry was not only the leader, he actually fought in the battle. And as one might imagine, that was very inspiring to his troops.

Henry set his army up in a narrow strip of land behind a recently ploughed and muddy field. There were thick woods on either flank so he couldn’t be surrounded. His men had long wooden stakes to set in the ground in front of them to protect against charging cavalry. Nothing happened for a few hours, then Henry had his men pull up their stakes and advance, before replacing their stakes. The French cavalry should have charged while Henry’s men were moving, but for whatever reason by the time they did charge, Henry’s men were behind their stakes again. The French Knights charged into a hail of arrows. Between the arrows and the stakes it was a disaster. While the knight’s armor made them virtually arrow proof, the horses only had armor on their heads. So horses went down in large numbers, or worse, maddened by their wounds, raced back into the advancing French unmounted knights, wreaking havoc. Unable to penetrate the English barricade of stakes, the cavalry charge was a fail. All they did was make the ground in front of the English lines even more churned up and muddy.

Then came the dismounted knights. Marching through gumbo mud. Heads pointed down which was both exhausting and made it hard to see. The vision holes in their helms were one of the few real weak points in their armor, so they had to keep heads down marching into a hail of arrows. And not only were they marching through horrible mud, they increasingly had to climb over the bodies of their fallen brethren as they advanced. They were basically utterly exhausted by the time they reached the English, and worse, they were so crowded together they had difficulty even using their weapons. (A documentary I saw credits this as being the main cause of their defeat.) And if they fell or were knocked down, covered in mud and armor, getting up again was problematic. Many appear to have actually drowned in their armor this way.

The English on the other hand were lightly armored or unarmored, nor covered in gumbo mud. And they weren’t exhausted either, so when combat was joined they were able to slaughter the French knights almost at will. And the French just kept pushing forward from the rear, not realizing that this was just making it more impossible for the crowded French knights at the front to fight. It was a disaster. Perhaps as many as 6,000 killed, and several thousand captured. English losses were trivial in comparison, 100-600 killed.

And then Henry ordered all but the most valuable prisoners slaughtered. This was uncool under the laws of chivalry, and many of Henry’s knights refused to join in. Also some were no doubt dismayed to be killing prisoners who could be ransomed for goodly sums. Henry’s decision made sense though, he had thousands of prisoners scattered among his now disorganized army. And there were enough French knights nearby to easily outnumber his army still. If the French attacked again, and the prisoners joined in, he could still lose the battle after all. The French army fled from the field though, and the killings stopped. It’s not actually known how many prisoners were killed, it may not have been all that many.

In any event Henry returned to London and was hailed as a conquering hero. He didn’t really gain any new lands from the victory. So many high ranking French nobles were killed that the defeat did cause a lot of problems in France. I highly recommend the book “A Distant Mirror” by Barbara Tuchman for a wonderful narrative about the times and the 100 Years’ War. Lastly, it’s rumored that the “V for Victory” hand gesture originated in this battle. Apparently before the battle the French threatened to cut off three fingers from any captured archers so they could never draw a bow again. And so the English archers used the gesture as a sign of defiance, showing they still had their fingers. Unlikely, but not impossible.

I know, I did say I was going to write about Trump. Not much to say, if he really did tell Ukraine that American aid was contingent on Ukraine investigating the Bidens, it’s treason. Nothing to debate or discuss, that’s about as serious as “high crimes and misdemeanors” get. Not sure if I can get a whole post out of that, but might be fun to try. Have a great weekend everyone.

Copyright © 2019 Doug Stych. All rights reserved.

(Image: “Morning of the Battle of Agincourt, 25th October 1415” Credit: Sir John Gilbert 1817–1897. Public Domain under US and other applicable copyright law.)


Written by unitedcats

October 25, 2019 at 4:07 am

Posted in History, Trump, War

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