The Battle of Agincourt was a decisive moment in the Hundred Years’ War between England and France. Did the weather play a part in the outcome of the battle?
The Battle of Agincourt was very muddy, which made French cavalry largely ineffective. The battle took place on a freshly plowed field, following about a week of rain, which provided favorable conditions for the English to mount a defense.
For more on the Battle of Agincourt and how mud was a key factor, read on.
The Hundred Years’ War was an ongoing struggle between various claimants to the throne of France. It had begun in 1337 with Edward III, the King of England, claiming that he was also the King of France and invading Flanders.
By the time Henry V became the King of England, both France and England had won victories in the struggle for power. He was coronated in 1413, at which time there had been a period of relative peace.
That peace began in 1396 when King Richard II of England married Isabella of Valois, the daughter of King Charles VI of France. Richard was usurped in 1399 by Henry V’s father, Henry IV, leading to a period of turmoil in England.
Charles VI suffered from bouts of severe mental illness and Henry V saw an ideal opportunity to reaffirm his claim to the French throne. Henry demanded a significant amount of Charles’ realm and was denied.
In August 1415, Henry took an army of approximately 12,000 men across the Channel to Normandy. They besieged Harfleur for six weeks, with Henry’s army ultimately capturing the city.
Despite his victory, the siege had taken a heavy toll on the English army, with many killed in action, succumbing to disease or deserting. Henry attempted to return to England with 6,000 men, the vast majority of whom were archers.
They had planned to cross the Somme River but found it heavily fortified and instead turned inland to cross the river elsewhere. The French, knowing that Henry’s army was weary and depleted, sent a large army to intercept the English.
The two armies met near Agincourt on October 24, 1415. It isn’t clear how significantly the French outnumbered the English; some estimates place it at five to one, while more conservative figures have it at closer to two to one.
On Saint Crispin’s Day, October 25, Henry’s forces assumed a defensive position in a newly plowed field, surrounded by trees. By forcing the French to attack in narrow formations, they negated some of the numerical advantages.
Battle of Agincourt
The French cavalry advanced, under attack by the English longbowmen. The already rough field had also been subjected to a week of rain, making it impossible to move across quickly. When they finally reached the English line, they were greeted by large wooden spikes designed to prevent a cavalry charge.
Now engaged in a melee, the English archers fought alongside the other infantry using swords and axes. More French knights joined the battle but the battlefield was cramped and it became difficult to wield large weaponry effectively.
The English gradually turned the momentum of the battle in their favor and took many French prisoners. However, a group of local noblemen and peasants snuck into the English camp and began looting it.
Henry believed that the group was a French flanking action and had his noble prisoners executed. French reinforcements did arrive, but they were demoralized by the sight of the dead and quickly defeated.
Within a few hours of battle commencing, the English had won. Approximately 400 English troops are believed to have died, compared to about 6,000 French.
Henry, victorious, marched to Calais and sailed back to England, arriving home in November 1415. His campaign in France had resulted in the first meaningful English military victories in decades and he was received as a hero by his people.
While the battles in France had been fought over the French crown, the English throne was stabilized by the victories. There was now little question that Henry was a worthy monarch.
Henry returned to France a few years later and conquered Normandy in 1419. In 1420, he signed the Treaty of Troyes, which included a betrothal to Catherine of Valois, a daughter of Charles VI. Henry became the heir to the Kingdom of France, meaning their eldest son, Henry VI, would inherit the thrones of both England and France.