The battle of Agincourt is often considered the definitive battle of the Hundred Years War. Why did the English win the Battle of Agincourt?
English troops, led by King Henry V, defeated the French during the Battle of Agincourt by using superior tactics and using the battlefield to their advantage.
The Agincourt battlefield was a relatively small open clearing that was surrounded by woods. Though the English troops were vastly outnumbered by the Frenchmen, they were able to hold their ground and inflict massive casualties on the heavily armored French attackers with the use of their skilled longbow-wielding archers.
As the columns of heavily armored French knights slowly marched towards the English lines, their ranks became more and more crowded by the narrow landscape of the battlefield and their heavy armor.
The English soldiers took advantage of the crowded French ranks and charged, inflicting massive casualties in hand to hand combat.
Read on to learn more about the English victory and how the battle transpired.
Background to the Battle
The Hundred Years War is generalized as the multitude of conflicts that occurred between the House of Valois and the Kingdom of England between 1337 and 1453. These conflicts were fought for control of the French throne and disputed territory.
The conflicts began when King Charles IV of France died without an heir to his throne. In 1337 King Edward III of England declared that he should be the king of France, as his mother Isabella was the sister of Charles IV.
The French instead chose King Philip IV. Philip IV conquered the Aquitaine region, which was considered English territory. Edward III responded by invading the French Kingdom.
France had a massive advantage over England during the war, as it was much richer and had more troops at its disposal. However, the English were able to match their French adversaries largely due to their skilled longbow archers.
Edward III’s tactics revolved around sending troops deep into French territory and causing havoc and chaos amongst the French populations. This often involved the plundering of villages and burning crops.
Just as King Edward III had decades before, King Henry V of England declared he should be the rightful leader of France in 1413. When the French dismissed this declaration, Henry V ended a relatively peaceful period of the Hundred Years War and invaded France.
In 1415 King Henry V sailed across the English Channel with his 11,000 troops and attacked the city of Harfleur in Normandy, France after deciding to abandon capturing Paris. The French defenders would eventually surrender after five weeks, but King Henry’s troops took massive casualties during the siege, losing half of his men.
Henry V chose to march back to the coast to return to England, but a French Army of 20,000 blocked his path.
Despite being vastly outnumbered, the landscape of the Agincourt battlefield was a massive English advantage. The battlefield was a relatively small and narrow open field surrounded by woods, inhibiting the French from pulling large-scale maneuvers on the outnumbered English troops.
The battlefield was also incredibly muddy on the day of the battle, making it difficult for the heavily armored French knights to march towards the English positions.
King Henry relied on the deadly power of his skilled archers for the initial stages of the battle. The narrow confines of the open field created a choke point that was the perfect target for the English archery barrages.
As heavily armored French knights slowly charged forward uphill towards the English, they were met with devastating barrages of English arrows that caused severe casualties.
The French cavalry was then sent in to rush the English positions but failed due to strategically placed defensive barricades protecting the archers. The battlefield became increasingly crowded by slow-moving armored French soldiers.
King Henry took advantage of the encumbered, crowded French formations and charged with his troops, annihilating the French soldiers.
It is estimated that nearly 6,000 Frenchmen died during the Battle of Agincourt, while King Henry only lost 400 men despite being severely outnumbered. The battle was heralded as one of the most esteemed victories of the Hundred Years War, heightening the prestige of England while crippling French military strength.
Henry V would go on to lead more English military operations in France, eventually being recognized as the legitimate heir to the French throne.
The French would eventually completely push the English out of French territory, marking the end of the Hundred Years War. The war would help cement the national identities of both the English and French and established England as an island kingdom, isolated from the rest of continental Europe.