ANST - FW: Musing on October 25 -- For Harry, England, and St. George!
jyeates at realtime.net
Wed Oct 25 16:46:54 PDT 2000
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From: Ellsworth Weaver [mailto:astroweaver at yahoo.com]
Sent: Wednesday, October 25, 2000 14:49
To: 2thpix at surfari.net
Subject: Musing on October 25 -- For Harry, England, and St. George!
October 25 marks the birthday in 1340 and coincidentally the passing
Chaucer in 1400. I really could not let a guy that swell go
Happiest of B-days, G-man! On a less festive note, today is also the
commemoration of another disagreement between the fine folk of Albion
and our Gallic brothers. October 25, 1415 was the Battle of
Of all the battles in English history, this is the one which stands
in boldest relief. It is the victory of the small force over the
the tired over the rested, the commoners over the nobility, the
steadfast over the bombast, the red and Lincoln green over the
fishscale shimmer of silk, the far from home over the locals. It is
battle which stirred the imagination of Shakespeare. It is Laurence
Olivier or Kenneth Brannagh heroically leading a small bunch of
drooping extras Cry God for Harry, England and St. George!. It is
also the story of a slaughter and atrocity.
In the late summer of 1415, Henry V had been King of England a scant
two years. He was just 27 but had fought the Scots, Welsh, and rebel
Percies to establish his father as ruler. Now it was time for him to
see a little of his continental possessions. He also thought to get
back some of the lands in Normandy which had been lost by King John
1204. He landed in Harfleur on August 14 with about 10,000 men: 2000
men-at-arms and 8000 archers. The landing on the beach was unopposed.
Henrys forces set up camp and then worked to take the town of
Harfleur. Strongly defended by natural obstacles like a belt of
and rivers and a few determined French, Harfleur resisted for about
weeks. It took three heavy guns pounding the gates and the failure of
any relief to convince the French to open the gates on September 22,
Meanwhile, one third of Henrys force was dead or disabled due to
injury and disease. That rather crimped Henrys plan to march down
Seine to Paris and then to Bordeaux. It was getting late in the year
and the rains had started. To just high tail it back to Britain after
only one conquest and no continental tour was unthinkable. True, it
would have been prudent but we are talking Henry V here. So, a
continental tour would be in order. No need to really whomp on the
French; lets just take a short stroll over to Calais, which was very
English at the time. On October 8, 1415 the 5700 men started out with
enough provisions for the seven days it would take.
The English troops soon found that the French were keeping track of
them. Fords across rivers were blocked with large forces. Henry
them hard, crossed the Somme river at Bethencourt and Voyennes, all
while being reminded that the French army was out there shadowing
and wanting to party. This was supposed to be a cake walk of only 120
miles; yet the English marched almost 280 miles in sixteen days. They
were hungry, very thirsty and sick with dysentery. They camped
of Maisoncelles village on the evening of October 24, 1415.
The heralds road forth to offer battle. Henry decided that maybe they
could get out of this without fighting. He offered to give back
Harfleur and all the prisoners taken there. The French said that that
was nice but Henry had to renounce his claim to the French throne,
Henry refused to do that. It looked like battle was inevitable.
As dawn broke on the morning of October 25, 1415, the prospects for
the English army camped around the village in northern France could
hardly have seemed worse. There across the road to Calais, safe
friendly Calais, English Calais, was the French army. How many? There
were at least 25,000 and maybe closer to 100,000. So Henry was
out-manned from 5-20 to 1.
The French had been up all night before. They knew they were going to
win. The wine flowed and the dice rolled. Sure there had been some
but the French had fun taunting the miserable English during the late
What about the English? These were not just rabble conscripts. Henry
had chosen his men well. They were well disciplined, well paid, well
trained and danged good with a long bow. Henry had a certain charisma
which is difficult to write about but impossible to miss in person.
With what elegance and passion he addressed to his troops before that
battle, we have only scant records. We do know he rallied his hungry,
thirsty, tired, chilled, and dysenteric men to stand up straight and
do what needed to be done.
Let us talk a tad about the French. We know they had the numbers but
they were not led by their king. Charles VI was weak and delusional.
His men were led by Charles DAlbert, Constable of France, and
Boucicault, the Marshal of France. Now both of these men were
battle-hardened veterans but the French nobles did not think much of
Where they were to fight was along the road to Calais. The forest was
thick on both sides of the road. The clearing was wide at the French
side but narrowed toward the English lines. Henry sent his archers
into either side of the woods. They drove sharpened stakes into the
ground every yard or so angled toward the French. Despite being the
larger force, the French held back. By 11 AM Henry decided it was
or cut bait. He ordered the men to advance to within 300 yards of the
The ground was wet and the men were in armor; it must have been
difficult to keep the lines straight but the French still held off.
Henry gave the signal to the archers and they launched a sky-full of
clothyard arrows equipped with bodkin points at the massed French
forces. At that distance, the arrows probably did little damage to
plate encased nobles but were very annoying and more than a little
frightening. The French decided to end that annoyance by sending the
cavalry off into the woods to beat on the archers. These were
battle-wise archers. They held their ground until the thundering
knights were almost on top of them and then stepped aside. The horses
impaled themselves upon the stakes. Knights were thrown to the ground
senseless.. The archers used their hammers, axes and other can
to crack open these foolish lobsters. Those knights who saw the trap,
turned but found their horses were then targeted by the archers.
Screaming horses, riderless, some with wounded riders hurried back to
the French line.
As the horses arrived back, the French line was advancing to meet the
English. They were on foot and with shortened lances. They were
to keep a tight formation and get a little momentum going. The horses
disrupted that. Men could not get out of the way; the ground was
and torn up by the earlier cavalry charge. Behind the first rank of
French soldiers were the next row after row, each trying to get to
front to capture the enemy English. Such a press of men, each greedy
for ransom money they had boasted of obtaining, pushed the front row.
The front row stumbled and fell. The English easily killed them as
French lay helpless in the mud. Each pushing row added their bodies
The English archers moved closer to the battle. They shot flat
trajectory flights (at six arrows per minute) into the cavalry and
massed troops. At that distance the arrows could penetrate over an
thickness of oak. You bet they put holes in the armor. The archers
in fact slightly behind the French lines. When their arrows were
the archers slung their bows and grabbed their axes, hammers, and any
sword they could find. The French were completely unaware of what was
happening at the front line. They sent in the second unit, to die, in
The English grabbed 1700 prisoners out of the mud and sent them to
rear to be guarded with the baggage train. This was an era when men
made their wealth by capturing and ransoming wealthy knights and
The local farmers had been watching quietly from the weeds. With the
armies of both sides busy slaying each other, the villagers decided
that the English would not miss a few trinkets and such from the
baggage train. This proved to be the start of the atrocity. When
learned that the baggage train was under attack, he thought that it
a rear armed invasion. He could not allow those 1700 prisoners to
with their army at his rear. He ordered the guards to kill all of the
prisoners. The guards initially refused. Some say it was because they
did not want to lose the ransom and we can understand that. Others
it was because it is one thing to kill someone in battle; it is quite
another to do it in cold blood. Maybe both are right. Henry then
withdrew 200 archers from battle to do it. The archers and the guards
hacked the helpless prisoners to death. When Henry found that the
attack from the rear was just some local boys stealing hubcaps, he
ordered the killing of prisoners stopped. It was too late for most. A
couple of the nobles were spared.
The French had one last unit, the third, but they hesitated. They
now hear and see enough to know that the English had beaten the major
part of the French army. As word spread through the lines, the
remaining army slipped away into the countryside. Quickly folks
trotting away. Thankfully for the French, the English were way too
tired to give chase.
Although Shakespeare said that the English lost four nobles and
five regular troops, the losses were higher. Most figure about 100 to
200 dead. The French losses were staggering: between 8000 and 11,000.
The best and brightest of French nobility was lost on the field that
day. Countless family lines ended right there in the mud.
The English could not carry all the loot they took. Henry ordered
of it to be placed in a local barn along with the English dead and
just burned the barn. I wonder if we have ever found where that barn
The heralds who watched the fighting from safety named the battle
the earest armed place which was Agincourt village.
Although the army then got to go home, to much rejoicing of the men
the home folk, there were more expeditionary forces from England to
come. These were victorious also. In 1420 Charles VI agreed that upon
Charles death, Henry would be King of France and in the meantime he
could marry Charles daughter Catherine. Unfortunately for Henry, in
1422 he got a bad case of dysentery and died. And then France found
itself Joan of Arc who managed to lead to the restoration of all its
territories lost to Henry (except Calais.)
Sir Francis Bacon (or Shakespeare if you will) gave Henry these words
when someone complained that the English needed more men:
If we are marked to die, we are enough,
To do our country loss; and if to live,
The fewer men, the greater share of honor.
What have we learned? Arrows and disease beat armor and numbers?
charge blindly into a forest no matter how studly you are?
troops make the difference? Battles are not the war? How about
sometimes you have to let the peach go to get your arm out of the
monkey trap? Write me if you figure how I got that one.
So if you are out there driving pointy stakes into the ground, trying
to find some Pepto to stop the dysentery, launching arrows at
unsuspecting knights, or stealing hubcaps off war wagons and you wish
to forward these missives to others please do. Remember to include my
name and sig.
A big thanks to you three folk who have been kind enough to send in
some cash to this author. May you stay free of dysentery and French
Looking for that burnt barn,
J. Ellsworth Weaver
SCA Sir Balthazar of Endor
AS Polyphemus Theognis
TRV Sebastian Yeats
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