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Agincourt

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AGINCOURT (AzINcouRT), a village of northern France in the department of Pas de Calais, 14m. N.W. of St. Pol by road, famous on account of the victory, on Oct. 25, 1415, of Henry V. of England over the French. The battle was fought in the defile formed by the wood of Agincourt and that of Tramecourt, at the northern exit of which the army under d'Albret, constable of France, had placed itself so as to bar the way against the English forces which, after the capture of Harfleur, had set out to march through Picardy to Calais. Torrential rains hindered the English in crossing the Somme, and the delay allowed the French to con centrate in overwhelming numbers—d'Albret, indeed, refused to avail himself of the offer of 6.000 crossbowmen of the Paris citizen militia. Worse still, the English became so short of sup plies that had the French but been content to block the path without risking an attack, hunger would have brought them the victory. The night of Oct. 24 was spent by the two armies on the ground, and the English had but little shelter from the heavy rain which fell. Early on the 25th, St. Crispin's day, Henry ar rayed his little army (about i,000 men-at-arms, 6,000 archers, and a few thousands of other foot). It is probable that the usual three "battles" were drawn up in line, each with its archers on the flanks and the dismounted men-at-arms in the centre; the archers being thrown forward in wedge-shaped salients, almost exactly as at Crecy (q.v.). The French, on the other hand, were drawn up in three lines, each line formed in deep masses. They were at least four times more numerous than the English, but restricted by the nature of the ground to the same narrow front Jooyds., they were unable to use their full weight (cf. Ban nockburn) ; further, the deep mud prevented their artillery from– taking part, and the crossbowmen were as usual relegated to the rear of the knights and men-at-arms. All were dismounted save a few knights and men-at-arms on the flanks, who were intended to charge the archers of the enemy. For three hours after sunrise there was no fighting; then Henry, finding that the French would not advance, moved his army farther into the defile. The archers fixed the pointed stakes, which they carried to ward off cavalry charges, and opened the engagement with flights of arrows. The chivalry of France, undisciplined and too obtuse to have assim ilated the lesson of Crecy and Poitiers, was quickly stung into action, and the French mounted men charged, but their slow moving horses made easy targets, soon shot down or driven back in confusion. The constable himself headed the leading line of dismounted men-at-arms; weighted with their armour, and sink ing deep into the mud with every step, they yet reached and engaged the English men-at-arms ; for a time the fighting was severe. The thin line of the defenders was borne back and King Henry was almost beaten to the ground. But at this moment the archers, taking their hatchets, swords or other weapons, pene trated the gaps in the now disordered French, who could not move to cope with their unarmoured assailants, and were slaugh tered or taken prisoners to a man. The second line of the French came on, only to be engulfed in the melee; its leaders, like those of the first line, were killed or taken, and the commanders of the third sought and found their death in the battle, while their men rode off to safety. The closing scene of the battle was a half hearted attack made by a body of fugitives, which led merely to the slaughter of the French prisoners, which was ordered by Henry because he had not enough men both to guard them and to meet the attack. The slaughter ceased when the assailants drew off. The total loss of the English is stated at 13 men-at-arms (including the duke of York, grandson of Edward III.) and about too of the toot. The French lost 5,000 of noble birth killed, including the constable, three dukes, five counts and 90 barons; I,000 more were taken prisoners, amongst them the duke of Orleans (the Charles d'Orleans of literature). The moral lesson of the battle was the incapacity of a military caste to learn from experience, and to adapt their traditions intelligently to new needs. The material lesson was that armour stultified its own purpose when it fettered mobility. The 15th-century soldier pinned his faith as obstinately on an increasing weight of armour as the 19th-century soldier on an increasing weight of numbers.

See Sir Harris Nicolas, Battle of Agincourt; Fortescue, History of the British Army, vol. i.; and H. B. George, Battles of English History; Oman, History of the Art of War in the Middle Ages, vol. ii.

french, english, men-at-arms, line and archers