Siege of Harfleur, 19 August-22 September 1415

Siege of Harfleur, 19 August-22 September 1415

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Siege of Harfleur, 19 August-22 September 1415

Henry V's first military action after resuming the Hundred Years War was the siege of Harfleur, an important town at the mouth of the river Seine. The town was well fortified, and was able to hold for six weeks, during which time Henry's army was weakened by dysentery. The battle of Agincourt occurred on Henry's march from Harfleur to Calais.

See Also: Books on the Middle Ages - Subject Index: Hundred Years War

Background [ edit | edit source ]

Henry V invaded France following the failure of negotiations with the French. He claimed the title of King of France through his great-grandfather Edward III, although in practice the English kings were generally prepared to renounce this claim if the French would acknowledge the English claim on Aquitaine and other French lands (the terms of the Treaty of Bretigny). Ώ] He initially called a great council in the spring of 1414 to discuss going to war with France, but the lords insisted that he should negotiate further and moderate his claims. In the following negotiations Henry said that he would give up his claim to the French throne if the French would pay the 1.6 million crowns outstanding from the ransom of John II (who had been captured at the Battle of Poitiers in 1356), and concede English ownership of the lands of Normandy, Touraine, Anjou, Brittany and Flanders, as well as Aquitaine. Henry would marry Princess Catherine, the young daughter of Charles VI, and receive a dowry of 2 million crowns. The French responded with what they considered the generous terms of marriage with Princess Catherine, a dowry of 600,000 crowns, and an enlarged Aquitaine. By 1415 negotiations had ground to a halt, with the English claiming that the French had mocked their claims and ridiculed Henry himself. ΐ] In December 1414, the English parliament was persuaded to grant Henry a "double subsidy", a tax at twice the traditional rate, to recover his inheritance from the French. On 19 April 1415, Henry again asked the great council to sanction war with France, and this time they agreed. Α]

The Boulevard des Otages in Senlis, France is so named for the hostages executed under the city walls on this date in 1418.

This incident during the France’s running cvil war between Armagnacs and Burgundians saw Armagnacs for the past several years — “striking simultaneously north and south at the Burgundian garrisons,” per this public domain history. Of several targets, Senlis “was the most ambitious undertaking since the siege of Harfleur, and its object was, as then, to regain a position of prime importance, and to revive Armagnac prestige which, for more than two years, had been on a continuous decline. Senlis was selected for attack because it obstructed the main road from Paris to the royal garrison at Compiegne, and because it was in an exposed position, being a Burgundian outpost in advance of the actual ‘frontier’ which followed the Oise.”

The English-allied Burgundians in Senlis were in a tight spot. Although the garrison held out fiercely against a siege personally led by the very chief and namesake of the Armagnacs, Bernard, comte d’Armagnac, on April 15 the city came to terms with the Armagnacs by agreeing to surrender four days hence if no relief had arrived — terms that included the guarantee of several hostages surrendered into Armagnac hands.

But relief was coming. Somehow the Burgundian heir the comte de Charolais — the future Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy — had dispatched a large reinforcement which arrived on the night of April 18. The next morning, when Armagnac demanded the city’s surrender, Senlis demurred. The aggravated Armagnacs executed their hostages as promised, but between the timely arrivals and Burgundian pressure further south, the siege was dispelled.

Armagnac authority soon followed suit: an unpaid army, cheated of its sack, began to melt away. The comte d’Armagnac took refuge in Paris but within two months he had been murdered there and his faction rousted — which in turn left the Armagnac-affiliated Valois daupin Charles in the very desperate condition from which Joan of Arc would rescue him a decade subsequently.

Regular readers might recall that this city has also featured in these grim annals for the World War I execution of its mayor, by German troops.

Tour du jeu d’arc, the last tower remaining on the rempart des Otages (the boulevard of the same name runs on the rampart). (cc) image from P.poschadel.


Visiting Harfleur today, it is almost impossible to believe that this quiet little backwater was once one of the most important ports in northern Europe. Virtually nothing remains of the town Henry V saw on that August day in 1415 it is now merely a suburb of Le Havre, the port founded by François I in 1517 when Harfleur&rsquos own waters silted up. The great walls that were once its pride and glory have been replaced by a labyrinthine road system of flyovers and roundabouts that are almost as impenetrable as its medieval fortifications. The salt marshes on its seaward side have became a vast industrial wasteland of smoking chimneys, oil terminals and container ports the valley above the town, through which the river Lézarde flowed to join the Seine, is now an industrial estate and retail park linking it to Montivilliers. The lazy loops of the river itself were &ldquoredressed&rdquo by French engineers in the 1830s and replaced with rectilinear canals and quays the fortifications that made the harbour one of the wonders of medieval Europe were demolished in the nineteenth century and the harbour itself filled in. Even the great church of St Martin, rebuilt in celebration after the English were expelled in 1435, with a delicate spire that can still be seen for miles around, is a sad and decaying historic monument for which the key literally cannot be found. 1

And yet the heart of the town remains defiantly picturesque: a medieval jewel lost in the swamp of Le Havre. Though Henry V&rsquos own guns destroyed almost every building within the walls, much of the rebuilding that took place in the fifteenth century remains. Half-timbered houses crowd the narrow cobbled streets and little squares that still echo to the sound of footsteps the more important public buildings, including the library and priory museum, though heavily restored, sport militaristic towers and here and there, half hidden in the undergrowth, one can still find impressive vestiges of the massive walls and gates.

French contemporaries were justifiably proud of the medieval town of Harfleur. For the monk of St Denis, sheltered in his convent outside Paris, it was &ldquothe most admirable port in Normandy, sending out ships to all corners of the world and bringing back every type of foreign merchandise to provision and enrich the whole kingdom.&rdquo Enguerrand de Monstrelet, a military man, recognised its strategic importance. For him, as for Henry V, it was &ldquothe key to the sea of all Normandy.&rdquo 2 Lying on the north bank of the tidal Seine estuary, Harfleur controlled the access to France&rsquos most important inland waterway. Some forty miles up river, travelling as the crow flies, lay the ancient city of Rouen, where the first dukes of Normandy were buried in the tenth century and the Capetian kings of France established their royal naval yard in 1294. Around eighty miles further up river lay Paris itself, capital city, royal residence and administrative centre, with the Seine flowing through its heart. If the English could capture Harfleur, they could establish a stranglehold on military and commercial traffic using the Seine and block one of the main arteries of France.

There was a second strategic purpose to be achieved in capturing the town. Of all the places on the northern coast of France, Harfleur posed the greatest threat to English interests. In recent years it had become the base of choice for attacking the south coast of England: Don Pero Niño, the &ldquounconquered knight,&rdquo had retreated to its safety with his prisoners and plunder after raiding the coast of Cornwall in 1400, and Louis d&rsquoOrléans had gathered an invasion fleet there in 1404. French troops sent to aid Owain Glyn Dw?246-136?r&rsquos revolt in Wales and the Scots in their campaigns against the English had all sailed from Harfleur. In England the town had also acquired the reputation of being a nest of pirates: many of the attacks on merchant shipping in the Channel had been carried out by French and Italian vessels which took refuge within its harbour and found a ready market for their prizes there. 3 For all these reasons, Henry V had identified Harfleur as the target for his invasion. Its capture would serve a dual purpose, increasing the safety and security of English shipping and establishing another bridgehead, like Calais, for any future campaign in France.

Harfleur&rsquos strategic importance had ensured that it enjoyed the best protection that medieval military might could devise. 4 Great stone walls, some two and a half miles in circumference and fortified at intervals with twenty-four watch towers, encircled the whole town and its famous harbour. These were relatively modern fortifications, built between 1344 and 1361, and the plan was polygonal, with semicircular flanking towers at each angle, which were harder to demolish by cannonade or undermining than traditional square towers. The walls themselves were thicker at their base than at the top, sloping outwards so as to deflect shots from guns and catapults back into the enemy, and the many towers provided vantage points from which flanking fire could be rained on anyone approaching the walls. There were only three gates, guarding the entrances into the town from Montivilliers to the north, Rouen to the south-east and Leure to the south-west. A remnant of one of the towers at the Rouen gate, which also commanded the harbour, or clos-aux-galées as it was known to the French, is the sole survivor today. Though a ruin, its former might is still readily apparent in the depth of its great stone walls, strengthened by arches inside, the absence of any flat external surface and the many small embrasures, at varying heights, for crossbows and guns. Each of the three gates was protected by a bastion (a fortification projecting beyond the line of the walls), a portcullis and a drawbridge over a water-filled moat these permanent defences had also been strengthened against missile attack by thick tree trunks, driven into the ground and lashed together on the outside, and earth and timber shoring up the walls on the inside.

The defence of Harfleur had been entrusted by Charles VI to Jean, sire d&rsquoEstouteville, who held the honorary office of grand butler of France. He had with him a garrison of some one hundred men-at-arms, which, even with civilian assistance, was not a large enough force to be able to offer any prolonged resistance to a determined English assault. Nevertheless, all the natural advantages of the site had been exploited to the full. The town lay about a mile from the Seine, at the head of the tributary valley of the river Lézarde. The southern approach was protected by the ebb and flow of the Seine tides over treacherous salt marshes. The waters of the Lézarde, which entered Harfleur midway between the gates of Leure and Montivilliers, had been partially diverted along a series of ditches and culverts to create a great moat which encircled more than half the town, from the north-east to the south-west, and defended it against attack from the upper reaches of the valley. Controlled by sluices, the river waters powered two mills for grinding corn, which lay just within the walls, and then flowed down a series of culverts through the middle of the town before broadening out to form the harbour and joining the Seine. The great advantage of these sluices from a defence point of view was that they could be closed completely. When this happened, the Lézarde was effectively dammed at its entrance to the town and therefore burst its banks, flooding the entire valley bottom to the depth of a man&rsquos thighs. Forewarned that the English were landing close by, the men of Harfleur broke all the bridges across the river and closed the sluices, creating a vast lake to protect the northern side of the town. 5

The clos-aux-galées was probably even more strongly fortified than the town. It was created in the 1360s by constructing a massive wall, more than six and a half feet thick and standing fifty feet high above ground and thirty-six feet below, around a loop in the Lézarde to the south of the town. This was then flooded to create a twelve-acre harbour that was both commercial port and royal military arsenal. Protected to the north by the town walls and on either side by its own higher wall, surmounted by defensive turrets, its seaward entrance was guarded by two massive towers, with chains strung between them to prevent unauthorised access. When the English invasion threatened, the French had taken emergency measures to provide additional defences, planting great sharpened stakes around the entrance and under the walls facing the sea, so that, when the tide was up and enemy ships could sail right up to the walls to launch an attack, they ran the risk of being driven onto the stakes and foundering. 6

The story of the siege of Harfleur might have been very different had it not been for the courage and resourcefulness of one man. Raoul, sire de Gaucourt, was a French version of Sir John Cornewaille, and, like him, a medieval chivalric hero whom the modern world has forgotten. He came from a noble Picard family with a long and distinguished record of service to the crown. Like his father before him, he was deeply attached to the Armagnac cause and had strong personal connections with Charles d&rsquoOrléans, Charles d&rsquoAlbret and Marshal Boucicaut. More importantly, de Gaucourt was a man who aspired to live out the knightly ideal. He was knighted on the field of Nicopolis as a twenty-six-year-old crusader against the Turks, and, with Boucicaut, was captured and put to ransom in that disastrous battle. In 1400 he was one of the fourteen founding members of Boucicaut&rsquos short-lived knightly Order of the White Lady on a Green Shield, who swore &ldquoto guard and defend the honour, estate, goods, reputation and praise of all ladies and maidens of noble line&rdquo and to fight à outrance against their oppressors. Nine years later, when Boucicaut was governor of Genoa, de Gaucourt led a small French army to his assistance. The two men campaigned together in Italy throughout the summer of 1409, besieging and capturing Milan, and when Boucicaut made his triumphal entry into the city, de Gaucourt was at his side. In the armed struggle between the Armagnacs and the Burgundians, de Gaucourt distinguished himself in 1411 by capturing the bridge of St Cloud on behalf of Charles d&rsquoOrléans, but was later defeated in battle at the same place by a combined English and Burgundian force. As the chamberlain of Charles d&rsquoOrléans, he played a prominent role in the negotiations that led to the withdrawal of the duke of Clarence&rsquos army from France in 1412 and served as captain of several Armagnac castles. 7

On 1 January 1415, de Gaucourt was one of sixteen knights and esquires who were chosen by Jean, duke of Bourbon, to be the founding members of another new order of chivalry, the Order of the Fer du Prisonnier, or Prisoner&rsquos Shackle. Like Boucicaut&rsquos order, the duke of Bourbon&rsquos was intended to uphold the honour of women of good birth: the golden shackle, with its chain, being a symbolic representation of the bonds of love, which fettered the knight to his mistress, rather than a reference to criminal activity. In accordance with the order&rsquos constitution, de Gaucourt swore to wear a golden shackle and chain on his left leg every Sunday for two years, &ldquoin the expectation that, within that period, we may find an equal number of knights and esquires, of worth and ability, all of them men without reproach, who will wish to fight us all together on foot to the end, each to be armed with what armour he will, together with a lance, axe, sword and dagger at least, and with clubs of whatever length he may choose.&rdquo The arms of all the members of the order were to be hung in a chapel where, throughout the two years, a candle would burn, day and night, within another golden shackle used as a candlestick, before an image of Our Lady of Paris. If the challenge was accomplished, then the candle was to be endowed in perpetuity, together with daily masses, and each member would donate to the chapel his shackle and a picture of himself in the arms he wore that day. Anyone who forgot to wear the shackle on the designated Sundays had to pay a fine of four hundred shillings to charity for each offence. 8

De Gaucourt&rsquos membership of this order raises the interesting possibility that he was wearing his golden shackle on Sunday 18 August, as he performed the far more serious challenge of leading three hundred men-at-arms to the relief of Harfleur. Constable d&rsquoAlbret and Marshal Boucicaut had not been entirely idle during the English landing. As soon as it became clear that Harfleur was Henry V&rsquos objective, they sent a stream of supplies, including weapons, cannon and ammunition, to reinforce the town. They must also have decided that they needed an experienced and trustworthy knight to take charge of the defences, which is why Raoul de Gaucourt was chosen for the task. Whether he came from Honfleur or Caudebec, the only route he could take into the town was through the Rouen gate on the eastern side. Time was of the essence. He had to get there before the English. His arrival, only the day after Henry laid siege to the western side of Harfleur, is an indication of the desperate pace of his dash across Normandy. Fortunately for his mission, the flooded fields that denied him access to Harfleur from the Montivilliers road also protected him, for the moment, from the English troops encamped on the hillside before the Leure gate. They could only watch helplessly as de Gaucourt coolly rode unopposed down the other side of the valley and into the town. 9 It was not often that Henry V was outmanoeuvred and, as de Gaucourt was to discover to his cost, the king was not a man to forgive or forget such actions.

Henry&rsquos inability to prevent de Gaucourt and his men getting into Harfleur demonstrated that it was imperative that no further reinforcements should reach the town by the Rouen road. He now entrusted this important task to his brother the duke of Clarence, whom the chaplain described as &ldquoa knight no less renowned for the practice of war than for personal courage.&rdquo In this instance, he proved himself worthy of both Henry&rsquos confidence and the chaplain&rsquos praise. Under cover of night, he led a large force of men and an artillery train on a difficult ten-mile detour that took them above, up and around the flooded Lézarde valley. During their march they even managed to intercept more reinforcements arriving from Rouen and captured &ldquocertain carts and wagons belonging to the enemy, with a great quantity of guns and powder-barrels and missiles and catapults.&rdquo At dawn the following day, to the consternation of the besieged, Clarence and his men appeared on the opposite hillside above the town, facing Henry and his troops. 10

While all these preparations were being made to lay siege to Harfleur by land, the seaward side was not neglected. Most of the merchant ships that had transported the army to France were allowed to go home after completing their disembarkation, though some returned again, bearing further supplies and reinforcements, including the men who had been left behind when the fleet first sailed. 11 The fighting ships and the royal fleet were not released from service but moved in to blockade Harfleur, barring all access from the Seine or the sea a number of small boats, carried overland and taking up position on the flooded Lézarde, did the same from the north. Trapped between the two armies to west and east, and blockaded by water to north and south, Harfleur was now completely encircled.

Before the great guns began their bombardment, Henry, punctilious as ever, gave the people of the town one last chance to surrender. He sent one of his heralds to proclaim that in accordance with the twentieth chapter of the book of Deuteronomy (which Henry had already quoted to Charles VI in his letter of 28 July), he offered them peace&mdashif they would open their gates to him freely and without coercion, and, &ldquoas was their duty,&rdquo restore to him the town, &ldquowhich was a noble and hereditary portion of his crown of England and of his duchy of Normandy.&rdquo 12 If this offer was refused and Harfleur was captured by force, Deuteronomy authorised Henry to exact a terrible vengeance: &ldquoyou shall put all its males to the sword, but the women and the little ones, the cattle, and every thing else in the city, all its spoil, you shall take as booty for yourselves and you shall enjoy the spoil of your enemies, which the Lord your God has given you.&rdquo Though de Gaucourt and d&rsquoEstouteville knew as well as Henry what the consequences of their refusal to surrender would be, their duty and honour would not allow them to do anything other than reject his offer out of hand, and defy him to do his worst. 13

The siege that followed was literally a textbook one, based principally on the ancient classical treatise on military tactics by Vegetius, De Rei Militari, which dated from the fourth century but had been translated and glossed by every medieval writer on the subject, including the fourteenth-century Egidius Romanus, known to the English as Master Giles, and Henry V&rsquos own contemporaries, Christine de Pizan and Thomas Hoccleve. Following standard military practice, Henry ordered that the suburbs of Harfleur should be burnt and cleared, so that he could bring his cannon and siege engines within range of the walls. As the chaplain proudly pointed out, the king &ldquodid not allow his eyelids to close in sleep,&rdquo but laboured day and night to get his artillery in position. Many &ldquogreat engines&rdquo to assault the town were constructed on site, as were &ldquocunning instruments&rdquo for the protection of his own forces. Hordes of carpenters were employed in erecting huge wooden screens to protect the guns and catapults from enemy assault: an ingenious pulley-based device, operated from behind, allowed the gun crews to raise the base of the screen to set the gun&rsquos projectory and fire it. The gunners themselves were protected by trenches built either side of their cannon and by ramparts, hastily constructed from the excavated earth thrown over bundles of sticks. 14

Once the assault on Harfleur began, it was devastating. For days on end, the seventy-eight gunners kept up an incessant bombardment they worked in shifts, as soon as one team tired, another immediately taking its place, so that there was no respite for the besieged during the hours of daylight. The English cannon and catapults were trained on the main points of resistance&mdashthe bastion guarding the Leure gate, the towers and the walls&mdashand as the ten thousand gun-stones they had brought with them did their deadly work, the fortifications of Harfleur gradually crumbled. The noise was terrible: the explosion of cannon-fire, the thud of gun-stones crashing into their targets, the splintering of timber defences and the rumble of falling masonry. One of the cannons, the monk of St Denis was told, was the biggest anyone had ever seen before. When it was fired, it discharged huge blocks as big as millstones with so much black smoke and such a terrifying report &ldquothat they seemed to issue forth from the fires of hell.&rdquo 15

In the face of this overwhelming assault, de Gaucourt and his men fought back with courage and determination, keeping up a retaliatory bombardment using guns, catapults, and crossbows as long as the bastion, towers and walls remained defensible. (One English man-at-arms, Thomas Hostell, was &ldquosmitten with a springolt [that is, a crossbow bolt] through the head, losing one eye and having his cheek bone broken,&rdquo though this injury did not prevent him from continuing to fight.) 16 When it was no longer possible to defend the broken remnants of fortifications, the French doggedly fought on, &ldquofrom inside the ruins also, from behind screens, and through shattered openings in the walls, and from other places where shelter would not have been thought possible.&rdquo 17

At night, when the guns were silent, the siege engines still and the English slept, there was no rest for the besieged, who laboured to repair their defences as best they could. Under de Gaucourt&rsquos direction, and presumably with the aid of the civilian population, the crumbling walls were shored up with timber props, bundles of sticks and tubs packed with earth, dung, sand or stones. The lanes and streets inside the walls were also covered with a thick layer of clay, earth and dung to soften the impact of gun-stones falling or shattering inside the town and causing death or injury to the besieged. There was neither time nor energy to spare for repairing the civilian buildings, which suffered terribly under the bombardment. The parish church, St Martin&rsquos, lost both its steeple and its bells. Many &ldquoreally fine buildings,&rdquo as the chaplain noted with regret, even those almost in the middle of the town, were completely destroyed or so badly damaged that they were on the point of collapse.

While the artillery wreaked its devastation from the air, Henry&rsquos Welsh miners were hard at work burrowing under the fortifications of Harfleur. The greatest efforts were made on the Rouen side of the town, where Clarence was in command, because at this point there was no moat to be crossed. Here the walls were protected only by a double ditch, the depth of the inner one being an unknown quantity, as no spy or scout had been able to get close enough to investigate. 18

Military mining had been introduced to Europe from the east during the Crusades in the thirteenth century. It involved digging a tunnel, or a web of tunnels, under the weakest point of a fortification, which was usually a corner or a gatehouse. The walls and roof of the tunnels, like those in a conventional mine, would be shored up with timber props which, at the right moment, would be set alight to make the tunnel collapse. Unlike a conventional mine, where those digging for coal or metal ores had to follow a seam and could work on their hands and knees if necessary, military mines had to be large enough to be able to bring down tons of masonry. This meant that they were usually wide and tall enough to take at least a man standing upright, and in some cases must have resulted in the creation of a vast underground chamber.

The most effective way of preventing a successful mining operation was for the besieged to counter-mine, or dig their own tunnels beneath and into the enemy mines to make them collapse before they reached the walls. Where the sheer weight of earth failed to do this, brushwood and incendiary devices were dropped or thrown in to set the props alight, smoke out the miners and bring down the tunnels. (Christine de Pizan even recommended placing large tubs of boiling water or urine at the entrance to the mine, which could be emptied on the unfortunate miners to scald or maim them. 19 ) Occasionally, mine and counter-mine would meet, providing the opportunity for a curious subterranean version of the feat of arms, which, given the difficulties to be overcome, was highly prized by chivalrous knights and esquires as a demonstration of exceptional personal valour. In the narrow and gloomy confines of the mine, lit only by the flickering flames of torches, two men-at-arms would fight with whatever weapons they had to hand&mdashswords, daggers, axes and maces&mdashuntil one of them conceded defeat or an impasse was reached. One cannot imagine men of the calibre of Sir John Cornewaille and Raoul de Gaucourt neglecting such an opportunity to distinguish themselves, and the chroniclers report that there were daily encounters in the mine: &ldquoAnd who most manly fought in the same, supposed himselfe to have achieved greate victorie. And so that mine that was begun for the sudden invasion of the Towne was changed into the exercise of knightlie acts.&rdquo So dangerous and prestigious was such combat held to be that those who fought an encounter of this kind were judged to share a special bond and could become brothers-in-arms, even though they came from opposing sides. The most spectacular instance on record took place during the long siege of Melun in 1420, when Henry V himself is said to have fought the captain of the garrison, the sire de Barbazan, on horseback within the mines. When Melun finally fell, Henry announced his intention to execute Barbazan as a rebel. Barbazan responded by invoking the law of arms, claiming that they were brothers-in-arms because they had fought together in the mine, and that his life should therefore be spared. Henry accepted the validity of this claim and did indeed refrain from executing him. 20

Despite the English efforts, the French successfully thwarted every attempt to undermine their walls. Henry V had ordered a &ldquosow&rdquo to be made, this being a protective mobile shelter under which the miners could take cover as they did their work. All the military textbooks recommended that mining should be conducted out of sight of the enemy, but this was impossible at Harfleur because of the lie of the land. As soon as the French saw that the sow was in place and that a mine was in progress, they took retaliatory measures, digging counter-mines and employing &ldquoother technical skills&rdquo that were evidently superior to those of the less experienced Welsh miners. Two attempts to undermine the walls were foiled and a third failed to achieve its objective. The only compensation for this lack of success was that the operation had been a useful diversion and forced the French to divide their forces in the town&rsquos defence. 21

Clarence was also forced to abandon his attempt to fill in the ditches below the Rouen gate walls. For this purpose, he had been gathering bundles of wood and piling them up in front of the ditches. He then discovered that the French had also been busy, stockpiling barrels of flammable powders, oils and fats on the walls. They were only waiting for the English to begin crossing the ditches before setting fire to the barrels and flinging them onto the ready-made bonfires below so as to burn Clarence&rsquos men alive. But this threat did not prevent his men from taking possession of the outer ditch. Having advanced to this new position, Clarence appointed masters-of-works to supervise the digging of a trench, a section of which every man-at-arms and archer in his force was assigned to complete. The excavated soil thrown up on the front facing the enemy was further fortified with a palisade made of tree trunks and stakes, from behind which the gunners and archers could operate in comparative safety. Shielded behind their new defences, the English were now in range and able to drive the defenders off the walls with a barrage of missiles and gun-stones. 22

Although these operations were all carried out under Clarence&rsquos orders, the king himself was in direct control and issuing the commands that his brother obeyed. It was a situation fraught with difficulties, not least because every message carried between the two divisions of the army had to be taken either by boat across the flooded Lézarde valley or by land on the long detour round the valley head. This was a problem that demanded an urgent solution and Henry had applied himself to finding one. According to Master Jean de Bordiu, one of the most senior clerks in the royal household, &ldquoOur king cut off the water supply before Montivilliers, which they had retained so that it could not run into the sea.&rdquo Though this rather mysterious phrase is open to interpretation, it suggests that Henry dammed the Lézarde higher up the valley, closer to Montivilliers, which was less than three miles away from Harfleur. This would have had two effects. First, it would have deprived the people of Harfleur of their main supply of fresh water, which was a priority of any besieging army hoping to make life on the inside increasingly wretched. Second, it must also have led to the draining of the flooded fields above the town. No chronicler mentions such engineering works, or, indeed, that the flood waters created by closing the sluices at Harfleur gradually evaporated or drained away during the course of the siege, but it is difficult to find any other explanation for de Bordiu&rsquos explicit statement. 23

Henry was indefatigable in his personal supervision of the siege. No one, not even his brother, knew when or where he would appear next. &ldquoThe Kinge daylie and nightlie in his owne person visited and searched the watches, orders, and stacions of everie part of his hoast, and whome he founde dilligent he praised and thanked, and the negligent he corrected and chasticed.&rdquo Jehan Waurin, the fifteen-year-old illegitimate son of the seneschal of Flanders, believed that &ldquoKing Henry, who was very cunning, often went around the town in disguise to identify the weakest and most suitable place by which he could take it.&rdquo 24 Whether true or not, the circulation of such stories was a tribute to the power of the king&rsquos character and a highly effective way of keeping his men up to the mark. (They also would inspire Shakespeare&rsquos &ldquolittle touch of Harry in the night&rdquo scene.) This was increasingly important as the siege entered its third week and the battering inflicted on Harfleur had not yet forced its surrender.

Henry, however, was convinced that its fall was imminent. On 3 September Master Jean de Bordiu, who was well placed to know the king&rsquos plans, wrote to the citizens of his native Bordeaux in English Aquitaine:

Please know that the town of Harfleur, with the aid of the Holy Spirit, will be in the king&rsquos hands before 8 days at most. For now it is well and truly breached on the landward side and on two flanks, and everything destroyed inside . . . And when he has taken it, I have heard it is not his intention to enter the town but to stay in the field. In a short while after the capture of the town, he intends to go to Montivilliers, and thence to Dieppe, afterwards to Rouen, and then to Paris. 25

On the same day, Henry himself also wrote to Bordeaux, cheerfully informing the citizens that &ldquoourselves and all those of our company [are] in good health and disposition.&rdquo

For this, in all humility, we give thanks to our lord God the Almighty, hoping that, by His grace, He will give us, in pursuit of our right, the fulfilment of our desire and undertaking, to His pleasure, and for the honour and comfort of us and you, and of all our other faithful lieges and subjects. To this end we shall do our duty, so that, with God&rsquos help, our enemies will be henceforward less powerful to cause you trouble and harm than they have been in the past. 26

Henry had underestimated the determination and ingenuity of de Gaucourt and his men. Harfleur would not fall in eight days, but in eighteen. And those ten extra days were to wreak havoc in the English army and force the king to change his plans.

The problem was dysentery, the scourge of every army on campaign, which was known to the English as &ldquothe bloody flux&rdquo because its main symptom is bloody diarrhoea. Epidemic dysentery 27 is almost always caused by an extremely virulent bacterium, Shigella dysenteriae type 1, which is spread through human faeces. This is usually the result of food or water coming into contact with infected faeces, but so few bacteria are needed to cause infection that it can be spread from one person&rsquos hands to another&rsquos. Up to a third of the population in an epidemic area can be infected and though some recover without treatment within seven days, between 10 and 20 per cent die, usually within thirteen days of the onset of symptoms, from complications including persistent diarrhoea, septicaemia and kidney failure.

All the conditions for an outbreak were present at Harfleur, both within the beleaguered town and in the besieging armies. The weather was hot and humid and the salt marshes and standing water of the flooded fields in the valley bottom were breeding grounds for bacteria and insects. If Henry had indeed succeeded in damming the higher reaches of the Lézarde, this may well have contributed to the problem by reducing the amount of running fresh water available to his own men. The marshy nature of the land also made it more difficult safely to dispose of not only human and animal faeces but also detritus, such as animal carcasses, which was the inevitable consequence of feeding so many troops. Trenches were dug for privies and burial pits for other waste, but these could not be sealed and the problem of sanitation would only increase the longer the siege went on. Nor should it be forgotten that the many thousands of horses in the army, each needing to drink four gallons a day, would probably have contributed to the contamination of the water we know that many of them, too, died of murrain, an infectious disease. 28

The physicians and surgeons in the king&rsquos army were not unaware of the dangers of diseases associated with campaigning. The king&rsquos personal physician, Nicholas Colnet, possessed a copy of Bernard Gordon&rsquos influential and popular treatise, Lilium Medicinae, which set out the following highly relevant and practical advice:

But if the physician is in an army, then the King&rsquos tent and the tents of the physicians and surgeons should be on higher ground, facing a favourable wind on no account should the tent be at a lower level where all the refuse gathers. Good fresh air, without any stench of corpses or any other things, should be chosen. In summer, the tent should face south and the physicians should carefully take into account everything that might bring sickness on the army and eliminate it as far as possible such things are heat, rain, rotting corpses, diseases, nuts, cabbages, trees, plants, reptiles, swamps, and such like.

In accordance with this advice, the king and his brother had pitched their tents on the hillsides above Harfleur. 29 What neither they nor anyone else in the army could do, even if they had understood how the disease was transmitted, was avoid all contact with those who were infected.

Contemporary chroniclers, unaware of the true cause of the epidemic, blamed either a lack of supplies or, paradoxically, English greed, which (they claimed) led the men to gorge themselves on unripe fruit and the shellfish that were plentiful and readily available in the salt marshes between Harfleur and the Seine estuary. 30 (In the medieval mind, the seemingly inexplicable could always be explained by sin.) In fact, such a diet was irrelevant to the spread of dysentery, and the charge that the English were short of victuals is not borne out by the evidence. Apart from what each man had brought with him, which, according to the order of 24 July, was to be enough for three months, they were in receipt of a constant supply of fish (fresh and salted), wheat, beef, wine, ale and other foodstuffs from England and possibly Aquitaine. The earl marshal hired his own ships to bring regular supplies of corn, flour, beer, wine and even a barrel of salmon across from England to Harfleur, suggesting that other retinue leaders did likewise. In addition to the ships plying the Channel, foraging patrols throughout the Chef-de-Caux brought in large quantities of fresh food on a regular basis, particularly corn, which could be ground into flour for bread. The king&rsquos stores at Harfleur issued the archers of Sir James Harington&rsquos retinue alone with 428 pounds of flour, 2576 pounds of beef and 4545 gallons of wine, which does not suggest straitened circumstances. 31 Maintaining supplies at an appropriate level was a matter of such importance that even the king concerned himself with it. When Henry wrote to his subjects in Bordeaux at the beginning of September, he urged them to send him &ldquoas quickly as possible&rdquo and &ldquowithout failing in any way&rdquo as much wine and other victuals as they could provide, reassuring them at the same time that &ldquothose who bring it to us . . . will receive full satisfaction in payment.&rdquo Master Jean de Bordiu&rsquos cover letter interpreted this as being a request for between five hundred and seven hundred tuns of wine, but he added two other comments which are perhaps indicative of a sense that the unexpected length of the siege was beginning to cause concern. &ldquoAlthough at present the fields are providing an adequate supply of corn, this cannot, however, meet the future requirements of the great army which is with him, and which increases every day.&rdquo Perhaps more significantly, he also noted that &ldquomy lord of Dorset . . . who is second in command&rdquo and his men &ldquoare loudly complaining that there is no way of paying.&rdquo It was probably no great encouragement to the merchants of Bordeaux to learn that the king had &ldquogreat confidence&rdquo that the earl would find a way to pay, but Henry&rsquos irritatingly blithe certainty was, as usual, underpinned by his practical arrangements, for he was at that very moment in the process of securing loans from Richard Whittington and others &ldquofor the maintenance of our siege of Harfleur.&rdquo 32

Exactly when the first cases of dysentery appeared in the English army (or in Harfleur) is not recorded. The presence of the disease only comes to the chroniclers&rsquo attention on 15 September, when its most prominent victim died. Richard Courtenay, bishop of Norwich, was a man who, despite his profession, had put his extraordinary abilities wholly at the service of his king rather than his God. A doctor of civil and canon law, twice elected chancellor of the University of Oxford, of which he was a generous and learned patron, diplomat, financier and a constant companion and advisor to Henry V, the only thing he had never found time to do was to visit his diocese, where John Leicester, archbishop of Smyrna, lived in his palace and performed his ecclesiastical duties for him. For the English chaplain (who was unaware of the bishop&rsquos spying activities), Courtenay was &ldquoa man of noble birth, imposing stature, and superior intelligence, distinguished no less for his gifts of great eloquence and learning than for other noble endowments of nature, . . . regarded as agreeable above all others to members of the king&rsquos retinue and councils.&rdquo He was also, the chaplain said, &ldquothe most loving and dearest&rdquo of the king&rsquos friends, which is perhaps a more remarkable epitaph, since there were few men who could claim such a relationship with Henry V. That it was justified is indicated by the fact that the king himself attended his deathbed, bathed his feet for him and closed Courtenay&rsquos eyes when he died. Courtenay was just thirty-five years old. His body was sent back to England where, on the king&rsquos personal command, he was buried among the royal tombs behind the high altar in Westminster Abbey. 33

Three days later, on 18 September, the king lost another devoted servant to the same disease. Michael de la Pole, earl of Suffolk, &ldquoa knight of the most excellent and kindly reputation,&rdquo was fifty-four years old, had accompanied Henry&rsquos father on crusade to Prussia, and after he became king served him in all his expeditions &ldquoby See and by Lande.&rdquo The war in France which brought about his premature end would also claim the lives of four of his five sons. His eldest son Michael, who was not yet twenty-one and was also in the army at Harfleur, was killed at Agincourt. Joan of Arc proved to be the nemesis of the rest. Alexander met his death at the battle of Jargeau on 12 June 1429, and in the same battle his three remaining brothers were taken prisoner two of them, John and Thomas, died in captivity. The de la Poles paid a high price for their loyalty to the Lancastrian kings of England. 34

On 15 September, the same day that Richard Courtenay died, a second serious setback occurred. Either because Courtenay&rsquos death had distracted them or, more likely, because they had simply relaxed their guard after almost a month of siege, the men besieging the Leure gate fell victim to a surprise attack by the French. Remarkably, those responsible for this dereliction of duty included Sir John Holland, Sir John Cornewaille and his brother-in-arms Sir William Porter, who had all shared the privilege of being the first to land at Chef-de-Caux. Seizing the moment, the French made a desperate sally out of the gate and managed to set fire to the English defences before being driven back with heavy losses. (It is tempting to think that Raoul de Gaucourt was behind this doomed but gallant gesture, not least because it took place on a Sunday, the day when he wore his golden prisoner&rsquos shackle and chivalric deeds were uppermost in his mind.) Though the attack had inflicted only minor damage in military terms, it was a significant morale-booster for the beleaguered garrison, who taunted their foes as being only half-awake, lazy and failing to keep a better watch. 35

There could be only one response to such insults. The following morning, Holland and Cornewaille began an all-out assault on the gate. Arrows, wrapped in tow, dipped in pitch and set alight, were rained upon the fortified position to drive those guarding it away and wreak further destruction. Under cover of night, at Henry V&rsquos command, the ditch separating the English from the gate had been filled with bundles of sticks, so that they could now cross over, torch the gun-shattered remnants of the outer walls and attack the French defenders. Holland&rsquos standard was carried into the centre of the bastion and his men streamed in after it. The French put up a fierce resistance in the hand-to-hand fighting that followed, but eventually, exhausted by their futile attempts to put out the flames, surrounded by smoke and conflagration and overwhelmed by sheer force of numbers, they were forced to abandon their position and retreat behind the town walls. Even now they did not give up their efforts, but swiftly blocked the entrance behind them with timber, stone, earth and dung, so that the English, having gained the bastion, were still unable to enter the town. It took them several days to extinguish the flames, but the remains of the shattered fortification continued to smoke for another fortnight. 36

Evidently hoping that this success would have broken the spirit of the French, Henry sent a herald into Harfleur the next morning, 17 September, with a safe-conduct for de Gaucourt and a group of representatives of the town council, so that they could come into the English camp to discuss terms. Henry was at his most charming and persuasive: he greeted them in person and advised them, in his kindliest manner, to surrender the town. He reminded them that Harfleur was part of the duchy of Normandy, which had belonged to the English crown by right since ancient times, and of the fate that would befall them if they continued to resist him. De Gaucourt was exhausted, half-starved, suffering from dysentery himself and staring death in the face, but he still had his pride and his sense of duty. He refused to surrender. Defiantly, he informed Henry that he had not received his office as captain of the town from him and did not recognise his authority: he knew that the king of France would not allow the siege of Harfleur to continue much longer and that any day he would arrive at the head of his army to drive the English away. 37

It is impossible to know whether de Gaucourt believed these proud words himself. He may have had a blindly optimistic faith that his king would not allow such an important place as Harfleur to fall without striking a blow in its defence. On the other hand, a man of his military experience must have known that, in tactical terms, it was probably better to allow Harfleur to fall and recapture it after the English had left, rather than risk everything on the unpredictable outcome of a pitched battle.

Cut off from the outside world by the besieging armies, it must have been difficult for de Gaucourt to get any intelligence, let alone up to date information, about what efforts were being made on his behalf. Constable d&rsquoAlbret and Marshal Boucicaut had now, apparently, united their forces at Rouen. There they had spent huge sumspurchasing a small boat, filling it with food and other necessaries and entrusting it to one Jehan Lescot, a local mariner, with instructions that he should take it to the relief of Harfleur. Astonishingly, Lescot (who may have been a pirate and was highly paid for his services) succeeded in getting through the English blockade not once, but twice, for de Gaucourt later arranged for him to escape in secret from the town, so that he could report back to d&rsquoAlbret on conditions there. D&rsquoAlbret also sent Robin de Hellande, the bailli of Rouen, to Paris, entrusted with verbal messages to the king, dauphin and council &ldquotouching the descent and arrival of the English and the provisions that ought to be made against them, for the salvation of the said town of Harfleur and of the countryside around it.&rdquo 38

De Gaucourt may also have been aware that in addition to d&rsquoAlbret and Boucicaut, some of the local nobility&mdashamong them the young seneschal of Hainault, who had once been so eager to test his valour against Englishmen in jousting challenges&mdashhad raised their own troops to resist the English. Frustrated by the failure of any officially organised resistance, they had determined to take matters into their own hands, continually harrying the English troops, especially those camped with Clarence before the Rouen gate, and attacking any small groups of Englishmen they found scouting or foraging away from the army. One force of some five hundred or six hundred local knights, led by the sire de Lille Adam and Jacques de Brimeu, decided to make a grand gesture. The plan was that a small party would ride within sight of the enemy camp so that the English would raise the alarm and then give chase on horseback, leaving their archers behind. When they had been drawn sufficiently far away from the main army, they would be ambushed and slaughtered by de Lille Adam and de Brimeu. Unfortunately for the French, de Lille Adam made his move too early and was seen by the English men-at-arms. Realising it was a trap, they immediately abandoned the chase and returned to the safety of their camp. The disaster was compounded by the capture of both de Lille Adam and Brimeu. 39

While the local nobility did what they could to resist and harry the English invaders, the princes of the blood royal seemed incapable of decisive action. It was not until 28 August, a week and a half after the siege of Harfleur had begun, that the king&rsquos council at last issued the general call to arms in defence of the country, which it was the duty of every man capable of bearing weapons to obey. The king&rsquos letters authorising the proclamation of the summons in every town and at every public meeting were sent out to the baillis and seneschals of each district with instructions that the muster should take place at Rouen. Letters were also sent directly to towns such as Verdun, Tournai and Amiens, which had their own city militias, ordering them to send assistance to Harfleur. Fifty crossbowmen did indeed belatedly leave Tournai on 17 September, but they did not get as far as Harfleur and returned home two months later, never having encountered the English at all. On 1 September embassies were sent to both Charles d&rsquoOrléans and John the Fearless, duke of Burgundy, requesting them to send five hundred men-at-arms each. It was a measure of how deep the rift between them remained, despite the peace that had been celebrated only a few months previously, that both dukes were asked not to come in person with their troops. 40

On 1 September the dauphin set out with his household from Paris, arriving a couple of days later at Vernon, just over halfway to Rouen, where he remained for the rest of the month. Charles VI himself was not capable of leading his army into war, but on 10 September he made a personal pilgrimage to the great royal abbey of St Denis and there collected the sacred oriflamme from the high altar. It was then entrusted to Guillaume Martel, sire de Bacqueville, who took the customary oath as its bearer, before setting off to join the king&rsquos army gathering at Rouen. A citizen of Paris was sufficiently stirred by these events to note the preparations and departures in his journal. It was perhaps indicative of the general mood in Paris that it was not the plight of his fellows in far-off Harfleur which stirred his indignation, but the tax imposed to finance the campaign. It was, he complained, the heaviest ever seen. 41

As the situation in Harfleur became increasingly desperate, de Gaucourt sent message after message to the dauphin, pleading for assistance. &ldquoYour humble subjects, so closely besieged and reduced to great distress by the English, beg your highness that you will make haste to send them help to raise the siege, so that they are not compelled to surrender this most renowned and valuable port and thus bring shame on the majesty of the king.&rdquo The dauphin was either embarrassed by these pleas, or simply indifferent to them, for the messengers found it almost impossible to gain admittance to his presence. When they did, they were fobbed off with assurances that &ldquoour father the king will deal with these things at an opportune moment.&rdquo All they could do was report back that a vast army, forty thousand strong, it was claimed, was gathering at Rouen. 42 What they could not do was say whether it would arrive in time to save the courageous defenders of Harfleur, or merely to avenge them.

Significance and legacy of Agincourt

After the victory, Henry continued his march to Calais and arrived back in England in November to an outpouring of nationalistic sentiment. Contemporary accounts describe the triumphal pageantry with which the king was received in London on November 23, with elaborate displays and choirs attending his passage to St. Paul’s Cathedral. The Agincourt Carol, dating from around this time and possibly written for Henry’s reception in London, is a rousing celebration of the might of the English. The effect of the victory on national morale was powerful. Agincourt came on the back of half a century of military failure and gave the English a success that repeated victories such as Crécy and Poitiers. Moreover, with this outcome Henry V strengthened his position in his own kingdom it legitimized his claim to the crown, which had been under threat after his accession.

Most importantly, the battle was a significant military blow to France and paved the way for further English conquests and successes. The French nobility, weakened by the defeat and divided among themselves, were unable to meet new attacks with effective resistance. Henry managed to subjugate Normandy in 1419, a victory that was followed by the Treaty of Troyes in 1420, which betrothed Henry to King Charles VI’s daughter Catherine and named him heir to the French crown.

The Battle of Agincourt was immortalized by William Shakespeare in his play Henry V.

A baptism of fire, steel and stone: Henry V’s army and the siege of Harfleur

Extract depicting a coastal town from a contemporary early 16th century artist’s impression, taken from the front cover of the Anglo-French treaty of 1527 relating to ratification of Italian affairs and the privileges of English merchants in France (catalogue reference E 30/1113)

French fishermen casting their nets in the open sea off the Normandy coast on 13 August 1415 would have witnessed a horrifying sight: There was a vast array of ships sailing south across the English Channel for the French coast. The anticipated English military invasion had finally come.

The French port of Harfleur is located on the north bank of the river Seine, very close to the river’s estuary. With a population of approximately 5,000 in 1415, the port was well protected by 4.5 metre thick walls and outworks and with a military garrison of about 200-250 men.

The extracts from the Issue roll accounts detailing expenses paid out of the exchequer to those serving on the 1415 expedition in E 101/45/5 suggest that siege warfare was very much part of the king’s military plans for the expedition. The document reveals that several teams of gunners were attached to the army who would traditionally (though not exclusively) be employed in siege operations to demolish walls and fortifications. Nearly a whole membrane of the roll (membrane nine) is dedicated to wages paid to gunners and master gunners: William Gerardesson, Walter Slotmaker, Arnold Skade, Dederico Van Hesill, Goykyn Gunner and Dederico Bokelmaker were all master gunners paid 20 pence per day. Accompanying them were 12 servants, each paid 8 pence per day.

Entry showing wages paid to William Gerardesson, Walter Slotmaker, Arnold Skade, Dederico Van Hesill, Goykyn Gunner and Dederico Bokelmaker , master gunners (catalogue reference E 101/45/5 m.9)

On a separate membrane, wages were recorded for six master miners and 114 assistants under the command of Sir John Greyndour. They would be employed in siege operations to mine under the walls of a town or stronghold. The entry states that each master miner was to receive 12 pence per day and every miner 6 pence per day.

Entry recording wages paid to Sir John Greyndour, 6 master miners and 114 miners (catalogue reference E 101/45/5 m.8d)

The siege: dealing with dysentery and French defences

Image taken from the front cover of the Anglo-French treaty of 1527 (catalogue reference E 30/1113)

King Henry V’s army landed near the mouth of the river Seine during late afternoon of 14 August 1415, very close to the port town of Harfleur. Henry is likely to have targeted the town because of its strategic significance as a port on the northern French coast, though this is not certain.

The town was besieged and surrounded on the landward side by Monday 19 August. The siege was to last for just over one month, until 22 September 1415. Although this was not considered a lengthy siege by 15th century standards, it consumed more time and resources than King Henry anticipated.

The resilience of the French defenders, who were emboldened by the late arrival of reinforcements before the town was surrounded, was perhaps underestimated. They went to such length as making frantic repairs to damaged ramparts and defences at night, much to the astonishment and annoyance of their besiegers.

Henry’s army suffered from outbreaks of dysentery known as the ‘Bloody Flux’, probably caused by the pollution of water supplies and even, as chronicler John Streeche suggests, by the bad effects of unripe grapes, other fruit and shellfish! Earls, knights, esquires and archers alike were incapacitated by sickness and many of those affected were granted permission to return by ship to England once the siege had ended. An incomplete list of the men permitted by the king to return home from the port of Harfleur on account of sickness can be found in E 101/45/1. The list was compiled probably as a way of monitoring troops in the field and preventing desertion by able-bodied soldiers feigning illness. This record is on display in the Keeper’s Gallery from October to December 2015.

Perhaps to Henry’s relief, terms of negotiation for surrender were opened on the 18 September. The town finally surrendered to the King four days later on 22 September. It had been subjugated after a hard fought siege at a greater cost to Henry’s army then originally perceived. Although only 37 fatalities were suffered by English forces, including several peers of the realm, the total number of soldiers invalided home due to sickness has been estimated by scholars to be 1,330.

The fate of soldiers serving within an individual retinue (soldiers recruited and serving with a particular captain) has been recorded in annotations written for clerical purposes after the army had returned from France so that wages still to be paid could accurately be calculated. The retinue rolls of Sir Simon Felbrigg in E 101/45/3 and Sir James Haryngton in E 101/47/32 both pictured below reveal the fate of certain soldiers who had died or succumbed to sickness at the siege of Harfleur. The retinue roll for Sir Simon Felbrigg will also be on display in the Keeper’s Gallery.

Retinue Roll of Sir Simon Felbrigg listing the names of 13 men-at-arms and 36 archers serving in his retinue (catalogue reference E 101/45/3 (2)) The ‘Sick Roll’ listing soldiers returning to England from Harfleur due to sickness – on display in the Keeper’s Gallery Oct-Dec 2015 (catalogue Reference E 101/45/1) Retinue Roll of Sir James Haryngton (catalogue Reference E 101/47/32)
Entry for archer Thomas Armondernes and annotation stating that he is ‘remaining in Harfleur’ – Retinue Roll of Sir James Haryngton (catalogue reference E 101/47/32) /> Entries for men-at-arms Robert Todenham and Bartimus Appelyarde on the Retinue Roll of Sir Simon Felbrigg (catalogue refernce E 101/45/3 (2)) Entry recording the grant to Richard Bokelond of ‘The Peacock’ inn in Harfleur (catalogue reference C 76/98 m.6)

Life after the siege

After the port town had capitulated, Harfleur’s French population were expelled from their homes and a substantial force of approximately 1,200 soldiers was assigned to garrison the captured town under the command of the Earl of Dorset.

English officials were also appointed by Henry to Harfleur, recorded in the French rolls in C 76. These documents recorded administrative and diplomatic business concerning foreign kingdoms, but were chiefly concerned with matters and business relating to France.

The ‘Golden Seal’ of King Henry V – reverse side (Catalogue reference E 30/391).

The rolls record a grant made by King Henry to a certain Richard Bokelond of London, in gratitude for assistance provided to the king at the siege, of an inn in Harfleur known as ‘The Peacock’. This inn no doubt would have been frequented by soldiers from the newly installed garrison, jostling with travellers, traders and settlers who were flocking into England’s newest possession on the continent.

Perhaps among these patrons quaffing ale with his comrades was an archer named Thomas de Amondernes. Thomas was in the retinue of Sir James Haryngton, who had mustered with nine men-at-arms and thirty archers (record in E 101/47/32 – see image above) and is known to have stayed in Harfleur after the English army left the town at the beginning of October 1415. An annotation to the left of his name recorded on the roll states that he ‘remained in Harfleur’. He was most likely part of the English garrison there, through this is not specified. Annotations on this retinue roll were written for the aid of exchequer officials tasked with calculating or re-calculating pay that was still outstanding to soldiers who served on the 1415 expedition.

Thomas was spared what was to be the most challenging phase of the campaign for Henry’s severely depleted army, whose soldiers trudged through the driving autumn rains towards Calais pursued by a French army bent their annihilation. It was on a field near the village of Azincourt (Agincourt) that their fate was to be decided.

Further reading

Anne Curry, Agincourt: A New History (Stroud, 2005)

Anne Curry, The Battle of Agincourt: Sources and Interpretations (Woodbridge, 2000)

Battle of Agincourt: October 25, 1415

The battlefield lay on 1,000 yards of open ground between two woods, which prevented large-scale maneuvers and thus worked to Henry’s advantage. On the morning of October 25, the battle commenced. The English stood their ground as French knights, weighed down by their heavy armor, began a slow advance across the muddy battlefield. The French were met by a furious bombardment of artillery from the English archers, who wielded innovative longbows with a range of 250 yards. French cavalrymen tried and failed to overwhelm the English positions, but the archers were protected by a line of pointed stakes. As more and more French knights made their way onto the crowded battlefield, their mobility decreased further, and some lacked even the room to raise their arms and strike a blow. At this point, Henry ordered his lightly equipped archers to rush forward with swords and axes, and the unencumbered Englishmen massacred the French.

7-13 September 1415 – Disease and Deaths during the Siege of Harfleur

As the siege of Harfleur dragged on this week, losses began to mount among the English besiegers with deaths and illnesses caused by the outbreak of disease due to the unsanitary conditions. The presence of thousands of men, horses and other animals in close proximity together, along with the waste they produced, meant that the conditions were ripe for infection. This was a perennial problem faced by all armies undertaking sieges in the Middle Ages, with diseases, such as dysentery, often inflicting a greater death toll than those caused by enemy action. During the long siege of Calais (1346-7) undertaken by Henry’s great grandfather, Edward III, reinforcements had to be frequently sent to strengthen the besieging English army, due to losses caused by disease and desertions.

This example illustrates that losses were likely to be greater amongst large armies involved in siege warfare as there were more possible victims to spread infections. Henry’s decision to besiege Harfleur with his entire army of over 11,000 men therefore resulted in sizeable casualties, which gradually reduced the number of soldiers available to him. This was exacerbated by the actions of the defenders, who used the water defences of the town against the attackers, by flooding the fields to the west of the settlement by opening the sluices. The consequences of this was that waterborne diseases were able to spread amongst the besiegers, which led to the deaths of a number of high profile individuals: including Richard Courtenay, bishop of Norwich, who fell ill on 10 September and died five days later. Michael de la Pole, earl of Suffolk died on 18 September. Exactly how many men died from military action or disease is uncertain, but after the town fell and as he contemplated his march to Calais, Henry decided to send home at least 1,500 men who were sick.

On the eastern side of the town where the duke of Clarence was in command mines were to dug intended to run under the walls to weaken them. English writers consider the mining operation to be a complete failure. With so little space the diggers had to operate within full sight of the defenders, who retaliated with countermines and a sortie against Clarence’s men which again led to losses. The plan was thus abandoned. The Vita et Gesta Henrici Quinti written in the late 1430s comments that the English had lost the knack of mining because of the long period of military inaction and truces in the recent past and that some of the nobility not keen on fighting underground. But the men who had been guarding the miners gained an advantage in seizing control of one of the outer ditches of the town, from which they discharged missiles from catapults and stone throwers (not, it seems, gunpowder artillery). This was a useful breakthrough even if it was balanced by the sortie of the enemy from the main barbican on 15 September which set fire to English defences.

This information came from Anne Curry, Agincourt: A New History (Stroud: Tempus, 2005), pp. 94, 122-3 Maurice Keen, Armies and Warfare in the Middle Ages: the English Experience (London: Yale University Press, 1996), p. 303 Christopher Allmand, Henry V (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997), p. 80 TNA E 101/47/37, E 101/47/38 E358/6 rot 6d C 76/98 m. 19 Sumption, Jonathan, The Hundred Years War. Volume I, Trial by Battle (London: Faber, 1990), p. 558.

Image is of the Danse macabre by Michael Wolgemut, taken from Wikipedia and is in the Public Domain

1415 – The Battle of Agincourt

Co-author and presenter of Battlefield History TV’s full length documentary on Agincourt, Tim Saunders, describes the 1415 Campaign in France, which culminated in the decisive battle fought in the fields astride the road to Calais near the village of Azincourt. His views and insight into the battle are the result of years of study as a part of a dedicated group of British and French soldier/historians and battlefield guides.

The great battles of Crecy in 1346 and ten years later Poitiers had brought vast swathes of French territory under the English crown but years of semi-peace with France, the distraction of dynastic squabbles at home and the social legacy of the Black Death meant that most of the King’s lands in France had been lost by 1415. In addition Henry V was far from secure on his throne, being the son of a usurper in many of his people’s eyes.

As his Grandfather the great soldier king Edward III had done, Henry assembled his army at Porchester but even here plotters were active. Having dealt with them and with the wind set fair for France, the English Fleet sailed for their first objective Harfleur.

Harfleur had long been a thorn in England’s side, as the base from which increasingly regular raids were mounted on the south coast and its ports. Capturing Harfleur would reduce the threat of raiding and would be ‘another Calais’, which had been held by the English since 1347 and would be another base for mounting operations into France.

After landing his army just down the coast the Henry advanced on Harfleur, arriving just in time to see the French knight Raoul de Gaucourt march into the town. Though a small retinue of men-at-arms, the presence of these professional soldiers stiffened the resolve of the citizens despite privations, battering and disease. See Map 1, right.

The French closed sluice gates to inundate the valley above the town. In the August heat this increasingly stagnant and fouled water was a breeding ground for disease and as the siege dragged on the bloody flux or dysentery ravaged the English Army. Inside the largely destroyed Harfleur, the brave and determined Raoul de Gaucourt awaited relief by the French army, which was controversially not to come. By the time the Burgers surrendered the town, after a siege of five weeks, Henry’s army was sickly and reduced in strength by a third.

The King was counselled to garrison the remains of Harfleur and return to England but this would not deliver the level of victory or statement of authority Henry needed to secure his throne. Also this course of action would not cover the borrowing for the campaign. Abandoning grander aims, Henry planned an eight day mounted march to Calais, demonstrating that he could move with impunity across the lands he claimed were his.

Starting out on 11 October the march met mounting resistance as the slowly gathering French Army closed in, intending to trap and destroy English west of the River Somme. The ford at Blanctaque used by Edward III to escape destruction before Crecy was strongly held by the French, who clearly also remembered their military history. As a result Henry was force to march up stream getting further and further away from Calais and safety. After eight days was perilously short of food and his men still suffering from dysentery were suffering. See Map 2, right.

A ford on the Somme was eventually found south of Peron but relief amongst the English at getting away was short lived, when it became apparent that the French Army had already crossed and was now somewhere ahead of them. The French were, however, reluctant to come to battle as their forces were still growing and a game of manoeuvre and counter manoeuvre was played out until on the afternoon of 24 October the English came across a huge French Army deployed across the road to Calais. For the remainder of the day the two armies stood to arms facing each other.

The night before the battle, captured so eloquently by Shakespeare, was miserable for the cold and hungry English, who were to maintain absolute silence on pain of mutilation. In contrast the noisy, enthusiastic French camp was bathed in light, as meals were eaten and boasts of the morrow were exchanged. As dawn rose on 25 October, Saint Crispin’s day, the two armies stood facing each other and there they stayed each waiting for the other side to make the first move.

The size of the armies is still hotly debated, with the French outnumbering the English army of 6,000 – 9,000 men at arms and large proportion of archers, anywhere between 4 to 3 and 6 to 1. So numerous were their men at arms that the French archers and crossbowmen were pushed off to the flanks, from where they were unable to play a worthwhile role in the battle.

Both armies main divisions fought on foot but the French had two squadrons each of up to 600 heavily armoured men at arms, who were to ride down the English archers. This element of the plan to deal with the threat posed by the long bow had, however, been leaked to the English some time before and Henry ordered his archers to furnish themselves with six foot stakes sharpened at both ends.

Despite the nobles who predominantly made up the leading French division being coiled like springs in their anticipation of la gloire, the stand-off lasted for three hours. The contemporary military wisdom being that the side that initiated battle lost! Eventually, to get the battle moving Henry resorted to two measures. Firstly, he deployed 200 mounted archers through the Tramecourt Woods and around to a flank. They were to open a galling fire on the French when ordered. They were also to shout ‘Haie hai, haie hai’ a hunting call an implied insult to the French nobility by ‘the lowborn’. Secondly, Henry moved his army first. Not though to attack but just far enough to break the French discipline that had so far held their enthusiasm for battle in check. To achieve this the Army would only have to move a relatively short distance, far less than is often shown on maps, because, of course, the English would need to allow time for the archers to properly place their stakes before the charge of the mounted French knights. It would also have been to Henry’s advantage for the French men at arms to have floundered across half a mile of sodden fields and, in the process, have used up significant energy reserves before coming into contact.

The plan worked better than anticipated. Caught unawares by the precipitate move of the first French division a significant parts of the mounted squadrons were away at the baggage train or exercising their horses to keep them warm. Those that were in position and ready to go were too few to make an impact on the English Army’s archers.

As the leading French division came within range (less than 300 yards) the English and Welsh archers opened fire with their heavy war arrows. Some would have targeted the front rank of nobles with aimed fire while other let loose that famous storm of arrows, which plunged into the following ranks. French knights and men at arms fell, others slipped or tripped and were trampled by the press of men coming up behind. In a matter of minutes the first division was defeated.

Falling back survivors ran into the second division disordering them but ultimately being carried forward again. The second attack foundered in exactly the same way as the first, with the added impediment of a pile of dead, wounded and trapped Frenchmen. Only then were valuable prisoners extracted from the mud by the English and brought in, while arrows were collected.

It seemed that the battle was over but the third French Division started to move forward and with a mass of prisoners immediately behind his line the Henry ordered them to be killed. The third French attack never amounted to much, and indeed they were blamed for precipitating the killing of the prisoners by starting an attack when the battle was clearly already lost. Controversial today, to the medieval mind, however, Henry’s dispatch of the prisoners was entirely understandable.

The actual fighting had been over in a remarkably short time. About 450 members of the English Army were killed or wounded but a conservative estimate is that the French lost approximately 4,000 men, plus prisoners, a mark of the intensity of the arrow storm that felled them. 100 Years war – agincourt 1415 trailer

At 100 minutes long, the DVD Agincourt 1415 produced by Pen and Sword Digital and Battlefield History TV and shot on location in the campaign area and the battlefield itself, contains the usual mix of story and analysis, all illustrated with maps and vignettes of weapons and equipment of the early 15 th Century. Join the conversation Follow @PenandSwordTV and @BattleHistTV on Twitter. You can also watch more trailers, videos and interviews on the Pen and Sword YouTube account. Henry V. He was probably painted in profile because of a disfiguring facial wound.

The Battle of Agincourt

The Hundred Years War has its roots over 400 years earlier[1], and the events leading up to it were typical of claims to power and inheritance. The English ruled over a larger part than the French at one stage, but this dramatically reverted after a series of internal and external conflicts. The French Kingdom, once again, regained its lands in the North, including Normandy. The English had to settle with their remnants in Gascony (which was very valuable and profitable nevertheless).

The ongoing tumultuousness and hostility between the two Kingdoms went on for centuries, with the English claiming rights to the French throne as their ancestors did. The French King died without any heirs and King Edward III of England expressed his claim to the French throne through his mother, Eleanor (The French King&rsquos aunt) Sooner or later, a large scale war was going to break out, and, in the year 1337AD, French ships began raiding and causing turmoil in coastal English settlements.

At this point in history (1337 AD), the French Kingdom contained approximately 17-18 million (along with the greatest number of Knights in Europe), while the English had little more than 4 million.

The first major engagement occurred at Sluys, where the English convincingly defeated the French fleet in a battle aboard the ships, rather than between them. The first attempt at invading had failed and Edward III now had every right to march on . The army he conglomerated was one of very high standards, being veterans and willing mercenaries. His diverse and well-trained troops proved to be the most effective army Europe had seen since the Romans[2].

Two significant engagements in terms of revolutionary tactics were fought in the remainder of what is known as the Edwardian War (specific [first] part of the Hundred Years War) &ndash The battle of Crécy and the Battle of Poitiers. In both cases, the French were annihilated by the outnumbered English through effective use of the Longbow[3].

Periods of peace and war continued well into the next century, but, in 1415, King Henry V had his sights set on the French Crown &ndash believing himself, again, to be a rightful heir. Henry set off over the English Channel with no more than ten thousand men, - taking advantage of a civil war within France &ndash to reassert his position to the French throne. He arrived at the French coast and headed straight for the fortress of Harfleur.The siege lasted a month, from his landing in August until the 22nd of September. It had come at a cost Henry&rsquos army was ravaged by dysentery. He left a garrison of a few hundred men (under the control of the Earl of Dorset), and set off for Calais.

With eight days provisions for his 5-6000 archers and 1,000 men-at-arms, Henry headed off on October 8th. The army was sick and tired, as well as very hungry. Henry divided his army into three segments the party out front was led by Sir Gilbert Umfraville and Sir John Cornwall, the center by Henry himself (in conjunction with the Earl of Huntington and the Duke of Gloucester), and the rear was headed up by the Duke of York and Earl of Oxford[4].
The whole time, the two French armies were in hot pursuit of the withering English invaders. One blocked the river Somme, so Henry turned southeast heading for a ford at Bellencourt. The French deployed cavalry as a form of resistance as the English attempted to cross at Voyennes, but were unsuccessful. The English army crossed on the 19th of October, 11 days into the march &ndash 3 days overdue of rations.

Henry and his army were becoming more and more demoralized by the minute. Henry even went to the extent of offering Harfleur back to the French in return for safe passage to Calais. The French rejected and demanded the English to return all provinces except for Guyenne[5]. Henry disapproved greatly and showed his discontent. The terms Henry wanted were not viable with the French and Henry returned at night to his forces. On the eve of the battle, the English were silent and obliging, despite almost certain death on the battlefield the next day. They lit few fires and slept out on the cold and rainy night. On the other hand, the French were up gambling and drinking till the early hours of the morning &ndash so confident in victory they were.

Dawn, and the French took up a disadvantageous position, keeping with the &lsquorules&rsquo of chivalry. The recently ploughed field separating the two armies was sodden with mud up to waist height in some places, but ankle-knee deep in most. The French were under the command of Charles D&rsquoAlbret, Constable of France.

He assembled his forces into the conventional French formation under his command. The first two battle lines were composed of dismounted men, numbering about 7-8000 each. The third line was made up of mounted Knights and nobles, the elite of the elite French Cavalry. On each flank, 600 mounted Knights were positioned, with the sole command to destroy the English Longbowmen.

The French had immense distaste towards the English Longbowmen by this stage, as they saw their practice as not chivalrous &ndash a &lsquolower&rsquo class man being able to take out an elite mounted (and heavily armoured) noble, with some rudimentary training. One example of the French hatred towards these infamous bowmen was succeeding the Siege of Soissons, where 300 of the Longbowmen were captured, humiliated and hung

Three thousand (3000) Genoese[6] Crossbowmen, plus some artillery, were present at the battle, but proved literally useless as they were deployed at the very rear. D&rsquoAlbret and his army waited, everything was in their favour numbers, mobility, resources and circumstance.

Across the field, Henry&rsquos well rested and fed men were being deployed in the typical English combined arms formation of the day. The English arranged themselves into a concave shape, with the centre comprised of dismounted men-at-arms. The 750-1000 men-at-arms wielded a range of weapons, such as bill hooks, halberds, long swords, daggers, axes and flails. They were rather heavily armed and armoured, and were a formidable force to reckon with, especially under the direct command of Henry V.

Flanking the centre were the 5-6000 Longbowmen, split between each side. The left was under the command of the Lord of Camoys, while the right came under the control of Edward, Duke of York. The archers extended out slightly from the line to form the concave and were flanked by the Woods of Agincourt and Tramecourt.

Four hours passed, and no move was made. D&rsquoAlbret stood motionless, remembering Crécy and Poitiers, and how they turned out. He maintained his defensive stance, allowing the English to make the initial move, or starve. It was now that Henry decided upon making his move. The army marched towards the French and came to just within firing range.

The Longbowmen &ndash prior to the battle &ndash were ordered to sharpen stakes to jam into the ground in front of them in battle, acting as a physical barrier to halt charges and disrupt formation. The dismounted English could easily navigate through the maze of stakes, but cavalry and charging infantry would find it a tad more challenging.

The sharp stakes were placed into the ground, facing outwards, and the archers let loose. The repetitive and deadly volleys unleashed were already eating away at the French front line, which had no counter, with the Crossbowmen at the rear. Charles had no option but to order an advance. While the Longbowmen were firing, the flanking Knights saw it a prime opportunity to take out the occupied archers.

They charged furiously, each trying to outpace and outdo his &lsquorival&rsquo. Camoy&rsquos left flank managed to repel the cavalry through arrow fire even before any Knights had engaged, and routed their opposition. On the other flank, the Knights largely avoided the arrow fire and managed to arrive at the stakes. They were promptly impaled, thrown from their mounts or picked out by the English, and the remnants withdrew.

The front line of the French pushed on in their advance through the sodden field. Lead by Charles himself, the force should have been able to destroy the English single-handedly. However, the terrain played a significant role in the playing out of the battle. The enclosing woods acted as a funnel, compressing the French who were unable to effectively wield their weapons[7].

As the two sides engaged, the fresh English men-at-arms clearly had the upper hand. The Longbowmen even joined in the massacre. Already half destroyed by rider-less horses and routing horsemen, plus the tiring march, the French were annihilated and withdrew. Many were taken as prisoners.

As the first line withdrew, the second approached an engaged in mêlée. This fighting was a lot more intense, with the 800 or so English men-at-arms holding their ground with difficulty against the 8000 Frenchmen. As the fighting progressed, more and more men succumbed to the fate of falling/tripping and drowning or being trampled. The Duke of York died in this fashion. The masses of downed French infantry were killed off by the lightly armoured and agile Longbowmen, with a quick stab through the eye-slit (with a dagger) or by beating to death (maul or hatchet).

A legendary tale has arisen from this, that Sir Peers Legh was severely wounded, but his Mastiff[8] stood over him until the end of the battle. Legh later died of his wounds, but the dog returned to Sir Peer's residence[9].
So effective was the English method of fighting, that the second French force was destroyed despite the bloody conflict. One group under D&rsquoAlencon was assigned to killing Henry or dying trying to do so. They failed miserably, and Henry gained heroic status in the process, saving the Duke of Gloucester. With the defeat of the Second line, the third loomed in the distance, unmoving.

Henry sent out heralds to call it quits, but the arrogant and glory-seeking nobles of the Third line turned it down in spite of some objection. One commander, known as &lsquoDe Fauquemberg&rsquo led a daring assault with the remaining Knights, straight at the English. Henry and his army were very confident now, even though they were still outnumbered by this final battle line.

To Henry&rsquos surprise and discontent, the lord of Agincourt, &lsquoIsembert&rsquo accompanied a cavalry charge from the rear into the English Camp, plundering Henry&rsquo remaining rations and treasures. Funnily enough, this was only a minor occurrence and Henry kept focused on the approaching Knights. Many of the French prisoners were killed to free up men to fight. The Longbowmen unleashed a final deathly reign of arrows upon the French, who took the easy option and withdrew before even engaging.

The French were defeated. Over half of the French nobility had been lost in one battle &ndash 3 Dukes, 90 Noblemen and 1560 Knights[10]. 200 were further taken prisoner. It is believed that the English only lost 400 men, mainly the very front line of men-at-arms and some Longbowmen. A lot of these were due to drowning/trampling and disease/starvation rather than from fatal wounds.

After the battle, Henry met with a French Herald[11] to decide upon a name for the battle. They agreed on &ldquoThe Battle of Agincourt&rdquo because of the nearby Agincourt castle. It was a tactically sound victory, proving that a smaller force of disciplined men can far outdo a huge force of disorderly and glory-hungry nobles.
Agincourt was a symbol of a changing time, the era of the mounted Knight and chivalry was drawing to a close and after a string of defeats on their hands, the French begun to reconsider their manner and mindset in battle. The started promoting lower classes into the military, as the English had done, and managed to find success in the rest of the war.

Henry had beaten &rsquos largest field army and now marched on Calais to winter. Triumph was sweet for the English, whilst defeat proved bitter for the French.

The Longbow

Long has the Battle of Agincourt been a battle decided by the &lsquoinvincible Longbow&rsquo. Until recently, this has been the case however historians are now questioning and investigating the actual decisiveness and importance of the legendary English Longbow.

The typical English Longbow had a maximum range of 350m but was only effective as a killing weapon at 250m. A bodkin point arrow could penetrate full plate armour at 50m[12]. The archers in the English Army at the time of Agincourt were fully professional soldiers of the &lsquoYeoman&rsquo class.

It is said, that within 50m, a Longbowman could aim for the head, a hit. Another tactic of the Longbowmen was to fire volleys at an almost 90 degree angle over their own battle line. The arrows would hit the apex and descend straight down onto the opponent&rsquos heads and horse&rsquos backs.

The English triumph at the Battle of Agincourt has long been attributed to the Longbow. However, new evidence has proven that it was not the sole deciding factor in the English victory.

The terrain of Agincourt was much in favour of the smaller English force - flanked by dense woods, and a large ploughed field separating the two armies. The English could not be outflanked and possibly (though not likely) put some archers in the woods. Also, the days before Agincourt, torrential rain poured down. This made for a very soggy battlefield, with some mud up to waist height. For the French, this was terrible &ndash their heavy plate armour would be very disadvantageous.

On the other hand, the lightly clad (cloth and padded leather) Longbowmen could easily navigate their way through the muddy field.

Another factor leading up to Henry&rsquos victory was on the French part. The French were impetuous and glory-seeking. Each Knight wanted to outdo his fellow Knight. This led to serious ordering and positioning of units problems. The French were raring to go, and though their charge would be furious, it was to be rather disorderly and promptly repelled.

Also, the French were tired and hungry from staying up late and sleeping in.
In conclusion, the English victory did have a lot to do with the accuracy, rate of fire (up to 13 per minute) and power of the Longbow. Nevertheless, the terrain and mindset of the French were very significant as well. Furthermore, Henry&rsquos avid and endurant nature, along with his enlightening charisma, was monumental in the gallant English victory at the Battle of Agincourt.

Reference List

Devries, K. Dougherty, M. Dickie, I. Phyllis, J. Christer, J. (2006). &ldquoBattles of the Medieval World 1000

1500&rdquo pp176-187. Published by Amber Books Ltd, London.
Grant, R.G. (2005). &ldquoBattle &ndash A visual journey through 5,000 years of combat&rdquo Published by Dorling Kindersley Limited, London.

Shakespeare, W. (1599). "Henry V" 4.3.21-69

Beck, S. (2001). "The Agincourt Campaign" <> Retrieved 24/3/07, 25/3/07 and 27/3/07

Agincourt Computing. (2004). "The Battle of Agincourt" <> Retrieved 23/3/07

Daniel, W. (1999). "The Battle of Agincourt Resource Site" <> Retrieved 23/3/07 and 24/3/07


Knights, A Runge, S. (2006) "The Battle of Agincourt, 1415"

[1] For further information see <> Rollo the Viking was allowed by Charles the Simple to settle in what he named Normandy.

[2] According to <>

[3] One of the most decisive elements of the Hundred Years War, climaxing at Agincourt

[4] Three segments determined from <>

[5] Guyenne is a region in south-western along the Atlantic Ocean and the Pyrenees mountain range on the border with

[6] Though did hire Genoese mercenaries for Agincourt, many were French levies and middle class crossbowmen

[7] Though usually exaggerated, two-handed weapons such as bearded axes and halberds were deemed useless in this situation

[8] Mastiffs are a large and stocky breed of dog, often accompanying the English in battle. <>

[9] This dog gave rise to the Lyme Park mastiffs. They symbolized loyalty and bravery, and are still existent today. <>

[10] According to Devries, K. Dougherty, M. Dickie, I. Phyllis, J. Christer, J. &ldquoBattles of the Medieval World 1000

1500&rdquo (2006) Published by Amber Books Ltd. London. These numbers vary among sources but remain high nevertheless

[11] Source: <>

[12] These figures are taken from Devries, K. Dougherty, M. Dickie, I. Phyllis, J. Christer, J. (2006). &ldquoBattles of the Medieval World 1000

Battle of Rouen

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Battle of Rouen, (31 July 1418–19 January 1419). In his campaigns to capture Normandy during the Hundred Years’ War, Henry V of England besieged and took the city of Rouen. With more than 70,000 inhabitants, it was one of the most important cities in France, and its capture was consequently a major success for the English army.

After his dramatic victory at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, Henry V returned to England. He spent the next year building up a powerful fleet to clear the English Channel of Genoese ships supporting the French, at the same time forming an alliance with the Holy Roman Emperor, who was previously a supporter of the French king.

In 1417 Henry returned to France and in three campaigns captured all of Normandy except Mont-Saint-Michel. The highlight of these campaigns was the seizure of Rouen. Expecting an attack, the French had strengthened the city’s defenses. The city walls were studded with towers and lined with crossbowmen. Cannon were trained at the English army.

With only a small force at his disposal, Henry could not attempt to breach the walls and storm the city, so he settled down to a long siege with the object of starving the defenders into submission. The siege began at the end of July 1418. By December the inhabitants were reduced to eating dogs, cats, horses, and mice, if they could catch them. More than 12,000 poor people were expelled from the town to save food. Henry refused to allow them passage, so they were forced to huddle in defensive ditches recently dug around the walls. Two priests gave them food on Christmas Day, but that was the limit of English largesse. The French garrison tried to break the English siege on several occasions, but to no avail. In January 1419, the French surrendered.

Watch the video: Siege of Harfleur, 1415 AD Battle of Agincourt Part 1. 2 A Baptism of Fire


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