Battle of Agincourt: AD 1415

Henry has at most 1000 men-at-arms and 5000 archers. The French outnumber him by perhaps three to one. But Henry compensates for this by taking up a position, at dawn on St Crispin's day (October 25), on a narrow front between two woods where the French advantage in numbers will be lessened.

His forces are arranged in a favourite English formation. Bowmen, provided with stakes which they can plant in the ground to form an instant palisade, are ranged on each wing in front of the men-at-arms (who are fighting on foot). Enemy cavalry or infantry, moving forward, are exposed to rains of arrows from either flank before they can clash with their opposite numbers.

At Agincourt the wet ploughed land combines with the narrow front to handicap the heavily armed French. They fall in large numbers (some 1500 mounted knights and 4500 other men-at-arms) to the more mobile English - whose rapid discharge of arrows from their longbows is followed by close work with axe and sword. The reports suggest that there are relatively few English casualties.

Henry V and his army continue on their way to the safe haven of Calais, reaching it four days later. Henry crosses to Dover on November 16 and is received in London amid magnificent pageantry.

The great fame of Agincourt in English history is not due to any lasting significance of the victory. It results entirely from the heroic treatment of the event by Shakespeare in Henry V.

The warrior king, in his pre-dawn exhortation to his troops, prophesies that the feast of St Crispin 'shall ne'er go by, From this day to the ending of the world, But we in it shall be remembered, We few, we happy few, we band of brothers'. As to the rest of the nation, he imagines how 'gentlemen in England, now a-bed, Shall think themselves accursed they were not here'.