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Battle of Agincourt

Battle of Agincourt

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On October 25, 1415, during the Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453) between England and France, Henry V (1386-1422), the young king of England, led his forces to victory at the Battle of Agincourt in northern France. After further conquests in France, Henry V was recognized in 1420 as heir to the French throne and the regent of France.

Battle of Agincourt: Background

Two months before the Battle of Agincourt began, King Henry V crossed the English Channel with some 11,000 men and laid siege to Harfleur in Normandy. After five weeks the town surrendered, but Henry lost half his men to disease and battle casualties. He decided to march his army northeast to Calais, where he would meet the English fleet and return to England. However, at Agincourt a vast French army of some 20,000 men stood in his path, greatly outnumbering the exhausted English archers, knights and men-at-arms.

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.

Almost 6,000 Frenchmen lost their lives during the Battle of Agincourt, while English casualties stood around several hundred. Despite the odds against him, Henry had won one of the great victories in military history.

Battle of Agincourt: Aftermath

After further conquests in France, Henry V was recognized in 1420 as heir to the French throne and the regent of France. He was at the height of his powers but died just two years later of camp fever near Paris.

Battle of Agincourt - Background:

In 1414, King Henry V of England began discussions with his nobles regarding renewing the war with France to assert his claim on the French throne. He held this claim through his grandfather, Edward III who begun the Hundred Years' War in 1337. Initially reluctant, they encouraged the king to negotiate with the French. In doing so, Henry was willing to renounce his claim to the French throne in exchange for 1.6 million crowns (the outstanding ransom on French King John II - captured at Poitiers in 1356), as well as French recognition of English dominion over occupied lands in France.

These included Touraine, Normandy, Anjou, Flanders, Brittany, and Aquitaine. To seal the deal, Henry was willing to marry the young daughter of the chronically insane King Charles VI, Princess Catherine, if he received a dowry of 2 million crowns. Believing these demands too high, the French countered with a dowry of 600,000 crowns and an offer to cede lands in Aquitaine. Negotiations quickly stalled as the French refused to increase the dowry. With talks deadlocked and feeling personally insulted by French actions, Henry successfully asked for war on April 19, 1415. Assembling an army of around, Henry crossed the Channel with around 10,500 men and landed near Harfleur on August 13/14.

Battle of Agincourt - HISTORY

T he English victory at the Battle of Agincourt gave birth to a legend that was immortalized in William Shakespeare's King Henry V. The battle took place in a muddy farmer's field in northern France on October 25, 1415 and was one in a series of encounters between France and England that has become known as the Hundred Years' War (1337-1453).

The story begins two months before the battle. Henry and his army had landed in France on August 14 near the mouth of the Seine River. The objective was to regain English territory lost to France over a period of centuries. The first task was to besiege and conquer a nearby town. Henry was successful, but the time-consuming effort took over a month. It was now early October. Henry realized that his reduced force and the limited time left in the campaigning season, meant that he would not be able to press his attack on the French. Instead, he lead his army north in a "show of force" that would end at the English port of Calais and embarkation back to England.

Henry V at the time of the
battle. His haircut provides
a more comfortable fit
for his battle helmet.
As the English army marched north, it was dogged by a French force intent on bringing Henry to battle. The French were able to slip ahead of Henry and block his path to the sea at Agincourt. On the morning of October 25, the two armies faced one another on a recently plowed field muddied by an overnight rain and constricted by woodlands on either side. The majority of Henry's army was made up of archers the remainder consisted of armored knights who fought on foot. His opponent's force consisted primarily of knights who fought on foot and on horseback, supported by archers. Although estimates of the relative strength of the two armies vary, there is no argument that the English were vastly outnumbered.

The two enemies faced one another, exchanging taunts designed to provoke an attack. Henry marched his force close enough to allow his archers to unleash a hail of arrows upon the French. The French knights charged forward only to be caught in a slippery quagmire of mud. To make matters worse, the French attackers were unable to effectively swing their broadswords because of the tight quarters of the battlefield and the continuing forward rush of their comrades behind them. Henry's archers fired lethal storms of arrows into this dense mass of humanity until the French began to retreat. The archers then dropped their bows, picked up what weapons they could find and joined the English knights in slaying their foe. The setting sun left a battlefield heaped with the bodies of thousands of French knights and the cream of France's ruling class. The English had dealt their enemy a disastrous blow.

". their horses stumbled among the stakes, and they were speedily slain by the archers."

Jehan de Wavrin was the son of a Flemish knight. His father and older brother fought with the French at the battle. Both were killed. The young de Wavrin observed the battle from the French lines and we join his account as the two armies prepare for combat:

. The French had arranged their battalions between two small thickets, one lying close to Agincourt, and the other to Tramecourt. The place was narrow, and very advantageous for the English, and, on the contrary, very ruinous for the French, for the said French had been all night on horseback, and it rained, and the pages, grooms, and others, in leading about the horses, had broken up the ground, which was so soft that the horses could with difficulty step out of the soil. And also the said French were so loaded with armour that they could not support themselves or move forward. In the first place they were armed with long coats of steel, reaching to the knees or lower, and very heavy, over the leg harness, and besides plate armour also most of them had hooded helmets wherefore this weight of armour, with the softness of the wet ground, as has been said, kept them as if immovable, so that they could raise their dubs only with great difficulty, and with all these mischiefs there was this, that most of them were troubled with hunger and want of sleep.

. Now let us return to the English. After the parley between the two armies was finished and the delegates had returned, each to their own people, the King of England, who had appointed a knight called Sir Thomas Erpingham to place his archers in front in two wings, trusted entirely to him, and Sir Thomas, to do his part, exhorted every one to do well in the name of the King, begging them to fight vigorously against the French in order to secure and save their own lives. And thus the knight, who rode with two others only in front of the battalion, seeing that the hour was come, for all things were well arranged, threw up a baton which he held in his hand, saying 'Nestrocq' ['Now strike'] which was the signal for attack then dismounted and joined the King, who was also on foot in the midst of his men, with his banner before him.

A contemporary depiction of the battle.
Agincourt stands in the background.
Then the English, seeing this signal, began suddenly to march, uttering a very loud cry, which greatly surprised the French. And when the English saw that the French did not approach them, they marched dashingly towards them in very fine order, and again raised a loud cry as they stopped to take breath.

Then the English archers, who, as I have said, were in the wings, saw that they were near enough, and began to send their arrows on the French with great vigour.

Then the French seeing the English come towards them in this manner, placed themselves together in order, everyone under his banner, their helmets on their heads. The Constable, the Marshal, the admirals, and the other princes earnestly exhorted their men to fight the English well and bravely and when it came to the approach the trumpets and clarions resounded everywhere but the French began to hold down their heads, especially those who had no bucklers, for the impetuosity of the English arrows, which fell so heavily that no one durst uncover or look up.

Thus they went forward a little, then made a little retreat, but before they could come to close quarters, many of the French were disabled and wounded by the arrows and when they came quite up to the English, they were, as has been said, so closely pressed one against another that none of them could lift their arms to strike their enemies, except some that were in front.

[The French knights] struck into these English archers, who had their stakes fixed in front of them. their. horses stumbled among the stakes, and they were speedily slain by the archers, which was a great pity. And most of the rest, through fear, gave way and fell back into their vanguard, to whom they were a great hindrance and they opened their ranks in several places, and made them fall back and lose their footing in some land newly sown for their horses had been so wounded by the arrows that the men could no longer manage them.

[The French] men-at-arms without number began to fall and their horses feeling the arrows coming upon them took to flight before the enemy, and following their example many of the French turned and fled. Soon afterwards the English archers, seeing the vanguard thus shaken, issued from behind their stockade, threw away their bows and quivers, then took their swords, hatchets, mallets, axes, falcon-beaks and other weapons, and, pushing into the places where they saw these breaches, struck down and killed these Frenchmen without mercy, and never ceased to kill till the said vanguard which had fought little or not at all was completely overwhelmed, and these went on striking right and left till they came upon the second battalion, which was behind the advance guard, and there the King personally threw himself into the fight with his men-at-arms.

As the English continued to gain the upper hand, King Henry received news that the French were attacking at the rear of his army and that French reinforcements were approaching. King Henry ordered that all French prisoners be put to the sword - an order his knights were reluctant to follow as, if kept alive, these prisoners could bring a healthy ransom:

"When the King of England perceived them coming thus he caused it to be published that every one that had a prisoner should immediately kill him, which those who had any were unwilling to do, for they expected to get great ransoms for them. But when the King was informed of this he appointed a gentleman with two hundred archers whom he commanded to go through the host and kill all the prisoners, whoever they might be. This esquire, without delay or objection, fulfilled the command of his sovereign lord, which was a most pitiable thing, for in cold blood all the nobility of France was beheaded and inhumanly cut to pieces, and all through this accursed company, a sorry set compared with the noble captive chivalry, who when they saw that the English were ready to receive them, all immediately turned and fled, each to save his own life. Many of the cavalry escaped but of those on foot there were many among the dead."

Wavrin, Jehan de, Chronicles, 1399-1422, trans. Sir W. Hardy and E. Hardy (1887) Keegan, John, The Illustrated Face of Battle: a study of Agincourt, Waterloo and the Somme (1989).

Did Agincourt Archers Really Invent Swearing With A Two-Fingered Salute V-Sign?

While Americans ‘flip the bird’ with a single middle finger, the British have traditionally achieved the same with two.

The two-fingered salute, or backwards victory or V-sign, made with the middle and index fingers, is said to have originated with English archers at Agincourt in 1415.

Medieval researcher and longbow expert Clive Bartlett claims in his book ‘English Longbowman 1330-1515’ that it is. So too does historian Craig Taylor in the National Geographic documentary ‘Agincourt: A Hundred Years of War’.

Though this has been disputed by others.

Think You Know The British Tommy? Meet His Compatriots

For an audio version of this article, click on the video above

In his book ‘Word Myths: Debunking Linguistic Urban Legends’, David Wilton explores the origins of the V-sign in a section entitled ‘F**k’:

“During the Hundred Years’ War the French would cut the middle finger off the hands of captured English archers so that they could no longer draw the strings of their deadly yew longbows (the type of wood from which they were made.) Because of this, English archers would taunt the French by raising their middle fingers and exclaiming that they could still ‘pluck yew’, hence the four-letter word (f**k.)”

Funny, though as Wilton goes on to explain, “ … this is obviously (just) a joke, a pun. It is doubtful that whoever came up with this howler meant for it to be taken seriously”.

And yet, it has spread, he says, thanks to the internet.

Specifically, an inaccurate transcript of an NPR (National Public Radio, a US program) show called ‘Car Talk’ featured a story that answered the question of which body part the English archers waved at the French at Agincourt. Which was, it claimed:

“ … the middle finger, without which it is impossible to draw the renowned English longbow … Thus, when the victorious English waved their middle fingers at the defeated French, they said, ‘See, we can still pluck yew! PLUCK YEW!’

“Over the years … Since ‘pluck yew’ is rather difficult to say [like ‘pleasant mother pheasant plucker’, which is who you had to go to for the feathers used on the arrows], the difficult consonant cluster at the beginning has gradually changed to a labiodental fricative ‘f’, and thus the words often used in conjunction with the one-finger-salute are mistakenly thought to have something to do with an intimate encounter”.

In actual fact, the real episode of the show did not feature anything about “plucking yew” and only said that another gesture (presumably the two-finger salute) might have originated at Agincourt.

Wilton acknowledges earlier in the book that the story of Agincourt and the two-finger salute is older than the internet. However, he also says it fits the description of how many such tall tales arise: through speculation, distorted facts, and jokes.

‘Pluck yew’ is funny, and thus almost certainly, he concludes, started life as a mere joke. From there, it almost certainly took on a life of its own once some people started taking it seriously.

The Wikipedia page on the V-sign mentions Wilton’s book in its origin section, though also refers to a medieval document in which an English archer is depicted possibly making the gesture.

The image it refers to is held by the British Library, whom the Forces Network contacted for more information.

They agreed with us that, in fact, it isn’t clear if the archer is holding up two fingers, or pointing at a butt – a kind of mound with targets attached that was used for practice by archers in medieval England.

Given the presence of the butt, it seems more likely to have been intended as an illustration of the latter. And the British Library's assessment was that there simply isn’t enough evidence to conclude there is a link between Agincourt and today’s offensive gesture.

Why Was Agincourt So Important?

Looking for a clear link with the gesture obscures the larger issue of just why it is that this particular battle has been so mythologised as to have been connected, correctly or not, to the common two-finger salute.

In other words, just why was Agincourt so important? Why did the battle of Agincourt start? How did it actually happen? And what impact did it have on the history of England and France?

A careful examination of the battle itself reveals not only the answers to these questions and more, but also just why it is such an important part of English history and culture.

In The Archers’ Shoes

October 25, 1415, was a heck of a day to have been an English soldier.

Of course, one could say the same of other fateful dates: June 6, 1944 July 1, 1916 or, in more distant times, October 14, 1066.

But St Crispin’s, and St Crispian’s, Day was more than just the stuff of Shakespearean legend.

For as the sun came up that morning, the English army, numbering somewhere between three and 7,000 mostly ‘low-born’ archers, faced overwhelming odds.

Less than a kilometre away, across the muddy, wheat-sown fields outside the town of Agincourt, was a French army at least three times as large.

The English were starving and desperately trying to escape France via the port at Calais the road to which was now blocked by as many as 28,000 well-armed French soldiers. Many were aristocrats, clad in state-of-the-art steel armour, and some were on partially-armoured horses wielding lances – the tanks of the middle ages.

Henry V was leading a well-trained, contracted force – the beginnings of today’s professional armed forces. But against such odds, this should have been its darkest day, not July 1, 1916.

But the English weren’t scared. They were angry.

They had heard their opponents’ boisterous singing and banter, and seen their conspicuous campfires blazing the night before. All was in marked contrast to the Englishmen’s quieter holy confessions, and the expectation they might die on the morrow.

Yet 29-year-old King Henry had capitalised on and exploited French arrogance, reminding his longbowmen of the rumour that if not killed in battle, their right hands would be mutilated by their enemies.

This part of the story is almost certainly true. English archers, with their 6-foot longbows, were an elite corps in medieval Europe. Yet, they were composed of mostly ‘low-born’ peasantry and weren’t respected by French knights.

King Henry’s ‘band of brothers’ speech, which he actually gave the evening of October 24th, not the day of the battle as Shakespeare’s play shows, was meant to overcome this class divide.

So too was the tearing up and passing out of royal coats of arms on October 25th – a gesture to symbolise a unity that cut across class lines.

Finally, the invoking of Saints Cripin and Crispian was a part of this strategy. Although Crispin and Crispian had been French, not English saints, they had also been commoners. During a 1414 battle, these saints of Soissons had had their hands mutilated when their city was captured by Orleanists, one faction in a bitter power struggle within France.

One key detail here is that English archers who had also fought against the Orleanists were put to death as well.

The choice to honour the saints seems to have resonated with Henry’s troops, because his tiny army was about to coalesce, and coalesce well, around a common goal: of getting the French to attack them.

Whether it was “Up yours!” two-finger salutes, flashing bottoms like defiant Scots in ‘Braveheart’, or simply a feint (a fake attack) by a few archers that did it, this was all part of cunning plan.

Because the English had laid a deadly trap for their French opponents, one that was about to be sprung with the blast of hunting horns.

Having crept quietly into position, laying in wait behind hedgerows and trees, and ready to bolt behind the security of their stake walls, the English archers prepared to unleash their arrow storm.

Raised on regular archery practice at the butt ranges, and inspired by tales of Robin Hood, the archers expertly looped the strings over their bows and readied them for action.

As they flexed their shoulders and back muscles to apply the 100 to 150-lb of draw weight necessary to flex their bows, they presumably wondered one last time: Was this going to be like the mass slaughter and regicidal disaster of Hastings in 1066, or the surprise victory of Crecy in 1046?

As they heard and possibly felt the massed ranks of the French cavalry gallop towards them, and watched the 30-plus ranks of French men-at-arms begin their march, they must have hoped desperately for the latter.

It was around 11am, and the pre-planned hunting horns were bellowing from the English side.

Wherever they were – on the left or right flank of the English army, or hidden and ready to launch an ambush from a field near the village of Tramecourt – the English archers unleashed their arrow storm.

Historians Reassess Battle of Agincourt

MAISONCELLE, France — The heavy clay-laced mud behind the cattle pen on Antoine Renault’s farm looks as treacherous as it must have been nearly 600 years ago, when King Henry V rode from a spot near here to lead a sodden and exhausted English Army against a French force that was said to outnumber his by as much as five to one.

No one can ever take away the shocking victory by Henry and his “band of brothers,” as Shakespeare would famously call them, on St. Crispin’s Day, Oct. 25, 1415. They devastated a force of heavily armored French nobles who had gotten bogged down in the region’s sucking mud, riddled by thousands of arrows from English longbowmen and outmaneuvered by common soldiers with much lighter gear. It would become known as the Battle of Agincourt.

But Agincourt’s status as perhaps the greatest victory against overwhelming odds in military history — and a keystone of the English self-image — has been called into doubt by a group of historians in Britain and France who have painstakingly combed an array of military and tax records from that time and now take a skeptical view of the figures handed down by medieval chroniclers.

The historians have concluded that the English could not have been outnumbered by more than about two to one. And depending on how the math is carried out, Henry may well have faced something closer to an even fight, said Anne Curry, a professor at the University of Southampton who is leading the study.

Those cold figures threaten an image of the battle that even professional researchers and academics have been reluctant to challenge in the face of Shakespearean verse and centuries of English pride, Ms. Curry said.

“It’s just a myth, but it’s a myth that’s part of the British psyche,” Ms. Curry said.

The work, which has received both glowing praise and sharp criticism from other historians in the United States and Europe, is the most striking of the revisionist accounts to emerge from a new science of military history. The new accounts tend to be not only more quantitative but also more attuned to political, cultural and technological factors, and focus more on the experience of the common soldier than on grand strategies and heroic deeds.

The approach has drastically changed views on everything from Roman battles with Germanic tribes, to Napoleon’s disastrous occupation of Spain, to the Tet offensive in the Vietnam War. But the most telling gauge of the respect being given to the new historians and their penchant for tearing down established wisdom is that it has now become almost routine for American commanders to call on them for advice on strategy and tactics in Afghanistan, Iraq and other present-day conflicts.

The most influential example is the “Counterinsurgency Field Manual” adopted in 2006 by the United States Army and Marines and smack in the middle of the debate over whether to increase troop levels in Afghanistan.

Gen. David H. Petraeus, who oversees the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as the head of the United States Central Command, drew on dozens of academic historians and other experts to create the manual. And he named Conrad Crane, director of the United States Army Military History Institute at the Army War College, as the lead writer.

Drawing on dozens of historical conflicts, the manual’s prime conclusion is the assertion that insurgencies cannot be defeated without protecting and winning over the general population, regardless of how effective direct strikes on enemy fighters may be.

Mr. Crane said that some of his own early historical research involved a comparison of strategic bombing campaigns with attacks on civilians by rampaging armies during the Hundred Years’ War, when England tried and ultimately failed to assert control over continental France. Agincourt was perhaps the most stirring victory the English would ever achieve on French soil during the conflict.

The Hundred Years’ War never made it into the field manual — the name itself may have served as a deterrent — but after sounding numerous cautions on the vast differences in time, technology and political aims, historians working in the area say that there are some uncanny parallels with contemporary foreign conflicts.

For one thing, by the time Henry landed near the mouth of the Seine on Aug. 14, 1415, and began a rather uninspiring siege of a town called Harfleur, France was on the verge of a civil war, with factions called the Burgundians and the Armagnacs at loggerheads. Henry would eventually forge an alliance with the Burgundians, who in today’s terms would become his “local security forces” in Normandy, and he cultivated the support of local merchants and clerics, all practices that would have been heartily endorsed by the counterinsurgency manual.

“I’m not one who sees history repeating itself, but I think a lot of attitudes do,” said Kelly DeVries, a professor of history at Loyola University Maryland who has written extensively on medieval warfare. Mr. DeVries said that fighters from across the region began filtering toward the Armagnac camp as soon as Henry became allied with their enemies. “Very much like Al Qaeda in Iraq, there were very diverse forces coming from very, very different places to fight,” Mr. DeVries said.

But first Henry would have his chance at Agincourt. After taking Harfleur, he marched rapidly north and crossed the Somme River, his army depleted by dysentery and battle losses and growing hungry and fatigued.

At the same time, the fractious French forces hastily gathered to meet him.

It is here that historians themselves begin fighting, and several take exception to the new scholarship by Ms. Curry’s team.

Based on chronicles that he considers to be broadly accurate, Clifford J. Rogers, a professor of history at the United States Military Academy at West Point, argues that Henry was in fact vastly outnumbered. For the English, there were about 1,000 so-called men-at-arms in heavy steel armor from head to toe and 5,000 lightly armored men with longbows. The French assembled roughly 10,000 men-at-arms, each with an attendant called a gros valet who could also fight, and around 4,000 men with crossbows and other fighters.

Although Mr. Rogers writes in a recent paper that the French crossbowmen were “completely outclassed” by the English archers, who could send deadly volleys farther and more frequently, the grand totals would result in a ratio of four to one, close to the traditional figures. Mr. Rogers said in an interview that he regarded the archival records as too incomplete to substantially change those estimates.

Still, several French historians said in interviews this month that they seriously doubted that France, riven by factional strife and drawing from a populace severely depleted by the plague, could have raised an army that large in so short a time. The French king, Charles VI, was also suffering from bouts of insanity.

“It was not the complete French power at Agincourt,” said Bertrand Schnerb, a professor of medieval history at the University of Lille, who estimated that there were 12,000 to 15,000 French soldiers.

Ms. Curry, the Southampton historian, said she was comfortable with something close to that lower figure, based on her reading of historical archives, including military pay records, muster rolls, ships’ logs, published rosters of the wounded and dead, wartime tax levies and other surviving documents.

On the English side, Ms. Curry calculates that Henry probably had at least 8,680 soldiers with him on his march to Agincourt. She names thousands of the likely troopers, from Adam Adrya, a man-at-arms, to Philip Zevan, an archer.

And an extraordinary online database listing around a quarter-million names of men who served in the Hundred Years’ War, compiled by Ms. Curry and her collaborators at the universities in Southampton and Reading, shows that whatever the numbers, Henry’s army really was a band of brothers: many of the soldiers were veterans who had served on multiple campaigns together.

“You see tremendous continuity with people who knew and trusted each other,” Ms. Curry said.

That trust must have come in handy after Henry, through a series of brilliant tactical moves, provoked the French cavalry — mounted men-at-arms — into charging the masses of longbowmen positioned on the English flanks in a relatively narrow field between two sets of woods that still exist not far from Mr. Renault’s farm in Maisoncelle.

The series of events that followed as the French men-at-arms slogged through the muddy, tilled fields behind the cavalry were quick and murderous.

Volley after volley of English arrow fire maddened the horses, killed many of the riders and forced the advancing men-at-arms into a mass so dense that many of them could not even lift their arms.

When the heavily armored French men-at-arms fell wounded, many could not get up and simply drowned in the mud as other men stumbled over them. And as order on the French lines broke down completely and panic set in, the much nimbler archers ran forward, killing thousands by stabbing them in the neck, eyes, armpits and groin through gaps in the armor, or simply ganged up and bludgeoned the Frenchmen to death.

“The situation was beyond grisly it was horrific in the extreme,” Mr. Rogers wrote in his paper.

King Henry V had emerged victorious, and as some historians see it, the English crown then mounted a public relations effort to magnify the victory by exaggerating the disparity in numbers.

Whatever the magnitude of the victory, it would not last. The French populace gradually soured on the English occupation as the fighting continued and the civil war remained unresolved in the decades after Henry’s death in 1422, Mr. Schnerb said.

“They came into France saying, ‘You Frenchmen have civil war, and now our king is coming to give you peace,’ ” Mr. Schnerb said. “It was a failure.”

Unwilling to blame a failed counterinsurgency strategy, Shakespeare pinned the loss on poor Henry VI:

“Whose state so many had the managing, That they lost France and made his England bleed.”


WESTMORLAND. O that we now had here
But one ten thousand of those men in England
That do no work to-day!

KING. What's he that wishes so?
My cousin, Westmorland? No, my fair cousin
If we are mark'd to die, we are enough
To do our country loss and if to live,
The fewer men, the greater share of honour.
God's will! I pray thee, wish not one man more.
By Jove, I am not covetous for gold,
Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost
It yearns me not if men my garments wear
Such outward things dwell not in my desires.
But if it be a sin to covet honour,
I am the most offending soul alive.
No, faith, my coz, wish not a man from England.
God's peace! I would not lose so great an honour
As one man more methinks would share from me
For the best hope I have. O, do not wish one more!
Rather proclaim it, Westmorland, through my host,
That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart his passport shall be made,
And crowns for convoy put into his purse
We would not die in that man's company
That fears his fellowship to die with us.
This day is call'd the feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam'd,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say "To-morrow is Saint Crispian."
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say "These wounds I had on Crispin's day."
Old men forget yet all shall be forgot,
But he'll remember, with advantages,
What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words—
Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester—
Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb'red.
This story shall the good man teach his son
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be rememberèd—
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

Use and quotation Edit

  • During the Napoleonic Wars, just prior to the Battle of the Nile, Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson, then Rear Admiral of the Blue, referred to his captains as his "band of brothers". [2] ' magazine Household Words (1850-1851) took its name from the speech. [3]
  • During the First Barbary War, Lieutenant Stephen Decatur, Jr. proclaimed "the fewer men, the greater share of honor," before leading a raiding party to destroy the USS Philadelphia (1799) . [4]
  • During World War II, Laurence Olivier delivered the speech during a radio programme to boost British morale and Winston Churchill found him so inspiring that he asked Olivier to produce the Shakespeare play as a film. Olivier's adaptation appeared in 1944. [2] It is said that the radio programme inspired Churchill's famous Never was so much owed by so many to so few speech made in 1940 during the Battle of Britain.
  • The title of British politician Duff Cooper's autobiography Old Men Forget (1953) is taken from the speech. [5]
  • During the legal battle for the U.S. presidential election of 2000, regarding the Florida vote recount, members of the Florida legal team for George W. Bush, the eventual legal victor, joined arms and recited the speech during a break in preparation, to motivate themselves. [6]
  • On the day of the result of the 2016 United Kingdom European Union membership referendum, as the vote to leave became clear, activist and MEP Daniel Hannan is reported to have delivered an edited version of the speech from a table, replacing the names Bedford, Exeter, Warwick and Talbot with other prominent Vote Leave activists. [7][8]

Film, television, music and literature Edit

Parts of the speech appear in films such as The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), [9] [10] Tombstone (1993), [11] Renaissance Man (1994), [12] Tea With Mussolini (1999), [13] This Is England (2006), [14] and Their Finest (2017). [15] It has also been used in television series such as Rough Riders (1997), [16] [17] Buffy the Vampire Slayer, [18] [19] The Black Adder, [20] [21] and Doctor Who. [22]

The Longbow

The longbow as we recognise it today, measuring around the height of a man, made its first major appearance towards the end of the Middle Ages. Although generally attributed to the Welsh, longbows have in fact been around at least since Neolithic times: one made of yew and wrapped in leather was found in Somerset in 1961. It is thought that even earlier finds have been uncovered in Scandinavia.

The Welsh however, do appear to have been the first to develop the tactical use of the longbow into the deadliest weapon of its day. During the Anglo-Norman invasion of Wales, it is said that the ‘Welsh bowmen took a heavy toll on the invaders’. With the conquest of Wales complete, Welsh conscripts were incorporated into the English army for Edward’s campaigns further north into Scotland.

Although King Edward I, ‘The Hammer of the Celts’, is normally regarded as the man responsible for adding the might of the longbow to the English armoury of the day, the actual evidence for this is vague, although he did ban all sports but archery on Sundays, to make sure Englishmen practised with the longbow. It is however during Edward III’s reign when more documented evidence confirms the important role that the longbow has played in both English and Welsh history.

Edward III’s reign was of course dominated by the Hundred Years War which actually lasted from 1337-1453. It was perhaps due this continual state of war that so many historical records survive which raise the longbow to legendary status first at Crécy and Poitiers, and then at Agincourt.

Battle of Crécy

After landing with some 12,000 men, including 7,000 archers and taking Caen in Normandy, Edward III moved northwards. Edward’s forces were continually tracked by a much larger French army, until they finally arrived at Crécy in 1346 with a force of 8,000.

The English took a defensive position in three divisions on ground that sloped downwards, with the archers on the flanks. One of these divisions was commanded by Edward’s sixteen year old son Edward the Black Prince. The French first sent out the mercenary Genoese crossbowmen, numbering between 6000 and 12,000 men. With a firing rate of three – five volleys per minute they were however no match for the English and Welsh longbow men who could fire ten – twelve arrows in the same amount of time. It is also reported that rain had adversely affected the bowstrings of the crossbows.

Philip VI, after commenting on the uselessness of his archers, sent forward his cavalry who charged through and over his own crossbowmen. The English and Welsh archers and men-at-arms held them off not just once, but 16 times in total. During one of these attacks Edward’s son The Black Prince came under direct attack, but his father refused to send help, claiming he needed to ‘win his spurs’.

After nightfall Philip VI, himself wounded, ordered the retreat. According to one estimate French casualties included eleven princes, 1,200 knights and 12,000 soldiers killed. Edward III is said have lost a few hundred men.

Battle of Crécy between the English and French in the Hundred Years’ War.
From a 15th-century illuminated manuscript of Jean Froissart’s Chronicles

Battle of Poitiers

Details concerning the Battle of Poitiers in 1356 are in fact quite vague, however it appears that some 10,000 English and Welsh troops, this time led by Edward, Prince of Wales, also known as the Black Prince, were retreating after a long campaign in France with a French army of somewhere between 20,000 – 60,000 men in close pursuit. The two armies were separated by a large hedge when the French found a gap and attempted to break through. Realising battle was about to commence The Black Prince ordered his men to form their usual battle positions with his archers on the flanks.

The French, who had developed a small cavalry unit specifically to attack the English and Welsh archers, were not only brought to an abrupt stop by the number of arrows that showered down upon them, they were by all accounts routed. The next attack came from the Germans who had allied themselves with the French and were leading the second cavalry attack. This was also stopped and it is said that so intense was the attack by the English and Welsh archers that at one point some ran out of arrows and had to run forward and collect arrows embedded in people lying on the ground.

Following a final volley of his archers’ fire, the Black Prince ordered the advance. The French broke and were pursued to Poitiers where the French King was captured. He was transported to London and held to ransom in the Tower of London for 3,000,000 gold crowns.

Battle of Agincourt

A 28-year-old King Henry V set sail from Southampton on 11th August 1415 with a fleet of around 300 ships to claim his birthright of the Duchy of Normandy and so revive English fortunes in France. Landing at Harfleur in northern France, they besieged the town.

The siege lasted five weeks, much longer than expected, and Henry lost around 2,000 of his men to dysentery. Henry took the decision to leave a garrison at Harfleur and take the remainder of his army back home via the French port of Calais almost 100 miles away to the north. Just two minor problems lay in their way – a very, very large and angry French army and the River Somme. Outnumbered, sick and short of supplies Henry’s army struggled but eventually managed to cross the Somme.

It was on the road north, near the village of Agincourt, that the French were finally able to stop Henry’s march. Some 25,000 Frenchmen faced Henry’s 6000. As if things couldn’t get worse it started to pour with rain.

Morning of the Battle of Agincourt, 25th October 1415

On 25th October, St Crispin’s day, the two sides prepared for battle. The French though weren’t to be rushed and at 8.00am, laughing and joking, they ate breakfast. The English, cold and wet from the driving rain, ate whatever they had left in their depleted rations.

Following an initial stalemate, Henry decided he had nothing to lose and forced the French into battle and advanced. The English and Welsh archers moved to within 300 metres of the enemy and began to fire. This sparked the French into action and the first wave of French cavalry charged, the rain-soaked ground severely hindering their progress. The storm of arrows raining down upon them caused the French to become unnerved and they retreated into the way of the now advancing main army. With forces moving in every direction, the French were soon in total disarray. The field quickly turned into a quagmire, churned up by the feet of thousands of heavily-armoured men and horses. The English and Welsh archers, some ten ranks deep, rained tens of thousands of arrows down onto the mud trapped French and what followed was a bloodbath. The battle itself lasted just half an hour and between 6,000 and 10,000 French were killed whilst the English suffered losses in the hundreds.

After three hundred years the dominance of the longbow in weaponry was coming to an end and giving way to the age of muskets and guns. The last battle involving the longbow took place in 1644 at Tippermuir in Perthshire, Scotland during the English Civil War.

Battle of Agincourt

In 1413 King Henry IV of England died and was followed on the throne by Henry V. The Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453) continued, with English kings claiming the throne of France and its territory and the French kings seeking to expel the English. In prosecuting the war, Henry V concluded an alliance with Duke John of Burgundy, who promised to remain neutral and be Henry V’s vassal in return for territorial gains at the expense of France. In April 1415 Henry V declared war on King Charles VI of France, assembled a force of 12,000 men at Southampton, and crossed the English Channel to land at the mouth of the Seine on August 10.

Beginning on August 13, Henry laid siege to the Channel port of Honfleur. Taking it on September 22, he expelled most of its French inhabitants, replacing them with Englishmen. Only the poorest Frenchmen were allowed to remain, and they had to take an oath of allegiance. The siege, disease, and garrison duties all depleted Henry V’s army, leaving only about 6,000 men.

For whatever reason Henry V then decided to march overland from Honfleur to Calais, moving without baggage or artillery. His army departed on October 6, covering as much as 18 miles a day in difficult conditions caused by heavy rains. The English found one ford after another blocked by French troops, so Henry V took the army eastward, up the Somme, to locate a crossing. High water and the French prevented this until he reached Athies (10 miles west of Péronne), where the English found an undefended crossing.

At Rouen the French raised a force of some 30,000 men under Charles d’Albert, constable of France. This force almost intercepted the English before they could get across the Somme. Henry V’s trail was not hard to find, marked as it was by burning French farmhouses. (Henry once remarked that war without fire was like “sausages without mustard.”)

D’Albert got in front of the English and set up a blocking position on the main road to Calais near the Chateau of Agincourt, where Henry’s troops met them on October 24. Henry’s force faced an army many times his own in size. His men were short of supplies, and enraged local inhabitants were killing English foragers and stragglers. Shaken by the prospects, Henry V ordered his prisoners released and offered to return Honfleur and pay for any damages he had inflicted in return for safe passage to Calais. The French, with a numerical advantage of up to five to one, were in no mood to make concessions. They demanded that Henry V renounce his claims in France to everything except Guyenne, which he refused to do.

The French nobles were eager to join battle and pressed d’Albert for an attack, but he resisted their demands that day. That night Henry V ordered absolute silence, which the French took as a sign of demoralization. Daybreak on October 25 found the English at one end of a defile slightly more than 1,000 yards wide and flanked by heavy woods. The road to Calais ran down its middle. Open fields on either side of the road had been recently plowed and were sodden from the heavy rains.

Drawing on English success in the battles of Crécy and Poitiers, Henry V drew up his 800 to 1,000 men-at-arms and 5,000 archers in three major groups, or “battles.” The “battles,” in one line, consisted of men-at-arms and pikemen, while the archers were located between the three “battles” and on the flanks, where they enfiladed forward about 100 yards or so to the woods on either side.

About a mile away d’Albert also deployed in three groups, but because of French numbers and the narrowness of the defile these were one behind the other. The first rank consisted of dismounted men and some crossbow men, along with perhaps 500 horsemen on the flanks the second was the same without the horsemen and the third consisted almost entirely of horsemen. Each commander hoped to fight a defensive battle, Henry in particular so that he might employ his archers.

Finally, in late morning when the French had failed to move, Henry staged a cautious advance of about a half mile and then halted, his men taking up the same formation as before, with the leading archers on the flanks only about 300 yards from the first French ranks. The bowmen then pounded sharpened stakes into the ground facing toward the enemy, their tips at breast height of a horse.

Henry’s movement had the desired effect. D’Albert was no longer able to resist the demands of his fellow nobles to attack the English and ordered the advance. The mounted knights on either flank moved forward well ahead of the slow-moving and heavily armored men-at-arms. It was Crécy and Poitiers all over again, with the longbow decisive. A large number of horsemen, slowed by the soggy ground, were cut down by English arrows that caught them in enfilade. The remainder were halted at the English line.

The cavalry attack was defeated long before the first French men-at-arms, led in person by d’Albert, arrived. Their heavy body armor and the mud exhausted the French, but most reached the thin English line and, by sheer weight of numbers, drove it back. The English archers then fell on the closely packed French from the flanks, using swords, axes, and hatchets to cut them down. The unencumbered Englishmen had the advantage, as they could more easily move in the mud around their French opponents. Within minutes, almost all in the first French rank had been either killed or captured.

The second French rank then moved forward, but it lacked the confidence and cohesion of the first. Although losses were heavy, many of its number were able to retire to re-form for a new attack with the third “battle” of mounted knights. At this point Henry V learned that the French had attacked his baggage train, and he ordered the wholesale slaughter of the French prisoners, fearing that he would not be strong enough to meet attacks from both the front and the rear. The rear attack, however, turned out to be only a sally from the Chateau of Agincourt by a few men-at-arms and perhaps 600 French peasants. The English easily repulsed the final French attack, which was not pressed home. Henry V then led several hundred mounted men in a charge that dispersed what remained of the French army. The archers then ran forward, killing thousands of the Frenchmen lying on the field by stabbing them through gaps in their armor or bludgeoning them to death.

In less than four hours the English had defeated a force significantly larger than their own. At least 5,000 Frenchmen died in the battle, and another 1,500 were taken prisoner. Among those who perished were many prominent French nobles, including d’Albert. The Duke d’Orléans and Marshal Jean Bouciquan were among the captured. Henry V reported English losses as 13 men-at-arms and 100 footmen killed, but this figure is too low. English losses were probably 300 killed. Among the badly wounded was Henry V’s brother, the Duke of Gloucester.

Henry V then marched to Calais, taking the prisoners who would be ransomed. The army reached Calais on October 29. In mid-November Henry V returned to England.

The loss of so many prominent French nobles in the Battle of Agincourt greatly increased Duke John of Burgundy’s influence to the point of dictating French royal policy. Henry V returned to France in 1417 and went on to conquer Normandy by the end of 1419, with the exception of Mont St. Michel. In 1420 at Troyes he concluded peace with Charles VI, who agreed to the marriage of Henry to his daughter Catherine. The French king also disowned his son, the dauphin Charles, and acknowledged Henry as his heir. Over the next two years Henry consolidated his hold over northern France, but unfortunately for the English cause he died in 1422, leaving as heir to the thrones of England and France a son just nine months old.

References Hibbert, Christopher. Agincourt. New York: Dorset, 1978. Keegan, John. The Face of Battle: A Study of Agincourt, Waterloo & the Somme. New York: Vintage Books, 1977. Seward, Desmond. The Hundred Years’ War: The English in France, 1337-1453. New York: Atheneum, 1978. Sumption, Jonathan. The Hundred Years’ War: Trial by Battle. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1988.

The Key Factor: Mud

Once the English archers were in place, the comparatively thin line of English knights kneeled awkwardly in their armor to make the sign of the cross before advancing on foot over the waterlogged field behind the archers to a point within 300 yards of the French. The sight of the smaller English army boldly advancing so excited the mounted French knights on each flank that they largely abandoned discipline to break into a ragged attack, shouting, “Montjoie! Saint Denis!” As they spurred their horses onward, the soggy ground beneath them was churned into clinging mud, which slowed the charge immediately. Nonetheless, cheers rose from the other French nobles standing behind them as they caught the excitement and moved forward as well.

As might have been anticipated, horses quickly began to slip in the mud. As this happened, the French attackers converging from both flanks were thrown into confusion by devastating volleys from the English archers, dispatched in four clouds of arrows. Although the French knights’ armor deflected many of the arrows, their less-well-clad horses were not so fortunate—they stumbled or dropped in their tracks. Some knights were pitched to the ground. Riderless mounts bolted about, colliding with advancing French foot soldiers. By now, horses and men on the field were ankle-deep in mud. The French artillery, intimidated by the first flight of arrows, had pulled back rather than face more steel-tipped projectiles.

Less than a hundred of the mounted French knights ever reached the spike-barricade placed by the English archers. The rest lay mired in the churned-up mud—dead, wounded, or stumbling about in a daze. French cavalry commander Guillaume de Saveuse was one of the dead, killed by a mallet blow or stab wound through his armor-joint after his horse impaled itself on one of the spikes. Without pause, the second line of French began to advance on foot, moving ponderously through the mud in face of flights of arrows. Although it continued to be a cool day, the knights began to sweat in their 60 pounds of armor from the exertion of trudging through the mud. As they proceeded, many could not avoid stiff-legging their way over the dead and wounded, causing any number to suffocate in the mud.

As French knights attack the English line, their horses become bogged down in the mud as English archers continue to pour deadly fire into their ranks.

The footing grew worse as the centers of both armies locked together in hand-to-hand combat. Slowly the reinforced French attack drove the English center back, and the battle lost its form in the confined area between the woods. By one account, Henry “fought not as a king but as a knight, leading the way when possible, giving and receiving cruel blows.” The English middle rallied as the right flank engaged, but the obese York was trampled under foot. He either suffocated or suffered a heart attack, since his armor-clad body was found afterward without a wound. The Earl of Oxford was killed also, but Henry called upon Robert Howard, one of the ship captains and a friend of his youth, to take the earl’s place. Howard rose to the occasion as the English archers dropped their longbows to wade into the fray, wielding their axes and short swords.

By now, the French knights were so crammed together they could barely swing their own weapons, and when they were knocked down they found it impossible to get up from the mud in their heavy armor. The more nimble English archers made many French knights lame by slashing their short axes against the backs of their adversaries’ knees. Those sprawling on the ground were helpless to protect themselves from the archers, who mercilessly thrust their daggers through the slits of visors or into the mail covering armpits or groins. The Duke of Alenon, finding himself cut off and surrounded, shouted his surrender to King Henry, who was a few yards away coming to his brother Gloucester’s aid. Before the king could intercede, however, Alenon was slashed and beaten to death by swarming English archers. The Duke of Brabant, younger brother of the Duke of Burgundy, borrowed a lesser nobleman’s armor and galloped into the fray only to be unhorsed and quickly dispatched by archers who did not recognize his worth because his borrowed armor did not mark him as a man of distinction.

In the first two hours of the three-hour battle, the French suffered a staggering 5,000 killed in a bloodbath that included three dukes, five counts, and 90 barons. By this stage, more English knights and archers were gathering up prisoners than continuing to fight. (A French noble would fetch enough in ransom to make a poor man comparatively comfortable for life.) Meanwhile, the knights in the third French line watched the disastrous scene. In a cruel mix-up, Henry ordered the French prisoners killed when he heard that a newly arrived enemy force (actually bands of local peasants) was attacking his lightly guarded rear. The order was only fitfully obeyed by the English nobles, who found it morally repugnant to kill their French counterparts after they had surrendered, and Henry had to deputize a force of 200 low-born archers to carry out the brutal and unnecessary slaughter. When it became evident that the uncommitted third French line, daunted by the fate of the first two lines, was withdrawing from the battlefield, Henry rescinded his order, but by then dozens of duly surrendered French nobles had met a most ignoble fate in the bloodstained mud at Agincourt.

Was the V-sign invented at the battle of Agincourt?

In a nutshell, no! This idea is a twentieth-century myth although so far it has proved impossible to find where and when a link to Agincourt was first suggested.

The myth is that the French had threatened to cut off the index and middle fingers of any archers they captured. But since the English won, the archers then stuck up these two fingers to show they still had them.

Two fifteenth-century narratives mention mutilation. In a chronicle written by Thomas Walsingham, a monk of St Albans, ‘the French published that they wished no-one to be spared except certain named lords and the king himself. They announced that the rest would be killed or have their limbs horribly mutilated. Because of this our men were much excited to rage and took heart, encouraging one another against the event.’

In chronicles written by the Burgundians Jean le Fèvre and Jean de Waurin they invent a battle speech for Henry in which the king is reported to have said ‘that the French had boasted that if any English archers were captured they would cut off the three fingers of their right hand so that neither man or horse would ever again by killed by their arrow fire’.

None of these texts says that the victorious archers stuck up their fingers after the battle. Nor is there evidence that archers taken prisoner ever had their fingers cut off, despite the scenes in Bernard Cornwell’s novel, Azincourt, of what happened to English archers at the attack on Soissons in 1414.

Mutilation was used as a military punishment in English armies in this period. In disciplinary ordinances issued in 1385, which were used again for the campaign of 1415, foot archers who cried ‘to horse’ without good cause or who went out foraging without permission might have their right ear cut off as punishment. If servants or pages started quarrels in the host, they might have their left ear cut off. But commanders were hardly likely to have punishment which would damage the fighting capability of their men. By contrast, military ordinances were tough on prostitutes. In set of military ordinances issued by Henry V at some point in his reign, prostitutes were ordered not to come within a mile of the army or to be within garrisons. If they violated this order a second time, they were to have their left arm broken.

Photograph of Winston Churchill famously making the v-sign for victory in 1943, taken from Wikipedia and is in the Public Domain


If you’re a fan of Shakespeare or simply a military history person, then you know about King Henry V. He was a monarch in England from 1413 to 1422. King Henry V was one of the most renowned English kings.

He led two successful of France and eventually full control of the French throne. He was known for one particular achievement, which was in the Battle of Agincourt.

French soldiers assembled onto the battlefield. Moments later they realized that the English had set up stakes guarding their location. This resulted in many riders to be stuck between the pieces of sharp wood. This made the soldiers an even easier target.

As the cavalry quickly retreated back, the first-division marched forward. Pushing through the muddy fields and turning their heads away from the winter sun, they bravely marched towards the English line.

Being on foot made it easier to climb through the stakes, but harder to march across a field full of mud. The French lost many of its soldiers during those moments, but they continued their walk toward the English.

As the French finally arrived at the English lines, they started an attack. The English soon realized that their longbows were ineffective now, due to the armies being closer to each other.

They rushed forward with axes and swords, instead. This led to a large number of wounds and deaths leaving a pile of nobles and soldiers lifeless on the battlefield.

Seeing the first-division being slaughtered, the second-division of the French army began their journey to the other side of the field. Since the first-division had not yet cleared the path it got crowded really fast.

The French retreated, deciding that they had no chance of victory. Many of the nobles gave up their lives. A few of the first-division survived, the second-division was running away and the third stood quietly on the other side of the battle-field.

Led by a living noble of the French army, some soldiers were extracted from the battlefield to attack the English camp. Henry, being alert of his surroundings, quickly sent some of his men to protect their camp.

During this time, the third-division also made a move. They tried to counter-attack the English with all they had. The raid on the camp was stopped and the third-division was also massacred. Soon, the third-division retreated, but the English still held many of their soldiers captive.

I wish I could say that the battle ended in peace, with the French running away and the hostages left alive. But this was not the case.

The French soldiers were killed. Their arms and feet were cut off, and those who resisted were stabbed in the eye.

This battle made Henry V one of the most popular English kings to have reigned. He and his army had won a heroic victory in the worst circumstances.

Sadly, his reign did not last. He died soon after, but not before expanding his kingdom. His efforts ensured that his son would be the heir to the French throne.

The English domination continued until 1429 when Jean d' Arc arrived at the siege of Orleans and signaled the return of the French, which resulted in the ultimate winner of the Hundred years war.

Watch the video: Medieval 2 Total War Battle of Agincourt (July 2022).


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