Following his ascending to the throne in 1413, Henry V planned to assert his dominance over the French and possibly take the throne. As they had been engaging in smaller scales skirmishes on the English coast as well as supporting their enemies – including Scotland – Henry decided to transport his army of around 12,000 men from Southampton to Normandy (Northern France).
The English were caught up in a six week long siege of the port of Harfleur and Henry lost around half of his soldiers before his victory on the 22nd October 1415. With pressure on many fronts mounting from the French, it was necessary that some of the English men stay behind to garrison the city.
During this period, French barons took up arms and massed their armies to attack. Additionally, there was only a limited amount of time before either Henry was caught, forced to surrender, defeated or made to return to England, so he had to act fast.
So he took his men to Calais, which was currently held by the British. On the road there he was encountered by the Constable of France, Charles d’Albret – the road was surrounded by forests and since there had been heavy rains, the newly turned fields had become incredibly muddy. There was a distance of around a mile between the two armies; it is said that Henry had about 5,000 Knights to combat the Constable’s army, which lay in the tens of thousands.
As Henry slowly edged his men forwards, the French launched a mounted advance; it failed miserably. Many horses sunk far into the mud or were impaled on the stakes that the English had driven into the ground.
“Under heavy, diligent fire from English archers on the flanks, the heavy cavalry, weighed down by thick armour, slipped into the mud and their charge was halted”
In their desperate retreat, the French cavalry tore through their own infantry ranks and caused mass disorder. The infantry managed to regroup again, and led a full advance on the English centre, where they found themselves caught up in brutal combat for several hours. It was only when French units began to break that the English flooded in that it began to look as if Henry was succeeding, despite being heavily outnumbered. After all, the French troops were exhausted after trekking through the thick mud to engage in battle.
In terror, many units began to retreat and the English commenced a huge slaughter of the prisoners – likely to intimidate the enemy and force them to surrender or retreat.
In the end, the death rates on the French side piled up to about eighty times that of Henry’s, and there was a disorganised retreat and bloodletting along the way.
A battle that seemed like it would almost certainly be won by the superior French forces turned out to be a tragic day for them – one of indescribable killing and desperate fighting.