French Losses at Agincourt Result of Crowding Disaster

Above is YouTube vid of Kenneth Branagh’s magnificent, spine-tingling giving the famous “we few, we happy few, we band of brothers….” speech to his men just before the battle.  Branagh, a brilliant actor played Henry V (King Harry to his men) and directed the film as well.
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Kenneth Branagh as Henry V learns the French have withdrawn from the battlefield leaving him the victor. The King led his army in person.
Long before the countries of Europe existed more or less as we know them, huge parts of Europe and places around the world belong to various ruling dynasties. Through inheritance. marriage and clever dynastic moves, the Kings of England had come to rule a good portion of what today is modern France including the area of Normandy. In fact, Henry V controlled so much of France after the Battle of Agincourt that he became Regent of that country.
To maintain their rule the parts of France which belonged to the Royal House of the Plantagenets, the English had to keep fighting in France to maintain their rule.  The English victory over the French at the Battle of Agincourt on 25 October 1415 — Saint Crispin’s day is one of the great battles of history.
Personally led by King Henry V himself, the English beat the hell out of the French, largely due to the bravery of the English long bowmen and the incredible force of their arrows which could actually penetrate the armored suits of the French knights. At least that is the theory. No one is certain. Henry V, known as King Harry, led his noble men at arms in their suits of armor and formed them in a line four deep. The English archers were positioned on the flanks.

King Henry’s deployment forced the French, who outnumbered the English by more than 5 to 1, to attack on a very narrow front of 750 yards. This had the effect of packing them together very tightly so they could hardly move and thus the French became jammed together.

The English long bowmen fired barrage after barrage of arrows high into the air over the mass of Frenchmen. Arrows fired high came down with tremendous force, each arrow having a sharpened iron arrowhead known as a bodkin point.

 

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A bodkin point arrowhead. The iron part is about 4 ½ inches long.

Naturally, there is great historical debate over what happened at Agincourt. Experiments have been conducted which prove, or disprove, that the English arrows could penetrate French armor although the ones I have seen on YouTube and elsewhere don’t seem to account for the parabolic effect of the flight of the arrow and the additional force that would give the arrow as it fell.

While the arrows may, or may not have, been able to penetrate the steel armor of the richest nobles, they could penetrate chain mail. (Foot soldiers and lower ranking nobles on foot rarely wore more body protection than chain mail). Further, and more disruptive, the lack of protection horses had from the rain of English arrows was a “game changer.” An armored knight on a steed was a powerful “weapons system” but unhorsed, he couldn’t move very quickly. In fact, without help, he couldn’t get back on his feet. Killing or disabling a mounted knight’s horse with a flight of arrows would hardly have been difficult.

Without his horse, a medieval knight wearing the battle armor of a mounted man, and not the lighter armor of a man expecting to fight on foot, would have been easy to neutralize since once unhorsed, his mobility was almost zero. Given the visor which covered his eyes except for a tiny slight, he would have difficulty seeing anything not directly in front of him.

An interesting theory claims that numbers of French men-at-arms who were attacking on foot were apparently killed in a classic crowd disaster. There were rank after rank of these men. When crowds press forward into a small space, the force generated begins to create a huge jam of people with more and more force being exerted by people in the back continuing to push forward. This asphyxiates those jammed into the small space who get pushed together so tightly they cannot move — or breathe. The force is also enough to break bones.

If this indeed happened to the thousands of Frenchmen on foot then while they were being jammed together so tightly they could not breath, and their armor plate was no doubt breaking the bones and spines of the men in front of them, it might explain why literally thousands and thousands of Frenchmen died.

According to a research paper by John J. Fruin, Ph.D., P.E.  The Causes and Prevention of Crowd Disasters found here:      http://www.crowdsafe.com/FruinCauses.pdf

Crowd forces can reach levels that are almost impossible to resist or control. Virtually all crowd deaths are due to compressive asphyxia and not the “trampling” reported by the news media. Evidence of bent steel railings after several fatal crowd incidents show that forces of more than 4500 N (1,000 lbs.) occurred. Forces are due to pushing and the domino effect of people leaning against each other.

When the Frenchmen began to endure this horror, panic would have set in, which would only have increased the intense force pushing the men together as some tried to go forward and others backward. Into the midst of this panicked crowd, the English bowmen were shooting upwards of 50,000 arrows a minute. They didn’t aim at individuals. They just fired masses of arrows into the air so they would come down in an arc onto a crowd.

There were 5,000 plus English archers and they could fire about ten arrows a minute. They were well trained although physical exhaustion would have led to a slackening of fire after a time. If you have ever fired a bow and arrow for just a few times you become aware of the muscle power required.

Still, whatever the pack of French knights and men at arms were trying to do, they were doing it under a hail of deadly arrows. And only the wealthiest men could afford the best steel armor which could not be penetrated by English arrows. Only a handful would have been wearing armor like that. Most would have had inferior armor and chain mail which the English arrows could and did penetrate.

French casualties were said to be in the thousands against a handful of English dead and the French who survived their calamitous defeat left the battlefield in shock defeated in mind and spirit.

(Historical trivia: George II was the last English monarch to personally lead troops into battle. Both George VI and Winston Churchill wanted to land in the first or second wave or troops during the Normandy invasion of June 1944 but Supreme Allied Commander, General Dwight Eisenhower, refused permission).

 

 

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Charles McCain

Charles McCain is a Washington DC based freelance journalist and novelist. He is the author of "An Honorable German," a World War Two naval epic. You can read more of his work on his website: http://charlesmccain.com/