Almost 600 years after the event, it’s rather amazing that we still remember, talk about, wonder at the Battle of Agincourt. I think we may have William Shakespeare to thank, with a little help from actor Kenneth Branagh in the 1989 movie Henry V.
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; For he to-day that sheds his blood with me, Shall be my brother.
The story of the Battle of Agincourt (Oct. 25, 1415 old calendar; Nov. 3, 1415 new calendar) can still stir the blood, and Decisive Days has created an excellent short ebook that does exactly that. 25 October 1415: Agincourt tells the story of the battle that actually wasn’t supposed to happen, or that the English hoped wouldn’t happen.
It is the Hundred Years War between England and France. Henry V is determined to claim the throne of France; he ardently believes it is his and he equally ardently believes God is on his side. He and his army sail for France and lay siege to Harfleur. The city eventually surrenders, but the cost has been high and winter is approaching. Henry decides to march to Calais, only 30 miles away, and return home. The English almost make it.
The French army, however, is standing in the way, and the English are going to have to fight. They’re tired, sick (dysentery is so bad that some of the soldiers have no pants, having thrown away the soiled garments), and hopelessly outnumbered. The French expect an easy victory and all the ransom that will have to be paid for the rich Englishmen they capture. They spend the night before the battle eating, drinking and celebrating. The English spend the night in tense silence.
What the French did not count on was the inspirational leadership of Henry V and the devastating effect of the English longbow, and the longbowmen themselves, throwing down their bows to fight in hand-to-hand combat, some using the hammers they used to erect the wooden pikes facing the enemy.
It is a gripping story, and the Decisive Days account effectively places the reader at the scene. The slaughter is almost gruesome; some men reportedly suffocate under the weight the bodies atop them. The French attack in three waves, and each wave is effectively destroyed. At the end, The English count about 100 of their own dead. The French count thousands.
And each English soldier could lay claim to being part of that we few, we happy few, we band of brothers.
Related: My review of The Battle of Stirling Bridge