Historians reassess the Battle of Agincourt and question just how outnumbered Henry V’s “band of brothers” really was:
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.