A movie about Agincourt!
- Cross posted from Medieval Trivia.
THE HEROES OF AGINCOURT [Story Image]
UNTO THE BREACH: Laurence Olivier starred in the 1944 film Henry
Saturday October 17,2009
By John Triggs [Comment Speech Bubble] Have your say(0)
IT WAS a battle that, according to Shakespeare, would be
remembered till “the ending of the world”.
And almost six centuries after the exhausted and disease-ridden
army of Henry V defeated the much larger French forces at the
Battle of Agincourt, it is still seen as one of this
country’s greatest victories.
A triumph of the humble English and Welsh longbowmen over the
arrogant French knights, it remains a vivid demonstration of the
bulldog spirit, ingenuity and bravery against the odds we like to
see as some of the finest qualities of our nation.
This week it was revealed that a film is to be made based on
those legendary events at Agincourt on October 25, 1415 - 594
years ago next week. Michael Hirst, the screenwriter behind TV
series The Tudors and the Cate Blanchett film Elizabeth, is
working on the screenplay of the £28million British movie
called Azincourt, after the French spelling of the battle site.
Filming is due to begin next year and the story will be based on
a novel of the same name by Bernard Cornwell. Instead of focusing
on Henry V, as Shakespeare did, it will look at the battle from
the point of view of one of the king’s archers, Nicholas
‘Henry’s men had just a wooden bow and a dagger each’
While many of the details of Hook’s life have been imagined,
the name at least is authentic. It was taken from a newly
discovered list of all the names and duties of the 6,000 men who
fought for King Henry on that day. The list has since been
analysed and put on the internet by historians from the
University of Reading and the University of Southampton.
The database, based on the payment records of the soldiers
involved, means that anyone with an internet connection can visit
.org <http://www.medievalsoldier.org/ <http://www.medievalsoldier.org/>>
if any of their ancestors were among the “band of
brothers” that fought alongside Henry. It also offers
insights into exactly what happened on that historic day.
“Henry V really was every bit the inspirational military
leader, there’s no doubt about that,” says Dr Adrian Bell
from the University of Reading, a historian and expert in
medieval history who helped to compile the database.
“When he was the Prince of Wales he was shot in the face
during the battle of Shrewsbury against the rebellious Earl of
Northumbria and his life was only saved by a skilful surgeon, who
managed to remove the arrow with the help of some special honey.
It left him with a prominent scar for the rest of his life but a
legendary reputation as a warrior.”
Two years after coming to the throne, Henry found himself
embroiled in what would become known as the Hundred Years War, a
massively destabilising conflict over who was the rightful king
of France that had been going on since Henry’s
great-grandfather Edward III had claimed the French throne in
By the time Henry was crowned King of England at 27, the much
older King of France, Charles VI, was almost completely insane.
“He genuinely believed his body was made out of glass,”
says Dr Bell. “In fact he was so convinced of this that he
had special, rigid clothing made for him to keep him upright and
protect him from shattering.”
Charles VI’s insanity meant that his uncles and brother were
battling for power and Henry decided to use the uncertainty to
settle the Hundred Years War once and for all. He crossed the
Channel with an army of around 10,000 and lay siege to the
fortress of Harfleur on the Normandy coast.
The conflict lasted longer than expected, however, and thousands
of his men died from dysentery. Though Henry captured Harfleur,
he knew that his troops would not survive the winter and needed
to get back to Calais, where boats were waiting to take what was
left of his beleaguered force back across the Channel. On his
way, however, he found his route cut off at a field near the town
of Azincourt by an enormous French army.
Estimates of the size of the French forces vary but French and
English eyewitnesses and chroniclers stated the English were
vastly outnumbered. One French chronicler described 6,000 English
troops facing an army 36,000 strong.
What’s more, most of the French were men at arms, fully
armoured knights and squires, many of them noblemen, who were
well trained and fresh. The roll call of Henry’s forces has
revealed that the vast majority of them, at least 5,000 of the
6,000 men, were yeoman archers: ordinary men from England and
Wales equipped with only a wooden bow and a small dagger. Their
armour was a light leather jerkin and possibly a helmet that
would have offered pitiful resistance to the swinging sword of a
In total there may have been only 900 English men at arms
including Henry, an inspired fighter at the very centre of the
H OWEVER, although the French had a massive advantage in numbers,
the battlefield they had chosen didn’t allow them to make the
most of it. Heavy woodland on both sides acted like a funnel,
corralling them closer together as they attacked and preventing
them from attacking Henry from the sides.
“Some say Henry was extraordinarily lucky that the battle
ended up being fought in such favourable terrain,” says Dr
Bell. “But there’s also evidence that he may have
deliberately chosen this site and cleverly tempted the French
into attacking him there.”
Yet the French remained confident and began with a cavalry charge
of knights which they expected would decimate the English. It
turned out to be a fatal mistake. “Their armour was probably
strong enough to protect against the arrows of the English
archers but it couldn’t protect the horses, who became
larger, easier targets for the bowmen,” says Dr Bell. “As
they struggled to reach the English they churned up the already
freshly ploughed field with their hooves and turned it into a mud
Those members of the French cavalry that did make it to the
English lines ran straight into a barrier of sharpened wooden
staves. Learning from their mistake, the French knights
dismounted to march up to the English. The mud made the job slow
and exhausting, however, and the funnelling effect meant they
were easily picked off by archers.
Some of the French ended up in piles of bodies so deep they
suffocated, others drowned in the mud and yet more were killed
once they were on the ground. The English archers either beat
them to death with the wooden mallets they had used to drive in
the protective wooden staves, or lifted the enemy’s visors
and stabbed them through their eyes with daggers.
Many knights begged for mercy and were taken prisoner but when,
at the end of the battle, the French re-formed for one final,
futile cavalry charge, Henry began to worry that he did not have
enough men to repel the charge and prevent prisoners from
escaping and attacking his troops from behind their lines. He
decided to kill the prisoners. “At first he asked his
noblemen to do it but they refused as they had hoped to gain a
ransom for many of the French nobility that had been
captured,” says Dr Bell. “So instead he asked a group of
the archers to do it and they had no such qualms. They locked the
prisoners in a nearby barn and set it alight.” It was an
action that has recently seen Henry vilified by French academics
as a war criminal.
One scholar has also cast doubt on just how big the odds against
Henry were. Professor Anne Curry from the University of
Southampton recently concluded that rather than the English being
outnumbered six to one it was more likely that around 9,000
English faced an army of 11,000 French. Other historians disagree
with her figures but what nobody doubts is the sheer scale of the
English victory. While the English deaths numbered 113, more than
5,000 Frenchmen were killed.
T hanks to his incredible victory, Henry was later able to force
Charles VI into allowing him to marry his daughter, Princess
Catherine. It was also agreed that Henry would inherit the French
throne upon Charles’s death.
But Henry never did become King of France because King Charles VI
outlived him. Though he had made peace with the French king,
Henry had to fight more battles against Charles VI’s
rebellious son, the Dauphin, and in 1422, seven years after
Agincourt, he died aged 35.
Henry had fallen victim to an old enemy that killed many more of
his men than the French had ever managed: he died of dysentery.