French History

Mon Dieu! Everything That Went Wrong For The French At The Battle Of Agincourt  

Melissa Sartore
2.8k views 13 items

From 1336 to 1453, England and France fought in the Hundred Years’ War, as a series of disagreements and rivalries played themselves out on various battlefields. The War evokes images of warrior women like of Joan of Arc, ruthless weapons like English longbows, and even well-known wordsmiths like William Shakespeare.  

Generally speaking, the English won the major battles of the Hundred Years’ War, including Agincourt, but the French won the war. The Battle of Agincourt, fought on October 25, 1415, was the last major English victory. Why the English won was as much due to superior English weaponry and military expertise as it was to the French battlefield blunders, backwards thinking, and bad luck that characterized the day. Nonetheless, the Battle of Agincourt would be remembered as a colossal French embarassment.

The French King Was Insane
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Photo:  Jean Fouquet/via Wikimedia Commons

When Charles VI became the King of France in 1380, he was just a child.  His uncles and an administrative council ruled France with him until he took over personal rule in 1388. Despite showing some talent in fighting at the chivalric tournaments of the time, he also suffered from fits of madness and delusions. His periods of insanity, which lasted for months at a time, began after he had a high fever in 1392 and plagued him for the rest of his life. He often believed himself to be made of glass and, as a result, would not move for fear of shattering. He had metal stints sewn into his clothes and wrapped himself in fabric to keep from breaking, as well.

The French Nobles Were Fighting Each Other
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Photo: K-putt/flickr/CC-BY-NC 2.0

With a weak king, aristocratic aspirations were at their peak. During a break in the fighting with England, French nobility - namely the Dukes of Orleans and Burgundy - vied with one another for land and influence at the royal court. Charles VI’s brother, Louis, the Duke of Orleans, purchased a significant portion of land in Burgundy in 1402.  The land, which Burgundy considered private and not for sale, was purchased with the money Louis drew from his royal income. Louis’s enemies responded – not only in support of Burgundy, but also to undercut the power of the King’s brother blaming increased taxation on Louis’s excess. 

Louis was assassinated in 1407 as the rivalry became more volatile.  Louis’s son, Charles of Orleans, responded by making any and all allies of Burgundy his enemies, launching a 30-year civil war between the two sides.

The French Aristocracy Suffered From Warrior Elitism
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Photo: Brad_T/flickr/CC-BY 2.0

The French aristocracy, deeply engrained in chivalric values, feudal tradition, and concerned for their status in politics and society, refused to fight with the peasantry against the English. Despite several thousand peasants coming together and wanting to fight, the aristocracy didn’t want to take the risk of arming them lest they should revolt, nor did they want to lose out on their own chance for glory on the battlefield. There were several hundred peasants present at Agincourt in the end, but they were relegated to the rear guard and were either unwilling or not allowed to fight. 

The French Leaders and Soldiers Got Cocky
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Photo: webhamster/flickr/CC-BY 2.0

The French outnumbered the English with anywhere from 12,000 to 36,000 troops to their 5,000, depending on which source one believes. The English troops were weak and weary, solemn and resolute the night before the battle. The English had been beaten down by disease, lack of food, and threats of French counterattacks since they'd arrived in France in August 1415. On the eve of Agincourt, Henry V ordered his men to remain completely silent, for fear of a surprise attack by the French. Meanwhile, their French counterparts drank and rabble-roused, certain of their impending victory.