History: October 25, 1415: The End of Knights in Shining Armor (Battle of Agincourt)

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A Brief History

On October 25, 1415, the Battle of Agincourt was fought between the English personally led by King Henry V and the French, led by representatives of King Charles VI, resulting in a history changing victory by the English over the greater numbers of the French.

Digging Deeper

The English army was manned by a preponderance of bowmen armed with the famed English longbow.  A weapon much more powerful than the hunting bows of today, the longbow required a strong man trained over a long period of time to employ it properly.  Designed for mass volleys rather than precision shots, the arrows were tipped with armor piercing steel points to counter the heavily armored French knights, many  mounted on horses.

Contrary to the exaggeration sometimes seen in accounts of longbow versus armor, the arrows would not penetrate the best quality French steel armor, especially the breast plates and crown of the helmet.  At close ranges, they could penetrate lower quality iron armor as well as the more lightly armored parts of the knights’ anatomy, such as the limbs and face.  French knights were forced to fight with their visors down and to bow their heads toward the English to avoid getting an arrow in the face (as the visor was a vulnerable area of the armor), putting them at a disadvantage.

French knights were often mounted on horseback, and the horses were armored mainly only at the head.  Bowmen shot their arrows into the flanks and other un-armored parts of the horses, causing the animals to run and buck wildly.  The knights were thus relegated to fighting on foot, slogging through sticky mud in an exhausting march to battle.

King Henry V engaged in hand to hand fighting himself, almost assuredly an inspiration to his men, while the French King Charles VI did not have the physical ability to perform in combat, nor for that matter the mental capacity.

The English, numbering between 6000 and 9000 soldiers consisted of about 5/6 bowmen and 1/6 armored knights.  The French, numbering between 12,000 and 30,000 had around 10,000 armored knights, about 1200 of which were mounted.  The backdrop to the great battle was the Hundred Years War (1337-1453), a virtual Game of Thrones between the royal houses of France and England.  The result of the English victory at Agincourt included the slaughter of thousands of French soldiers taken prisoner, as King Henry V feared the French reserves were about to mount a second assault.

The battle was not decisive in the war, but gave the English the upper hand at the time.  In long term influence, the Battle of Agincourt marked the end of the Age of Chivalry, when heavily armored knights ruled the battlefield.  Of course, soon after this epic fight firearms became much more prominent in European combat and largely replaced the longbow as the main projectile hurling weapon.  Firearms were not as accurate as the longbow, nor could they be shot at quickly, but a musketeer could be trained and equipped much more easily than a bowman, and the projectiles (bullets) could pierce armor as well.

What other battles can you think of where technology played such an important role?

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Historical Evidence

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About Author

Major Dan

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.