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Historical Background Category

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The Battle of Agincourt

Apparently one of the starter scenarios in the BattleLore game will be the Battle of Agincourt. Let’s have a look at this defining conflict of the Hundred Years’ War.

The Battle of Agincourt was fought on 25 October 1415, Saint Crispin’s Day, between the English army of King Henry V and the French army of Charles VI (commanded by the Constable Charles d’Albret and various Armagnac noblemen).

After the successful siege of Harfleur, Henry planned to march directly to Calais and sail back to England. The English marched 260 miles in 17 days, and the army was exhausted, hungry and suffering from dysentery and disease (and down to only 900 men-at-arms and 5,000 archers from the original 9,000 total) when they found their way to Calais blocked by d’Albret’s army.

AgincourtAt dawn, the forces were laid out roughly a mile apart. The battlefield was a freshly plowed field between the villages of Agincourt and Tramecourt, and it had been raining continuously for days. It was to become so muddy that many deaths (including that of the Duke of York) were caused by drowning.

The French formed two lines of armoured men-at-arms with crossbowmen and some ineffectual bombards (cannon) between. 2,200 mounted knights, including 12 princes of royal blood, guarded the flanks and formed a reserve in the rear. In traditional fashion, the men-at-arms in the English army were flanked by wedges of archers, positioned forward from the rest of the troops to give covering fire along the main front. An innovation was the use of large pointed stakes set at an angle in front of the archers, called palings, to discourage a cavalry charge. Altogether, there were 20-30,000 Frenchmen compared to 5,900 Englishmen.

After three hours of stalemate, Henry ordered his troops to move the line forward to within extreme longbow range (400 yards). The first volley of arrows goaded the French into attacking, and the mounted French knights attempted to overrun the longbowmen protecting the English flanks. They were decimated and driven back in confusion. Contrary to popular opinion, an English arrow could not normally penetrate a knight’s plate armour, but their horses could not carry enough armour to stop the arrows. Wounded horses threw their riders and churned up the mud in front of the English positions.

The main French attack was from the first line of men-at-arms. The French force was not an army however, but a group of knights who had come together at the behest of the King, so it was dangerously undisciplined. Everybody tried to push their way into the first line to display their banners, and as they marched toward the English their line was squeezed together by the narrowing field, until they were so close together they couldn’t use their weapons effectively. However, even with the mud and the crowding, the French men-at-arms began to throw the English back.

Despite some intense fighting, the English line held. While normally quite mobile, the combination of the mud and the crowding disabled and disordered the armoured men-at-arms, and now the English archers joined the melee with hatchets and swords. The English had merely to knock them down, where they drowned in the mud or suffocated under fallen bodies.

The second line of men-at-arms followed the first. Now, however, there was the added complication that the English positions were blocked by a wall of bodies. The second line had no better luck against the arrows, mud, and English men-at-arms than the first.

The only French success of the battle was a sally by a group of French knights who cut through the woods and attacked the English camp. In Shakespeare, the raid on the camp was Henry’s reason for ordering his prisoners killed; though it was possibly a later justification.

Total English losses were put at thirteen men-at-arms (including Edward of Norwich, 2nd Duke of York, a grandson of Edward III) and about a hundred of the foot soldiers. The French lost 5,000 soldiers.

Agincourt is remembered particularly for the English longbow destroying the ‘flower of French chivalry’. It is most famously portrayed by Shakespeare in his play Henry V, though Shakespeare did change some historical facts. A recent theory states that the English were not as outnumbered as previously thought, and in fact the figures were exaggerated to build up Henry’s reputation.

Sources: Wikipedia entry Computing, Agincourt Computing, The Great Battles

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The Hundred Years’ War

BattleLore ‘meshes history and fantasy together’, and it seems possible that players may forego the fantasy element altogether and recreate historical battles. Since the press release mentions the Hundred Years’ War, let’s have a quick look at that period in our history:

The Hundred Years’ War in fact lasted 116 years, from 1337 to 1453, and included several periods of peace. The war was a series of raids, sieges and naval battles between England and France as English kings tried to claim the French throne, but it spilled over into Scotland, Portugal, Spain, Italy and the Low Countries. It included such famous battles as Agincourt and characters such as Joan of Arc that have inspired literature for centuries. Eventually, starting with a defeat at Orleans against a force led by Joan, the English were expelled from France.

The Kings of England were descendants of the Norman conquerors and spoke French; and since France was weak and divided, and the English already controlled a good portion in Aquitaine (around Bordeaux in SW France), they wanted to rule France as well. The hostilities broke out when the French king Charles IV died without an heir, and a faction of French nobles, faced with the fact that the English king Edward III was the best claimant for their throne (his mother was French and the dead king’s aunt), crowned a French cousin instead and attacked Edward’s lands in Aquitaine. In 1337 Edward declared war.

The Edwardian War (1337-1360)
Battle of SluysIn 1340 an attacking French fleet was destroyed off Sluys (in modern Netherlands), giving crucial control of the Channel to Edward. In 1346 at Crecy, armoured French knights charging up a hill were massacred, largely by English longbowmen. After a successful siege, Calais became a fortified English stronghold for two centuries. A year later the Black Death began ravaging Europe.

In 1356 Edward’s son, known as the Black Prince, won a great victory at Poitiers and captured the French king John II. He was ransomed and peace declared in 1360, leaving the English in control of large areas of France.

The Caroline War (1369-1389)
By 1369 Charles V of France broke the alliance and began pushing England back with the help of a Breton general named Bertrand du Guesclin, and in 1381 the young Richard II of England was facing a revolt of peasants in his own land. The French, helped by Spanish warships, attacked England in a series of successful raids. However Charles V’s son, Charles VI, went insane, and France plunged into civil war between two factions—the Armagnacs and the Burgundians (who allied with England).

The Lancastrian War (1415-1429)
AgincourtThe English took this opportunity to invade Normandy. In 1415 Henry V found himself outnumbered by the French army at Agincourt, but again the English longbowmen were devastatingly victorious. In 1420 the treaty of Troyes was signed, giving control of northern France to England and the crown to Henry on the French king’s death.

Joan of Arc
In 1429, a peasant woman from Lorraine called Joan of Arc, inspired by visions from God, relieved the English siege of Orleans and led the future Charles VII to his coronation at Rheims in 1429.

Joan of ArcJoan was captured by Burgundian troops, sold to the English and burnt at the stake in 1431. Inspired by her martyrdom, Charles VII managed to drive back the English over the next 25 years, capturing English strongholds until only Calais was left. A formal treaty to end the war was eventually signed in 1475.

The Hundred Years’ War is considered the most significant of all medieval conflicts and an important period in military evolution. The longbow and fixed defensive positions of men-at-arms began to supersede heavy cavalry and force changes in armament, and the Scots inspired the use of lightly armoured cavalry that dismounted to fight. Gunpowder, firearms and cannons were also introduced into warfare. It is said that at the Battle of Crécy, the age of chivalry came to an end.

Main Sources: Wikipedia entry,

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