Once more unto the breach as Henry V’s ‘band of brothers’ takes on the French at Agincourt again
- Credit: Historic Royal Palaces
The fighting was fierce as spectators witnessed the ‘home team’ at the Tower of London dispatching the French and our sovereign Henry V coming out victorious against all the odds. Hundreds of tourists took part in yesterday’s re-enactment of the bloody Battle of Agincourt to mark its 600th anniversary.
They joined actors in the Tower Moat to replay a pivotal moment in English history when Henry V, outnumbered, put the French to flight on the muddy battlefield at Agincourt on October 25, AD1415.
The odds were against Henry who led his exhausted army through hostile French countryside towards the English-held Calais, his route blocked by the powerful French forces near the village of Azincourt.
The French had 12,000 men-at-arms ready to pounce—4,000 archers, 7,000 foot-soldiers and 1,000 knights on horseback.
Henry had just 1,000 men in the field, but supported by 7,000 archers at the rear armed with longbows.
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English longbows were the decisive piece of fighting kit, which could send a storm-cloud of deadly arrows raining down on the enemy.
They were the ‘secret weapon’ of the day, like radar in 1940 that helped ‘The Few’ outnumbered RAF pilots defeat the Luftwaffe in the decisive Battle of Britain.
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Henry V in the 15th century was the Churchill of his time, rallying his forces “Once more unto the breach,” the English “band of brothers—we happy few” as noted by Shakespeare two centuries later.
Henry used a defensive strategy at Agincourt, placing his archers on the flanks and in nearby woods behind lines of sharp wooden stakes to thwart any enemy advance, but ready to attack.
He waited as the French advance got bogged down in the mud, like sitting ducks, giving his archers the advantage.
A few French knights who made it across the mud came up against the wooden stakes and were scattered.
Henry’s archers came into play as they took down many of the French lightly-armoured horses and made the rest buck and flee.
The French vanguard advancing slowly behind on foot had to dodge the retreating horses, before getting bogged down in the mud and then coming under a barrage of English arrows. They tried dodging the arrows, but became encircled, funnelled by Henry’s strategy into an exposed, narrow space in the centre of the field.
The French fled in disarray just two hours into the battle, their losses reaching 2,000, while English dead numbered just 100.
The legacy of Agincourt lives on in Shakespeare’s immortal Henry V, the “band of brothers” at the heart of England’s story of ‘St Crispin’s Day’ which secured his dynasty.
The lead role was famously played by Laurence Olivier in the 1944 film production that boosted Britain’s wartime morale under Churchill.
Agincourt is that pivotal moment in history, that stunning military success which put this island kingdom at the centre of European politics as the emerging power, now celebrated six centuries after.
Its legacy is part of a unique Royal Armouries’ exhibition at The Tower, with family events including yesterday’s epic re-enactment by Historic Royal Palaces.
The exhibition brings together rare and iconic objects from the Royal Armouries collection, told through medieval arms and armour, art, music and sculpture, as well as manuscripts on loan from institutions on the Continent.
It has a battlefield diorama with 4,000 scale-model figures depicting the fighting. Above hangs a soundscape of a mass of arrows evoking the sights and sounds of the battle.
The programme of events accompanying the exhibition runs until November 1, with talks, skill-at-arms demonstrations and family activities.
The Tower of London played an important role in Henry’s military expedition as the royal arsenal which helped to supply his forces.
The Tower’s 11th-century White Keep is also where the Duke of Orleans was imprisoned after his capture at Agincourt in 1415, where visitors can listen to the poignant tales of the defeated French PoWs in the aftermath of battle.
Entry to the exhibition is included in the Tower of London admissions ticket.