Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Battle of Agincourt

It was raining on the eve of October 24, 1415. In the distance the English soldiers under Henry V could here the great noise made by the French army, which outnumbered them two to one. Henry and his army had been marching through France from late September onwards, just after concluding the siege of Harfluer. They had arrived exhausted and hungry near the village of Masioncelle (just a mile or so south of the village of Azincourt) to find the French army in front of them. They made camp to wait for the battle that would take place on the following morning.

Henry found a house to lodge himself in at Maisoncelle. He prayed all night. Everything he stood for was about to be put on trial tomorrow. He was fighting to make sure that God favored him on the thrones of both England and France. If he did not, tomorrow Henry would lose the battle and be a prisoner of the King of France. He had staked everything on one big victory. He had to win or die.

On the morning of October 25, Henry, in full armor, attended three Masses and then lifted his spurs and his helmet. He detached ten men-at-arms and twenty archers to guard the baggage train. He called for a horse and rode with his councillors toward the battlefield

The French stirred on the other end of the field. The arranged their forces in a different style from the one previously agreed at Rouen a few days earlier (see 1415: Henry V's Year of Glory for more on that). The original plan was for the duke of Bourbon, the marshal of France (Boucicant) and the Guichard Dauphin to lead the vanguard, with the dukes of Orleans an Alencon as well as the constable of France ( Charles d'Albret) to lead the main battle, leaving the duke of Bar and the counts of Nevers and Vaudemont to lead the rearguard. But many noblemen were not going according to plan; the heaviest fighting would be in the vanguard, so many nobles left the rearguard for that position. In the end, the vanguard had 4,800-5,000 men in it, the main battle consisting of 3,000 men. The French had bad generalship in the positioning of their troops, and in the choice of the battlefield. Worse still, many of the generals weren't there. The duke of Brabant was at Lens, thirty miles away.

The English formed up in three battles. The vanguard under the duke of York was posted to the right, while Henry took charge of the main battle in the center, and Thomas, Lord Camoys took control of the rearguard, which took up position of the left flank. Henry made a few speeches, none like that of Shakespeare's imagination, but it was not so much the speech that he was seen by his men. He wore the royal surcoat of the English royal house, which a crowned helmet upon his head.

Henry grew impatient waiting for the French to attack, so he did the impossible. In true style, he ordered his army, mostly made up of archers to attack. That went against the great victories of Crecy and Poitiers, where the French had attacked first. But Henry couldn't wait any longer. The English archers moved their stakes and advanced forward. Then Sir Thomas Erpingham, commander of the bowmen rode out of the lines. All eyes were fixed on him. Then, at the climatic moment, Sir Thomas yelled out "Now Strike" and threw his white baton in the air. Everyone, even the king ran through the wet mud of the field.
The French were taken completely off guard. Clignet de Brabant, leader of the cavalry on the French right, rode with his men one by one. But as they did, the crashed into each other, leaving horses to run through the vanguard of the French army. The French leaders were now not as confident of victory. The English archers fired arrows a them, causing disarray and chaos. But the commanders steadied their nerves and ordered a full on onslaught of the English lines. 8,000 men charged against the English lines, ready to break them. They fought the hardest against the duke of York, as ninety men in the duke's retinue were killed, and eventually the duke himself. Other great men died as well: the earl of Suffolk, Sir John Mortimer, Sir Richard Kyghley, Sir John Skidmore, and Dafydd Gam of Breconshire.
However, it became clear that the French were faulting. They could not retreat, and the English, in a state of panic, killed every Frenchman at arms reach. The men in the rear began to withdraw and Henry and his men pushed into the central column of the vanguard. At this point the duke of Alencon and his knights rallied themselves and pushed forward towards the king. The bodyguard around the king fell back. As they did, the king's brother, the duke of Gloucester, was pushed over, wounded, and would have been killed had not Henry himself stepped forward to save his brother, fighting astride him until the bodyguard came back.
It was at this time that the duke of Brabart arrived on the field. He jumped straight into battle, leaving his troops behind him; he was killed soon after. The great men of France fell here to. The dukes of Alencon and Bar, the counts of Vaud√©mont, Roucy, and Marle, and the seigneurs of Grandpr√© and Bacqueville. The seneschal of Hainault, Philip, count of Nevers, and last, but certainly not the least, the constable of France, Charles d’Albret. 4,000 total French men lay dead, and 1,400-500 were lords. English loss amounted to 600 men.
It was a clear English victory. Henry had proven himself a great warrior king of the field of Agincourt, October 25, 1415.
notes taken from 1415: Henry V's year of Glory pgs 425-454.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Richard II-Now What a King There

Who is Richard II? A king with a very hard line, who could lash out at people, yet be witty and playful. Many say he's gay; I say he's more of a bisexual kind of guy. Many say he was crazy; I think so too. Many believe he was a tyrant; that is absolutely true.
Richard II of England is a very distressing figure. As in my last post on Henry V, you could say that Richard was a monster. At least Henry was just chaste when it came to women; Richard was probably a bisexual, whose supposed partner, Robert de Vere, was known to be a rapist. Richard didn't pick the best friends. Maybe if he'd been friends with his cousin, Henry Bolingbroke, Henry wouldn't have come back from exile in 1399 to take Richard's crown!
Richard is not know for any specific political achievement, besides his truce with France in 1396, which was more likely the work of his uncle, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster and Aquitaine. John worked out most of the truces and treaties that Richard put his name to. John had run the country from 1377-1384, because Richard was only ten when he came to the throne in 1377 and by 1384, when he was seventeen, he claimed to have reached his majority.
Richard had no interest in running the country of England at first. He liked to spend time listening to Chaucer or spending time designing flamboyant cloths with his first wife, Anne of Bohemia (who probably knew her husband was a just as interested in other men as in her). Richard did try to run his country, but in this period England needed a repeat of the last king- Edward III, the famous warrior king who was said to be the most successful king in Christendom. Richard was no warrior; he couldn't joust, far less win a pitched battle. He did lead an expedition to Scotland and two expeditions to Ireland, but these weren't glorious campaigns like those of his grandpa (Edward III). In 1387, five major lords of England rebelled against Richard and in 1388, in what was called the 'Merciless Parliament', they executed all of Richard's close friends, some of whom deserved it. But in 1397, Richard struke back: the leader of the opposition, Thomas, duke of Gloucester, was taken from his home at night and later murder in Calais, France; the earl of Arundel was beheaded; the earl of Warwick was exiled to the Isle of Wight; and finally Henry Bolingbroke, duke of Hereford and Thomas Mowbray, earl of Nottingham fell out with each other and were ordered to fight a duel; but at the last moment Richard stopped the event and exiled Henry for ten years as well as Mowbary for life.
Richard would be deposed in 1399. His had been a reign of terror against the people of England. It's hard to find such an example of a small, blond boy who became such a villian. But then, there's always Darth Vader