Battle of Agincourt – Round 2

Nov 1st, 2008 | By | Category: AD 1415 Agincourt

According to an article today, in the UK Newspaper The Independent, the Battle of Agincourt is on again!

Seven years shy of its 6th Centennial (25th October 2015), a verbal battle appears to have erupted over whether Henry V was a “war criminal” or not.  This particular allegation relates to the slaughter of prisoners in the English camp around the time of the second French charge against the English line.

Whilst the Independent’s article is interesting and has plenty of historical detail, it is inaccurate on several points.  The tale of the slaughter, and the specific attack-events that caused it, are where I disagree.

Way back in August 1991, in Miniature Wargames #99 (when the cover price was a mere £1.40), an article by me called, “The Great Baggage Blunder” appeared.  The entire focus of this 3-page analysis was the specific incident of the attack on the English camp and the slaughter of the prisoners.  Much of my narrative information was drawn from a bibliography of 8 books that were detailed in the footer of the article.

Essentially, a local French squire assembled a force of several hundred peasants and landowners, and completely flanked Henry’s line before attacking the baggage and camp from the rear (out of sight of the main battle-line).  When a runner brought news to the English Monarch, who was busy directing the repulse of the main French army, he ordered the execution of the prisoners lest they be set free and fall on the rear of his line.

click map to enlargeThis map of the raid on the English Camp is the one I drew 17 years ago, and which was used in the Miniature Wargames analysis.  (click map for larger view)

The French raiders attacked around the west side of the village of Maisonelles, through the woods (red arrow) forcing the baggagers to flee north to Henry’s rear (blue arrows).  There is no question of the raiders having broken through the English line – they avoided the main army completely.

That was it.  No war crime.  In those days prisoners were the property of the captor, to do with as they pleased.  Chivalry and morals did not enter into the decision – it was a pure and simple military necessity in the middle of a pitched battle against a far larger force.  For French historians to attempt to paint it any other way is to betray the honour and memory of their fallen ancestors, and would make St. Crispin turn in his grave.

The same modern historians are also questioning both the size and casualty rates of the opposing armies, yet these were meticulously recorded in detail by both English and French chroniclers of the time, including some who were in the battle itself.  Contemporary French chroniclers compared notes with their English counterparts and between them verified the casualty lists.

One chronicler who was not present, but who created the most comprehensive records of the Anglo-French Hundred Years War was Jean Froissart – I discovered his writings about two years after Iain Dickie published my account of this rear-line skirmish.  Froissart’s account lists the names of most of the French nobles who fell in combat, and all of the English casualties.  It is based upon interviews with, and memoirs of, many knights and nobles from both sides of the main battle, and the attendant skirmish to the English rear.  It has been argued that it was Froissart’s writings upon which Shakespeare drew for writing his historical play.

As with the records of the main battle, the complement of camp followers, baggagers, tradesmen, even the priests in the English camp were fully registered and recorded, and it was from these records that I was able to write the 1991 piece for MW so accurately – even to the point of identifying who would have been the camp defenders, and their leaders, and being able to assign them all to units for wargaming purposes.

Therfore, I am sorry Mssr Christophe Gilliot and friends at the Centre Historique Médiéval museum (in the centre of Agincourt), but you are talking rubbish.

There is no way the opportunist French squire and his ragtag band of peasants would be launching a “counter attack” against the baggage train either – for the simple reason the baggage train was never charged with making any form of primary attack in the first place.  If you’re going to throw military phrases around, then learn their meaning first.  I agree that Shakespeare’s account of the death of Henry’s favoured baggage boy being the reason for the massacre is bunkum, but your version is no less so.

As for Jerome Taylor, the Independent’s journalist who wrote their story of the recent war-of-words … his lack of attention to detail is clearly displayed by attributing the image used as “The English armoured cavalry takes on the French at the Battle of Agincourt“.

Enlarge the image – look at the top right horizon – that is a Scottish St. Andrew’s Cross on the infantry’s pennant.  No Scots fought for the French at Agincourt.  The image is therefore likely intended to be a (badly researched by the artist) depiction of Culloden or Stirling, rather than Agincourt.

Apart from any other factor, there is no record of English armoured horse, knights or otherwise (and they are knights by virtue of the horse-barding and heraldry), charging French infantry at Agincourt – Henry deliberately dismounted all his knights and men-at-arms, and interspersed them with the archers.

I also object to Mr Taylor’s attempt to undermine the legend of the English yeomanry’s two-fingered “V” salute.  Whether it is myth or not, belief in it is part of British tradition and heritage – as much so as the legends of Robin Hood and King Arthur.  Be careful, Mr Taylor, in attacking the roots of English culture, lest you incur the wrath of the Longbow Society and the hordes of medieval warfare re-enacters.  All of whom have long, very pointy sticks, with which to chase you down Fleet Street, and poke your derriere.

Garry

 

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6 comments
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  1. Here here!

  2. Excellent little article,thanks
    will take a look around the rest of the website asap

  3. Neat trick, Froissart being the chronicler of Agincourt: since he had been in his grave 12 or 13 years already. I suspect you fail to distinguish him from Monstrelet, Waurin and Le Fevre, Burgundian court chroniclers that emulated Froissart and had it in mind to continue his chronicle of the War.

    I cannot agree that the prisoners being executed was tied to the baggage train incident. Simply because the best eyewitness was located WITH the baggage train, and he (the cleric who wrote the Gesta of Henry V) specifically states when the attack occurred: that was as Henry’s army advanced into battle, long before any prisoners were taken.

    The prisoners were executed because the French rearguard, bolstered by late arriving forces, was mustering to make an attack: it was only when Henry convinced them that he would continue to kill his prisoners if they did not quit the field, that they did so.

  4. Doug

    It appears I misremembered the timing of the death of Jean Froissart, and confused my recollections of his detailed study of Crecy, and attributed that memory as his detailed work to Agincourt. Even so, it does not detract from my original research and writing of the MW#99 article (before I had heard of Froissart), where no less than eight noteworthy tomes attributed the French Squire’s raid as summarised above, and detailed in the original MW article. That there was such universal agreement of the raid on the baggage coinciding with the second French charge of the English line, made it undisputable for me.

    Dr. Godfried Croenen, Institutional Research Fellow in the Department of French, University of Liverpool, and Emeritus Professor Christopher Allmand, sometime Head of the Department of History, University of Liverpool, date his death as circa 1404. The University of Liverpool’s sub-site for Froissart and his writings can be tracked from here – http://www.liv.ac.uk/~gcroenen/biblio.htm – last updated 22 Aug 2008

    The University of Sheffield also has an extensive site dedicated to Froissart within the Humanities Research Institute – The Jean Froissart Project site accessible from – http://www.shef.ac.uk/hri/projects/projectpages/onlinefroissart/overview.html appears detailed though access is restricted in parts.

    Steve Muhlberger of the Department of History, Nipissing University is another recent translator of Froissart. The University link is – http://www.nipissingu.ca/department/history/muhlberger/froissart/tales.htm Muhlberger states Froissart died after 1404.

    I also have (unreferenced) sources on file that state Froissart died at Chimay in 1417. Most scholars seem to agree that his final work was a rewriting circa 1399-1400 of the opening section of his Book I narrative. Only one manuscript of this final redaction of Book I now survives: Reg. Lat. 869 of the Vatican City’s Apostolic Library.

    —–

    Regarding the versions of his work in circulation and used as sources; (taken from the 2002 version of the University of Sheffield’s Froissart Project homepage) –

    His main work is the “Chroniques de France, d’Angleterre, d’Ecosse, de Bretagne, de Gascogne, de Flandre et lieux circonvoisins”, an account of European wars from 1328 till 1400.

    In the numerous manuscripts of the “Chronicles”, three recensions of the first book are recognizable. The first, written between 1369 and 1379 brings the narrative to 1378 (the beginning is borrowed from the “Chronicle” of Jean le Bel, a canon of Liege). The tone of this recension is favourable to the English. The second recension, represented by the Amiens and Valenciennes MSS., was written under the inspiration of Guy de Blois and is favourable to the French. The third recension (Vatican MS.), written after 1400, is frankly hostile to England, but the MS. stops with the year 1340. The second, third, and fourth books of the “Chronicles” were written between 1387 and 1400.

    The “Chronicles” contain many errors and are very partial, but despite these faults, no work conveys so lively an impression of the men and things of the fourteenth century as this history of Froissart. His graceful and naive style and the picturesque turn, which he gives to his recollections, make him the king of chroniclers.

    The “Chronicles” were much copied; one of the most beautiful manuscripts of Froissart is at Breslau, copied in 1469 by Aubert de Hesdin, and admirably illustrated with miniatures (S. Reinach, Gazette des Beaux Arts, May, 1905).

    Among the modern editions are those of: Buchon, “Panthéon littéraire”, 3 vols (Paris, 1835 and 1846), defective in the first book. Kervyn de Lettenhove, 29 vols (Brussels, 1867-1877), gives the various recensions of each chapter. Siméon Luce began to publish in 1869 the edition of the Société de l’Histoire do France, 8 vols. (Paris, 1869-1888); G. Raynaud, commissioned to continue this undertaking, published volumes IX to XI, which contain part of Book 11 (Paris, 1897-1899). The poem “Méliador” was edited by A. Longnon for the Société des Anciens Textes Français (Paris, 1895).

    Note that all the Victorian era versions were produced in France, without the balance of non-French transcription, therefore the accuracy of those “modern” versions should remain suspect, particularly as they are based on manuscript versions known to be hostile to the English causes and actions.

    In the last few decades, new transcriptions, translated to English, have been undertaken by universities in the UK and USA, with reference and access to the post-mortem medieval versions, and some of the original Froissart manuscripts. As these latest versions have been prepared by language departments of humanities faculties as literal and contextual translations, without biasing influence from historian or militarist agendas, they should prove more accurate – particularly those versions which combined translation of medieval French into medieval English (the language of Chaucer) and presented that alongside conversion into modern English.

    —–

    I hope that sets the record straight regarding Froissart? I apologise for any misleading caused by the original post.

    Regarding the timing of the raid on the English camp – http://www.aginc.net/battle/ops.html gives an account stating it was after the order to execute prisoners was given, attributing it to the rallying for the 3rd French assault as mentioned by Doug. Note the linked deployment map – http://www.aginc.net/battle/battle-map.htm – personally, I believe the alternating archers and men-at-arms English deployment depicted fits with contemporary accounts of the battle, I know there is a big debate on TMP about this right now. However, that map also shows the English camp to the west of Maisoncelles, when a contemporary chronicles states, “The English kynge had his campe at Maisoncelles on the southen syde” (reference lost by careless filing), which fits with the map in my original post.

    A French nobles eyewitness account of the battle (translated here – http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/agincourt.htm) mentions the slaughter of the prisoners (without judgement of it’s morality) but with unclear timing as to when it occurred. The account does state that it was caused by the attack on the English rear, and not preceding it.

    —–

    This reply is getting a little long now, so I’ll post it and let others join in

    Garry

  5. Hi Garry.

    The Gesta cleric, he who was WITH the English baggage, is conspicuous by his absence in any of the references you’ve linked to. The battle map, placing the baggage clear down to one side of Maisoncelle, is surely wrong, as it does not suit the Gesta’s narrative at all: the baggage was drawn up, even moved, so as to be positioned “at the rear of the engagement.”

  6. Hi Doug

    Although I spent over 20 years continuously reading, researching, and studying the Hundred Years War (but haven’t done much in the last 5 years or so) why is it that it is only in the last week, and only within the context of the TMP forums, that this “Gesta” has come to my attention?

    Has his works suddenly been found in a similar manner to the Dead Sea Scrolls or something? I have zero reference to him, nor any quotes from his writings, in the archives for all my research from the late ’70’s (a long time pre-Internet), up to after Millennium (and well into the Internet Age). For that reason, I am highly sceptical of this source until I can see transcripts of what he wrote, and provenance and authentication for his manuscripts, plus acceptance and recommendation from noted experts in the field of medieval literary archaeology.

    The position of Henry’s camp is undisputed as on the south side of Maisoncelles – it is stated in several chronicles. If this Gesta is stating “at the rear of the engagement” – that is pretty vague. Consider the Somme in WW1 – Paris was considered “at the rear of the engagement” and that was certainly not abutting the battle lines. I suspect you are over-interpreting the Gesta’s statement to mean adjacent to the army – such positioning would be suicidal in the event of a forced move backwards by the battle line.

    No Doug, historical records have proven time after time that armies keep their baggage and encampment well back from the line of battle, often well back and off to one side of it too. As a wargamer, consider why in WRG rules, an enemy unit exiting table, off your own table base edge, is considered to be plundering your baggage.

    Garry

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