Henry’s motivation to invade France may certainly be bolstered by the urging of the clergy, who have self-interested motives as evidenced by the parliamentary bill mentioned at the play’s start. But the seed for such action had been planted by his father at the end of 2 Henry IV.
The English army began the invasion with a siege on Harfleur that lasted for 5 weeks. The land on which they were fighting was made of marshes, which were swarmed with flies, and the only available food (rotten fruit and shellfish) led to fever and dysentery. Within a month, some 2,000 English soldiers were dead. Many more were sick enough to be sent home to England.
Though Harfleur was won on September 22, the victory was at a devastating cost. Henry had lost at least a third of his men.
Still, the king made the decision to advance to Calais, 150 miles away. They were met along the way by the French, near Agincourt. It had been raining for a week at Agincourt and rained heavily the night before the battle. This development would soon prove to be the English army’s salvation.
On the morning of October 25, the Feast of St. Crispin, both sides prepared for battle. The English formed three lines across, with archers in between. Henry himself led the center line. Sharpened stakes were set in front of the men as a defense against the French cavalry.
Because the French army was so large and the space was so small, a line formation was impossible. Instead, the French formed a column, deployed in three ranks one behind the other, with cavalry on each side and crossbowmen between.
When the French cavalry and infantry began their attack, their heavy armor began to sink in the mud, making them easy targets for the English archers. The few French who managed to reach the English line were met with short swords, axes and mace clubs.
The second wave of attack met with the same fate, and the third wave fled, leading the English to declare victory at Agincourt. The French losses were extraordinary. Out of approximately 20,000 men, 7,000 were dead. The English had lost around 1,600.
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