Among the events of conflict and military activity in the age of chivalry, the battle of Agincourt stands head-and-shoulders above just about anything else. Fought on October 25, 1415, Agincourt is the place where an outnumbered army of Englishmen, a “band of brothers” composed primarily of archers and led by King Henry V, defeated a heavily favored contingent of French knights and men-at-arms, and made a place for themselves in the history books alongside beleaguered heroes like the Spartans at Thermopylae and the British at Rorke’s Drift.
But as the 600th anniversary of Agincourt approaches, the “accepted view” of the battle is becoming more and more hazy. Recent research has shown that the details of the battle may have been markedly different from the traditional depiction of a “David and Goliath” encounter between humble English peasants and arrogant French aristocrats. Our understanding of the weapons, armor, and tactics of the armies that met in that fateful muddy field are being called into question – and even the goals and principles of the men who fought and died there may not be as clear-cut as witnesses, chroniclers, and dramatists over the past six centuries have led us to believe.
Did the longbows of the English archers cut through the French armor like so much tin-foil?
Was it the righteous belief of the English and their cause that gave them the fortitude to stand up to the better-equipped French royal army?
And .. did the outcome of the battle prove, once and for all, the folly of the “fair play” image of chivalry on the battlefield – or is there a more complex and nuanced understanding of the armies, the fighting, and the chivalric ideals that still affect military doctrine to this day to be found in the history of Agincourt as we approach its 600th anniversary?
Stephen Cooper, author of Agincourt: Myth and Reality, 1415 to 1915 joins Scott Farrell in a conversation about the myths (and realities) of the history of Agincourt, medieval knighthood, and the concept of chivalry.
Read Stephen Cooper’s blog post Attitudes to Agincourt at the History Today website.