Posted on 24-10-2009
Filed Under (History) by Rashtrakut

The Battle of Agincourt is one of the most famous victories in English history.  Unlike the battles of Crecy and Poitiers in the preceding century which arguably were even greater victories in the preceding centuries, it has the benefit of being immortalized by Shakespeare.  Shakespeare also succeeded in varnishing the image of Henry V.  The New York Times has an article about the recent dispute about just how impressive a victory it was.  I read about the controversy recently in the postscript to Bernard Cromwell’s novel set around the battle, and am inclined with my non-academic gut to side with Cromwell’s admittedly non-academic thesis.

Medieval chroniclers can be notoriously biased, but attempting to get a definitive answer based on medieval records (particularly the France of the time which was slipping into civil war) is even harder.  All the chroniclers of the day agree on the fact that on St. Crispin’s day Henry V’s dysentery infested army achieved something remarkable.   Now it could have been cause by the sheer imbalance in casualties and the number of the French nobility killed or captured.  But it seems unlikely that the French would have been as certain of victory if the armies were fairly equal in size or that the rout of an army of equivalent size would have caused such a commotion across Europe or such a blow to the French national psyche.

Agincourt’s reputation is inflated in the larger historical context.  While it gave Henry V a short term victory and even an acknowledgment as the heir to the French crown the long term English conquest of France was untenable.  Henry’s early death prevented him from experiencing the likely bitter dregs of defeat faced by his great grandfather Edward III towards the end of his long reign.

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