On the 25th October 1415, the English king Henry V celebrated a major victory in the Hundred Years War when he defeated the numerically superior French army at the Battle of Agincourt. Famous for its use of English and Welsh longbowmen, the battle is also falsely claimed to provide the origin for the so-called ‘two finger salute’, the V sign that is used as an offensive gesture in England.
Having landed in northern France on the 13th August, Henry sought to regain control of lands that had once come under the rule of the English kings. However, the time taken to capture the town of Harfleur meant that Henry was not able to mount an effective attack on the French. Instead the English marched to Calais as a ‘show of force’, but were shadowed by the French who continued to raise an army en-route. By the 24th October both armies had gathered at Agincourt, and in the morning of the 25th Henry began the battle.
Henry’s archers launched an initial volley that incapacitated many of the French army’s horses and forward troops. As well as struggling to find a way through this mass and across the muddy field that separated them from the English, the French cavalry was unable to advance efficiently due to stakes driven into the ground to protect the English archers. The French advance became more and more densely packed, making the forward French knights less and less able to fight efficiently. Over 8,000 French troops are estimated to have been killed in the battle. The English army’s losses were less than 500.