Peel Agincourt Diary: 25 October (entry 9)

Our England has reason to rejoice and reason to grieve. Let us rejoice at the victory gained and the deliverance of her men, and let us grieve for the suffering and destruction wrought in the deaths of Christians. Let not our people ascribe the triumph to their own glory or strength; rather let it be ascribed to God alone, from Whom is every victory, lest the Lord be wrathful at our ingratitude, and at another time turn from us His victorious hand, which Heaven forbid.

Much could be written of how the battle went and likely, one better versed in arms and the ways of battle will do so. I have seen valiant French men-at-arms force their horses forward on the rain-soaked field, their formations broken by the mud. I have seen the sky so darkened by arrows such that a man could not be faulted if he thought a cloud had passed before the sun. I have seen men and horses fall beneath good English arrows, and heard the pitiful screaming of wounded horses as they lay dying or ran, maddened, back the way they had come or straight into the advancing French vanguard.  Some were without riders and others carried their riders along whether they willed it or not, for such was the frenzy of the animals that only the greatest of riders might have had the skill to restrain their steeds.

I have seen steadfast French men-at-arms struggle through a quagmire made much worse by the retreating horses. I could see the men-at-arms as they came, slowly. No more did man stand shoulder to shoulder with his companion, but each lurched forward, as best he could. Their heads they bent as if into a storm wind. They did this in part from the effort of slogging through mud that was in some places as deep as a man’s calf but also so that their faces might be protected from falling arrows. Some fell and struggled to their feet to come on again and others lay fallen, killed or wounded beyond their strength to continue. Others were suffocated by mud in their armor. And always those behind pressed forward in their eagerness to reach us.

I saw our English line stagger under the weight of their onslaught.  Our valiant men were pushed back six feet in some places, twelve in others. I myself fell on my face before the great merciful God, crying aloud in bitterness of spirit that God might yet remember us and the crown of England and, by the grace of His supreme bounty, deliver us from this iron furnace and the terrible death that menaced us.

God Almighty, in His mercy, and the most noble St. George were with us, and the line held. Our men-at-arms recovered their ground and the fighting was fierce. Our archers continued to shoot into the French, deadly at such close quarters, and when they had no more arrows, they cast aside their bows and took up their swords and axes and even the leaden mauls they had used to hammer in their stakes and fell upon the the enemy. Our marvelous God sent strength into the limbs of our men, which want of food and rest had previously weakened and wasted, took away from them their fear, and gave them dauntless hearts. Never, I think, have Englishmen ever fallen upon their enemies more boldly or with a better will.

At first, the press was so great and so desperate that no prisoners were taken. All the French men-at-arms, without distinction of person, were killed where they fell. The great numbers of the French then became their great weakness. Men pressed together, at first to come to grips with ours, but later because their own pushed behind them. Their mass became so entangled that the French men-at-arms could not wield their weapons. Some were bludgeoned down unable to defend themselves and others were pushed down or stumbled. Any who went down found themselves unable to rise and many were crushed underfoot or beneath the growing pile of bodies.

As there was great honor in even the least blow struck against a king, the French men-at-arms strove mightily to reach King Henry beneath his banner. The king’s brother Humphrey, duke of Gloucester, was struck a grievous blow and fell at his brother’s feet. Our valiant king, blessed of God, stood straddling his fallen brother and defended his body with his own prowess at great peril of losing his own life until his companions could rally to aid and carry the fallen duke back to safety.

For three hours, men struggled beneath the judging eye of the Almighty. At some point the French main battle merged with the vanguard in the press. The great Oriflamme, that sacred banner of France, went down and was never seen again. Ever more weary, the French slackened in their assault and prisoners began to be taken. Then someone shouted that the French had rallied and another that they were going to attack again for their rearguard was forming a battle line. With our people so few and weary, the great fear was that the French, mounted and in great number and still fresh, would soon fall upon us. King Henry ordered that all save the most eminent prisoners were to be killed lest they should involve our men in utter disaster in the fighting that would ensue. [Strictly speaking, what Henry ordered was against the law of arms, as a captor was obliged to protect his prisoners from those who would do them harm. In practical terms, the king could afford to do little else as the safety of his own men was an overriding priority and he could not, while facing the possibility of a fresh force that he likely believed outnumbered him, afford the chance that the prisoners would take up arms again in such circumstances and attack from his rear, an event that likely would have assured the destruction of the English army. Indeed, Christine de Pisan in writing on proper chivalric conduct some years earlier, said that a prince had the right to execute an opponent who had been captured and handed to him if the prince was convinced that great harm would befall him and his people if he allowed the prisoner to go free. -Ed.]

As it came to pass, most of the French rearguard never came to battle as a whole, for large numbers fled when it became clear to them that God had sided with us English. The counts of Dammartin and Fauquenbergue and the sire de Laurois, into whose command had been given that battle, sought to change that judgement. With those they could rally to their banners, they charged to save what they could of French honor. Like all those who had ridden at us before, they fell beneath English arrows into the mud. All save Dammartin and a certain Clinget de Brabant were killed.

I know not if those men-at-arms still fighting ours in the press understood the fate of their companions or if their courage finally failed seeing that our soldiers, inspired by St. George and given strength by the Sovereign King of heaven, with King Henry at the forefront still were fighting them as strongly as they had from the beginning. Those engaged with our men who still had their horses, turned to flight. Other fell back, and whether their pages brought them their horse nor not, fled as well.

When it was clear that God had made His judgement and that there would be no more fighting for the day, the king sent for the heralds, who, both French and English, had sat aside the whole day that they might observe the battle and know its course and thus proclaim the dying of those noble men who strove there upon. He formally requested of Montjoie, chief of the French heralds, whether the victory had fallen to the English or the French. Montjoie was forced to admit that God had given the victory to King Henry, thus proving his cause was just. The king then asked him the name of the castle that lay nearest the field because all battles ought to bear the name of the nearest fortress, village, or town to the place where they were fought. Montjoie said that the castle of which he enquired was named Agincourt and the king replied that this battle would now and forever be known as the battle of Agincourt.

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