Agincourt 600 Years in the National Conscious – Pt.3 – Henry decides to March

The Earlier Battle of Crécy

The Earlier Battle of Crécy 1346

Henry V’s campaign in France was threatening to end not far from where it started at the town of Harfleur. The surrender of its garrison had taken far too much time and very little of the campaigning season was left before winter ceased all hostilities. Common sense would dictate the withdrawal of the English army back to England from Harfleur before the French could bring any significant force to oppose him. The campaign would have been a disaster and Henry would certainly be ridiculed but he would have kept his forces intact and managed to secure new possessions on the French coast from which to launch future campaigns. However, Henry decides to do something reckless.

The King assembles his war council and informs them, against common sense and the imploring of his council, that he wishes to lead his forces overland to Calais in a show of force. This march would involve the crossing of two major rivers (the Seine and the Somme) and would leave his forces vulnerable to attack. It would also be a race against time, Henry was aware that the French barons had put aside their quarrels and begun to assemble a force near his route of March. In an attempt to make his route more secure the King sent a messenger by sea to Calais to inform its governor to dispatch forces to guard the crossing used by Edward the Third over the Somme in 1346. On the 8th October, the army began the 100 mile journey to Calais but on arrival at the Somme crossing they encountered the unexpected. Opposing them on the other side of the river was a significant force of French troops; the Governor of Calais had failed to hold the crossing.

Henry turned his march inland; searching for a fordable crossing not guarded by the enemy and in doing so brought his army deeper into France. This stalemate went on and on with the French forces shadowing the English from the right bank of the river and opposing each possible crossing point for some time. This must have been a frustrating series of events for the English as they risked bringing the French to battle if they could not escape before the enemy were assembled. Finally (and with the help of some geography) the English army was able to outstrip the shadowing Frenchmen by cutting straight across a bow in the river, crossing and resuming the march north east towards Calais.

A relieved English army marched through the Picardy town of Frévent on the 24th October 1415 and found themselves within 30 miles of Calais and safety. Upon entering the valley just outside of town, however, the feeling of good cheer evaporated. David had met Goliath. English scouts had encountered significant forces of Frenchmen across their route. The French forces had obviously managed to cut across their march whilst the English were stalled on the Somme. Henry could do nothing with the river to his back and the enemy to his front but continue to march on.

Beyond the village of Maisoncelles the French forces finally came in to sight and what they saw must have humbled the English. From the East masses of French men-at-arms, knights and crossbowmen were marching to arrive at the already great French Camp ahead. Henry halted his men 2 miles short of the French camp knowing that in the morning he would have to give battle and as the English steeled themselves for the morning a heavy rain began to fall.

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