Saturday, October 24, 2009

Historians Reassess Battle of Agincourt

An article published in today's New York Times takes a look at the changing academic views on the Battle of Agincourt, which was fought between England and France in 1415.

The article, written by James Glanz, notes that Agincourt's "status as perhaps the greatest victory against overwhelming odds in military history — and a keystone of the English self-image — has been called into doubt by a group of historians in Britain and France who have painstakingly combed an array of military and tax records from that time and now take a skeptical view of the figures handed down by medieval chroniclers.

"The historians have concluded that the English could not have been outnumbered by more than about two to one. And depending on how the math is carried out, Henry may well have faced something closer to an even fight, said Anne Curry, a professor at the University of Southampton who is leading the study."

The study they are referring to is the Medieval Soldier database, which is headed by Curry and Adrian Bell of the University of Reading. Here is our report on the database, from July of this year.

The Times article also presents the more traditional views of some scholars, such as Clifford J. Rogers, a professor of history at the United States Military Academy at West Point, who "argues that Henry was in fact vastly outnumbered. For the English, there were about 1,000 so-called men-at-arms in heavy steel armor from head to toe and 5,000 lightly armored men with longbows. The French assembled roughly 10,000 men-at-arms, each with an attendant called a gros valet who could also fight, and around 4,000 men with crossbows and other fighters.

"Although Mr. Rogers writes in a recent paper that the French crossbowmen were “completely outclassed” by the English archers, who could send deadly volleys farther and more frequently, the grand totals would result in a ratio of four to one, close to the traditional figures. Mr. Rogers said in an interview that he regarded the archival records as too incomplete to substantially change those estimates."

Click here to read the New York Times article.

The Battle of Agincourt made news in 2008 when French historians accused Henry and the English forces of being "war criminals" for having executed thousands of French prisoners during a pivotal moment in the battle. Click here to read that earlier article.