Sunday, October 26, 2014

We Few, We Happy Few, We Band of Brothers

599 years ago today, the English Army under Henry V inflicted one of the greatest defeats against the French in  history.  A starving, rag-tag group of Englishmen who had been on the run for over two week, clashed with the French near the little village of Agincourt.  The over confident French were rested well fed and three times their number.  At the end of the fighting the flower of French nobility lay dead in a muddy wheat field.  8,500 Frenchmen lay dead, more than 2,000 more than were in the entire English Army.  

A short excerpt from Chapter 24 of my young reader's novel, "The Archer's Son" in honor of the victory at Agincourt.
"Keep your heads, lads, and nock a bodkin," William called out. "There is Lord Erpingham. Now we will provoke the French into moving." The old knight strode quickly out in the field in front of the line where all could see him. He tossed a baton high in the air to draw the attention of all the archers.
"Now strike!" The old knight bellowed at the top of his lungs.
In unison, five thousand archers muscled bow cords to their ears and launched arrows high in the air toward the French lines. It was a long shot, so the high-arching arrows took several seconds to ascend before they started their deadly fall to earth. Hedyn could see a faint shadow that drifted across the wheat field created by the mass of five thousand feathered missiles. Like a great flock of starlings, he thought. 
Before the first arrows began to thud into men and horses and to clang against armor, the archers were sending more arrows on their way, each man shooting at his own pace. Within a minute, 60,000 arrows were in the air or scattered across the battlefield. Some in dirt, some in men.
The arrow storm had its intended effect. Trumpets sounded, drums thumped, and the French line finally came to life. 
"We are in for it now, lads," William said to no one in particular. 
Mounted knights appeared on each side of the French formation, as the main line of armored men on foot began to move forward. The heavy armor and thick mud made them seem slow and clumsy. 
"Put your arrows on the cavalry, lads. They will try to break our archers on the flanks," the ventenar instructed. "Help our mates on the flanks. Broadheads into horse flesh. If a horse goes down, the knight will go too." Hedyn hated to see the horses killed, but he knew that the highly trained animals were as much a weapon as the lances and swords that each of the knights pointed at his comrades.
From where he stood near the center of the line, Hedyn watched in awe as the French cavalry thundered toward the English flanks on either side of him. The air behind each of the big coursers filled with clods as pounding hoofs splattered the black mud. 
The archers did not falter behind their wooden stakes but poured the bodkins and broadhead arrows into the mass of horses and men. Some began to fall as arrows found chinks in armor or were embedded in screaming horses. Some slowed and galloped back as it became too perilous near the archers and their stakes. A few stalwarts made it to the line of bowmen and discovered that the horses slowed or stopped, refusing to gallop into the protective barricade of stakes. These men were pulled from their mounts and killed by swarms of angry archers. 
One man, a great nobleman in the finest armor, tumbled from his horse headlong as the animal impaled itself on a stake. Even from where Hedyn stood, the splash of red blood stood out on the bleak, muddy field. The man never had a chance to rise from his fall, killed where he lay.
"I knew these stakes were a good scheme the minute King Henry had us cut 'em back in Corbie!" Denzel said, almost as confidently as if he had devised the idea himself. The men rolled their eyes and laughed at him. He smiled sheepishly.
Panicked war-horses, some rider-less, crashed back through the oncoming French line, sending men-at-arms tumbling and scattering to make way. The line slowed, but regrouped and slogged on through the mud.
The French line began to change. It became bunched and irregular. The French knights instinctively crowded to the center to avoid the deadly arrows streaming from the English flanks. The archers stood behind their stakes and shot as fast as arrows could be nocked. The visibility of King Henry's banners at the center of the line reinforced this movement toward the center. The French knights were not disciplined enough to remain where the battle plan required. The line slowly transformed into a blunt wedge, which only presented more targets to the busy archers. 
"Shoot, shoot! Pour it on, lads! Pour it on!" William screamed in a voice that Hedyn had never heard before. It seemed a mixture of terror, excitement, and merriment, almost like the voice of a boy involved in some risky prank. The arrows at the men's feet were long gone, and now each man shot the arrows in the extra bundles that Hedyn delivered before the fight. One hundred and twenty thousand arrows were gone, and still the French came."

An English Archer as he might have looked just prior
to the Battle of Agincourt in 1415.
William Shakespeare immortalized the great victory at Agincourt in his play, "Henry V."   Shakespeare's version of King Henry's speech before the battle has become one of his most famous scenes.  In my opinion, the version delivered by Kenneth Branagh in a movie by the same name in 1989, is the most moving.  You can see the speech here on Youtube:


  1. Brilliant. ! Thanks for the excerpt . Must buy this book.

  2. Hi Mark. I was wondering if you would like me to advertise your book on LinkedIn but I don't see a share button for LinkedIn .Also would you allow me to re-blog your interesting posts now and again on my blog which in turn links back to your blog to read the entire content..

  3. Rita, thanks for your kind words. I'm no longer a member of LinkedIn, but please feel free to re-blog any of my posts with a courtesy link back to ErasGone. Just be aware, I sometimes re-blog too! Thanks again.

  4. Is he missing his braies and hose due to dysentery?

  5. Cincinnatus, yes indeed. Like most of Henry's army he has abandoned his brais (underwear) and hose to facilitate his continual calls to nature. The bloody flux killed thousands during the campaign and common dysentery plaque almost everyone else.