THE Battle of Agincourt was one that the English and Henry V did not seek, nor did they expect to win.

Henry’s 10,000-strong army, made up of just 1,000 men-at-arms and some 8,000 archers, was outnumbered by at least four to one by the French.

On 12 August, 1415, Henry had sailed from Southampton to France, where his forces besieged the fortress at Harfleur, capturing it on September 22. Afterwards, Henry decided to march with his army across the French countryside towards Calais, then an English possession, despite the warnings of his council.

On October 25, 1415, on the plains near the village of ‘Azincourt’, a French army intercepted his route. Despite his men-at-arms being exhausted, outnumbered and malnourished, he refused to surrender.

The battle was expected to be a walkover for the French, but Henry had his men line-up behind sharpened wooden stakes planted into the ground to prevent an easy frontal attack by the opposing cavalry. As the morning wore on the French did not attack as they may have been waiting for even more troops to arrive, so Henry moved his army closer and then ordered his archers to let fly. The hailstorm of arrows caused panic in the French ranks and led to the first fateful charge across a field made muddy by the night’s rain.

Wave after wave of French knights were mown down by the arrows of the English and Welsh archers using the longbow, the weapon of mass destruction of its day.

Only a few French soldiers made it as far as the English battle lines where they were fought off by Henry’s men in bitter hand-to-hand fighting on foot. Henry came close to death himself, a glancing blow from a sword taking part of the crown from the top of his helmet before his bodyguards cut down the French attacker.

Most of the French who died were simply hacked to death while completely stuck in the deep mud.

During the battle, Henry ordered that the French prisoners taken during the fight be put to death, including some of the most illustrious who could have been used for ransom. It was an act that was to brand him a war criminal to some in later generations.

At the end of the battle the French had lost as many as 15,000 killed with many nobles taken prisoner. The English lost just 100 men.

Historians debate why Henry was able to win such an easy victory. The weight of the French armour, the bogginess of battlefield, the strength of the English longbow, the lack of authority in the French ranks, and the superior training of the English soldiers have all been given as factors in the victory.

The French were also said to have partied through the night before the battle, so confident were they of victory. It was a high price to pay for a hangover.