Amberley Publishing - Transport, Military, Local and General History

August 1415: The Agincourt campaign off to a stuttering start…

The armada sailed across the English Channel at last. The preparations were over, the die was cast and even a last minute plot to depose Henry V could not stop the invasion. The crossing was no doubt nerve-wracking but the weather behaved itself. Then came the really anxious time when the ships approached their final destination. Like all amphibious operations the most dangerous moment was when the men started to disembark. If an opponent attacked before they were properly assembled then disaster might follow.

Agincourt - The attack by Henry V's army on Harfleur The attack by Henry V's army on Harfleur

And so they moved in close to land, their target at last clear. It was Harfleur, an important sea port (near to modern Le Havre which would eventually replace it) which dominated the entrance to the mighty Seine river. From here Rouen and even Paris would be under threat. With baited breath, the English army started to move onto land. Would they be faced with stern opposition and would the campaign be stopped dead in its tracks?

The answer was no. There were no French soldiers to stop them and with great relief the army made its way ashore. Supplies were unloaded along with thousands of soldiers. The English got themselves into position, laying siege to the town. The landing could not have gone better. It was a great start; it was not to last.

For one thing Harfleur was strongly fortified. Its walls had been strengthened not too long before and the defenders even had access to a cannon. As for the men manning those walls they were heavily outnumbered by the English army crowded around laying siege but they would soon show that they had the stomach for a fight.

Agincourt aug pic Thomas, Duke of Bedford, Henry V’s eldest brother. Thomas was invalided back to England after the siege of Harfleur. (Courtesy of Jonathan Reeve)

The English could not afford a long delay. The campaigning season was moving on. Although it was not yet clear what Henry’s next move would be, once they had taken Harfleur presumably it would involve moving onto the offensive. If they were to do so as the autumn rains hit, that could cause problems.

So Henry wanted a quick surrender so that he could move on. He was not to get it. The defenders were further encouraged when early on reinforcements arrived and badly deployed besieging forces were unable to stop them. Henry learned the lesson quickly: the noose was tightened and there would be no repeat. But to a large extent the damage had already been done.

The siege settled down to a hard grind. English cannon and more old-fashioned siege engines battered the walls remorselessly but there was no sign of any weakening in the defence. Each passing day not only slowed up the English, it also made the arrival of a large French relieving force more likely. They could attack the besiegers from the rear with disastrous results. Henry settled in for a longer than expected siege whilst at the same time not knowing what to expect in terms of a counter-attack from the direction of Rouen. Just weeks in things were already starting to go badly wrong.

Agincourt - 9781445639499

W.B. Bartlett's book Agincourt: Henry V, The Man at Arms & The Archer coming September 2015 pre-order your copy today.