I have been thinking again about some what ifs for the Agincourt gamebook. For example What If the English men-at-arms had not repulsed the French attack. Would Henry have ordered the English archers to join the melee? Would he have had a reserve of some sort that he could deploy? It seems unlikely, because of his small number of men-at-arms, about 1000, that he could afford to have a reserve. The archers on the flanks were not engaged in the initial melee, until they attacked the struggling French as the floundered in the face of the English centre. This seems to have been an impromptu act on the part of the archers though once they realised that the French men-at-arms were pretty much helpless, the archers helped their comrades finish off the French. But if the French had been getting the upper hand could the archers have been called upon to help in the melee, perhaps by charging the French in the flanks. I think it’s unlikely for a few reasons:
1. An order would have been difficult to reach them, and its not clear who was in charge of the archers themselves. Their commanders might have effectively been deployed in the men-at-arms battles, with the archers left to their role on the flanks.
2. They were not trained for melee fighting, their attack would not have been well co-ordinated.
3. The importance of status may have prevented Henry from contemplating such an order – archers were not meant to take part in the melee after all.
I’m trying to find examples of where the archers were actually called upon to fight in a melee.
Also I have been puzzling over why the French men-at-arms did not attack the archers. As they were on foot they would not have been prevented too much by the stakes. Curry thinks that the weight of archery kept them away. However, the cavalry were not expected to be prevented by this and it seems that less damage would have been done to the men-at-arms. I think it wasn’t because they couldn’t do it, but because they wanted to take on their opposite numbers. By the time they had reached the English lines the means to win the battle was not to destroy the archers, but to defeat the English men-at-arms, and in particular attempt to kill or capture their leaders.
There was probably also a status issue as well. After all the cavalry sent to attack the archers were the varlets, not mounted men-at-arms. It was beneath the French men-at-arms to fight the archers hand to hand. If they had done so they would no doubt have scattered them quite easily and possibly been able to envelop the English. It is apparent that this tactic never really occured to the French in this period.