Category Archives: Medieval Warfare

French get it right against English Archers

I have just been scanning through a number of descriptions of Hundred Years War battles over at Wikipedia (so not necessarily 100% accurate), and as I expected it seems that in no cases were dismounted men-at-arms sent against archers. However, in later years the French did start to perfect the tactic of charging the English archers with heavy cavalry – for instance at the Battle of Patay decisively, and at the Battle of Vernuil with partial success. The key seems to have been heavy armour for the horses, sufficient numbers and disciplined charges. 

Medieval Men-at-arms vs Archers at Agincourt

To continue my debate about why men-at-arms on foot would not attack archers, there is another reason as well, which I believe is the one that Anne Curry might support – that they would be put off by the hail of arrows coming from the archers. This might be analogous to the problems that infantry would have charging down other infantry who are firing at them heavily – so for instance infantry charging other gunpowder infantry. This did happen, but the infantry often had to be supported by artillery and cavalry to succeed. Also they would be well-drilled.

Medieval men-at-arms, although organised into groups and individually well equiped and trained to fight, might lack the unit organization, drilling and collective discipline to advance on command and charge down an enemy shooting at them. 
This might be one possibility, but I still favour my belief that it was also a class and status thing. And also to do with how it was believed that one won battles. It wasn’t by outflanking the enemy, killing more of them, but by destroying his best fighters, and in particular by killing of capturing his leaders. Thus the targetting by the French of the English men-at-arms. In particular it could well be the case that the Duke of York and many of his retinue were killed at Agincourt because his standard would have been similar to Henry’s. 
There is also evidence that at Agincourt Henry had others dressed as him. This is an acknowledgement that he as leader would be targetted, and that if he died the battle would be lost.

Agincourt what if scenarios

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.

Agincourt gamebook progress

There it is I’ve named it, my top secret project. Well we’ll see how it goes. After having started work on this I’m not that worried that anyone will actually come and steal the idea of creating a gamebook surrounding the role of Henry V at the battle of Agincourt. I have now pretty much finished my initial research into the battle, and I have a list of the key decision points for Henry. Many of these are actually to do with how he set things up. Once the battle is under way there is very little means for a general in such times to change things. However, I am planning to keep the action going here with the option for Henry to become involved in the fighting, which according to a number of sources, he actively was. For instance there is speculation that his crowned helmet was damaged by the Duke of Alencon, while other sources describe him attempting to protect his younger brother, Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, who had been wounded. So there might be an opportunity here to add a certain personal level of fighting role-play for Henry.

Deciding a structure for working out the different strands has beend difficult. I started off with the Novel Writing software I use, but this has proved difficult to keep track of. Instead I am using a simple spreadsheet solution I found at this Gamebook Library site. I might actually go straight from there to writing the book in html once I have the structure worked out. 

Roger Draper research

I have found a real wealth of source material regarding the medieval history of St Albans and the surrounding areas. It seems that a large amount of local history information is available at a publicly funded website: This includes a detailed history for St Albans, and also the surrounding parishes and the overarching hundred in which St Albans lay – the Cashio hundred. Now I just have to read it all! 

I am also working on the Agincourt project. I have nearly finished Anne Curry’s book, and have begun listing the key events in the Novel writing software I use. Once I have the bare bones of events that happened, I will start thinking about the what-if options and determine how many extra events I need to include. Hopefully after that, actually writing it shouldn’t take too long.