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Reign of Henry V. Part 1 page 6


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On the part of the French generally all such cautions were treated as dotage. There was nothing but the most absolute confidence of victory in their camp. They were full of jollity, and feasted gaily on abundance of provisions and wine. Already they were engaged in- noisy declamations regarding the distribution of their prisoners and their booty, for they made themselves certain of securing the whole of the British army. They resolved to put all the English to the sword, except the king and his principal nobility, whom they proposed to spare for the sake of their ransoms.

The constable planted his banner on the Calais road, a little in advance of the village of Ruisseauville, and the Dukes of Orleans and Bourbon, of Berri, Alencon, and Brabant, and all the great lords planted theirs round it with loud acclamations and rejoicings that the hour was come which was to give up to them their enemy and all his spoil. But the joy was soon damped, for the night set in dark and rainy. The ground was a clay which soon swam with water, and became so slippery that their horses slid and stumbled about in great disorder. The pages and valets rode to and fro seeking straw to lay on the muddy ground for their officers and themselves. There was a great bustling and moving to and fro; people shouting to one another, and making much noise, but obtaining very little comfort; and it was at length observed that their horses stood silent and did not neigh, which is looked upon on the eve of battle as a very bad omen. When they would have cheered themselves with music, very few instruments could be found. At length, however, they succeeded in lighting fires along their lines, and bursts of laughter and merriment were repeatedly heard by the English, while their enemies were, no doubt, calculating the value of their horses and the arms on their backs.

The English, on their part, passed a night of serious reflection. They had made a long march under great difficulties and privations. Many of them were wasted by sickness, worn down by fatigue and scanty and unwholesome fare. They were in the presence of an immense force. But they were descendants of the heroes of Crecy, which lay not far off, and they had the utmost confidence in the bravery of their leader. They spent the early part of the night in making their wills, and in devotion. The king visited every quarter of his little camp, and sent out, as soon as the moon gave light enough, officers to arrange the plan of battle the next day, and ordered bands of music to play through the whole night.

At break of day Henry summoned the men to attend matins and mass, and then leading them into the field, arranged them in his usual manner, in three divisions and two wings; but in such close array that the whole appeared but as one body. The archers, who were his grand strength, he posted in advance of the men-at-arms, four in file, in the form of a wedge. Besides their bows and arrows, the archers were now armed each with a battle-axe and a sword. The fatal field of Bannockburn, where the archers were rendered useless by their want of side arms, when Bruce rode his cavalry amongst them, seems to have taught the English this precaution. Every man, too, bore on his shoulder the stout stake, which Henry had ordered them to provide themselves with, pointed at each end, and tipped with iron. This they planted obliquely before them, as a chevaux de frise, and thus opposed a formidable rampart to the French cavalry. Such a defence had never been used before in any Christian army.

Determined to rival the fame of their predecessors in the most renowned fields, the bold archers of Nottingham, of York, of Lincoln, and of Kent, stripped off their jerkins of buff, laid bare their brawny arms and their broad chests, to give free play to their action. Many even flung away cap and shoe, and, half naked, they are said to have presented so savage an appearance as struck awe into the enemy.

The fight on the English side being intended, as at Crecy and Poictiers, to be on foot, Henry had placed all his baggage, with the priests and the horses, in the rear, near the village of Maisoncelles, under the guard of a small body of archers and men-at-arms. He dismissed all his prisoners on their parole to appear at Calais if he won the victory. He then mounted a grey palfrey, and rode along the lines of each division. He wore a helmet of polished steel, surmounted by a crown sparkling with jewels, and on his surcoat were emblazoned the arms of England and France. He went from banner to banner addressing and encouraging the men. He recalled to their minds the glorious victories of Crecy and Poictiers; he told them that he was resolved to win as great a triumph or to die on the field; and he declared that every man who showed himself that day worthy of his country and his name, should henceforth be deemed a gentleman, and be entitled to wear coat-armour.

Still more to excite their spirits, he told them that the French had determined to cut off three fingers of their right hands in order to ruin them for ever for bowmen, and he bade them remember what they had done at the siege of Soissons, where they had hanged 200 brave bowmen like dogs. These observations inflamed their resentment wonderfully against the enemy, and Walter Hungerford, a gallant officer of their body, said, in Henry's hearing, "Would to God we had here with us in the field some more of the good knights and brave bowmen who are sitting idle in merry England!"

"No," replied Henry, "not a single man of them! If God gives us the victory, the fewer we are, the more honour. The fewer we are, if we lose, the less the loss to our country. But we will not lose. Fight with your usual courage, and God and the justice of our cause will protect us. Before night, the pride of our enemies shall be humbled in the dust, and the greater part of that multitude shall be stretched on the fields, or captives in our power."

So the king went on inspiring confidence by his words, but far more by the lively cheerfulness of his countenance, which, like that of Edward III. on the like occasion, seemed to presage nothing but victory and glory.

The French had drawn up their host in a manner similar to that of Henry, but instead of their files being four, they were thirty-nine deep. The constable himself commanded the first division; the Dukes of Barre and Alencon the second; the Earls of Marie and Falconberg the third. But in their eagerness to come at the English, they had crowded their troops into a narrow field between two woods, where they had no room to deploy, or even to use their weapons freely, and the ground was so slippery with the rain, that their horses could with difficulty keep on their legs; while the English archers, who were immediately opposed to them, were not only on foot, but many of them barefooted, and, disencumbered of their clothes, were ready to make their way alertly over the soft ground.

Both the French and English commanders had ordered their men to seat themselves on the ground with their weapons before them., and thus they continued to face each other without action for some time. The const-able, most probably to gain time for the arrival of the expected reinforcements, still lay quiet, and Henry took the opportunity to distribute refreshments of food and wine through his ranks. He also seized the opportunity to send off secretly two detachments, one to lie in ambush in a woody meadow at Tramecourt, on their left flank, and the other to set fire to some houses in their rear as soon as they were engaged, to throw them into alarm.

Scarcely had the king executed this manoeuvre, when he was surprised by a deputation of three French knights from D'Albret, the commander. They came to offer him a free passage to Calais, if he would agree to surrender Harfleur, and renounce his pretensions to the throne of France. Henry disdained to enter into any negotiations except on the very same terms that he had dictated before he left England; and, penetrating the real object of these overtures, that of gaining time, he impatiently dismissed the matter. But the envoys were not to be so readily dispatched. One of them, the Sire de Helly, who had been a prisoner in England, and was accused of breaking his parole, introduced that matter, and offered to meet in single combat, between the two armies, any man who should dare to asperse his honour.

"Sir knight," said Henry, curtly, "this is no time for single combats. Go, tell your countrymen to prepare for battle, and doubt not that, for the violation of your word, you will a second time forfeit your liberty, if not your life."

"Sir," replied De Helly, insolently, determined to prolong the parley, "I shall receive no orders from you. Charles is our sovereign. Him we shall obey, and for him we shall fight against you whenever we think proper."

"Away then," said Henry, "and take care that we are not before you." And instantly stepping forward ho cried, "Banners, advance!"

With that Sir Thomas Erpingham, a brave old warrior, threw his warder into the air, exclaiming, "Now strike!" and the English moved on in gallant style till they came within bowshot of the French lines. Then every man kneeling down kissed the ground, a custom which they had learned from the Flemish, who, at the great battle of Courtray, where they defeated the French cavalry with such brilliancy, had thus each taken up a particle of earth in his mouth, while the priest in front elevated the Host, It was a sign of consecration to the great duty of the day; and haying done this homage to the God of battles, they rose up with a tremendous shout, struck each man his pointed stake into the ground before him, and stepping in front of these stakes, sent a flight of arrows at their foes, and again retired behind them.

The constable, who well knew the terrible effect of the English archers on the French troops, had prepared a scheme similar to that of Bruce at Bannockburn to break their line, and throw them into confusion. He had few or no archers, for the French at that period adhered to the feudal notion that knights and gentlemen only must handle arms. The dreadful defeats of Crecy. and Poictiers had not cured them of the foolish idea that arms must not be trusted to plebeian hands. He therefore had trained a body of 1,200 men-at-arms under Messire Clignet, of Brabant, who were to make a desperate charge on the archers, and break up their ranks. They came on with fierce cries of "Mountjoye! St. Denis!" but the slipperiness of the ground, and the fierce flight of arrows which struck through their visors and their armour, threw them at once into confusion. Their horses reeled and stumbled against each other in the muddy clay, and to avoid the iron hail of arrows they turned their heads aside, and thus knew not how to guide their steeds. Of the whole 1,200 not more than seven score ever reached the spiked barricade of the archers, from which the few remaining horses recoiled; and the whole troop in a few minutes lay dead or wounded on the ground. Only three horses are said to have penetrated within the line of stakes, and there they fell perforated with wounds. Meantime, hundreds of wounded steeds were dashing to and fro, and continually returning upon the French lines, stung to madness by their pain. All became confusion and disorder in the first division. The men-at-arms were so wedged together that they could not extricate themselves from the throng to advance or retreat. While the bravest strove to rush on the enemy, the timid endeavoured to fall back on the next division, and the most awful chaos arose.

Still the English archers poured in their arrows, dropping multitudes at each discharge; and when their arrows failed they seized their battle-axes, and, leaving their stakes, rushed on with fierce cries. At this signal the men in ambush replied with similar shouts, and, falling on the flank of the French army, added immensely to the terror and disorder. While they showered their arrows in that direction, the archers in front hewed their way with their hatchets through all opposition. They dashed amid the steel-clad horsemen, burst through the whole array of horses and armour, slew the commander-in-chief and many of his most illustrious officers, and in a very short time, without any aid whatever from the men-at-arms, dispersed the whole of the first division.

The second division opened to receive the fugitives, which occasioned fresh disorder^ and at this crisis the Duke of Brabant, who had hastened on before his expected reinforcements, galloped up with a fresh body of horse, and charged the advancing archers. Those indomitable men, however, speedily cut him down, destroyed his detachment, and kept on their way, laying prostrate all before them. They soon arrived at the second division, who, though wallowing up to their horses' girths in the middle of a ploughed field, the men on foot being sunk by the weight of their armour almost up to the knees, yet kept their ground. At this moment Henry advanced with his men-at-arms; but, seeing the nature of the ground, he rallied his brave bowmen, who, having no weight to carry, could do active battle, even on that rotten ground. At his call they speedily re-formed, and under his command made a fresh charge.

It was now that the real battle took place. The Duke of Alencon, who with the Duke of Barre headed this division, had made a vow to kill or take captive the King of England, or to perish in the attempt. He led on his troops with desperate valour, and a mortal struggle of two long hours took place. The English archers still wielded their massive axes in the front, and the French men-at-arms fought with undaunted bravery. Henry combated in the midst of his archers, who still plied their weapons with loud hurrahs, and, animated by battling under the eye of the king, seemed still as active and fresh as if they were just come into the strife. Henry's life, however, was repeatedly in danger. His brother, the Duke of Clarence, was thrown down near him, wounded, and in danger of being killed, when Henry rushed to his assistance, strode across the body, and beat off the assailants till the prince could be removed. But no sooner was Clarence in safety than a band of eighteen knights, headed by the Lord of Croy, confronted the king. They had sworn to each other to take or kill him.

One of these knights struck Henry with his battle-axe, and brought him to his knees; but his brave followers closed round him instantly, and slew every one of the assailants. The Duke of Alencon then fought his way to the royal standard. With one stroke of his battle-axe he beat the Duke of York to the ground, and killed him; with the next he clove the crown on Henry's helmet. At that sight every arm was raised - every weapon was directed at him. He saw his imminent peril, and cried out to Henry, "I yield to you; I am Alencon!" Henry held out his hand, but it was already too late; the gallant duke lay dead.

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Pictures for Reign of Henry V. Part 1 page 6

Great Seal of Henry V
Great Seal of Henry V >>>>
Henry V
Henry V >>>>
Cradle of Henry V
Cradle of Henry V >>>>
Room in the Lollards' Tower
Room in the Lollards' Tower >>>>
French Carpenter and Maid-Servant
French Carpenter and Maid-Servant >>>>
The Battle of the Carpenters and Butchers
The Battle of the Carpenters and Butchers >>>>
Parliament of Henry V
Parliament of Henry V >>>>
Azincourt. - King Henry V. and the Sire de Helly
Azincourt. - King Henry V. and the Sire de Helly >>>>
Monmouth Castle
Monmouth Castle >>>>
Reception of Sigismund on the Coast of England.
Reception of Sigismund on the Coast of England. >>>>
Mass in the Abbey Church of Marmontier
Mass in the Abbey Church of Marmontier >>>>
Rouen
Rouen >>>>
Cardinal Ursini
Cardinal Ursini >>>>

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