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Reign of Henry V. Part 1 page 7

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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.

Here the battle may be said to have ended; for though the third division, which was the most numerous of all, was still unbroken, at the sight of the Duke of Alencon's troops flying in all directions, they too fell back and began to waver. Another moment and they would have been in full flight, but in the rear of Henry's army, where the priests and the baggage were posted, there rose a loud tumult, and messengers came galloping to say that they were attacked by a large force. Henry immediately believed that this force was that expected hourly under the Duke of Brittany; and fearful of being surrounded, he immediately gave orders to kill all the prisoners, lest they should turn against them»

As they had taken their captives, which, since the death of Alencon, was in crowds, they removed their helmets, that, should any occasion arise, they might readily dispatch them. The slaughter now made of these helpless men was terrible. Many fell without a chance of resistance, many others struggled and wrestled with their destroyers, but in vain. The scene was terrible, and the French third division, also becoming aware of the attack In the rear, took fresh courage, and prepared to make battle still. But a short time discovered the real cause of the alarm, which the fears of the English had converted into a formidable assault. It was merely a body of peasants under Robinet de Bournonville and Ysambert d'Azincourt, who thought they would profit by the battle, and, while the combatants were in the heat of the action, drive off the English horses, which were all left with the baggage. They little dreamed that their scheme would prove so disastrous to their countrymen, many a noble French knight falling the victim of this stratagem, for which they were afterwards severely punished by their feudal lord, the Duke of Burgundy.

The mistake being discovered, Henry gave instant orders to stop the slaughter of the prisoners, and the third division of the French army also coming at the truth, galloped off the field at full speed. Only about 600 could be prevailed upon to face the enemy, and following their commanders, the Earls of Marie and Falconberg, they charged bravely on the conquerors, and either perished or were made captives.

Henry's little army was too much exhausted and too much encumbered with prisoners to be able to pursue the flying legions. He gave orders to see to the wounded, and then summoning the heralds, he traversed the fields, accompanied by his chief barons, and saw the coats of arms of the fallen princes and knights examined, and their names registered. While this was doing, and others were busy stripping the dead, he called to him the French king-at-arms, Mountjoye, who came attended by the other heralds, French and English, and he said, "We have not made this slaughter, but the Almighty, as we believe, for the sins of France." Then turning to Mountjoye, he asked, "To whom does this victory belong?" "To the King of England," replied Mountjoye, "and not to the King of France." "And what castle is that which I see at a distance?" continued Henry. "It is called the Castle of Azincourt," replied the herald. "Then," said Henry, "since all battles ought to be named after the nearest castle, let this henceforth and lastingly bear the name of the battle of Azincourt."

Having named the field, and "lastingly," according to his own phrase, for it is a name which will stand for ever amongst the most wonderfully fought fields in all the annals of nations, Henry, as if impressed with what appeared to be his sincere idea, that it was the work of Heaven, and that he was its instrument, called together the clergy, and ordered them to perform a service of thanksgiving on the field before the whole army. In allusion to their escape from the enemy and the terrible destruction of their self-confident assailants, they chaunted the 114th Psalm: - "When Israel came out of Egypt;" and at the verse, "Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but to thy name give the glory," every man knelt on the ground. They then sang the Te Deum, and so closed the renowned battle of Azincourt.

Of all the battles ever fought by France up to that time none was ever so fatal as that of Azincourt. "Never did so many and so noble men fall in one battle," says their own chronicler, Monstrelet. It was a wholesale slaughter of its princes and nobles. Seven princes of the blood had fallen; the Constable D'Albret; the Dukes of Brabant, of Barre, and Alencon; the Count of Nevers, the brother of the Dukes of Burgundy and Brabant, the Counts of Marie and another brother, John, brothers of the Duke of Barre; the Count of Vaudemont, brother to the Duke of Lorraine, the Archbishop of Sens, the Count of Dampierre, the Lords Helly, who fell as Henry had promised him, of Rambure, Verchin, and Messire Guichard Dauphin, the other deputy who was sent to Henry before the battle. On the whole there fell that day 10,000 men, amongst whom there was one marshal, thirteen earls, ninety-two barons, 1,500 knights, and 8,000 gentlemen.

There were 14,000 prisoners left in the hands of the English, amongst whom were the Dukes of Orleans and Bourbon, the Marshal Bourcicault, the Counts Eu, Yen-dome, Richemont, Craon, and Harcourt, and 7,000 barons, knights, and gentlemen. No wonder that the news of so direful an overthrow, so unexampled a slaughter and capture of the aristocracy of the country, should spread consternation throughout France.

The highest estimate of the loss of the English is 1,600, while Elmham contends that it was only 100, and other contemporary writers that it was only forty. Taking the highest estimate, it was a wonderful disparity between the loss of the conquerors and the conquered. The only persons of note who fell on the English side were the Earl of Suffolk and the Duke of York, a man whose whole life had been stained with treachery and meanness, and of which it might be said that its only honourable incident was its termination.

The horror which fell on the whole of France at the news of this terrible defeat, is described by cotemporary writers as extreme. The whole country appeared stunned and stupefied. Those near to the spot or concerned in it were dejected and inconsolable. The Duke of Orleans was found on the field buried beneath a heap of slain, by a brave English squire, Robert Waller; and when made aware of all that had taken place, he seemed like a dead man, and determined to die by starvation. Henry went to console and cheer him, but he found it a difficult task. "How fare you, cousin?" he said; "why do you refuse to eat and drink?" The duke replied that he was resolved to fast. "Not so," said the king;" "make good cheer; if God has given me the grace to win this victory, I acknowledge that it is through no merit of mine own. I believe that God has willed that the French shall be punished; and if what I have heard be true, it is no wonder, for they tell me that never was there seen such disorder, such license of wickedness, such debauchery and shameful vices as now prevail in France. It is pitiful and horrible to hear, and certainly the wrath of God must have been awakened."

No two facts, indeed, could be more striking than the depraved condition of France at that period, and the great advance which Henry had made on his predecessors, the Edwards and the Black Prince, in humanity and sound policy. He went through the country like a man who sought to win the hearts as well as the sovereignty of the people. He strictly forbade all injury to the inhabitants of the districts through which he passed, insisting on everything being duly paid for, so that, instead of the wild demon work of the Black Prince, his father, and great grandfather, he might have been simply marching through his own territory; and it is but justice to his father to say, such had been his practice in his English and Scotch campaigns.

On the following morning the English set forward again from Maisoncelles, on their way to Calais; Henry still endeavouring to dissipate the gloom of his prisoner, the Duke of Orleans, had him to ride along with him, and conversed with him in a kind manner. This was the same young Duke of Orleans who had married and already lost Isabella of Valois, the widow of Richard II., whom Henry had so perseveringly endeavoured to gain for himself, but in vain. The disappointed lover was now become the conqueror and master of his successful rival, and though he did not let any feeling connected with the subject appear, it is nevertheless true that he kept Orleans during his own life captive, refusing all ransom for him, as the next heir to France after Charles the dauphin. Orleans was a beautiful lyric poet, and composed many of his finest poems in the Tower of London. He remained a captive in England twenty-three years.

Philip, Count of Charolais, the son of the Duke of Burgundy, afterwards so well known under the name of Philip the Good, was at the time residing in the neighbouring castle of Aire. His father had sternly prohibited him from taking any part in the battle, but so soon as he heard of the catastrophe he was perfectly overwhelmed with grief, and, like the Duke of Orleans, refused all sustenance. But the moment that he heard how the dead had been stripped, he sent the bailiff of Aire and the Abbot of Ruisseauville to see all the French interred. The English are said to have carried the whole of their dead into a large wooden barn, and burnt them to ashes.

Five thousand eight hundred of the aristocracy of France were buried by the abbot and bailiff in three great pits, in twenty-five roods of land, which they purchased for the purpose; and the Bishop of Guisnes went down to these awful wholesale graves, and sprinkled the dead bodies with holy water, and blest their resting-place, which for ages afterwards was conspicuous by its enclosure of trees. The Count of Charolais conquered his grief sufficiently to attend in person the funerals of his uncles, the Duke of Brabant arid the Count of Nevers. The friends of other knights and gentlemen came and carried away their bodies to their own estates, or buried them in the neighbouring churches with much mourning. Thousands of others, who had managed to crawl from the field into the adjoining villages, died and were buried there, but many others perished in the neighbouring woods, the prey of wolves and ravens. And then came down a long, drear silence on that terrible field, now become a perpetual name.

This great battle was fought on the 25th of October, 1415, the day of Crispin and Crispianus, and though the plough has been busy on the spot for upwards of 450 years, there still remain some traces of the scene. Azincourt lies on the left of the road from St. Omer to Abbeville. The traveller passes through the village of Ruisseauville, so prominent in the account of the battle. The village of Azincourt itself is a group of dirty farmhouses and wretched cottages, but where the hottest of the battle raged, between that village and the commune of Tramecourt, there still remains a wood precisely corresponding with the one in which Henry placed his ambush; and there are yet existing the foundations of the castle of Azincourt, from which the king named the field.

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