Posted by: secretperson | October 25, 2008

French Accuse English of Agincourt War Crimes

Today is St Crispin’s Day and the 593rd anniversary of Henry V’s victory over the French in the Battle of Agincourt. The battle is probably best known to us from Shakespeare’s play Henry V and as a victory for outnumbered ordinary English longbowmen against the massed ranks of heavily armoured noble French knights.

However some French academics are staging a conference today, to argue that the English were guilty of war crimes.

They will also add that the numbers on either side were exaggerated in order to emphasise the size of the triumph. That is almost certainly true, propoganda is not a new thing, but historians disagree. The estimates vary from 9,000 English against 12,000 French, to the French outnumbering us three to one or more.

The war crimes allegations are of course more controversial. Christophe Gilliot says:

At the very least the English forces acted dishonourably. The middle ages were a very violent time, of course, but some might accuse the English of acting like what might now be called war criminals

and I think the important thing there is that the middle ages were violent. There were very limited rules for war, and the rules of ‘chivalry’ referred only to the nobility. A captured noble could be ransomed for a considerable amount, so they tended to be kept alive, but there was never any such luck for an ordinary soldier. The specific allegations are that prisoners were killed, and this is true. In response to a French assault on the English baggage train at the rear, and fearing a regrouping many prisoners were slaughtered. And a man who tried to surrender was instead killed.

Ok, slaughtering prisoners wasn’t nice. But would the French have been more honourable had they won? Shakespeare (pro-English obviously) makes out they had slaughtered the young unarmed boys with the baggage train, which he considers “expressly against
the law of arms”.

Dragging up ancient history like this and judging it by modern standards seems bizarre. But let the French historians do this. The important point is that we won. And we got a great play and speech out of it.

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.



  1. […] Blogs are Best – MSM Blatant Lazy Plagiarism After my Agincourt post I had a look at some of the other media coverage, and couldn’t help noticing some […]

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