For he today 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 abed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day."
These words, spoken by Henry V in Shakespeare's play of the same name, reflected the pride the English took in the memory of a glorious victory and, by connecting the Battle of Agincourt with a holy day, helped reinforce the popular belief that Providence played a role in England's fortunes during that historic battle. The ensuing bloody and chaotic clash seemed proof enough of divine intervention, because Henry's troops rose up to defeat a French army almost four times as large.
This rousing truimph during the Hundred Years War ranks alongside the rout of the Spanish Armada and the Battle of Britain as one of England's "Finest Hours," but it was not quite the miraculous event that Shakespeare and his contemporaries related. Henry's army posed a much more formidable threat to the French than simple numbers suggest. Given the circumstances, a British victory was nearly inevitable.
The Hundred Years War, fought intermittently from 1337 to 1453, erupted over the Plantagenet kings' rather weak claim to the French throne, which they based on Edward II's marriage to Isabella, daughter of France's King Philip IV. Although that claim had grown rather stale by the time Henry V rose to power, he pressed it through force of arms. In a series of brilliant military campaigns, he conquered much of France, and married Cath...
... middle of paper ...
...he Battle of Agincourt was King Henry's decision to execute his French prisoners during the fighting. At the time, such blatantly brutal practice was unheard of. Henry has borne the harsh judgment of history for his actions.
In the heat of battle, Henry noticed that one segment of his army had been caught off-guard and was in serious danger. The only soldiers available to reinforce his line were those guarding prisoners. To reassign them meant risking the prisoners' escape, or worse, having them turn on their captors.
Henry chose the more ruthless but less risky course and ordered the prisoners to be executed. It was a decision borne of necessity during battle, rather than personal malice, but one which nevertheless inflamed the French to greater resistance and set the stage for further rounds of slaughter in the seemingly endless Anglo-French wars.
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