wisdom to win

 Wisdom to Win
search bar left
search bar right

The Battle of Agincourt, Henry V and Leadership


The Battle of Agincourt (1415)


Famous for...

 The Battle of Agincourt, Henry V and Leadership

1. Henry V’s victory over the French.

Henry V (pictured right) had become the English king in 1413, when his father, Henry IV, died.


2. The English longbow

This was crucial to the English victory.


3. ShakespeareThe Battle of Agincourt, Henry V and Leadership

Shakespeare's play, Henry V, included the battle and Henry's inspirational speeches.

In 1944 the great English actor, Laurence Olivier (pictured right as Henry V), made the play into a film which was used as a morale booster during World War Two.

Shakespeare describes Henry’s youth in Henry IV Parts 1 and 2, starring one of his favourite comical characters, Falstaff.


Key events in 1415


14 August 

Henry and his army (around 12,000 men) land in Northern France, near the Breton port of Harfleur which he besieges.


22 September

Harfleur surrenders.


8 October

Having lost a third of his army to disease and death, Henry starts his march to Calais (then under English rule).


25 October 

The Battle of Agincourt (pictured below with the English on the right).


 The Battle of Agincourt, Henry V and Leadership


Where is Agincourt?

Near the village of Azincourt in northern France, 30 miles (48 km) south of Calais.


The opposing armies at Agincourt



1,000 infantry.

5,000 (or 6,000) archers.

The archers protected themselves by putting angled wooden stakes in front of them.



25,000 (largely infantry and cavalry).


So the English were outnumbered by 4 to 1 with hungry, sick and tired troops (they’d marched 260 miles in 2½ weeks).

This made their victory quite astonishing.


What happened in the battle

After overnight rain, the armies stood 700 yards (640 metres) apart in a muddy, ploughed narrow field between two woods, near to the village of Agincourt.

Henry then moved to within 300 yards of the enemy to provoke a French attack.

Fortunately for him, this attack was delayed long enough for his archers to re-plant their protective wooden stakes.

The French were crushingly defeated by:

  • a concentrated English arrow attack  - each archer had 24 (or 48) arrows, fired at 10 per minute and then... 
  • armed combat (once their arrows were fired, the archers used axes, mallets and swords).


The French were hampered by the mud, heavy armour (weighing 60 to 70 pounds) and the small battlefield.

They were so cramped that they:

  • couldn’t raise their hands to use their weapons and
  • were pushed down by the soldiers behind them.

It was impossible for them to get up, and they were either killed or suffocated by the mud or other bodies.

So French casualties were high...





Five to ten thousand.



Maximum 200.


Why Henry won


1. Poor French leadership and organization

The French:

  • were over-confident  The Battle of Agincourt, Henry V and Leadership
  • came from many different parts of France (so were difficult to organize).
  • didn’t have clear aims or a strong leader to unite them.

The French king, Charles VI (pictured right) had just had a nervous breakdown.

So the French were indecisive and, after Henry’s advance, failed to attack him before he could re-plant the stakes to protect his archers.



2. Luck

The heavily armoured French were slowed down by the:

  • overnight rain.
  • newly ploughed battlefield.



3. Military intelligence

The English knew the French battle plan.



4. The English longbow

The longbow (pictured below) was devastatingly effective:

  • six feet (1.8m) long.
  • loaded very quickly.
  • killing range of 30 to 40 yards (27.4 - 36.6m).

 The Battle of Agincourt, Henry V and Leadership



5. Henry’s brilliant leadership

Please see the next section. 


Why was Henry such a great leader?


1. Strategy

Henry's advance was risky but won the battle by provoking a French attack.

He also fully exploited his key advantages:

  • his archers and

  • the narrow battlefield (that restricted the movement of the larger French army).


2. Communication, control and character 

Henry was in total control of his troops

He also motivated them by: 

  • delegating authority.

  • clearly communicating his battle plan.
  • his integrity and fairness.

  • his pre-battle speech. 

        The speech wasn’t great oratory (as in the Shakespeare play), but reminded them that they would die, if they lost.


        3. Purpose and energy

        Henry was fanatically driven by his: 

        • aim to conquer the whole of France.

        • sincere belief that this was God’s will.

          The Battle of Agincourt, Henry V and Leadership

                This gave him: 

                  • enormous self-confidence,

                  • energy and determination.

                          He was a workaholic and, even on his deathbed, was so preoccupied with work that he didn’t even see his wife, Catherine (pictured right)!


                          4. Bravery

                          Henry always led from the front.The Battle of Agincourt, Henry V and Leadership

                          At Agincourt, his bravery was shown by his: 

                          • scars (from an earlier battle).

                          • rescue of his brother, the Duke of Gloucester (pictured right).


                              5. Innovation

                              Henry successfully introduced the use of angled wooden stakes in front of his archers to protect them.


                              6. Learning 

                              Henry read lots of books and learned from: 

                              • his military experience.

                              • the history of warfare.

                              • other people (he spoke little and listened much).


                                      7. Ruthlessness

                                      Henry ordered the killing of around 1,500 unarmed French prisoners, when he thought the outcome of the battle was still uncertain.


                                      What happened after the battle


                                      1417-21, Henry at war in France

                                      He captures Caen and Rouen in Normandy.


                                      Treaty of Troyes (1420)

                                      The French king, Charles VI, recognizes Henry as his heir.

                                      Henry agrees to marry Charles’s daughter, Catherine.

                                       The Battle of Agincourt, Henry V and Leadership

                                      Henry dies (1422)

                                      After his people are increasingly unhappy about his expensive wars and long absences in France, Henry's nine-month-old son, Henry VI (pictured right), becomes king.


                                      Best book

                                      John Keegan, The Face of Battle (1976).

                                      Free Newsletter
                                      Enter your name and e-mail address to receive our free newsletter with analysis of business issues and new business books