10-16 August 1415 – The expedition sets sail to France!


By Dan Spencer

As he prepared to set sail on 11 August Henry V appointed his middle brother John, duke of Bedford as keeper of the realm. His eldest brother, Thomas duke of Clarence, and his youngest brother Humphrey, duke of Gloucester, were accompanying the king on his expedition. On the same day, the king ordered the mayor and aldermen of London to remain in the city in order to ensure law and order. He also ordered men to join the duke of Bedford in Leicester in order to see to the safekeeping of Berwick, which was threatened by the Scots led by Murdoch Stewart, duke of Albany.

The army (which sources suggest contain 11,248 men at least, of whom just under three quarters were archers), was successfully embarked onto the waiting ships in the Solent and Portchester harbour. Recent research by Dr Craig Lambert calculates that Henry had around 650 ships. The fleet set sail and headed towards France. There were a surprisingly large number of swans which gathered and which even seemed to be following the ships. This was seen as a good omen. Less propitious was that three ships caught fire!

According to the author of the Gesta Henrici Quinti, the king’s flagship, the Trinity Royal, reached the mouth of the Seine at 5 pm on 13 August and dropped anchor three miles from Harfleur, at a village called ‘Kidecaus’, the Chef de Caux. The king summoned a meeting of his captains, which agreed that the landing should take place the next day (thereby taking place on the Vigil of the Assumption) with Henry being the first to disembark. No one was to land before he did on pain of death. The landing was probably between the modern day lighthouse at Cap de la Héve and the village of St Adresse.

The landing took several days and was a major military manoeuvre in its own right – a medieval D-Day. Some men were knighted at the landing, such as Thomas Geney and Thomas Calthorp in the retinue of Sir Thomas Erpingham. The twenty-year old earl of Huntingdon was sent off to reconnoitre the area, along with seasoned campaigners such as the earl’s step father Sir John Cornwall. (His wife, and the earl’s mother, was the aunt of the king.)

The target of the invasion had been a closely kept secret, to throw the French defenders of Normandy off-guard, yet the king was keen to ensure that discipline should be maintained. Uncertainly over the intentions of the English, meant that the French were forced to send soldiers to multiple possible invasion sites throughout Normandy and Picardy. This dispersion of resources and lack of intelligence meant that the Normans were unable or unwilling to risk attacking the English when the latter were most vulnerable, during the landing of the army. The invasion fleet had been spotted by the fishermen of Boulogne, and messages sent to Etaples, Le Crotoy and St Valéry, indicating that they thought Henry would land at the mouth of the Somme. Therefore there was no resistance to Henry’s actual landing on the north bank of the Seine.

On 14 August, Henry and much of the army made landfall, although it took three days for all of the men, horses and equipment to be landed. The same author then records that the king organised the army into three divisions called ‘battles’, which then marched towards Harfleur, appearing over the crest of a hill before the town. En route Henry stayed at the priory of Graville, which still can be visited today.

This information came from Anne Curry, Agincourt: A New History (Stroud: Tempus, 2005), pp. 80, 82-3, 85-6; Frank Taylor and John S. Roskell, eds., Gesta Henrici Quinti (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), pp. 27-31; ‘Rymer’s Foedera with Syllabus: August 1415’, in Rymer’s Foedera Volume 9, ed. Thomas Rymer (London, 1739-1745), pp. 298-310 http://www.british-history.ac.uk/rymer-foedera/vol9/pp298-310 [accessed 24 June 2015].

Image is of Cape of La Héve, Sainte-Adresse, Normandy taken from Wikipedia, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 4.0 International license, author Philippe Alés