Tales from the Battlefield

On 19 November 1414 it was announced in parliament that Henry V intended to invade France as the rightful claimant to the French throne. On 23 November 1415 he returned to London in triumph. Come with us as we explore week-by-week during this exciting year the preparations, campaign and aftermath.




A few articles to whet your appetite:

21-27 September 1415 – The Surrender of Harfleur

By Dan Spencer The defenders of Harfleur surrendered the town to the victorious English army on 22 September. On the same day, Henry wrote a letter to the citizens of London in which he described the terms under which the inhabitants had surrendered the settlement. He explained that due to the efforts of ‘our faithful lieges’ and the ‘strength and position of our cannon’, the ‘people who were within the town made great urgency to have divers parleys with us’. Despite this, Henry wished to order an attack on 18...
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14-20 September 1415 – English assaults on Harfleur

By Dan Spencer The course of the siege reached a critical stage this week, with a number of English assaults launched on the town, which led to negotiations for its surrender.  In the preceding few weeks the besiegers had made efforts to fill the ditches surrounding Harfleur so that weapons and scaling ladders could be brought up against the walls.  The defenders sought to counter these efforts, with a sortie launched by the garrison on 15 September, which succeeded in setting fire to an English siege bastion.  It was soon...
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7-13 September 1415 – Disease and Deaths during the Siege of Harfleur

  By Dan Spencer As the siege of Harfleur dragged on this week, losses began to mount among the English besiegers with deaths and illnesses caused by the outbreak of disease due to the unsanitary conditions. The presence of thousands of men, horses and other animals in close proximity together, along with the waste they produced, meant that the conditions were ripe for infection. This was a perennial problem faced by all armies undertaking sieges in the Middle Ages, with diseases, such as dysentery, often inflicting a greater death toll...
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31 August – 6 September 1415 – The Siege continues

By Dan Spencer The siege of Harfleur continued this week with the English attackers using a variety of methods against the defenders of the town. This included the digging of mines under the walls, with the intention of collapsing the tunnels, when they were ready, to undermine the defences. These attempts were however frustrated by counter-mines dug by the defenders, which either damaged the English tunnels or attacked the miners whilst still at work. Other measures included filling the ditches surrounding the settlements with bundles of faggot, so that wooden...
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24-30 August 1415 – The Bombardment of Harfleur

By Dan Spencer The bombardment of the town could now begin, as the English guns and other siege engines were now in place and were protected by trenches and wooden mantlets. The author of the Gesta Henrici Quinti gives a vivid account of the destruction inflicted by these weapons, which within a few days had caused significant damage to the walls and towers of Harfleur, in addition to ‘really fine buildings, almost as far as the middle of the town, were either totally demolished or threatened with inevitable collapse’. Gunpowder...
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17-23 August 1415 – The Siege of Harfleur begins

By Dan Spencer The siege of Harfleur began this week with the English attempting to encircle the town so that the inhabitants would be unable to bring in supplies or reinforcements. Harfleur was a large settlement with perhaps as many as 5,000 inhabitants, enclosed by a circuit of stone walls and towers, together with water defences, which allowed the defenders to flood the land to the west of the town. Capturing the place was clearly no easy task, which is one of the reasons why Henry, according to the author...
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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...
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3-9 August 1415 – Violence in Salisbury, the Trial of the Southampton Plotters and the embarkation of the Army

By Dan Spencer Soldiers were still moving through southern England to join the expedition. On 4 August tension between soldiers and the inhabitants of Salisbury led to violence. The ledger book of Salisbury records that men from Lancashire lodged at Fisherton, led by James Harrington ‘attacked many of the city’s men on Fisherton bridge, driving them off with arrows and swords and killing four of them with arrows’. The bells of the city had been rung to sound the alarm and the citizens held a meeting to consider how to...
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27 July – 2 August 1415 – Final Preparations and the Southampton Plot

By Dan Spencer By the beginning of this week the expedition was almost ready to leave for France, with an order for ships to assemble at Southampton issued on 27 July. The following day Henry sent a final letter to King Charles VI from the castle of Southampton. This contains one of the first known invocations of the law of Deuteronomy: if one prepares to attack a town then one must first offer it peace. But if this is refused, the town can be put the sword. Essentially this was...
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20-26 July 1415 – Troops continue to arrive. The king makes his will.

By Dan Spencer The beginning of this week saw a commission given to Richard Redeman and John Strange to muster the retinue of Thomas, duke of Clarence, the eldest of Henry’s brothers, at St Catherine’s hill near the New Forest. This was probably the hill near Christchurch rather than that near Winchester. Thomas led the largest companies in the army. He had indented for 960 men (240 men-at-arms and 720 archers), but his muster roll (TNA E101/45/4) actually lists 1033 names. Alongside him was his step son, Henry Beaufort, earl...
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