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date: 28 November 2022

Participants in the battle of Agincourtfree

(act. 1415)

Participants in the battle of Agincourtfree

(act. 1415)
  • Anne Curry

Participants in the battle of Agincourt (act. 1415), have an almost legendary status, thanks to their celebration by William Shakespeare, in words put into the mouth of their leader, as 'We few, we happy few, we band of brothers'. There is no doubt that the army with which Henry V defeated the French at Agincourt on 25 October 1415 was outnumbered by the enemy, if less so than was once believed. But it was also methodically recruited and professionally organized, and for posterity has the additional value—thanks to the survival of exchequer pay records—of being very well documented.

Leaders and followers

Musters taken before embarkation and retinue lists returned after the campaign provide the names of over 8000 participants out of a probable total force of about 12,000, 20 per cent of whom were men-at-arms and the remainder archers. Most of these contingents were also raised by individuals, over 320 of whom entered into indentures with the crown to provide troops. The size of the companies they promised varied considerably. The king's brothers, Thomas, duke of Clarence, and Humphrey, duke of Gloucester, had the largest, at 960 and 800 men respectively. There were 43 peers in England in 1415. The majority contracted to serve on the campaign: 3 dukes, 11 earls (including Richard, earl of Cambridge, who was executed on the eve of departure for his role in the ‘Southampton plot’) and 19 barons (including Henry Scrope, third Baron Scrope of Masham, executed alongside the earl of Cambridge). At least 60 knights indented and over 30 more served within the retinues of the nobility. Fourteen out of the 24 members of the Order of the Garter and at least 73 of the MPs elected to parliaments between 1376 and 1421 served on the campaign.

The retinues brought by such men could be quite large. Sir William Bourchier, a wealthy and well-connected knight (his wife Anne of Woodstock was the king's cousin) contracted to bring 90 mounted archers and 29 men-at-arms, and in fact led a force of 102 men at Agincourt. Sir Thomas Chaworth (d. 1459) [see under Chaworth family], an important midland landowner, indented to provide 8 men-at-arms and 24 archers (one of them took an important French prisoner). Several of those who entered into indentures were office-holders or tenants in the widespread estates of the duchy of Lancaster, men who had a strong hereditary interest in serving the duke who was also their king. They included the diplomat Sir Walter Hungerford, whose wish, recorded in the Gesta Henrici Quinti, for 10,000 more men was transferred by Shakespeare to the earl of Westmorland (not in fact present in France), Sir William Harrington [see under Harrington family], who may have carried the king's banner, the Nottinghamshire soldier Sir Thomas Rempston, and Lancashire gentry like Sir John Pilkington (d. 1451) [see under Pilkington family].

At the other end of the social scale there were archers and men-at-arms who offered only their own service, or else that of themselves with a couple of other men. At least 122 men brought fewer than 10 soldiers. A typical example was Dafydd Gam esquire of Brecon, a victim of the battle, who brought 3 archers, one of them his son-in-law, Roger Fychan [see under Vaughan family]. In addition, companies of archers were raised in Cheshire (650) and Lancashire (500). The latter was divided into ten fifty-strong companies headed by 8 knights and 3 esquires. When the company led by Sir James Harrington passed near Salisbury on 4 August en route for the embarkation at Southampton, a dispute arose with the inhabitants that led to the deaths of four of the city's men. In south Wales the chamberlain John Merbury raised from the counties of Carmarthen and Cardigan 10 men-at-arms, 13 mounted archers, and 327 foot archers, and from the lordship of Brecon 10 men-at-arms and 146 foot archers, making 500 Welsh archers in all, the same number as from Lancashire.

The composition of the army

The soldiers were supported by tentmakers, tailors, shoemakers, bowyers, armourers, wheelwrights, labourers, carpenters, stonemasons, smiths, and waggoners, and by a 30-strong company of German gunners. Sir John Greyndore, a sixty-year-old knight with lands in and around the forest of Dean and extensive military experience in the Welsh wars, commanded a company of 6 master miners and their 113 assistants. The king also had his chapel, headed by its dean, Edmund Lacy, and 17 minstrels, as well as his physician, Nicholas Colnet, and two surgeons, Thomas Morstede and William Bradwardine, with their assistants and a small bodyguard of archers. William Bruges, Guyenne herald, also accompanied the army. The shipping account for the return voyage of the company of Richard de Vere, eleventh earl of Oxford, notes that each of his men-at arms had a page. The total number of participants was therefore larger than simply the paid troops, although household officials and servants often served as soldiers. This was certainly the case for those of the royal household, where men from all departments from the bakehouse to the chamber both served in person and brought along a few archers each.

The receiver-general's account of the earl marshal, John (V) Mowbray, shows that among his archers were two yeomen of his chamber, his baker, his armourer, his minstrel, his havenar (responsible for gathering supplies), and the yeoman of his robes, who purchased a new bed for the earl's use on the campaign. The steward of his household served as a man-at-arms, bringing along three archers, while the master of the earl's horses, who also served as a man-at-arms, was accompanied by 2 archers. The earl's two chaplains also crossed with him, as did his heralds Nottingham and Cornwall, each accompanied by an archer. The earl had also recruited knights and esquires within his wider affinity, men like Sir Thomas Rokeby, who brought another man-at-arms and 9 archers.

Within other retinues were archers who had particular occupations. One man was a dyer, others included butchers, bakers, brewers, tailors, bladesmiths, barbers, and such like, no doubt providing useful services to their fellow soldiers as well as contributing to military strength. The geographical origins of the troops were diverse, but it is clear that those who indented to provide troops recruited locally as well as within their own households and families. Michael de la Pole, second earl of Suffolk, was not only accompanied by his two sons, Michael de la Pole and William de la Pole, but also by John Fastolf and William Bedingfeld, representatives of well-known Norfolk families. Sir John Popham, a Hampshire knight who fought in the retinue of the duke of York, was bequeathed a life-rent from a Wiltshire manor in his lord's will.


Within the English army there were therefore many different groups of men who would have known each other already, either as relatives, friends, colleagues, or neighbours, thrown together with others that they did not know and grouped into larger units. This was the case at the siege of Harfleur, laid from 17 August until the town's surrender on 22 September, where the army was essentially divided into two parts, one stationed to the west under the king, and the other to the east under the duke of Clarence. A smaller group of peers and knights can also be detected operating as reconnaissance parties before and during the siege. These included experienced veterans like Sir John Cornewall, as well as John Holland, earl of Huntingdon, for whom this was his first known military endeavour. The young earl was the stepson of Cornewall, since the latter had married in 1400 his widowed mother, Elizabeth, who was herself paternal aunt of Henry V as a daughter of John of Gaunt. Family connections can be taken further: Huntingdon's elder sister Alice was the wife of the earl of Oxford, who was also serving on the campaign. Huntingdon was not the only youthful nobleman to be blooded in 1415. For the 27-year-old Thomas Montagu, fourth earl of Salisbury, the French expedition of 1415 marked the beginning of a notable military career. Others were even younger. The duke of Clarence had with him his own stepson, Henry Beaufort, earl of Somerset, then aged fourteen. Alongside him was the seventeen-year-old Humphrey, Lord Fitzwalter, who died at the siege on 1 September.

Not all of the army went on to fight at Agincourt. Dysentery developed in the damp and crowded conditions of the siege, and was no respecter of persons. Richard Courtenay, bishop of Norwich, one of the king's closest friends, died on 15 September, and the earl of Suffolk died three days later. Permission was given for 2 men-at-arms and 4 archers on 4 October to accompany the earl's body home for burial at Wingfield (Suffolk). Deaths are seen in at least fourteen other retinues, affecting men-at-arms and archers alike. Many more were invalided home. Within Suffolk's retinue these included his son William, John Fastolf, William Bedingfeld, 7 other men-at-arms, and 3 archers. Five high-ranking nobles were forced to return home: the duke of Clarence, his stepson the earl of Somerset, the earl marshal, the earl of March, and Thomas Fitzalan, fifth earl of Arundel. Arundel returned to England on 28 September, made his will at his castle of Arundel on 10 October, and was dead three days later. Nineteen men-at-arms and 68 of his archers out of a total company of 400 had to be invalided home, implying that they had served in his company in the king's siege camp, but it was possible to find replacements for two-thirds of the men-at-arms and all of the archers, suggesting that reinforcements had crossed from England and that there were supernumeraries at the siege ready to enter into royal wages.

The king was keen to avoid desertion and therefore ordered lists to be made of those returning home. These total at least 1400 men but include servants, priests, and support staff as well as paid troops. A more significant drain on the army was the need to install a garrison of 300 men-at-arms and 900 archers at Harfleur under the command of Thomas Beaufort, earl of Dorset, half-brother of Henry IV. His retinue, as well as those of Sir Edward Hastings and William, Baron Clinton, was transferred wholesale into the garrison, and boosted by men drawn from around 20 other companies, for instance the one led by Sir Thomas Carew, who had recently been engaged in keeping the channel safe for the army's crossing.


The remainder of the army, about 8600 strong, left Harfleur between 6 and 8 October. After a circuitous 250 mile route it arrived at Agincourt on Thursday 24 October. A few were killed or taken prisoner en route, including 7 of the Lancashire archers captured on the eve of battle as they reconnoitred the field. On the day itself Henry placed himself and his household in the centre, with command of the most dangerous position, the vanguard on the right, being given to his cousin, Edward, duke of York, and the rearguard on the left to Thomas Camoys, Baron Camoys, a veteran in his mid-sixties who was related to the king by marriage. Some archers were placed in the front to protect the men-at-arms, but the majority were stationed on the flanks protected by stakes. A crack force of archers was sent behind enemy lines. Losses were minimal and confined largely to the vanguard. Not only did the duke of York die but also 90 men in his retinue. The new earl of Suffolk was probably also in the vanguard, since he too met his death, as did Sir Richard Kyghley, one of the commanders of the Lancashire archers.

Although made up of many different retinues, Henry's army was strengthened by pre-existing ties of locality and household within retinues, and by the cohesion that the long siege and march generated, not least as during the crossing of northern France the army was already organized into the divisions in which it fought at the battle itself. Thus William Callowe and William Kempton, men-at-arms serving under Sir Robert Babthorpe and Sir William Phelip respectively, were probably in the centre battle with the king when together they captured the sire de Corps, a prize worth £99 to each of them and £59 to each of their captains. Despite the loss of key friends and commanders at Harfleur, Henry had still had ample men of experience. Many had served under him as prince of Wales: Henry Fitzhugh, third Baron Fitzhugh, and Sir John Grey, as well as Sir William Bourchier, campaigned with him in Wales itself. Others had previously fought in France. Sir Thomas Erpingham, who gave the signal for the archers to begin firing, had served Edward, the Black Prince, in Aquitaine as long ago as 1368, while Sir Gilbert Umfraville [see under Umfraville, Sir Robert] and Ralph Cromwell had more recent experience of continental warfare: the former served alongside the earl of Arundel in support of the Burgundians at St Cloud in 1411, while the latter was in the army sent under the duke of Clarence to support the Armagnacs in 1412. Cromwell lived until 1456, Sir Thomas Rempston until 1458. By then Henry V's great victory, and the men who fought in it, must have been well on the way to becoming the stuff of legend.

The following Oxford DNB subjects are also reported, plausibly but not always certainly, to have served: Sir John Ashton; James Fiennes; John Hardyng; William Haute (c. 1390–1462) [see under Haute family]; William Killamarsh; Sir John Pennington [see under John Pennington first Baron Muncaster]; Sir Arnold Savage [see under Savage family]; Sir John (ii) Savage [see under Savage family]; Sir Edward Stradling [see under Stradling family]; Sir Robert Umfraville; Richard Waller.


  • A. Curry, Agincourt: a new history (2005)
  • A. Curry, ed., The Battle of Agincourt: sources and interpretations (2000)
  • N. H. Nicolas, History of the battle of Agincourt, 3rd edn (1833)
  • J. Hunter, Agincourt: a contribution towards an authentic list of the commanders of the English host in King Henry the Fifth's expedition to France, in the third year of his reign (1850)
  • J. H. Wylie and W. T. Waugh, eds., The reign of Henry the Fifth, 3 vols. (1914–29)
  • C. Allmand, Henry V (1992)
  • AHRC project, ‘The soldier in later medieval England’, database of all nominal records for military service, 1369–1453,
  • Berkeley Castle Muniments, account of the receiver general of the Earl Marshal, Michaelmas 1414 to Michaelmas 1415, Glos. RO, microfilm 12
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Gloucestershire Record Office, Gloucester