The history of the genesis of the British Army to the English Civil War
Among British Army historians the reputation of Sir John Fortescue stands virtually without equal. His comprehensive fourteen volume history is a work of unparalleled achievement in its field. Fortescue combines thorough source material research with insightful academic observation of the conduct of the campaigns he describes and of the decisions, errors and strategic and tactical options of their principal protagonists. The Leonaur editors have carefully selected passages from Fortescue’s magnum opus to create a series of books, each focusing on a specific war or campaign.
The British Army, in a form recognisable today, emerged during the reign of Charles II, when the first regiments of the Crown, differentiated by names and numbers, were created. The immediate progenitor of that army was Cromwell’s incomparable, ‘New Model’, though that remarkable force evolved in consequence of the English Civil War in response to the existing tactics and the form of the combatants. Each army and each soldier was the product of developments in the waging of war and the experiences of the campaigns of the past. In this book Fortescue examines the rise and development of the British soldier from the earliest period to the outbreak of the English Civil War. From the Norman Invasion to the wars of Edward III, and from the innovations of the Renaissance to the fascinating period of the Tudors, when Elizabeth I’s volunteers fought to liberate the Low Countries from Spanish occupation, this is an essential account of over 600 years of warfare as it was experienced by the fighting men of a small nation that was destined to become an imperial giant.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket; our hardbacks are cloth bound and feature gold foil lettering on their spines and fabric head and tail bands.
On the 24th of October, Henry, who was lying at Frevent on the River Canopes, was informed by his scouts that the French were moving forward from St. Pol and must inevitably get ahead of him. He pushed on to Blangy, crossed the River Ternoise there, and advancing to Maisoncelle drew up his army in battle order before it. The whole French Army was before him at Ruisseauville, but as dusk fell without an attack he withdrew for the night to Maisoncelle, and conscious of his desperate situation opened negotiations with the French, offering to restore Harfleur and make good all injuries if he might be permitted to evacuate France in peace. His overtures were rejected and he was warned to fight on the morrow. On the same evening the French moved down to a narrow plateau between the villages of Tramecourt and Agincourt, and there, cramped into a space far too narrow for sixty thousand men, they halted till the morrow within less than a mile of the English position.
The night was spent in very different fashion in the two camps. The French, doubtless much inconvenienced by the straitness of their quarters, were shouting everywhere for comrades and servants as noisily as a mob of sheep; while some, forgetting the lesson of Poitiers, gambled for the ransom of the prisoners that they were to take in the morrow’s battle. Huge fires were kept burning round their banners, for the rain was incessant, and the English could see everything that passed among them. They too began shouting like the French till sternly checked by the king; and then the English camp fell silent, and the men, forbidden to forget their situation in the din of their own voices, sat down to face it in all its stern reality.
They could be excused if they felt some misgiving. They had covered over three hundred miles in a continuous march of seventeen days, often in hourly expectation of a fight; for four days they had not tasted bread; and now, after a few short hours more of waiting in the ceaseless pattering rain, they were to meet a host outnumbering them by five to one. Arms and bowstrings were overhauled and repaired; and the priests had little rest from the numbers that came to them for shrift. But in the discipline of that silence lay the promise of success.
At dawn of the next morning, October 25, Henry was astir, fully armed but bare-headed, riding a gray pony. Presently he led the army out of Maisoncelle to a newly-sown field, which was the position of his choice, and drew it up for battle. Every man was dismounted, and horses and baggage were parked in the rear under the protection o a small guard. But the numbers of his army were so weak that the favourite formation of the Black Prince could not be followed. The vanguard under the Duke of York became the right, the battle under the king the centre, and the rearguard under Lord Camoys the left of a single line, which even then was ranked but four men deep. It was a first example of English line against French column. Henry made the men a short speech, recalling to them the deeds of their fathers, and then the whole host kneeled down, thrice kissed the ground, and rose upright again into its ranks.
Meanwhile not a sign of attack came from the French. Their order of battle had been determined many days before, but it was ill adapted to so narrow a position. It was evident that only the vanguard could possibly come into action, and such was the indiscipline that every man of rank wished to command it. Finally the whole of the magnates were placed in the vanguard, and its strength was made up to about seven thousand men-at-arms, every one of them dismounted. On each flank was a wing of twelve hundred more dismounted men, and on their flanks again two small bodies of cavalry, three hundred on the right, and eight hundred on the left, which were designed to gallop down upon the archers. This was the first French line. The second was also made up of about eight thousand dismounted men-at-arms; while the remainder, who were ordered to dismount but would not, composed the third line. The whole stood on ploughed ground, soaked by the rain of the previous night and poached deep by the trampling of innumerable feet.
The French took advantage of the delay to give their men breakfast, an example which Henry immediately followed. Then seeing that the enemy remained motionless he prepared to attack. A gray old warrior, Sir Walter Erpingham, galloped forward with two aides-de-camp to make the necessary changes of formation. The archers were deployed in front and flanks, and when all was ready old Sir Walter tossed his baton into the air and sang out “Now strike.” Then galloping back to the king’s battalion he dismounted and took his place in the ranks.
The king, already dismounted, gave the word “Forward banner,” and the English answered with a mighty cry, the forerunner of that “stern and appalling shout” which four centuries later was to strike hesitation into so fine a soldier even as Soult. Then the whole line advanced in close array, with frequent halts, for the ground was deep, and the archers in their leathern jackets and hose, ragged, hatless, and shoeless after two months of hard work, could easily wear down the men-at-arms in their heavy mail. Artillery in such a sea of mud could not be brought into position on either side, and the German gunners took no part in the fight. The French on their side stood firm and closed up their ranks. They were so heavily weighted with their armour, always heavier than that of the English, that they could hardly move, and their front was so much crowded that they could not use their archers; so they broke off their lances as at Poitiers to the length of five feet, and stood in dense array, thirty-one ranks against the English four.
Arrived within range the archers struck their stakes slantwise into the ground, and drew bow. The French vanguard then shook itself up and advanced slowly, while the cavalry on their flanks moved forward against the archers. The division of three hundred lances on the right made but a poor attack; little more than half of them really came on, and even these their horses, maddened as at Creçy by the pain of the arrows, soon carried in headlong confusion to the rear. The stronger division on the left charged home, and the leader and one or two others actually reached the line of stakes; but the stakes had no firm hold in the mud; the horses tripped over them and fell, and not one rider ever rose again.