Agincourt and Orleans: Lancastrian England and Valois France, 1413-1453

Module code: HS3679

Module co-ordinator: Norman Housley 

Module Outline

Warfare between England and France was one of the most dynamic and resonant features of the European political landscape throughout the late Middle Ages. Its conduct impacted on the entire continent, shaping the dynastic conflicts of the Spanish peninsula and trading routes in the Baltic Sea. Most significantly, though, it dominated the lives of ordinary people in the combatant states, the commanders and soldiers who did the fighting, the townsfolk who endured the many sieges, the peasants whose lands were repeatedly ravaged by passing armies and who bore the brunt of paying for the war.

This module deals with the war’s last phase, when Henry V renewed the conflict after a period of relative quiescence. Henry and his commanders won some extraordinary victories, especially at Agincourt in 1415, but the French succeeded in withstanding English ambitions. Despite crippling civil war, and inspired in part by Joan of Arc’s relief of Orleans in 1429, they contained the English advance and gradually recaptured lost lands and towns. By 1453 the French had expelled the English from the whole of France with the exception of Calais. Defeat plunged the English into their own civil war, while victory sealed the legitimacy of the Valois dynasty, enabling its rulers to lay the foundations of an absolutist monarchy.

Kenneth Branagh’s rousing delivery of Henry V’s speech at the battle of Agincourt, immortalized by Shakespeare

Topics Covered

The Anglo-French war is important above all as the biggest and best documented conflict in a period of radical change and innovation in the practice of warfare. It exemplifies the tactics that were followed on the battlefield and the techniques applied to taking walled towns. The English won their victories through their unmatched archers, effective system of recruitment and brilliant commanders. French success came about through the mobilisation of superior resources, the sustained use of artillery and a degree of concentration on the task of winning that looks more modern than medieval. In the process chivalry was transformed from an aristocratic code of values to a set of expectations that the fighting man would be loyal, disciplined and effective in serving his country and people.

While much has become clearer in recent decades, the war continues to throw up numerous questions. Might the English have won if Henry V had not died young, and would the French have triumphed if Joan of Arc had never existed? What did ordinary people think about the war in the two kingdoms? What individuals and groups gained most from the war, and who lost most? For this reason the war has long held enormous appeal both for research historians and for the authors of popular histories, and it is unlikely that its allure will fade.

Learning

This course is taught via two lectures and one seminar per week. Seminars are designed to revolve around the most pressing historical debates for each week’s topic, and will include the study of contemporary texts and selected essays and book chapters.

Assessment

Assessment is a combination of coursework and exams weighted 50:50. The coursework comprises two essays chosen from a list, and the combination of lectures, essay reading and seminar preparation and involvement will prepare students for the two-answer examination.

Reading

  • Christopher Allmand, The Hundred Years War
  • Christopher Allmand, Henry V 
  • Anne Curry, The Battle of Agincourt: Sources and Interpretations
  • G.L. Harriss, Henry V: The Practice of Kingship 
  • Régine Pernoud, and Marie-Véronique Clin, Joan of Arc: Her Story
  • Graeme Small, Late Medieval France