Siege of Harfleur
Henry V invaded France following the failure of negotiations with the French. He claimed the title of King of France through his great-grandfather Edward III, although in practice the English kings were generally prepared to renounce this claim if the French would acknowledge the English claim on Aquitaine and other French lands (the terms of the Treaty of Bretigny). He initially called a great council in the spring of 1414 to discuss going to war with France, but the lords insisted that he should negotiate further and moderate his claims. In the following negotiations Henry said that he would give up his claim to the French throne if the French would pay the 1.6 million crowns outstanding from the ransom of John II (who had been captured at the Battle of Poitiers in 1356), and concede English ownership of the lands of Normandy, Touraine, Anjou, Brittany and Flanders, as well as Aquitaine. Henry would marry Princess Catherine, the young daughter of Charles VI, and receive a dowry of 2 million crowns. The French responded with what they considered the generous terms of marriage with Princess Catherine, a dowry of 600,000 crowns, and an enlarged Aquitaine. By 1415 negotiations had ground to a halt, with the English claiming that the French had mocked their claims and ridiculed Henry himself. In December 1414, the English parliament was persuaded to grant Henry a "double subsidy", a tax at twice the traditional rate, to recover his inheritance from the French. On 19 April 1415, Henry again asked the great council to sanction war with France, and this time they agreed.
Invasion and preparations
On Tuesday 13 August 1415 Henry V of England landed at Chef-en-Caux in the Seine estuary. Then he attacked Harfleur with 2000 men of arms and 6000 bowmen. The French garrison of 100 men was reinforced by two experienced knights, the Sieur d'Estouteville and the Sieur de Gaucourt, who arrived with a further 300 men-at-arms and took command.
Investment and siege
On the 18 August, Thomas of Lancaster, 1st Duke of Clarence led part of the army to set up camp on the far, east side of the town. This meant that the town was invested and a French relief convoy, bearing supplies of guns, powder, arrows and crossbows was captured.
Details of the siege are not well known but seem to have followed the standard pattern of siege warfare in the Late Middle Ages. After the walls had been seriously damaged by the twelve great guns and other traditional artillery of the English siege train, Henry planned a general assault one month to the day that the town had been enveloped. But the town's commanders asked for a parley and terms were agreed that if the French army did not arrive before the 23rd then the town would surrender to the English.
Harfleur yielded to the invaders on 22 September. The knights were released on parole to gather ransom, and the town's people who were prepared to swear allegiance to Henry were allowed to remain, while the rest were ordered to depart.
During the siege the English army had been hard hit by dysentery (then known as the "bloody flux") which continued to affect them after the siege ended. Henry left a small garrison in the town and on Monday 8 October set out with the rest of his army to go to Calais. He searched for an undefended or weakly defended bridge or ford on the Somme river hoping to slip past the French army but although he crossed the Somme he failed to evade the French army and was forced to fight the Battle of Agincourt.
In Popular Culture
As it forms a crucial episode in William Shakespeare's play, Henry V, the siege is portrayed in all cinematic adaptations, including the 1989 movie starring Kenneth Branagh as King Henry V. It is also fictionally portrayed in the historical novel Azincourt (2008) as well as the children's novel My Story: A Hail of Arrows: Jenkin Lloyd, Agincourt, France 1415.
- Barker (2005) p. 13.
- Barker (2005) pp. 67–69.
- Barker (2005) pp. 107, 114.
- Barker, Juliet (2005). Agincourt: The King, the Campaign, the Battle (U.S. Title: Agincourt : Henry V and the Battle That Made England.) London: Little, Brown. ISBN 978-0-316-72648-1.