Henry V’s Battle of Agincourt fleet numbers exaggerated by onlookers


The Battle of Agincourt took place 600 years ago in 1415. The battle was between England’s Henry V and France’s Charles IV.

Now historians are claiming that the fleet of ships that Henry V stormed to Agincourt with was in fact half the size than was previously thought. Reports have previously generally agreed that there were around 1500 ships in the fleet that set sail, along with over 10,000 soldiers and double the number of horses.

Now, however, it is thought that there were as few as 750 ships which were on the whole made up of hired or requisitioned for the battle.

Historians at the University of Southampton have been reviewing original documentation of the battle, including those within the British National Archives. The main reason they were reviewing the records was to discover how such a large fleet got across the English Channel to France, The Guardian reports.

The fleet set sail at the beginning of August 600 years ago and it took two months for the British contingent to claim victory over the French troops. The day of victory was marked by St Crispin’s Day on 25th October.

Originally the claims of the size of the British fleet were made by a writer in the St Albans Chronicle, which outlined the grand size of the fleet. It was these numbers that were seized upon and were reiterated throughout history.

Historians now say that a fleet of ships reaching 1500 would have been ludicrous and that the number of half that is more realistic. Records show that Henry V spent around £7000 on hiring ships from the Netherlands, which at the time was a huge amount of money but would have paid for less than 250 ships.

The Earl of Dorset was Henry’s Admiral and was instructed to garner any ships over 20 tonnes, as well as any ships in the Thames estuary and other major port cities around the UK.

The researchers even went through detailed accounts of crew numbers aboard each ship and even records of their wages to ascertain the exact size of each vessel and their numbers.

Regardless of the size of Henry’s fleet, he did not need it to overcome the French Army and this had already been proved by a predecessor Edward III in the 1300s when he overcame the French Army using around 750 ships to get 14,000 troops to France.

The researchers suggest that at the time the accounts of the fleet setting sail were probably exaggerated and brought about by excitement. The fleet would have been spread out over a huge expanse of the Channel, so it is understandable why they would exaggerate.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE