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presently spread from besiegers to besieged. Still both parties stuck vigorously to their work, and it was not until September 19 that the garrison sent a message to the King, begging him that he would make his gunners cease, for the fire was intolerable. Three days later the capitulation was signed, and Harfleur received an English garrison. It was the first town that the English had reduced by the fire of cannon.
But Henry was by no means satisfied. His losses through sickness had been appalling ; quite two-thirds of his force had melted away, dead or invalided; the season for campaigning was far advanced; but he had no intention of sailing back to England from Harfleur. He would be called coward, he said, if he did so; and he would march across France to Calais and embark there. His real motive beyond all doubt was emulation of the two great Plantagenet soldiers. Edward III. had marched aimlessly through France, from the Seine to the Somme, and had won Crecy; the Black Prince had made a wild raid from the Dordogne to the Loire and had fought Poitiers on his way back; and Henry too meant to make his march through France and fight such another action as they had fought. So he reorganised the remnants of his force into a flying column of ten thousand men, collected provisions for eight days, parked his precious waggons in Harfleur, set all that he meant to take with him on packhorses, and marched away northward along the coast for Calais
Meanwhile the French, disorganised though they were through the insanity of their king, Charles VI., began to bestir themselves, and collected an army of 60,000 men, 14,000 of them men-at-arms, together with several thousand archers and crossbowmen. Their simplest plan for barring Henry's march was to hold the line of the Somme, as Philip VI, had attempted to hold it against King Edward III. Henry was prepared for this; it was quite in accordance with precedent; and he too would follow the precedent of his great ancestor and cross the Somme as Edward had crossed it, low down by the tidal ford of Blanche Tache. But his advanced parties came back from reconnaissance with the intelligence that the ford was impracticable and the passage strongly beset on both sides of the river. Henry swung sharp round to the eastward and made a dash at Pont de Rémy to secure the passage there. He was repulsed. He moved further up the river to Hangst and tried to cross there, still further up to
St. Audemar and tried to cross there; all was in vain. Every bridge was broken down, and every crossing-place was held in force. It was plain that he was more effectually entrapped even than his great predecessor.
The eight days for which supplies had been provided were now past, and the situation of the English became most critical. The hare-brained expedition in quest of glory had turned to a very serious matter, and it behoved Henry to pluck himself out of the difficulty if he could. Retreat he would not; force the passage of the Somme he could not; but it was still possible by forced marches to outstrip the French and pass round their flank, and even if necessary to turn the head-waters of the Somme. He took his decision at once, and marched with all speed up the river past Amiens to Nesle. Here, to his joy, he learned from a countryman of a ford, the access to which lay across a morass. Two causeways that provided a footing over the morass had been broken down by the French, but these could be easily repaired. Houses in the neighbourhood were pulled down to provide material, and what with straw, wood, faggots and rubbish, the causeways were restored sufficiently to admit the passage of three horsemen abreast. All was conducted in the most perfect order, and the King himself was indefatigable in the work. He took personal charge of one end of the causeways and appointed special officers to attend to the other. Then the baggage passed along one path, and the men along the other; and morass and river were successfully traversed between eight in the morning and an hour before dusk of an October day.
But now, for some unexplained reason, the French, who were lying in force at Peronne, retreated towards the north-west ; sending, however, a challenge to Henry to fix time and place for a pitched battle. 'I am marching straight to Calais through open country,' he replied. You will have no difficulty in finding me;' and he continued his advance. At Peronne he struck the line of the French march and looked for an immediate engagement (October 20). The force moved in order of battle, every man fully armed and ready for action; while the archers, by Henry's order, carried stakes, eleven feet long and pointed at both ends, to make them defence against cavalry. To his surprise no enemy appeared, and Henry was presently able to spread his force along a wider front, with the advantage alike of obtaining better supply of victuals and surer information of the opposing host.
Even so the march of the English from October 20 to October 24 was extraordinarily trying. The distances traversed were very great, hardly less on an average than thirty miles a day, and the army was greatly distressed for want of bread; for, though other provisions were abundant, grain was absolutely undiscoverable. No power but one could have carried the English through the ordeal—the power of discipline—for Henry was above all things a disciplinarian. The order of the advance, as its speed can avouch, was quite admirable. If any man, no matter of what rank, strayed from the line of march, he was placed under arrest and his horse was taken from him. The robbery of a church or of a farmyard, ill-treatment of friendly peasants, the raising of the cry of ‘Havoc' or No quarter,' all alike were punished with death. One man, whom Shakespeare has immortalised as Bardolph, was detected in the theft of a pyx; he was paraded through the army as a criminal and hanged. The French themselves admit that no loose women were allowed in the English camp, and that the English showed more humanity to the peasants than their own countrymen. The King was careful too to avoid anything that could be construed as a sign of retreat. One night he missed the camping-ground that had been assigned to him by the quartermaster and passed beyond it. 'God forbid that in full armour I should turn back,' he said, when his attention was called to it; and pushing the vanguard further forward he halted for the night where he stood.
On October 24, while lying at Frévent, on the river Canopes, he was informed by his scouts that, despite all his efforts, the French were moving forward from St. Pol and must inevitably cut him off from Calais. He pushed on at once some fifteen miles and more to the river Ternoise at Blangy, preparing for an inevitable encounter with the enemy as soon as he should cross it. Finding the passage unbarred he at once led his whole force over the river, pushed on for another league to the village of Maisoncelle, and drew up his army before it to await the expected attack.
The whole French army was concentrated little more than two miles from him at Ruisseauville, barring the march to Calais; and Henry might well shrink from the issue of a fight against such tremendous odds. As dusk began to fall 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, so only he might be suffered to evacuate France in peace. His overtures were rejected, and he was warned to fight on the morrow. On that same evening the French moved down into a narrow plateau between the villages of Tramecourt and Agincourt; and there, cramped into a space far too narrow for fifty thousand men, they halted for the night 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 of them, forgetting the lesson of Poitiers, gambled for the ransom of the prisoners that they were to take on the morrow. Huge fires were kept burning round their banners, for the rain was pouring down incessantly, and by the blaze the English could see everything that passed among them. They, too, began shouting in emulation of the French, until 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 pardoned if they felt some misgiving. In a continuous march of seventeen days they had covered over three hundred miles; for four days they had not tasted bread, and now, after a few short hours of waiting in the ceaseless, pattering rain, they were to meet a host that outnumbered 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 on the famous 25th of October Henry mounted his grey pony, fully armed but bareheaded. Shortly after, he led the army out of Maisoncelle to a newly-sown field, which was the position of his choice, and drew it up in order of battle. True to the old English traditions of Hastings and Tenchebrai, of Halidon Hill and Crecy and Poitiers, every knight and man-atarms dismounted, and horses and baggage were parked in the rear under protection of a small guard. But the numbers of the force were so weak that it could not be formed in the favourite three lines of the Black Prince. So the vanguard, under the Duke of York, became the right, the battle under the King became the centre, and the rearguard, under Lord Camoys, the left, of a single line.
Even so the men were ranked but four deep, a first
example of English line against French column. Henry made the men a short speech, recalling to them the deeds of their forefathers, and then the whole host kneeled down, kissed the ground thrice, and rose once more erect 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. After long disputes the whole of the magnates were placed in the vanguard, and its strength was made up to seven thousand men, every one of whom (for the lessons of English tactics had not been thrown away) was 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 two hundred on the left- which were designed to gallop down upon the dreaded archers of the English. Such was the first French line. The second also was made up of about eight thousand dismounted men-at-arms; and the remainder of the army, which was ordered to dismount but would not, composed the third line. The total numbers of the French seem to have been about fifty thousand men; and the whole stood on ploughed land, soaked by the rain of the previous night, and poached deep by the trampling of innumerable feet.
The French took advantage of the delay caused by the disputes of the nobles to give their men breakfast, an example which Henry immediately followed, for the Englishman always fights best when he is full. Then seeing that the enemy still remained motionless, he formed the bold resolution of delivering an immediate attack. A grey old warrior, Sir Walter Erpingham, galloped forward with two aides-de-camp to make the necessary changes of formation, and the archers were deployed along the front and flanks. When all was ready, old Sir Walter tossed his bâton into the air and sang out, 'Now strike!' Then galloping back to the King's division, he dismounted and took his place in the ranks. The King, already dismounted, gave the Black Prince's word: Forward, banner, in the name of God and St. George !' and the English answered with a mighty cry, the forerunner of that "stern and appalling shout' which four centuries later was to strike hesitation even into as fine a soldier as Soult.