Siege of Harfleur

Last updated
Siege of Harfleur
Part of the Hundred Years' War
Map commune FR insee code 76341.png
Modern location diagram of Harfleur
Date18 August – 22 September 1415
Harfleur, Normandy, France
49°29′39″N0°08′20″E / 49.49417°N 0.13889°E / 49.49417; 0.13889 Coordinates: 49°29′39″N0°08′20″E / 49.49417°N 0.13889°E / 49.49417; 0.13889
Result English victory
Harfleur annexed by England
Royal Arms of England (1399-1603).svg Kingdom of England France moderne.svg Kingdom of France
Commanders and leaders
Royal Arms of England (1399-1603).svg Henry V
Arms of Thomas of Lancaster, 1st Duke of Clarence.svg Thomas, Duke of Clarence
Blason Famille Estouteville.svg Jean d'Estouteville
Blason de Raoul de Gaucourt (1371-1462).svg Raoul de Gaucourt
11,300 Garrison: 100
Reinforcements: 300
Casualties and losses
Fatal: c.2,000–5,000 [1]
Illness: c.2,200 [2]
c.2,000 refugees [3]

The siege of Harfleur (18 August – 22 September 1415) was conducted by the English army of King Henry V in Normandy, France, during the Hundred Years' War. The defenders of Harfleur surrendered to the English on terms and were treated as prisoners of war. It was the first time that an English army made significant use of gunpowder artillery in the siege of a large urban settlement. [4]


The English army was considerably reduced by casualties and an outbreak of dysentery during the siege but marched towards Calais, leaving a garrison behind at the port. The English were intercepted en route and fought the Battle of Agincourt (25 October), inflicting a huge defeat on the French.


Henry V of England 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 Brétigny). [5] 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. [6] 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. [7]

Invasion and preparations

On Tuesday 13 August 1415, Henry landed at Chef-en-Caux in the Seine estuary. Then he attacked Harfleur with at least 2,300 men-at-arms and 9,000 bowmen. [8] [9] 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. [10]

Investment and siege

The Siege of Harfleur by Thomas Grieve, 1859. Siege of Harfleur 1415.jpg
The Siege of Harfleur by Thomas Grieve, 1859.

On 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 23 September, 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 those townspeople who were prepared to swear allegiance to Henry were allowed to remain, while the rest were ordered to depart. [11]


Henry left a garrison of 300 men-at-arms and 900 archers in the town. [12] On Monday 8 October the English army set out for Calais. Henry searched for an undefended or weakly defended bridge or ford on the Somme river, hoping to slip past the French army unnoticed, but although he crossed the Somme he failed to evade the French army and was forced to fight the battle of Agincourt. [13]


During the siege, the English army suffered from dysentery (known as the bloody flux) which continued to affect them after the siege ended. Contemporary sources suggest that Henry V lost up to 5,000 men at Harfleur, principally to disease. [1] Anne Curry, drawing information from existing sick lists, identifies 1,330 men who were invalided home and another 36 who died during the siege. [14] She believes these numbers represent a close maximum of English casualties and estimated that the English numbered around 9,000 at Agincourt. Several historians criticised her methodology and preferred to maintain the higher casualty rates, pointing out that existing records are incomplete and that they are not reliable ways to estimate total troop numbers. [15] Clifford J. Rogers considers the number of 36 deaths to be impossibly low and finds the higher contemporary figures believable, citing other historical examples of armies being heavily hit by dysentery. [16] In the second edition of his volume "Cursed Kings...." (2016) Jonathan Sumption wrote that less the Harfleur garrison, the English army numbered 900 men-at-arms and 5,000 archers when the march began. [17]

As it forms a crucial episode in William Shakespeare's play, Henry V , the siege is portrayed in all cinematic adaptations, including the 1944 film by Laurence Olivier, the 1989 film by Kenneth Branagh, the 2012 television film, as well as the 2019 film by David Michôd. 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, and the Danish novel The Highest Honour (2009) by Susanne Clod Pedersen.


  1. 1 2 Mortimer 2009, p. 560.
  2. Sumption 2016, pp. 440–441.
  3. Sumption 2016, p. 440.
  4. Spencer, Dan (2017). "'The scourge of the stones': English gunpowder artillery at the siege of Harfleur". Journal of Medieval History. 43 (1): 59–73. doi:10.1080/03044181.2016.1236506. ISSN   0304-4181.
  5. Barker 2015, p. 14.
  6. Barker 2015, pp. 67–69.
  7. Barker 2015, pp. 107, 114.
  8. Curry 2005, p. 70.
  9. Mortimer 2009, p. 324.
  10. Sumption 2016, pp. 434–436.
  11. Sumption 2016, pp. 431–440.
  12. Sumption 2016, p. 441.
  13. Sumption 2016, pp. 443–467.
  14. Curry 2005, pp. 70–71, 131.
  15. Barker 2015, p. 342; Sumption 2015, p. 814; Rogers 2008, pp. 114–115, 117.
  16. Rogers 2008, pp. 114, 116 (footnotes), 117.
  17. Sumption 2015, p. 441.

Related Research Articles

Battle of Agincourt 1415 English victory in the Hundred Years War

The Battle of Agincourt was an English victory in the Hundred Years' War. It took place on 25 October 1415 near Azincourt, in northern France. The unexpected English victory against the numerically superior French army boosted English morale and prestige, crippled France and started a new period of English dominance in the war.

Henry V of England King of England from 1413 to 1422

Henry V, also called Henry of Monmouth, was King of England and Lord of Ireland from 1413 until his death in 1422. Despite his relatively short reign, Henry's outstanding military successes in the Hundred Years' War against France made England one of the strongest military powers in Europe. Immortalised in Shakespeare's "Henriad" plays, Henry is known and celebrated as one of the greatest warrior-kings of medieval England.

Siege of Rouen (1418–1419) Siege in 1418–19 during the Hundred Years War

The siege of Rouen was a major event in the Hundred Years' War, where English forces loyal to Henry V captured Rouen, the capital of Normandy, from the Norman French.

Henry of Grosmont, 1st Duke of Lancaster 14th-century English duke

Henry of Grosmont, 1st Duke of Lancaster was an English statesman, diplomat, soldier, and Christian writer. The owner of Bolingbroke Castle in Lincolnshire, Grosmont was a member of the House of Plantagenet, which was ruling over England at that time. He was the wealthiest and most powerful peer of the realm.

Thomas Erpingham English soldier and administrator (c. 1357 – 1428)

Sir Thomas Erpingham was an English soldier and administrator who loyally served three generations of the House of Lancaster, including Henry IV and Henry V, and whose military career spanned four decades. After the Lancastrian usurpation of the English throne in 1399, his career in their service was transformed as he rose to national prominence, and through his access to royal patronage he acquired great wealth and influence.

Harfleur Commune in Normandy, France

Harfleur is a commune in the Seine-Maritime department in the Normandy region of northern France.

Siege of Calais (1346–1347) Siege by King Edward III during the Hundred Years War

The siege of Calais occurred at the conclusion of the Crécy campaign, when an English army under the command of King Edward III of England successfully besieged the French town of Calais during the Edwardian phase of the Hundred Years' War.

John I, Duke of Alençon French nobleman

John I of Alençon, known as the Wise, was a French nobleman, killed at the Battle of Agincourt.

Battle of Auberoche Battle during the Hundred Years War (1345)

The Battle of Auberoche was fought on 21 October 1345 during the Gascon campaign of 1345 between an Anglo-Gascon force of 1,200 men under Henry, Earl of Derby, and a French army of 7,000 commanded by Louis of Poitiers. It was fought at the village of Auberoche near Périgueux in northern Aquitaine. At the time, Gascony was a territory of the English Crown and the "English" army included a large proportion of native Gascons. The battle resulted in a heavy defeat for the French, who suffered very high casualties, with their leaders killed or captured.

Events from the 1410s in England.

Hundred Years War Anglo-French conflicts, 1337–1453

The Hundred Years' War was a series of armed conflicts between the kingdoms of England and France during the Late Middle Ages. It originated from disputed claims to the French throne between the English royal House of Plantagenet and the French royal House of Valois. Over time, the war grew into a broader power struggle involving factions from across Western Europe, fuelled by emerging nationalism on both sides.

Battle of Bergerac Battle during the Hundred Years War

The Battle of Bergerac was fought between Anglo-Gascon and French forces at the town of Bergerac, Gascony, in August 1345 during the Hundred Years' War. In early 1345 Edward III of England decided to launch a major attack on the French from the north, while sending smaller forces to Brittany and Gascony, the latter being both economically important to the English war effort and the proximate cause of the war. The French focused on the threat to northern France, leaving comparatively small forces in the south-west.

The Battle of Valmont is the name given to two connected actions which took place between 9 and 11 March 1416 in the area of the towns of Valmont and Harfleur in Normandy. A raiding force under Thomas Beaufort, Earl of Dorset, was confronted by a larger French army under Bernard VII, Count of Armagnac at Valmont. The initial action went against the English, who lost their horses and baggage. They managed to rally and withdraw in good order to Harfleur, only to find the French had cut them off. A second action now took place, during which the French army was defeated with the aid of a sally from the English garrison of Harfleur.

Gascon campaign of 1345 Military campaign during the Hundred Years War

The Gascon campaign of 1345 was conducted by Henry, Earl of Derby, as part of the Hundred Years' War. The whirlwind campaign took place between August and November 1345 in Gascony, an English-controlled territory in south-west France. Derby, commanding an Anglo-Gascon force, oversaw the first successful English land campaign of the war. He twice defeated large French armies in battle, taking many noble and knightly prisoners. They were ransomed by their captors, greatly enriching Derby and his soldiers in the process. Following this campaign, morale and prestige swung England's way in the border region between English-occupied Gascony and French-ruled territory, providing an influx of taxes and recruits for the English armies. As a result, France's ability to raise tax money and troops from the region was much reduced.

Siege of Aiguillon Siege during the Hundred Years War

The siege of Aiguillon, an episode in the Hundred Years' War, began on 1 April 1346 when a French army commanded by John, Duke of Normandy, laid siege to the Gascon town of Aiguillon. The town was defended by an Anglo-Gascon army under Ralph, Earl of Stafford.

Lancasters <i>chevauchée</i> of 1346 Campaign during the Hundred Years War

Lancaster's chevauchée of 1346 was a series of offensives directed by Henry, Earl of Lancaster, in southwestern France during autumn 1346, as a part of the Hundred Years' War.

Lancaster's chevauchée of 1356 in Normandy was an English offensive directed by Henry, Duke of Lancaster, in northern France during 1356, as a part of the Hundred Years' War. The offensive took the form of a large mounted raid—a chevauchée—and lasted from 22 June to 13 July. During its final week the English were pursued by a much larger French army under King John II that failed to force them to battle.

The Treaty of Guînes was a draft settlement to end the Hundred Years' War, negotiated between England and France and signed at Guînes on 6 April 1354. The war had broken out in 1337 and was further aggravated in 1340 when the English king, Edward III, claimed the French throne. The war went badly for France: the French army was heavily defeated at the Battle of Crécy, and the French town of Calais was besieged and captured. With both sides exhausted, a truce was agreed that, despite being only fitfully observed, was repeatedly renewed.

Siege of Breteuil Siege during the Hundred Years War

The siege of Breteuil was the investment of the Norman town of Breteuil, held by partisans of Charles II, King of Navarre, by French forces. It lasted from April to about 20 August 1356. It was interrupted on 5 July when a small English army commanded by Henry, Earl of Lancaster relieved and resupplied it. The French king, John II, attempted to bring Lancaster to battle with the much larger French royal army, but Lancaster marched away and the attempt failed. John then renewed the siege of Breteuil.

Hundred Years War, 1345–1347 Series of military campaigns in 1345–1347

English offensives in 1345–1347, during the Hundred Years' War, resulted in repeated defeats of the French, the loss or devastation of much French territory and the capture by the English of the port of Calais. The war had broken out in 1337 and flared up in 1340 when the king of England, Edward III, laid claim to the French crown and campaigned in northern France. There was then a lull in the major hostilities, although much small-scale fighting continued.