By Kelly DeVries
British Journal for Military History, Vol.2:1 (2015)
Abstract: This article takes issue with the deterministic conclusions of a recent study by three scientists who investigated the effects of wearing armour on soldier exhaustion during the battle of Agincourt. Armour is not the usual military technology given credit for determining victory and defeat at the battle of Agincourt. That has been longbow archery. Too often in retelling the story of Agincourt the technology has determined the outcome. As I show in this article, while armour and the longbow play a role in the battle narratives of the original sources, they do not determine victory and defeat.
Introduction: In July 2011, while doing research in the Royal Armouries library in Leeds, I was approached by Andy Deane, who has been a Royal Armouries interpreter for many years. In suitably dry tones, he asked whether I had heard that the French had lost at Agincourt because they were exhausted by the weight of their own armour. He then proceeded to tell me that he and several other Royal Armouries interpreters had been the subjects of a series of physical tests carried out at the University of Leeds by Graham N. Askew (University of Leeds), Federico Formenti (University of Oxford) and Alberto E. Minetti (University of Milan) to determine the effects on medieval soldiers of wearing armour.
These interpreters had all worn and performed in armour frequently for several years for patrons of and visitors to the Royal Armouries. As such they were good candidates for Askew, Formenti and Minetti’s investigations. Despite being unable to precisely reproduce all the conditions of the 15th century – it was not, for example, possible to exactly replicate the types of nutrition or the frequency of horseback travel – the physicality of the re-enactors was the closest that could be achieved in a modern setting. Deane did not dispute the way these experiments were conducted. Nor did he take issue with the immediate findings of these experiments. However, he was not convinced by the interpretations that the scientists had developed from them. In particularly he took issue with the suggestion that the fatigue of the French cavalry wearing armour had ‘contributed’ to the French defeat at Agincourt.
Like Deane, I do not take issue with the findings of the team of biological and physiological researchers, who published their work, Limitations Imposed by Wearing Armour on Medieval Soldiers Locomotor Performance, in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B in 2011. Their human subjects were four men – described as ‘height 175 +/- 4 cm, mass 79 +/- 10 kg, age 36 +/- 4 years’ – who wore armours which were provided by the Royal Armouries from their collection of replica armours. These replica armours were accurate in weight and height to original armours found in the Royal Armouries collection.: an English armour dating to 1470-80; a Milanese dating to the mid- to late-fifteenth century; and a German Gothic armour dating to the late fifteenth century. The replica armours, including historically accurate arming doublets, weighed an average 35 +/- 5 kg and had all previously been worn by the interpreters