Battle of Agincourt info
In 1415, 6,000 longbow archers of Henry V of England met and fought a force of 25,000 French knights, pikemen, and mercenaries at the Battle of Agincourt, in France. The French led mercenaries were Genovese soldiers of fortune, and they were equipped with state of the art Italian crossbows. On the other hand, the English still used the longbow, great carved sticks of yew wood that required years and years of practice and enormous muscle strength to use effectively.
Given the discrepancy in men and equipment, the outcome of the Battle of Agincourt was one of the most surprising in military history. Twenty-five thousand frenchmen and allies, using crossbows no less, were soundly defeated by a force one-fifth their size utilizing the simple English longbow. There were many reasons for this, ranging from the blazing speed with which a longbow can be reloaded and shot, to superior English tactics and, most importantly, to rainy weather that muddied the fields so much that the heavy, armored French knights sank in the muck to their hips.
For all these reasons, the French lost 15,000 knights and soldiers at Agincourt, while the English lost only 300 men. It was so lopsided and impressive a victory that Shakespeare immortalized the incident in his play Henry V. The French were so impressed and enraged by the English longbow that they began a longstanding threat to summarily amputate the two fingers that hold the bowstring of any captured English archer.
That was quite a vicious threat, but the English were not easily cowed. they responded by waving their index and middle fingers in an insulting manner at the French from the top of their ramparts, as if to say, "My fingers? Here they are! Try and get them." To this day, this particular salute - two curved fingers raised in a V, held up to show the back of the hand and motioning up and down - remains in the English gesture lexicon as a terrific insult.
Excerpt from "Backyard Ballistics" by William Gurstelle