The English Invade France, Again…
Henry V, hero of Shakespeare’s eponymous play, invaded France in 1415 reigniting the hundred year war which happened to last one hundred and nineteen years. Guess it’s too long a name. Henry V was the son of the Lancastrian usurper, Henry IV, who imprisoned the true king, Richard II, and then had him smothered to death. Officially he died in his sleep. Five’s crown was none too secure. On the day he planned to launch his invasion of France a plot was uncovered to replace him with Richard’s son. Henry got wind of the plot, had the conspirators arrested, swiftly tried and condemned to hang. Displaying a rare streak of pity and munificence Henry commuted their sentences to beheading.
The defining battle of the invasion was waged near a small town called Agincourt, France on October 15. In spite of Shakespeare’s gross exaggerations about the size of the French forces, Henry achieved a lopsided victory against a superior force by creating a very skilful battle plan. The French did their part to insure Henry’s success by deciding not to attack the English archers. Seems the heavily armored French knights considered it cowardly to attack men on foot with armored horses, aka tanks. Too easy – no pain no gain. They chose instead to be mud ducks . They galloped for God and gory into a quagmire created by recent heavy rains. Withers deep in mud, armored horses equal stuck ducks. The English archers gleefully fired point-blank (armor-piercing) range at the immobilized French. It is believed that some 8,000 Frenchmen died in the battle, including many of its most senior nobles. France’s ability to field an army was for the foreseeable future seriously compromised. Furthermore, as a war hero Henry’s crown was now secure.
I arrived at the battlefield to discover that the memorial monument was plywood cartoon cut outs of archers opposing mounted knights jutting out of cornfields. A gardener was weed whacking the grass around the archers. He stopped and watched me take pictures. After a moment his curiosity must have got the best of him. After all they don’t see people who look like me every day in this neck of the woods. He walked up said hello and that it was not cold today. The temperature was over a 100F. I replied in my usual almost unintelligible French, oui. He immediately switched to perfect English with a heavy British accent. We chatted about the battle and asked me what I thought of Henry V so I showed him the book I was reading, “Henry V, Warlord”. He became animated and excited, at last a visitor!!! He told me that some British archeologists had been there recently. They found remains of English archers and French knights but no French men at arms. There are stories that when they saw what was happening to their knights, the French men at arms decided to go for coffee.
As Agincourt has no hotels, I stayed the night in a small town called Hesdin. The next morning I followed my three step French routine for breakfast. Locate local artisan bakery for quiche, find market for fresh fruit and find coffee. The place I chose to eat and have coffee was a small brasserie. The owner sold me coffee and I set up my breakfast on one of the outdoor tables. Even though all French do this, I didn’t want to be totally conspicuous eating outside food inside his establishment. After a while he came out to check on me. I suspect it was because he knew everyone in the town and it was clear, I wasn’t from here. After the obligatory French opening, he switched to English without missing a beat. I didn’t stop eating. The quiche was very good. He was delighted that I was an American. He was worried that I might be English. Naturally, he was curious about why I was in Hesdin. He shrugged incomprehensibly admitting that Hesdin probably wasn’t high on the American list of French attractions. So I told him that I had been to Agincourt to see the battlefield. He too asked me what I thought of Henry V! Luckily I had my book with me. He smiled and said that a few years ago thousands of English people came to the area and began to buy property because their money was so high compared to the Euro. However lately since the pound is down many have tried to sell but cannot. He smiled broadly and added, “That doesn’t bother me.”
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