This wasn’t the first time that I drove in France, though the first time, with the exception of navigating the streets of Nice, I spent most of my time traveling along the Motorway (or the Autoroute, as they call them in France). Fortunately I was heading away from the Cote d’Azur, namely because that was when I discovered the horrors of a European traffic jam, and at that time I didn’t have the advantage of Google traffic (let alone Google maps), to allow me to avoid them. I still remember heading north towards Lyon and seeing a bank of cars stretching for miles, and when I mentioned that to a friend, the replay was ‘you better make sure you have a pretty good book because you will be stranded for hours’.
Well, this time was quite different because instead of spending our time on the motorways, we spend our time driving along the back roads of Pas de Calais. While I could write a lot about that adventure, I’ll leave that for another time and instead spend some time on a smaller part of that adventure: our trip to the village of Azincourt, which is pretty much in the middle of nowhere – there is no autoroute near by, and the main road passes it completely. In a way there is probably not that much that would set Azincourt apart from the multitude of small villages scattered across the French countryside, and probably even less of a reason why anybody would take their time turning off their journey to pass through it (let along getting stuck behind a combine harvester), except for one thing – around six hundred years a lot of French blood was spilt on the fields thereabout.
In a way, it is probably no different to a number of other battle fields that litter the continent of Europe, and some of them aren’t even marked, or if they are, there isn’t much there for the visitor to see other than maybe a memorial or something. Further, it is probably something that the French don’t really want to remember, considering that the battle was a humiliating loss against an opponent, the English, who not only had a lot less troops, but had also spent the previous few days being harried by French irregulars and knights, only to discover that they had arrived at a place where they French had already dug in, had prepared, and also had far more troops.
Yet the English managed to win the day, and in a way it had to do with a number of factors, including better trained men, a leader of great skill (Henry V), and the skillful use of their main weapon – the longbow. In a way the battle was won within the first few minutes of the engagement – the English moved forward bringing the French army into range and then launched their barrage. This resulted in the cavalry charging forward into the field of fire pretty much slaughtering France’s best weapons. In fright, the horses then turned and fled, right through the French. The two forces then engaged, and with the longbowmen also being quite skilled in hand to hand combat, soon brought victory to the English.
So, the first thing we noticed as we headed towards the village (and if it wasn’t for Google Maps, we would have been wandering around for hours, and even then it is not the easiest place to find) was a wooden soldier standing at the turn-off. Upon seeing this soldier we knew that we had reached our destination. In fact as you drive into the village you encounter many of these soldiers not only along the side of the road, but also throughout the village. Then, when you head out the otherside, towards Trammelcourt, you see two lines of soldiers positioned along either side of the road, as well as a roadside memorial.
Yet the village is still quite out of the way, and rather quiet at that. There is only a single bistro, and the person behind the counter only knows French. This is something that you will discover if you wander through the backways of France – they do not speak English, and don’t expect them to speak English (or any other language), because that is, quite understandably, really insulting. Further, the kitchen is only open at specific times, though you can always grab a beer and sit out in the beer garden and take in the beauty of this small village.
Though people do travel here, and that is probably why there is also a museum on the sight dedicated to the Hundred Years War as a whole, and in particular the battle of Agincourt. It made me think that maybe a lot more people travel down here than I originally suspected, and that maybe there are more of us that actually know about this battle. Okay, it probably has a lot to do with William Shakespeare, who about 150 years after the battle wrote a play about it that basically glorifies the brilliance of Henry V, and also makes him out to be a king of the people (though if you have read Henry IV, both parts, then you will see that there is a lot more to him that just winning the battle of Azincourt). Yet, even with the museum, the area doesn’t really scream out a major tourist destination, though there is an amusement park a few kilometres to the north.
The museum is quite interesting though since it takes you through the war, and then through the battle itself. It is one of those educational facilities, but set out so that it is not too detail, nor does it get bogged down in specifics. The first hall you enter has shields along the walls representing the noble houses that fought at Agincourt, and then you enter another room out the back which has a large model of the battle sight with the forces arranged as they were before the battle began. Through to another room there are glass cases containing numerous items that were used in the battle, including weapons, but also other things.
The next room is actually sort of like a video, expect that it is played out on a table. The video runs for about ten minutes and alternates between English and French. As it turned out, we weren’t the only people in the museum as there were some other people from England as well. The video runs you through the battle from beginning to end, before concluding that they are quite baffled as to why there is so much interest in this batt;e considering that it apparently had no lasting impact in history, and that within forty years the English had been kicked out of France, with the exception of the port of Calais.
The final room, which is upstairs, contains a number of life sized soldiers, as well as armour and weapons. This is also a rather interactive part of the museum as you get to feel what it is like to wear some of the pieces of armour, try a long bow (and a cross bow), as well as carrying the other weapons. In a way they are actually a lot heavier than they appear in shows like Game of Thrones, or even in your average game of Dungeons and Dragons. In a way the soldiers of today, even though their packs are still quite heavy, have nothing on the soldiers of times past who had to trek across the country wearing chainmail and carrying swords and maces.
So, the question really comes down to what is so fascinating about the battle. Well, it could be that the English are looking back at better days, or remembering a time when they decisively defeated the French, yet considering that they then built an empire that ruled the world, and also defeated Napoleon, this really can’t be the reason. Okay, there is the question of Shakespeare, and I suspect that this is the major reason why people travel to this remote part of France to wander around a small village, and visit a museum. Henry V isn’t as famous as some of the other kings and queens of England – Henry VIII has much more fame, as does the likes of Elizabeth and Victoria. Yet, to many of us history buffs and Shakespeare fans, the battle of Agincourt is a battle that we know about, and has been remembered.
Yet is it as insignificant as the French make it out to be. Well, I don’t think so. Sure, the French may have been decisively defeated, and Henry became the defacto ruler of France, but he died shortly afterwards, and the French then pretty much pushed the English off the continent and back onto their island. However, there is one thing that they have forgotten – Jean d’Arc. The thing with the battle is that it set the scene for the rise of this one extra-ordinary woman. Not only did she unite the French against the English, but she laid the foundations of nationalism, the reformation, and womans rights. In fact her rise pretty much heralded the end of medieval Europe and the beginning of modern Europe. Here we have a peasant woman not only challenging the English, but the church, and the aristocracy. In a way without Henry’s victory at Agincourt, there would have been no need for a Jean d’Arc.
Jo, of course, goes on her regular Monday walks.
Finding New York City takes us to Central Park in the snow.
Finally, we visit fourteen churches for the stations of the cross.