#1Jan 2nd, 2006
The Times January 02, 2006
The English come to aid of Agincourt six centuries after victory
From Adam Sage in Paris
AGINCOURT, once a symbol of Anglo-French enmity, is hailing the British as saviours after a pioneering agreement to bring thousands of children across the Channel to the scene of Henry V’s victory during the Hundred Years War.
Nearly six centuries after English and Welsh longbowmen inflicted one of France’s most devastating military defeats, a secondary school from Kent has become the site’s unlikely white knight.
The deal with Southlands Community Comprehensive, in New Romney, Kent, has enabled the small village in northern France to secure funding for its medieval history centre, which it hopes will become a tourist attraction. Local people are banking on the defeat in 1415 to generate income and jobs as their traditional mainstay, agriculture, is in decline.
They are preparing for 50,000 mainly British visitors a year, including three coachloads of primary schoolchildren from Kent every week. Bernard Boulet, the mayor of the village, known in France as Azincourt, said that he was happy to publicise the battle despite the outcome. “It doesn’t matter who won,” he said. “This was a significant event and we must exploit that.”
The village’s ambition to become a tourist centre was given a boost last month when the French state electricity generator, Eléctricité de France (EDF), withdrew a planning application to place four 459ft (140m) wind turbines half a mile from the battlefield. The plan had been fought by campaigners on both sides of the Channel, including the actor, Robert Hardy, who said that it would desecrate the battlefield.
“Although the French regard Agincourt as a tragedy, it is a very important site: in fact, most of the French nobility is buried there,” said Dave Williams, who took up the campaign because of his fascination with longbows.
The regional northern French newspaper, La Voix du Nord, said that that EDF had been surprised by the anger in Britain caused by its proposals. “History has no boundaries,” the newspaper said. “Agincourt is part of the English heritage.”
The same conclusion lies behind the village’s decision to build an extension to the Centre Historique Médiéval, which it opened in 2001. “We want more visitors,” M Boulet said. “And we think that about 80 per cent of them will come from Britain.”
The €1.2m (£826,000) cost of the extension was way beyond the budget of the village, which has just 276 residents. So M Boulet asked the European Union for funding, only to be told that he needed an international partner for his application to be considered.
The mayor was at loss until Southlands Comprehensive came to his rescue. The school, which already owns a property near Agincourt, where it sends its 1,300 pupils on three-day visits, has signed a contract to organise trips for the county’s primary schoolchildren. The grant was approved and the building work should be finished before next summer. Then, over a 15-month period, an estimated 6,000 children from Kent will tread the fields where a similar number of archers killed 8,000 French troops in 1415.
Siobhan Stevens, a former assistant head at Southlands who is now based in Azincourt, said: “We’re going to set up the project and promote the medieval centre. After that we hope children will continue to come here automatically. This area is quite pro-British now.”
CRUSHING VICTORY FOR THE ARCHERS
Agincourt was a battle that the English won despite being vastly outnumbered - we also managed to beat the Spanish Armada and the Luftwaffe despite being outnumbered.
England: 6000 - 9000 troops.
France: 25,000 - 50,000 troops.
England: 100 - 500
France: 5000 - 8000 with over 1000 prisoners!
The most famous battle of the Hundred Years War (1337-1453) on October 25, 1415, was a triumph for English longbowmen over superior numbers of French cavalry and crossbow men after Henry V’s expeditionary force was cornered
An account written three years after the battle claimed that the English were outnumbered thirty to one, but research published last year and based on the two armies’ payrolls suggests that the odds were closer to three to two
Thick mud restricted the French cavalry, which made a series of tactical errors and the English, most of them armed with longbows, laid waste the opposing army, killing or capturing the cream of the French nobility
The victory gave Henry the reputation and finances to continue the war. Four years later the whole of Normandy was under English control and in 1420 the Treaty of Troyes recognised Henry as the heir to the French throne
The French would cut off a captured longbowman’s bowstring fingers. Agincourt is said to have given birth to the “two-fingered salute”, a gesture of defiance to the French, to show that a longbowman was still active