Azincourt ... a trip back in time and memory
In 1996 I got a Master's degree. And, no, it's not the one that qualifies me to be a licensed marriage and family therapist.
This one is in history. My specialty: medieval history. My area of interest: medieval warfare. My thesis topic? “The logistics, diplomacy and muster of the Agincourt Campaign of the Hundred Years War.”
In layman's terms, the battle of Agincourt. The complicated diplomacy that led up to it. The interesting muster that accompanied the breakdown of that diplomacy, and then the logistics of getting the myriad of Englishmen, their horses, wagons, equipment, weapons, armor, food and other accoutrements across the windy, rough English Channel.
I won't bore you with the details. Like anyone with an interest in history, I could drone on and on about the specifics of each area of my thesis, and the Agincourt campaign in general. Those of you familiar with Shakespeare, also a favorite of mine, will be familiar with HIS version (absolutely not accurate, as Shakespeare seldom is when dealing with history) of the story – how the original “band of brothers:” “We few, we happy few ...” defeated vast numbers of Frenchmen on their own territory to win the French crown for the English King Henry V.
Shakespeare would intersperse King Henry's speeches with phrases we use today. Many years ago, his play caught my attention. In an effort to know more, I started reading the REAL story, found in many original sources and chronicles of the time. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Well, today I had a chance to see the real Agincourt. The place of the famous battle, now called Azincourt in the Pays de Calais section of Normandy. This side trip was a major reason why we left Paris and drove to Normandy. The village is remote, about two hours by car from our Rouen hotel, and a little hard to find. Once we connected with the local people, though, it all fell into place.
Although the medieval museum is closed until September – just my luck! - there was a “pop-up” museum with enough information to connect us to the Agincourt “circuite historique,” a loop that allows views of the field of battle (still a large field) as well as several monuments. Missing were the wooden archers that I'd seen in pictures of the place. I'm not sure if we couldn't find them or if they, too, were being remodeled.
We began in the small village of Maisoncelles, where the English nobles were billeted and the English camp pitched just outside town. The next stop was a wooden tower giving expansive views over the battlefield. It's actually possible to see the woods on either side of the English line, and to imagine the way the
battle ranged. And, since it's been raining a lot recently, just like it did in October 1415, the fields were muddy, making it entirely possible to imagine the French horses bogged down in the mire, the English archers making the most of the situation, and the rest of the melee. I was entranced.
In this area (Normandy) of many battles, I've been brought to tears several times. This topped them all. To see, with my own eyes, the field of the battle I spent months researching, was awe-inspiring. That field, that muddy field, that place of battle … truly wonderful to me.
We continued to find a monument to the many French soldiers who died that day, and a later stop revealed a marble plinth celebrating those unnamed soldiers who died.
I couldn't believe I was here. I stood on the battlefield (three times, actually) and imagined the scene. Not Shakespeare's scene, but the real one, or as close to the real one as it's possible to understand, more than 600 years later.
And I remembered.
Shakespeare says, about the battle which took place on St. Crispin's Day (October 25): “Crispin Cripsian shall ne'er go by, from this day to the ending of the world, be we in it shall be remember'd; …
Today I was the one remembering.