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Forum Index > Off-topic Talk > Thoughts on '24 Hours at Agincourt?' Reply to topic
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Chad Arnow
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PostPosted: Mon 13 Dec, 2021 8:44 am    Post subject: Thoughts on '24 Hours at Agincourt?'         Reply with quote

Anyone out there read Michael Jones' book "24 Hours at Agincourt?" I just finished it. While parts of the book were clunky and annoying to read, I was fascinated by his new theory on the opening of the battle. The long held/oft retold version has the entire English army advancing to within bowshot to goad the French to attack. This involved the archers uprooting their Henry V-mandated stakes, moving them, and replanting them before commencing the battle. This means the English had an initial defensive position they abandoned to advance forward to reestablish another one. And this movement, which Jones estimate might have taken as much as 30 minutes, provoked no military response in the normal retelling. It wasn't until they finished moving/replanting and then shot a volley of arrows that the French came on.

Jones postulates based on some chronicle accounts that a small band (or two small bands) of archers did advance, either leaving their stakes or just taking and replanting their own. There may have been a band of archers hidden in the woods. In this theory, these advance archers were out ahead of everyone and goaded the French into charging into the unmoved English position. Jones likened it to deer hunting, where some hunters/dogs flush the deer toward a pre-arranged spot where the animal is funneled into a killing ground with strategically placed bowmen at the narrow end of the funnel. The Duke of York had written (or adapted) a hunting treatise and is postulated to be a driving force in the plan. An advance force of archers goading the enemy had also previously worked on the Scots at Neville's Cross.

I admit it's compelling, even though Curry and Barker (and others) seem to still hold to the "everyone moved" narrative. The idea that the English moved their whole position and the French left them alone while doing it does seem a little unrealistic. By the way, I'm vastly oversimplifying his theory because this post is long enough already. Happy

Anyone read this and have any thoughts on it?

Happy

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Pieter B.





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PostPosted: Mon 13 Dec, 2021 9:28 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

If that is indeed the case the initial cavalry charge with which the French started the battle actually starts to make a great deal of sense.

Rather than a senseless frontal attack against archers behind stakes and men-at-arms it could be that they charged to take out the unprotected archers who retreated just in time.
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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Mon 13 Dec, 2021 3:11 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Makes a lot more sense to me than the entire line moving forward. All they were trying to do is to provoke a charge. You don't need the entire army for that. In fact, a handful of archers out in front seems more enticing than an entire line of archers dug in and prepared.
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Anthony Clipsom




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PostPosted: Mon 13 Dec, 2021 10:23 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

A major issue with the theory is that our best sources describe the army advancing together (which is why Curry and others stick with the traditional narrative of an army advance). As to the hunting theory, it does seem a bit left field.

Incidentally, Jones originally advanced these theories in his book "Agincourt 1415" in 2005, the same year Curry wrote her "Agincourt : A New History". Whereas her ideas on French army size revolutionised the study of the battle, nobody seems to have picked up Jones' theories.

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Daniel Sullivan




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PostPosted: Tue 14 Dec, 2021 10:04 am    Post subject: Thoughts on ' 24 Hours at Agincourt         Reply with quote

Very Interesting theory to me as Agincourt has fascinated me for years. Far more than Crecy, Poitiers, etc. Thought I had exhausted all resources, but missed the Jones book. Have purchased a copy ...

Viewed the 1944 film Henry V (Laurence Oliver) as a teen, it undoubtedly influenced my life long interest in the history of the period.
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Ryan McLaurin




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PostPosted: Tue 14 Dec, 2021 6:37 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I just finished this book a few weeks ago. I'm no historian and admittedly have read few books on historical battles, but I found this book to be a real page-turner. The speculation on some of the tactics seemed plausible based on the historical information that is available about the battle. What I found startling about the account was the large number of French casualties due to asphyxiation from the press of bodies and getting bogged down in the mud. Talk about a grim fate!
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Chad Arnow
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PostPosted: Thu 16 Dec, 2021 4:51 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I initially thought the hunting theory was odd as well, but it makes some sense. Henry's army was mostly non-noble/non-gentry due to the high number of archers. They were tired, hungry, some were sick, and they were facing a vastly larger army (though there are the obvious disputes about just how large the armies were) of the best equipped folks out there. Many in the army would have been familiar with game hunting on some level and a strategy based on something they were familiar with might have resonated more with them than quotes from Vegetius or other strategies only the well-heeled would be familiar with. Keeping morale high by making it another day at the hunt would have been a great strategy.

Jones has a different way of translating Erpingham's cry of "Nestroque" that started the archers shooting (the French chroniclers didn't know what to do with this utterance). Many since have translated it as some version of "now strike" or something. Jones says it could have been a call for the "menee stroke:" the name of a hunting horn call used to signal the beginning of the hunt (not quite "release the hounds!" but along that line Happy ). Jones posits that this call was the signal for the advance archers to start driving the game (the French) to the pre-arranged killing ground.

I'll admit the author does turn into a Duke of York-o-phile at the end and attributes a lot of this to him because of his adaptation of the Gaston Phoebus hunt book into English.

The idea is quite compelling, though, and he does cite some sources that seem credible apart from the fact that none of the other major researchers have gone that direction. Curry and Barker (and others) are so great and well-researched that it's hard for me to dismiss them. It's fascinating to ponder either way. Happy

Happy

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Anthony Clipsom




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PostPosted: Thu 16 Dec, 2021 5:35 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

While I remain dubious of the elaborate hunting theory, Jones does actually put the "Nestroque" incident in its correct context. Contrary to many popular histories , it is not connected to shooting as recorded by the chroniclers but comes before an advance.

I think his suggestion of "stroke" to mean "sound" was a useful contribution. We might note "strike" can be used similarly (e.g. strike up a tune). So "Now strike" or "now stroke" could refer to Erpingham being satisfied the army was deployed, ready, and the the signal to advance could be given.

Like others here, I have a lifelong fascination with this battle. It's particularly interesting in that it is one of the better recorded battles of medieval history, yet it still has a great number of unknowns.

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D. Ryan





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PostPosted: Sun 19 Dec, 2021 9:49 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Anthony Clipsom wrote:
the same year Curry wrote her "Agincourt : A New History". Whereas her ideas on French army size revolutionised the study of the battle, nobody seems to have picked up Jones' theories.

Perhaps, but I'd argue not necessarily for the better. She puts forward her army sizes at Agincourt as a theory, whereas the internet has basically taken it for gospel that those are the number of combatants. Ian Mortimer agreed with her counting method and still came up with different numbers. Will McLean completely disagreed with her numbers and his rebuttal is well-reasoned. That's to say nothing of the French eyewitnesses (who commented on the armies) who all agreed they greatly outnumbered the English.

Unfortunately with new theories we tend to go advantage: revisionist. I think because academics should be good at rationalizing their opinions and we figure they couldn't challenge a narrative unless they had good reason. See: the case of Henry V's moving scar - another revision mistakenly taken as fact. This despite the fact it's based on zero evidence and the flimsiest of reasoning.

I'd be interested to read this new book. Since combat and movements can be difficult to exactly capture by chroniclers, I feel there's more room for new theories.
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Anthony Clipsom




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PostPosted: Sun 19 Dec, 2021 11:43 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Quote:
I'd be interested to read this new book. Since combat and movements can be difficult to exactly capture by chroniclers, I feel there's more room for new theories.


As to it being a new book, its really is a reformatting of an older book - much of the text is the same - but it's certainly worth a read, to decide whether you think it stacks up. As I said, I wasn't convinced but you may come to different conclusions.

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Sean Manning




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PostPosted: Mon 20 Dec, 2021 9:58 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

If you are going to read one book on Agincourt, I would strongly recommend Anne Curry's collection and translation of all the sources. The gap between what is actually in the sources, and the impression you get from reading modern interpretations of the battle which name-drop medieval authors, is eye-opening! Writers in the 15th century were not interested in explaining how the battle was fought, like they were interested in listing the most prominent men who had been present. So modern reconstructions tend to take a phrase here and an anecdote there and 'stitch them together' like Dr. Frankenstein's monster.
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Chad Arnow
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PostPosted: Mon 20 Dec, 2021 10:22 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Curry is great, as is Barker and others. And they're more convincing than Jones in so many ways. When you have a bunch of scholars that largely agree and one that doesn't, it usually doesn't say good things about the outlier unless they found something no one else did. That's why I'm skeptical of Jones' theory, even though it makes a lot of sense. It makes so much sense that I want it to be true, but it flies in the face of some very convincing scholarship that I respect a great deal. I've read several accounts of varying quality (see below, plus some others I got rid of years ago). If I follow my university-trained research skills, Jones is a compelling outlier, but one that is outweighed by a number of seriously good publications.

But, gosh, it's interesting. Happy Maybe not correct, but interesting.



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Dan Howard




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PostPosted: Mon 20 Dec, 2021 4:40 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Sean's right. Forget about those books and simply read Curry's translations of the original sources. You'll discover that we don't actually know much about how the battle was fought. The above books are based on a lot of speculation.
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Anthony Clipsom




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PostPosted: Tue 21 Dec, 2021 12:50 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Dan Howard wrote:
Sean's right. Forget about those books and simply read Curry's translations of the original sources. You'll discover that we don't actually know much about how the battle was fought. The above books are based on a lot of speculation.


While I will echo the cry to read the sources, don't abandon the books. It is risky in history to just read sources cold, without context, without an understanding of the underlying agendas. Curry's source book does provide some of this background but you'll find it more fully in, for example, her book on the battle.

Agincourt is also cursed with its long standing prominence in the "national story" of England in particular (and to a degree Wales). This means it has picked up an accumulated baggage of popular perception from Shakespeare on. Honest English yeoman against arrogant French aristocrats. Longbow the wonder weapon. Most of the army being Welsh. Standard deployments in "hearses". It is important to be aware of how these colour our reading of the sources.

While we are recommending Agincourt books, I'd suggest reading
Anne Curry & Robert Mercer : The battle of Agincourt. This is a collection of essays produced for the 2015 aniversary, which has some good quality contributors.
Stephen Cooper : Agincourt - Myth and Reality. Tackles several of the things we think we "know" about the battle.

I'd also recommend

Rogers, C.J. (2008). "The Battle of Agincourt". In L.J. Andrew Villalon & Donald J. Kagay (eds.). The Hundred Years War (Part II): Different Vistas. Leiden: Brill (published 29 August 2008). pp. 37132.

If you can get hold of it.

On Welsh involvement

https://www.academia.edu/17542528/Welsh_Archers_at_Agincourt_myth_and_reality_The_Historian_The_magazine_of_the_Historical_Association_127_Autumn_2015

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Sean Manning




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PostPosted: Tue 21 Dec, 2021 10:55 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Anthony Clipsom wrote:
Dan Howard wrote:
Sean's right. Forget about those books and simply read Curry's translations of the original sources. You'll discover that we don't actually know much about how the battle was fought. The above books are based on a lot of speculation.


While I will echo the cry to read the sources, don't abandon the books. It is risky in history to just read sources cold, without context, without an understanding of the underlying agendas. Curry's source book does provide some of this background but you'll find it more fully in, for example, her book on the battle.

Agincourt is also cursed with its long standing prominence in the "national story" of England in particular (and to a degree Wales). This means it has picked up an accumulated baggage of popular perception from Shakespeare on. Honest English yeoman against arrogant French aristocrats. Longbow the wonder weapon. Most of the army being Welsh. Standard deployments in "hearses". It is important to be aware of how these colour our reading of the sources.

Well, yes, When you actually read the sources (rather than being fed 'famous lines' in modern research) you see the huge gap between the 15th century sources, the 16th century sources, and the modern retellings of the battle. So if you read one book on the battle, it should be Curry's collection of sources. Only when you know the sources are you prepared to read the modern interpretations. Its scary how many scholarly debates focus around one phrase in one source out of dozens (like Froissart's herce).

I am not sure how many of the sources John Keegan (for example) had read before he wrote his famous chapter on the battle. In his bibliography he mostly cites writers after 1850.

Edit: in short, I think that the best way to avoid the baggage of those modern accounts is to go straight to the sources. Some modern accounts will get you closer to those sources, and some modern accounts will take you further away, and the best way to decide is to have those sources in the back of your head.

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Anthony Clipsom




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PostPosted: Tue 21 Dec, 2021 11:27 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Quote:
in short, I think that the best way to avoid the baggage of those modern accounts is to go straight to the sources. Some modern accounts will get you closer to those sources, and some modern accounts will take you further away, and the best way to decide is to have those sources in the back of your head.


The particular difficulty with well-known history is that you almost certainly encounter a received narrative before you encounter the sources behind it. I'm not going to argue with a need to look at the sources on this, but I'd urge folks not to ignore the modern scholarship too for their theories and context.

Anthony Clipsom
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