Tag Archives: William Shakespeare

My Lead Soldier Collection – English Standard Bearer at Agincourt

Agincourt Knight

I visited the Agincourt site in August 2013 and after a short drive from our hotel we arrived at the site of the battle that doesn’t seem anything special now after all this time and if we hadn’t been paying attention we may well have missed what is now a rather unremarkable field in northern France.

The signage isn’t very special either…

Agincourt Field

Read The Full Story Here…

Entrance Tickets – Mary Arden’s House, Wilmcote near Stratford upon Avon

entrance-fee-1995

“Step back in time for all the sights, smells and sounds of a real Tudor farm and explore the house where Shakespeare’s mother, Mary Arden, grew up.”  Shakespeare Birthplace Trust Website

002

In 1930 the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust purchased a property in the village of Wilmcote near Stratford-upon-Avon, made some improvements to it, added some authentic Tudor furniture and other contemporary everyday items and declared it to be the birthplace and home of William Shakespeare’s mother, Mary Arden.

Click on an image to scroll through the Gallery…

As it turned out (in 2000 to be precise) this turned out not to be Mary Arden’s house at all and the Shakespeare Birthday Trust had a bit of explaining to do.

Read the Full Story…

The Battlefield Site of Agincourt

Agincourt Archers

I visited the battle site that doesn’t seem anything special now after all this time.  So unremarkable in fact that I may well have missed what is now a rather insignificant field in northern France if it wasn’t for the roadside decoration where English archers and French cavalry faced each other once again in row after row of wooden statues.

A few neighbouring wind farms apart, the terrain has barely changed in the six hundred intervening years and today the battlefield is exactly that – a field, with ploughed ridges a foot deep, flanked by trees on either side. Sixty miles west of Lille, the flat country is broken up by poplars dotted with mistletoe, red-roofed bungalows and small Gothic churches with broach spires.

Read the Full Story…

North Yorkshire – Middleham Town Twinned with Agincourt

Agincourt

“Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember’d;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.”

William Shakespeare – ‘Henry V’

Agincourt French Knight

Our version of the battle of Agincourt is almost entirely informed by William Shakespeare in the play Henry V but as with most of his histories this was a highly dubious account of what really happened and modern historians have reached the view that far from being gallant and chivalrous and still celebrated as a golden moment in England’s history the battle was filthy, horrible and merciless.

Weapons were crude and brutal.  Arrows from the longbows of the Welsh archers rained down and where the sword of a knight would not penetrate the armour of a noble foe and did not have the weight to knock a man off his feet, a poleaxe (a long-handled axe or hammer, topped with a fearsome spike) would fell him fast and then it was easy to raise the victim’s visor and slide a knife through an eye.  That was how hundreds of men died – their last sight on earth a dagger’s point.

Agincourt Archers

It turns out that Agincourt is not a tale of chivalry at all, but rather of desperate men hacking at each other to break limbs and crush skulls.  Of hundreds of French soldiers weighed down by heavy armour submerged and drowning in mud.  Hand to hand combat by men using lead-weighted hammers, poleaxes, mauls and falcon-beaks, the ghastly paraphernalia of medieval fighting.

At the height of the battle, when Henry V fearful of an attack on his rear  he ordered the captured French prisoners to be slaughtered, an action today that would almost certainly be denounced as a war crime.  He is alleged to have once said that ‘War without fire is like sausages without mustard’.  Even Shakespeare makes no attempt to omit this part of the story which would suggest that even in Tudor times such action was considered acceptable.  There was no United Nations Rules of Engagement or Geneva Convention in 1415.

In the cold, wet dawn of October 25th 1415, no one could have realistically expected Henry’s army to survive the day.  This was about as unlikely as Leicester City winning the Premier League. He had about six thousand men, more than five thousand of them archers, while the French numbered at least thirty-thousand and were so confident of victory that, before the battle was joined, they sent away some newly arrived reinforcements – it didn’t occur to them that they might need to make some half-time substitutions!  By dusk on that Saint Crispin’s Day, Henry’s small army had entered military legend.

Agincourt Museum Guide

I visited the battle field in August 2013 and after a short drive from our hotel we arrived at the site of the battle that doesn’t seem anything special now after all this time and we may well have missed what is now a rather unremarkable field in northern France if it wasn’t for the roadside decoration where English archers and French cavalry faced each other once again in row after row of wooden statues.

A few neighbouring wind farms apart, the terrain has barely changed in the six hundred intervening years and today the battlefield is exactly that – a field, with ploughed ridges a foot deep, flanked by trees on either side. Sixty miles west of Lille, the flat country is broken up by poplars dotted with mistletoe, red-roofed bungalows and small Gothic churches with broach spires.

Agincourt Battlefield

We stopped for a while and surveyed the field which gave no clues to the battle and then we continued to the Agincourt Museum.

I am not really sure what I was expecting but I was certainly surprised by the place.  I had always imagined that France would have no real enthusiasm for financing and building a museum to commemorate a humiliating defeat but inside there was an unexpectedly balanced account of the battle and the history of the Hundred Years War (which I suppose the French did win at the end of the day so they can afford to be magnanimous about it) and in some of the displays and the explanations I had to remind myself that Henry was the English King and it was the French who were defeated here.

Anyway, six hundred years is a very long time and I don’t suppose it really matters that much anymore and after all the French have been Republicans, on and off, for over two hundred years now so why should it matter to them a great deal whether the Plantagenets or the Valois won that day?

Agincourt Archers

I remember studying Shakespeare’s Henry V for English ‘o’ level and the school production of the play in 1969.

I auditioned but was not successful in securing a speaking part but was compensated with not one, but two roles as an extra.  My first part was rather important as I was the servant who carried on the casket of tennis balls that is presented to King Henry by the French Ambassador in Act 1 Scene 2 and then I had to make a hasty costume change to become one of the English army, first at the siege of Harfleur in Act 3 scene 1 and then at the battle of Agincourt in Act 4 scene 1.

Rather like the French King, Charles VI, the failure to get a part in the play was a bit of a personal setback for me and I never auditioned for a part in the school play or any other sort of play ever again but I have to admit that this was no great loss to the theatrical profession.

Henry V

By an interesting chronological coincidence the British fought another heroic battle on St Crispin’s Day but this time without such a glorious result – The Charge of the Light Brigade on October 25th 1854.

“This day is called the feast of Crispian:
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when the day is named,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say ‘To-morrow is Saint Crispian:’
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars.
And say ‘These wounds I had on Crispian’s day.”

William Shakespeare – ‘Henry V’

St Crispin’s Day and the Battle of Agincourt

English Archer

“Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember’d;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.”

William Shakespeare – ‘Henry V’

October 25th is St Crispin’s Day and the anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt.  2015 is the six hundredth anniversary of the heroic battle when the warrior English King Henry V defeated the largely superior French army of the time during the Hundred Years’ War (which incidentally lasted for 116 years, but the Hundred and Sixteen Years War doesn’t sound quite so catchy).

Agincourt French Knight

Our version of the battle is almost entirely informed by William Shakespeare in the play Henry V but as with most of his histories this was a highly dubious account of what really happened and modern historians have reached the view that far from being gallant and chivalrous and still celebrated as a golden moment in England’s history the battle was filthy, horrible and merciless.

Weapons were crude and brutal.  Arrows from the longbows of the Welsh archers rained down and where the sword of a knight would not penetrate the armour of a noble foe and did not have the weight to knock a man off his feet, a poleaxe (a long-handled axe or hammer, topped with a fearsome spike) would fell him fast and then it was easy to raise the victim’s visor and slide a knife through an eye.  That was how hundreds of men died – their last sight on earth a dagger’s point.

Agincourt Archers

It turns out that Agincourt is not a tale of chivalry, but rather of desperate men hacking at each other to break limbs and crush skulls.  Of hundreds of French soldiers weighed down by heavy armour submerged and drowning in mud.  Hand to hand combat by men using lead-weighted hammers, poleaxes, mauls and falcon-beaks, the ghastly paraphernalia of medieval fighting.

At the height of the battle, when Henry V fearful of an attack on his rear  he ordered the captured French prisoners to be slaughtered, an action today that would almost certainly be denounced as a war crime.  He is alleged to have once said that ‘War without fire is like sausages without mustard’.  Even Shakespeare makes no attempt to omit this part of the story which would suggest that even in Tudor times such action was considered acceptable.  No United Nations Rules of Engagement or Geneva Convention in 1415.

In the cold, wet dawn of October 25th 1415, no one could have expected Henry’s army to survive the day.  He had about six thousand men, more than five thousand of them archers, while the French numbered at least thirty-thousand and were so confident of victory that, before the battle was joined, they sent away some newly arrived reinforcements – it didn’t occur to them that they might need to make some half-time substitutions!  By dusk on that Saint Crispin’s Day, Henry’s small army had entered military legend.

Agincourt Museum Guide

I visited the battle site in August 2013 and after a short drive from our hotel we arrived at the site of the battle that doesn’t seem anything special now after all this time and we may well have missed what is now a rather unremarkable field in northern France if it wasn’t for the roadside decoration where English archers and French cavalry faced each other once again in row after row of wooden statues.

A few neighbouring wind farms apart, the terrain has barely changed in the six hundred intervening years and today the battlefield is exactly that – a field, with ploughed ridges a foot deep, flanked by trees on either side. Sixty miles west of Lille, the flat country is broken up by poplars dotted with mistletoe, red-roofed bungalows and small Gothic churches with broach spires.

Agincourt Battlefield

We stopped for a while and surveyed the field which gave no clues to the battle and then we continued to the Agincourt Museum.

I am not really sure what I was expecting but I was certainly surprised by the place.  I had always imagined that France would have no real enthusiasm for financing and building a museum to commemorate a humiliating defeat but inside there was an unexpectedly balanced account of the battle and the history of the Hundred Years War (which I suppose the French did win at the end of the day so they can afford to be magnanimous about it) and in some of the displays and the explanations I had to remind myself that Henry was the English King and it was the French who were defeated here.

Anyway, six hundred years is a very long time and I don’t suppose it really matters that much anymore and after all the French have been Republicans, on and off, for over 200 years now so why should it matter to them a great deal whether the Plantagenets or the Valois won that day?

Agincourt Archers

I remember studying Shakespeare’s Henry V for English ‘o’ level and the school production of the play in 1969.

I auditioned but was not successful in securing a speaking part but was compensated with not one, but two roles as an extra.  My first part was rather important as I was the servant who carried on the casket of tennis balls that is presented to King Henry by the French Ambassador in Act 1 Scene 2 and then I had to make a hasty costume change to become one of the English army, first at the siege of Harfleur in Act 3 scene 1 and then at the battle of Agincourt in Act 4 scene 1.

Rather like the French King, Charles VI, the failure to get a part in the play was a bit of a personal setback for me and I never auditioned for a part in the school play or any other sort of play ever again but I have to admit that this was no great loss to the theatrical profession.

Henry V

By an interesting chronological coincidence the British fought another heroic battle on St Crispin’s Day but this time without such a glorious result – The Charge of the Light Brigade on October 25th 1854.

“This day is called the feast of Crispian:
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when the day is named,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say ‘To-morrow is Saint Crispian:’
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars.
And say ‘These wounds I had on Crispin’s day.”

William Shakespeare – ‘Henry V’

It’s Nice To Feel Useful (7)

  

It’s nice to feel useful (7) …

Every now and again I like to look back over my posts to review what has been going on.  One of the things that I like to do is to take a look at the search questions that seem to bring web-surfers by the site and take a look at some of the more bizarre and unusual.

Last year my favourite was is “Why did Shakespeare bring starlings to Australia?”  and I was obliged to point out here that William Shakespeare died in 1616 and Australia wasn’t settled by Europeans for another couple of hundred years or so after that and although there is much literary speculation concerning possible visits by the Bard to Italy I think it is safe to say that he never went as far as Australia!

Vesuvius the crater

Being a student of geography I am going to begin with a couple of wildly inaccurate searches:  Firstly “Vesuvius Turkey”  and secondly “Wales Cantabria”.  When I was a boy I had a book called “The Boys’ Book of Heroes” which had a chapter about great explorers and I am fairly certain that if they republish it that these two enquirers are really most unlikely to get a mention.

Sex always rears its ugly head so let’s deal with that one straight away.  Someone asked about “Getting laid in Germany” and believe me if I had the answer to that one then I would keep it to myself.

I like this one even better – “Medieval brothels images” and I am completely unable to help with that one because most of the illuminated manuscripts in my collection have images of Jesus and the Saints and as Monks didn’t have digital cameras they probably didn’t have a great deal of spare time to draw pictures of brothels.  Perhaps the enquirers were thinking about the red light district in Amsterdam or perhaps they found their way to my post on the Grand Tour of Europe?

The best that I can do is show this picture of a ‘walk this way‘ brothel sign in the ancient city of Ephesus in Turkey …

Ephesus Brothel Sign

There are always some bizarre questions about low cost airline Ryanair and this year these are my favourites: firstly “Can I take tea bags on a Ryanair flight?” and as far as I am aware tea has not been declared an illegal substance so I am certain that the answer is yes but I don’t think you will be allowed to take a kettle and brew up!  Next – “Is agarbatti allowed in flights?”  and I have to say that with Ryanair being a no smoking airline probably not and lighting up an incense stick is likely to lead to Argy Bargy.   I did provide some advice for flying with Ryanair in a post called Travel Tips When Flying Budget Airlines.

Ryanair Fez Airport

Some of the daftest search enquiries seem to crop up every year but here are some new ones from the last twelve months:

“What were gunfighters actually called” and my answer to that one is that although some of them had real names of course like Jesse James, Billy The Kid, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid  I think mostly they were just called gunfighters!

The meanest gunfighter in the West however was…

Next up – “Which state are Johnny Cash and June Carter talking about when they say we been talking about Jackson ever since the fire went out?- I am of course tempted to say just try Jackson USA and you will get the answer – it is that simple!

We got married in a fever, hotter than a pepper sprout,
We’ve been talkin’ ’bout Jackson, ever since the fire went out.
I’m goin’ to Jackson, I’m gonna mess around,
Yeah, I’m goin’ to Jackson,
Look out Jackson town.

To finish two more searches that caught my attention this year – “Jesus give thanks to feed four thousand men” and I can only assume that in an era of cutbacks and austerity that  this enquirer works for the Government because the size of the crowd has been reduced by 20%.  I wrote about the feeding of the five thousand quite recently.

And finally for this time – “is there a weight limit for the Cresta Run” but I am afraid that I cannot help with that one at all.

What is the strangest search engine enquiry that has brought someone to one of your blog posts?  (This is not a quiz!)

A look back at previous silly search questions:

It’s Nice to feel Useful (1)

It’s Nice to feel Useful (2)

It’s Nice to feel Useful (3)

It’s Nice to feel Useful (4)

It’s Nice to feel Useful (5)

It’s Nice to feel Useful (6)

EPCOT World Showcase – United Kingdom

EPCOT England

Following my previous post about visiting World Showcase at EPCOT, Florida, I thought it might be interesting to take a look at the ‘real’ countries that I have now visited and make a short comparison.  Of the eleven EPCOT pavilions I have visited six of those showcased and I suppose I have obviously to begin with the United Kingdom:

The EPCOT version is not bad if people from around the World all believe that we live in thatched cottages and fill them with Beatrix Potter prints and spend most of our time talking in Cockney rhyming slang and listening to Beatles albums.  The presentation is completely inaccurate of course but then it is not just Disney that can get it wrong…

Read the full story…

EPCOT UK Barmaid

Entrance Tickets – Agincourt Museum

Agincourt Museum Guide

I am not really sure what I was expecting but I was certainly surprised by the place.  I had always imagined that France would have no real stomach for financing and building a museum to commemorate a humiliating defeat but inside there was an unexpectedly balanced account of the battle and the history of the Hundred Years War (which I suppose the French did win at the end of the day so they can afford to be magnanimous about it) and in some of the displays and the explanations I had to remind myself that Henry was the English King and it was the French who were defeated here.

Read the full story…

Entrance Tickets – Mary Arden’s House, Wilmcote near Stratford upon Avon

“Step back in time for all the sights, smells and sounds of a real Tudor farm and explore the house where Shakespeare’s mother, Mary Arden, grew up.”  Shakespeare Birthplace Trust Website

In 1930 the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust purchased a property in the village of Wilmcote near Stratford-upon-Avon, made some improvements to it, added some authentic Tudor furniture and other contemporary everyday items and declared it to be the birthplace and home of William Shakespeare’s mother, Mary Arden.

This belief was based on supposed historical evidence dating back to the 18th century, when a historian unearthed records of the Arden family in Wilmcote who made the connection with the property based on the rather flimsy fact that Mary’s father, Robert was a wealthy farmer who lived in the village.

For many years after that the Trust proudly showed thousands of tourists and school children around the beautiful half timbered house facing the road in leafy Wilmcote, telling people all about the time when Mary Arden lived there in the sixteenth century.  The image of the lovely house (top of page) was on chocolate box lids, tea towels and postcards and tourists bought dozens of mementoes of Mary Arden’s House to take home with them.  This for example was a jigsaw puzzle box lid from the 1940s:

My first visit to the house was on a school trip from the Hillmorton County School near Rugby, also in Warwickshire, on a day visiting Shakespeare’s town of Stratford sometime in the 1960s.  I don’t have any real recollection of that trip because it was over forty years ago but I do remember visiting with French town twinning guests from Evreux  in 1977 and later taking visitors there when I lived in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1986 to 1987 on every occasion sticking to the official Mary Arden Story.

On 12th February 1995 I took my ten year old daughter Sally to visit Stratford and naturally included a visit to Mary Arden’s House for the very reasonable entrance fee of £1.30 (it now costs £12.50) which by this time was also a countryside and agricultural heritage museum and inside the house Trust members were on hand to provide a comprehensive historical narrative.  A very comprehensive narrative indeed by an elderly gentleman and one that went on at great length about Tudor life and how Mary Arden had sat in front of the fire in the Great Hall, helped prepare food in the kitchen and had slept in one of the bedrooms on the first floor.  It was all very interesting information but it subsequently turned out to be a lot of old nonsense!

In 2000 the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust had a huge shock because during routine timber treatment, it was discovered that the timber used to construct the house was dated too late to be linked to Mary Arden’s early life and this couldn’t therefore be her house after all, she hadn’t sat in the Great Hall or helped out in the kitchen and further historical research revealed that the large house actually belonged to a family called Palmer, and had to be promptly re-named Palmer’s Farm.

For a while it was thought that Mary Arden’s family home was lost to history and the Trust had lost a valuable asset and a sticky tourist trap.  Lucky for them then that another small house on the estate which they had purchased in 1968 with a view of demolition and close to Palmer’s Farm, was also wood tested and technology was able to pin point the time the wood in this house was cut.  The Birthplace Trust declared this to be the Spring of the year 1514, the dates tallied with Mary Arden and the members of the Trust breathed a huge collective sigh of relief.  Visitors would still come!

This time the Trust carried out more thorough research and what the records revealed was that Shakespeare’s grandfather, Robert Arden, had bought the land in Wilmcote in 1514 and built the house that had sat next to Palmer’s Farm,  The house that for hundreds of years was largely overlooked and ignored because it was considerably less interesting than the farm house.  Mary Arden’s house had been there in Wilmcote all the time, smaller and more modest than anyone had thought.

The last time I visited Mary Arden’s house (the real one that is) was in 2010 and as I paid my admission charge I was minded to ask for a refund on all the previous visits on the basis that I had been seriously misled and provided with false information on several previous occasions.

Sadly however, although the Birthplace Trust itself is now clear about which house belonged to who many other tourist web sites still show a picture of Palmer’s Farm instead of Mary Arden’s house because it is significantly more picturesque and interesting.

Northern France, The Battlefield and Museum of Agincourt

Agincourt Battle Site

“Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our English dead!
In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger;
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,
Disguise fair nature with hard-favoured rage;
Then lend the eye a terrible aspect”

William Shakespeare – ‘Henry V’

Having visited the British and Commonwealth War Graves, the site of the German coastal fortifications and Napoleon’s La Colonne de la Grande Armée in Boulogne we were getting an appetite for more military history so thought we might be able to visit a couple of sites that hadn’t previously been part of our plans.

Driving south our first visit was to the site of the Battle of Agincourt where almost six hundred years ago the English King Henry V defeated the largely superior French army of the time during the Hundred Years’ War (which incidentally lasted for 116 years, but the Hundred and Sixteen Years War doesn’t sound quite so catchy).

Agincourt French Knight

Our version of the battle is mostly informed by William Shakespeare in the play Henry V but as with most of his histories this was a highly dubious account of what really happened and modern historians have reached the view that far from being gallant and chivalrous and still celebrated as a golden moment in England’s history the battle was filthy, horrible and merciless.

Weapons were crude and brutal.  Arrows from the longbows of the Welsh archers rained down and where the sword of a knight would not penetrate the armour of a noble foe and did not have the weight to knock a man off his feet, a poleaxe (a long-handled axe or hammer, topped with a fearsome spike) wielded by a common foot-soldier would fell him fast and then it was easy to raise the victim’s visor and slide a knife through an eye.  That was how hundreds of men died – their last sight on earth a dagger’s point.

Sir John Codrington at Agincourt

It turns out that Agincourt is not a tale of chivalry at all, but rather of armoured men hacking at each other to break limbs and crush skulls.  At the height of the battle, when Henry V expected an attack on his rear that never materialised, he ordered the captured French prisoners to be slaughtered, an action today that would almost certainly be denounced as a war crime.

In the cold, wet dawn of October 25th 1415, no one could have expected Henry’s army to survive the day.  He had about six thousand men, more than five thousand of them archers, while the French numbered at least thirty-thousand and were so confident of victory that, before the battle was joined, they sent away some newly arrived reinforcements – it didn’t occur to them that they might need to make some half-time substitutions!

By dusk on that Saint Crispin’s Day, Henry’s small army had entered military legend.

After a short drive we arrived at the site of the battle, just a barren field that doesn’t seem anything special now after all this time and we may well have missed what is now a rather unremarkable meadow in northern France if it wasn’t for the roadside decoration where English archers and French cavalry faced each other once again in row after row of wooden statues.

We stopped for a while and surveyed the field which gave no clues to the battle and then we continued to the Agincourt Museum.

Agincourt Museum Guide

I am not really sure what I was expecting but I was certainly surprised by the place.

I had always imagined that France would have no real stomach for financing and building a museum to commemorate a humiliating defeat but inside there was an unexpectedly balanced account of the battle and the history of the Hundred Years War (which I suppose the French did win at the end of the day so they can afford to be magnanimous about it) and in some of the displays and the explanations I had to remind myself that Henry was the English King and it was the French who were defeated here.

Anyway, six hundred years is a very long time and I don’t suppose it really matters that much anymore?

It is only a small museum and it didn’t take that long to walk around, read the history and try the interactive displays and before very long we were out the other end, back in the car and driving north along the rows of archers to the site of a more recent conflict, the Eperlecques V2 Blockhaus north of Saint Omer on the road to Calais.

Agincourt Archers