Our Goodbye Ride for Agincourt 

After a day’s rain it doesn’t take much to declare the sunshine, no matter how obscure, as sufficient for a ride. So off we went at the crack of dawn ( 9:30) off to the west, following the Somme River. 

V-30 is the name of the bicycle path that goes from the Atlantic Ocean, through Amiens, and on to Paris. 

It’s well marked, compacted if not paved, and a beautiful ride. 

At times you are riding by a precision cut canal, and at other times the path accompanies a rambling river.

Fishermen abound, along with other cyclists and others just enjoying a beautiful day by the river.

The cows ignored us, but a goose took great exception to my presence and truly ran at me in the attacking mode.  I had never been in such fear of a severe goosing as today. 

A few ducks joined in the chase, while a complaisant heron just gave me a “you should have known better ” stare.

We cycled finally into the little town of Corbie, just off the V-30,

 but we had tickets for tonight and so we skipped lunch, just had a beer and cycled back to Amiens.

As for the tickets, we rounded off the culture portion of the trip with a gentle movie, 

which has a nice opera scene.  Where 3 people die violently.  Perfect ending for a beautiful day. 

Best Wishes,

Jay

Carolingian Miniscule – Lower case, not lower class

n our last day of cycling around the battlefileds of Agincourt, Waterloo and Harfeur, we took advantage of a break in the weather and decided to cycle along the Somme to a small town of Corbie. We know that this was where Henry V managed to break free from the race against the Feench along the Somme, allowing him to head north to the meeting at Agincourt.

owever, we had no idea that when we arrived there we would discover that Corbie has an even more important place in Western Euopean culture than we ever expected. The route to Corbie lies along the Somme river and its canal. The whole way is along a cycle path and provided us with some of the most enjoyable, quiet and picturesque cycling we have had in the last 11 years.

n arriving in the town, we drew up by the abbey church and started to ask around about the town and its history. It turns out the abbey was founded in about 660 as part of a Benedictine Monastery by the then French royal family, the Merovingians. Above all, Corbie was renowned for its monastery library and for its scriptorium and was recognized as an important center for the transmission of the works of Antiquity to the Middle Ages. Over two hundred manuscripts from the great library at Corbie are known to survive.

he great innovation however from the scriptorium at Corbie was the clear and legible text known as Carolingian minuscule which was developed in about 780. Carolingian miniscule was created partly under the patronage of the Emperor Charlemagne (hence Carolingian), but the monks a Corbie played a central role in finalising and diseminating the results. Carolingian minuscule was uniform, with rounded shapes with clearly distinguishable shapes and above all it was legible. Clear capital letters and spaces between words – something we now take for granted – became standard in Carolingian minuscule.

ower case text that we write every day are in fact the results of Carolingian miniscule.
Without Corbie Abbey, we would all still be writing capital letters everywhere and no spaces between words. So thank you Corbie.

The gathering storm

We have spent today avoiding a code-Orange storm. Amiens has been on lock-down with everyone expecting an inundation of biblical proportions and enduring 30C and high humidity. Tours of the cathedral cancelled to avoid lightening strikes on the roof, street cleaning hurridly completed, warning notices in the streets. The only choice for us was to stay put in Amiens and take a closer look at the cathedral.

Time for a break from the cycling, some reflection and an opportunity to take stock. As we toured around the cathedral, I cogitated on the majesty of the building that Henry V prayed in before his final march to Agincourt. Running through his mind must have been the tactics for the battle while still trying to focus on his prayers.

The forest of columns make the cathedral feel like a safe place to shelter from a storm and must have provided some sort of comfort to Henry as he tried again and again to focus. Perhaps thinking of St James of Compostella would help.

 

Or maybe a quiet prayer in the Lady Chapel in the apse.

It was hopeless, everytime Henry tried to focus the vision of the ins and outs of his decisions loomed large in his mind. The lonely responsibility of being the general in sole charge of the placement and execution of the batle ahead, the nagging advisors that he would ignore and yet worry about whether he should have heeded their advice, the real motives in the minds of the French, even the lay of the land and how to maximise the value of his long-bowmen between any woods.

Still: Dieu Le Veut and the storm will eventually break.

P.S. The storm never came, Amiens was spared the apocolypse and Henry won.
P.P.S Thanks to PhoenixMcAwesome for the video

A Rainy Day in Amiens

You know the feeling. You’re looking at your weather apps and you get one of these things: ☔️ So you turn on another app and you get a couple of these:⚡️⚡️.  Then you start believing that it truly will be a crummy day.  At least the heavy stuff was not due until noon.  No bicycling in lightning by our rules, but there’ll be things to do here in Amiens. 

Yes, there’s shopping. I owed a few gifts to those who made this trip possible; and now it’s payback time. 

The Gallaria isn’t like Paris,

 but it’s close. 

Ok, done shopping. At 11:00 is the English language tour of the Cathedral. Off we go, this sounds like fun. 

Whoops, it’s an orange weather alert. That means they cannot  take us up the towers of the cathedral in fear of lightning, and so the entire tour is canceled. Curses!

A self tour with the guidebook may work; but it doesn’t. According to the Guide Book, The cathedral was first built in the third century around a saint called Fermin, actually two of them: Fermin the Martyr and his successor, Fermin the Confessor. 



Ok, the story is a little dull. Basically he was persecuted and martyred. Paint on the statues is nice, however, especially for being 16th century, about 500 years old.


Lunch came, and an oppressive heat wave, but no rain. 


Back at the hotel we tried to work, but the hotel for all its grandeur has no A/C. We just couldn’t write or research. Then we thought of John’s little Philips pocket projector. 

We watched Henry V, by Shakespeare, and two sciencey shorts on Agincourt and the English longbows and wiled away the afternoon. The gin and tonic helped with the heat. 

And it never did rain until after dinner.

Tomorrow is our last day to cycle, and you can be sure that we will. 

Best wishes,

Jay

Why – Dieu le veut

Today was the culmination of our journey from Harfleur, after following Hery’s route for two days we at last arrived at the battlefield of Agincourt. The battlefield today is almost lost in the arable surroundings or wheat and maze fields.

The 4000 English knights and archers were drawn up to the south with about 20 000 French forces drawn up to the north. The two sides were out of bow shot and they waited.

Henry, after waiting for four hours, lost patience and ordered his men to advance to the middle of the battle field within long-bow reach. The archers advanced and drove their six foot sharpened stakes into the ground in front of them as protectiuon against the Frence cavalry and then started firing arrows onto the French lines. Unable to resist further, the French charged into the the mud and the killing fields.

Funneled by the woods to the left and right and unablke to outflank the English, wave after wave of the French men-at-arms were slaughtered.

At this point, Henry ordered the archers to advance into the melee and slaughter any men-at-arms left stuck in the mud. The English victory was complete. The King and some 200 French noblemen were captured and probably about 6000 French soldiers killed. Noone knows the exact figure. The bodies were piled into grave pits that today have been grown over as small copses.

Of course, mother nature has gently smoothed over the scars and left the site of the slaughter as fertile but annoymous fields.

On a rise to the west of the battlefield, is a small track that may well be the route taken by Henry V in leaving the Agincourt for Calais with his prisoner King Jean. This also makes a great place to overview the battlefield and a chance for a fun bit of off-piste cycling.

So the key question for me has to be, why. Why were people driven to such extremes of obedience and violence when anybody I know would think twice before charging, repeatedly, into a rain of 50 000 long-bow arrows a minute. Perhaps the answer, as so often, showed itself later that day after our return to Amiens.

In the square just to the east of the Cathedral is a striking statue.

Although there is no name on the plinth, the moto on the side gives the game away: “Dieu le veut” (God wills it). This is Peter d’Amiens, perhaps better known as Peter the Hermit. He was the notorious inspiration behind the call to arms for the First Crusade. It was his haranguing across France of peasants and nobles alike that launched the peoples crusade in 1096 turning Pope Urban II’s edict of 1095 into a violent and popular reality.

Perhaps that is what drove the brave men on both sides of the conflict at Agincourt: Dieu le veu.

Viewing a Reinactment of the Battle of Agincourt

Due to impending bad weather tomorrow, John and I spent today, Wednesday, touring the highlight of our trip, the scene of the Battle of Agincourt, which took place 600 years ago, on October 25, 1415. On that fateful day, about 4,000 English knights and archers under King Henry V (played by Kenneth Branagh or Lawrence Olivier in the movies) beat FIVE TIMES that number of French knights and Cavalry on the open field that we walked, and around which we cycled and cycled. The French lost the battle, many, many lives, the right to rule Western France, but retained the road below, calling it Rue de Charles VI, ironically. 

Hereinafter the story became somewhat amazing. Today happened to be the rehearsal day for a Reinactment to be held in October. I was able to convince one of the Observer Pilots to take us up in his biplane for a few minutes as the action was taking place. 

King Henry’s line of Knights was across the field you see above, Knights in the center, and thousands of archers on each flank. The French, with many Cavalrymen,  formed an opposing line. 

Henry had moved his line up to halfway across the field when the French attacked. The archers stood their ground and fired, according to reports, at 50,000 arrows a minute. Sorry about the picture; the plane was bumping. 

The knights were brave, but the armor of the day could not protect them. Wave after wave was repulsed, and the fighters, turning in that muddy field, ran into the next wave coming in. 

The fighting was close and fierce.  From the air, even with the telephoto lenses we could not tell knights of one army from the other. 

But finally it became clear that the French, despite their higher numbers, were too crowded to effectively fight, and also were being bogged down in the mud.  Henry ‘s men were giving chase.  The English won an astonishing and complete victory. 



Also interestingly, as we were landing, we noticed some of the participants using what seemed to look like cannons.  Were they really available in 1415?

Some day, if we go back again to see the marvelous Information Center, the movies,  and the cool miniature exhibition of the battle, we’ll have to ask.

The plane landed safely, and then we went cycling.  

Best Wishes,

Jay

Jean d’Artois – A fellow traveller with an Irish connection

Yesterday, we travelled the stretch from Harfleur to Fécamp and Valmont. Today we picked up the route from the town of Eu in Picardie. The coutryside here is one of gentle rolling hills mostly sown with wheat. Currently the farmers are busy baleing the straw for bedding. Something that Henry’s men would no doubt have taken full advantage of.

Eu is the home of the Artois family, Counts of Eu who, as we will see, turned out to be fellow travellers along this route, although for very different reasons.

The town of Eu is dominated by the rather grand 12C church of St Lawrence right at the top of the hill.

As the town surrendered in late 1415 and provided food to Henry as he passed, the church is in an excellent state of preservation and proudly shows the heritage of the town and in particular of the Counts of Artois.

One inhabitant here is of particular note: Jean of Artois.

Born in 1321, he is the son of Robert of Artois and the great-grand son of Saint Louis, King of France through his mother Jeanne de Valois. However, in 1356 he crossed paths with the Black Prince (the one who strenuously denied sacking Honfleur after the battle of Poitier). During that battle, in 1356, Jean d’Artois was captured together with the King of France and 200 other nobles by the English and was emprissoned in the tower of London. Very kingly, the regent of France gave away Jean’s Counship while he was away, although the people of Eu never lost hope and wrote their prayers for his safe returm on the columns in the church. A sort of 14C yellow ribbon.

Nonetheless, on returning to France two years later, he managed to get his countship back and no doubt thought that he could now enjoy a well earned retirement. Oh the fates are not so kind. Louis, the son of the French King, also captured at Poitier, broke his parole and was thrown into the Tower of London. To keep him company, Louis suggested that Jean d’Artois join him in the tower. Dutiful servant that he was, Jean of course agreed and sailed back to Engand where he spent six more years in the Tower waiting to be ransomed.

As a side note, a small consoilation to Jean in all of this time was St Lawrence. The former Bishop of Dublin who in 1150 was visiting Eu, fell ill and died. The locals seeing a good opportunity immediately had him canonised and turned his tomb into a popular (and profitable) pilgrim destination. This is how the irishman Lawrence O’Toole became the patron saint of Eu and now lies alongside Jean.

What A Difference Color Makes 

Today we traveled by car from Honfleur to our new, and last, Base City, Amiens. The drive was cool, as we traced all the towns that King Henry V took with his army, trying and failing to get north across the Somme River to complete his campaign.  Some day we’ll tell you all about it, but I’m so excited about something that we saw tonight here in Amiens that I’m just bursting to show you. 

Amiens sports one hell of a great cathedral. We didn’t have a chance to enter it yet, as we just got into the city around 5 o’clock this evening. But from the outside I can tell you it is something spectacular.

It kinda springs itself on you as you turn a corner. All of the flying buttresses and chapels are fascinating, but the thing that takes your breadth away is the front facade.

There were hundreds of statues on the façade; all were in good condition, and each was remarkable for its detailed carving. It was a moving sight; each statue was worth a good stare, and I certainly will be buying a book identifying who each is.  

But then we moved on and had dinner, which I found much less inspirational.  It dragged on until almost 10:00 PM, at which point we had heard a light show was going on at the cathedral. We got our seats on the curb, the lights dimmed, and the lasers lit up our façade. 

Then POW.  The lasers burst out their colors.

What detail!  What vivid colors! The statues almost came alive. 

Even the little statues and the borders were illuminated and colored.

I’m told that this is how the cathedrals were originally built, with the statuary painted in great detail. Why did they stop? Decay of the paints over the centuries. Why not restore them now in their colors? 

Expense. 

On the way back to the hotel I saw a doorway on the cathedral’s other side. 

I just looked away depressed.  I had seen the light.  

Jay

The Battle of Valmont – “Tell your master that Englishmen do not surrender”

Having accepted the surrender of Harfleur in Sep 1415, Henry garrisoned the town with 900 men-at-arms and 1500 archers. Harfleur today is a quiet suburb of Le Havre, with little to show for the vists by Henry. However, the church still stands and the altar where Henry prayed in thanks for this victory is still there as it was in 1415, although minus all the stained glass blown out when the nearby exposives factory expolded.

Henry V continued his long march towards victory at Agincourt and his return to England via Calais through the counrtyside north of Harfleur. His army was not the first army however to march through this area. About half way to Fécamp, he came across the remains of the Roman occupation at Lillibonne.

His last stop before arriving at Fécamp was the Abbey of Valmont. Still today a thriving convent, beautifully restored with much of the 15th century church still intact.

Finally he reached Fécamp and gave thanks at the church both for his safe arrival and the resupply opportunities that the harbour there would bring.

This was of course only half of the story. A few months later, on March 9th 1416, the Earl of Dorset marched out of Harfleur with 1100 of his troops looking for food and other goodies.

He looted and burnt several villages, reaching as far as Cany-Barville. The English then turned for home. They were intercepted near Valmont by the French led by the Duke of D’Armangac. The English had time to form a fighting line, placing their horses, cows and baggage to the rear, before the French launched a mounted attack. The French cavalry broke through the thin English line but, instead of turning to finish the English, charged on to loot the baggage and steal horses and cows. This allowed Dorset, who had been wounded, to rally his men and lead them to a small hedged garden nearby, which they defended till nightfall. The French withdrew to Valmont for the night, rather than stay in the field, and this allowed Dorset to lead his men off under the cover of darkness to take shelter in woods at Les Loges. English casualties at this stage of the battle were estimated at 160 killed.

The following day, the English struck out for the coast. They moved down onto the beach and began the long march across the shingle (pebbles) to Harfleur. However, as they neared Harfleur, they saw that a French force was awaiting them on the cliffs above.

The English deployed in line and the French attacked down the steep slope. The French were disordered by the descent and were defeated, leaving many dead. As the English looted the corpses, the main French army came up. This force did not attack, instead forming up on the high ground, forcing the English to attack. This they successfully did, forcing the French back. The retreating French then found themselves attacked in the flank by the sallying garrison of Harfleur and retreat turned to rout. The French are said to have lost 200 men killed and 800 captured in this action. D’Armangnac later had a further 50 hanged for fleeing from the battle.

The battle of Valmont was remembered afterwards by English chroniclers for an act of defiance. At some point in the battle, D’Armangnac is said to have offered Dorset terms of surrender. Men-at-arms would be made prisoner but archers would have their right hands cut off. Dorset is said to have replied to the French herald “Tell your master that Englishmen do not surrender”.

(With thanks to Wikipedia for the backgound on the Battle of Valmont and my blatant plagarism of their text)