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.

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