Saturday, August 10, 2013

Agincourt. Chroniclers and Shakespeare. Myth and Culture Over Objectivity. Class Warfare? Ask Henry V at Agincourt.

 War By the Numbers

Agincourt.  Analyses focus on numbers, and why the English won against great odds. Old chroniclers of Agincourt lay out huge numbers of the dead.  Agincourt.  France.  October 25, 1415, on Saint Crispin's Day.  The Hundred Years' War, with England's Henry V against France's Charles VI.  An English victory resulted from a combination of pluck, strategic use of field conditions (mud), luring the French with their heavily armored men-at-arms, into mud and tangle, where progress could not be made by them against the murderous slog. Meanwhile, English archers released hails of arrows, with fewer men-at-arms, and others downed by dysentery at Harfleur.

1.  Lessons in distorting numbers.

But did it happen that way, or did myth o'ertake?  This historian looks objectively at numbers, see the huge numbers laid out at an overview of Anne Curry's research, University of Southampton, And the critique and research that puts the astronomical 120,000 back down to 12,000 French, and perhaps some 9,000 English.

Shakespeare, however, seems to have had it right.   Shakespeare, Henry V, Act IV, Scene VIII.  Take 10,000 French, of which 126 are nobles with their banners, princes. Of that 10,000, were 8,400 knights, and gallants -- and of those some 500 were only knighted yesterday, and only 1600 mercenaries.  Everybody else: royal blood.
" King Henry.  This note doth tell me of ten thousand French 
That in the field lie slain; of princes, in this number,
And nobles bearing banners, there lie dead
One hundred twenty-six; added to these,
Of knights, esquires, and gallant gentlemen,
Eight thousand and four hundred; of the which.
Five hundred were but yesterday dubb'd knights;
So that, in these ten thousand they have lost,
There are but sixteen hundred mercenaries;
The rest are princes, barons, lords, knights, squires.
And gentlemen of blood and quality
. . . . . . . .
Here was a royal fellowship of death! "
At the end of the review of Curry's work, is a comment that who can argue with the Bard -- Shakespeare -- as though his figures were those of the erroneous chroniclers.

It appears, however, that Shakespeare did fine.

3.  Other issue: Demographics of the troops.  What was the proportion of noblemen to mere mercenaries or peasants bound to serve in the Hundred Years' war.  In that day, were there really so few mercenaries, soldiers paid to fight.  Or was it routine for the wars to be fought by the status ones, the bannered knights. 

Has that changed, so that we, today, send few of the sons and daughters of the 1% (figuratively), and barely any of the already rich -- or at least, middle class, see Who Serves in the Military

Enter more mythology, says Freakonomics.  We do not enlist more military from the poorer classes.  No.  Most come from the middle.  And, dropouts from high school are not common; and whites and blacks represent about the same proportion as in the rest of society. 

Mythmakers then and now.  Plus ca change.

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