The Master's Weekend at Crecy and Agincourt - May 3rd to May 7th 2012
"We few, we happy few". A happy band it was indeed, of 21 Bowyers and spouses under the leadership of the Master, Howard Mundy, who set out over the first weekend in May 2012 to follow, by road and sea, the footsteps of Edward III and Henry V to Crecy and Agincourt.
The brasserie on board the P&O ferry offered rather different fare from what our forebears would have enjoyed, and we were travelling by coach rather than foot, but the blast of war was indeed blowing in our ears as we drove straight from Calais to Crecy.
Our guide for the weekend was historian Dr Michael Jones, expert on the Hundred Years' War and author of a recent book on Agincourt, and over the weekend he gave us a warmth of human insight and characterisation that we found both informative and highly enjoyable.
The battlefield at Crecy has an observation tower from which one can see the whole mile-wide field of the 1346 engagement. Under the leadership of Edward III, this was the first appearance of the English longbow on French soil, and Dr Jones vividly described the English line of alternating archers and pikemen withstanding and eventually seeing off the charges of the French cavalry. The aristocratic French knights could not believe they had lost to an army of common men (a recurrent theme of the weekend).
Although in spirit we might have been in Harfleur, our actual base for the weekend was Abbeville. For the first evening we set the teeth and stretched the nostril wide for dinner at the Hotel Mercure, preceded and followed by holding hard the breath and bending up every spirit for assaults on the hotel bar's stock of Ricard and calvados.
Saturday was Agincourt day, and we duly stood like greyhounds in the slips, straining upon the start. The small town of Azincourt is highly conscious of its heritage, and has a good museum with a diorama of the battlefield and exhibits of the weaponry of the time, as well as mediaeval battle helmets one could try on. Azincourt has a passable restaurant too, named for Charles VI, the French king in 1415, who, as Dr Jones explained, variously believed his name was George and that he was a pane of glass.
The afternoon was spent on the battlefield, whose features are all still there to see, including the narrow muddy funnel, just a quarter of a mile wide, into which Henry V and his small army of 80% archers enticed and provoked the French knights to come and fight on St Crispin's Day. Another victory by an army of common men over the chivalric cream of the French aristocracy.
Dr Jones paid great tribute to Henry V's inspirational rapport with his common men, as caught so well in the Shakespearean speeches, both before Harfleur - "good yeoman, show us here the mettle of your pasture… there is none of you so mean and base that hath not noble lustre in your eyes" - and before Agincourt - "he today that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother" .
Saturday evening was free, and being good Bowyers we stiffened the sinews and summoned up the blood to seek out the only two restaurants in the centre of Abbeville with Michelin listings (one bistro, one fish), and divided our resources between them to great satisfaction, being in their flowing cups freshly remembered.
Sunday morning had been left free, but we squeezed in an extra trip to Montreuil-sur-Mer, where the mediaeval Citadelle was reported to contain the coats of arms of French knights who fell at Agincourt. The Citadelle and its ramparts were well worth visiting, but the coats of arms were nowhere to be seen! Some quick sleuthing discovered that they had indeed been on display there until recently in Queen Bertha's Tower, but were of quite modern origin, installed there by the local museum when it opened in 1929, and had now been taken back to the museum and destroyed as being "of no interest". Ah well.
After a quick lunch, the Sunday afternoon programme comprised a visit to the Chateau de Rambures, an empty-moated castle built by the surviving son of a French knight who had died at Agincourt. The exterior was very impressive, with four large circular towers around a compact central residence; the interior furnishings rather less so.
Dinner on Sunday evening was at the hotel again, but at the Master's instigation two evenings' budgets had been rolled into a single, much enjoyed 5-course feast, with warm thank-yous all round, followed by a convivial late night in the bar.
On the coach trip back to Calais on Monday morning, Dr Michael Jones gave us an excellent final round-up of the Hundred Years' War, which unfortunately, of course, with the early demise of Henry V and the advent of Joan of Arc, had not ended with a good result.
Dr Jones had clearly been impressed with the interest the Bowyers had shown, and paid tribute to the way in which we were keeping the spirit of Agincourt alive. In Shakespeare's words for Henry V, "he that outlives this day and comes safe home will stand a-tiptoe when this day is named and… will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours." We do indeed.
(to whom we are also grateful for most of the pictures).
The party comprised Howard Mundy as Master, accompanied by Clive and Mary Arding, Christopher and Morar Ballenden, Andy Barnsdale, Peter Bernhard, Bill and Patricia Duncan, Stuart and Jennie Duncan, John and Althea Hayton, Tony Kench, David Laxton, Christian Major, Sinclair and Jenny Rogers, Duncan and Ingrid Samuel and Tim West. Norman and Jean Gooding had planned to come too, but most unfortunately Norman realised at Dover he had forgotten to bring his passport, so was obliged to return home with admonitions to buy his wife a very good dinner.