Crecy and Agincourt Battlefields, 24-25 July 2015
On a damp July Friday morning a party of 24 Bowyers and guests gathered for a two-day trip to the scenes of the historic longbow triumphs of Crecy and Agincourt. It being the morning after the Bowyers' summer Livery Dinner, the smooth coach ride from London and calm crossing from Dover on the P&O Ferry were most welcome. Our overnight destination was Montreuil, a lovely medieval walled town fairly near both the Crecy and Agincourt battlefields, which some had seen before on previous Bowyer trips, but for many was a first visit.
During the drive from Calais on Friday afternoon, Dr Sinclair Rogers gave us a most useful introductory talk on the part played by the City of London in financing Henry V's Agincourt campaign. On arrival in Montreuil some hardy souls braved the drizzle to explore the town, and we all then gathered for informal drinks and a delightful and delicious dinner at one of our two hotels, the excellent family-run Le Coq.
The weather thankfully stayed dry all day Saturday, and after a first class early breakfast we drove the 20 miles to Crecy. Tony Kench outlined en route the political and military build-up to the battle in 1346, including the part played by the Bowyers of London in making a significant proportion of the longbows for King Edward III's army, and its successful long march from near Cherbourg across to Crecy. At the battlefield, speaking from the observation tower now standing on the site of the windmill that Edward III had used as his command post, Tony recounted the great victory won here by the longbow. It was the first and greatest of the major battles in which the longbow played the dominant part; what a pity Shakespeare never wrote a play about Edward III.
Robert Pooley had brought his own longbow with him on the trip, made by Richard Head, and a highlight of the Crecy visit was the opportunity for several Liverymen including Master Bowyer John Hayton, to hearty applause from the whole party, to shoot arrows into the empty battlefield that 669 years ago was filled with Genoese crossbowmen and armoured French knights. Back in the coach, Tony related the aftermath of Crecy: Edward III's year-long siege of Calais which culminated in the famous surrender of the burghers (as so memorably cast in life-size bronze by Rodin), and led to Calais becoming an English possession right through till 1558.
As we completed the 20 miles up the road to Azincourt, Major General Andrew Sharpe gave us a fascinating account of the march of Henry V's army from Harfleur to Azincourt in 1415. It had been intended as a tour de force in the footsteps of his great-grandfather Edward III, but had proved rather more difficult and disease-ridden. Andrew compared its rigours with his modern experiences of moving armies around, with infantrymen then and now carrying around 80lb on their backs.
Arriving at Azincourt and standing in the centre of the battlefield, Andrew held us absolutely spellbound for forty minutes with his distinctive 'soldier's view' of how the Battle of Agincourt unfolded and what would have been going on in the ranks.
At the west side of the battlefield we were greeted by the astonishing sight of a medieval tented village populated by hundreds of re-enactors who had assembled from all over Europe for the Agincourt anniversary. They included every kind of character from knights in armour on horseback to womenfolk cooking on log fires, with the smell of woodsmoke filling the air. Further through the site was the English camp, with authentically attired longbow archers; there too we were able to pay homage to King Henry V himself, majestic on his throne (apparently made at RAF Waddington).
Eventually the 2-300 archers assembled for the arrowstorm under the direction of English warbow man Nick Birmingham, and were lined up to shoot ten volleys of arrows at a row of dismounted knights in full armour 80 yards away (brave English volunteers all). The idea was that if they were hit by one of the (blunted) arrows they would fall down, which they duly did. Unlike 1415 the archers on this occasion greatly outnumbered the knights, but a great time was being had by all.
And so back to Calais. A late decision had been made to forgo the planned return by Eurotunnel and trust instead the P&O Ferry again; this meant leaving Azincourt a bit earlier, but it worked out well, with a calm crossing and time for a relaxed couple of pints of Guinness. The reality of the crisis situation at Calais was brought home to us as we passed the sprawling Sangatte encampment on the French side and the 10-mile queue of parked lorries held in 'Operation Stack' on the M20. We had been lucky to escape delays in either direction.
We had been joined on the trip by the Director General of the Royal Armouries, Dr Edward Impey, and the Clerk of the Gunmakers' Company, John Allen, who was pleased we knew there had actually been a few cannon present at both Crecy and Agincourt. We enjoyed their company, and altogether it had been an extremely lively and friendly couple of days in the best tradition of Bowyer events. Warm thanks were expressed to the three speakers who had brought the battles and their times to life for us so well, and to Upper Warden Tony Kench who had organised the whole trip.
In addition to the photographs shown here, a short video clip of the trip from Richard Head can be found on his YouTube page at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SGJHKFKBbNY