A long walk from Agincourt to Richmond
September 20, 2018
“And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here ….”
On a sunny Sunday in August 2014 I walked round the perimeter of the battlefield of Agincourt. It is now farmland, ploughed earth and pasture. And trees. Even allowing for the intervening 599 years, it was easy to imagine the French army advancing in overwhelming numbers towards the English line.
The field still narrows today, as it did then, between the clumps of trees on either side, causing confusion among the fast-approaching French cavalry as it was forced into the narrower space. It was then that the Welsh and English archers released their devastating arrow-storm from behind an improvised palisade of wooden stakes.
The French fell in such numbers that they lay in piles on the muddy ground, and the English emerged from their lines to set about the murderous business of finishing off the wounded with daggers and mallets.
At the roadside there is a crucifix marking the pit where the French dead were buried after the battle.
Fast Forward 600 years:
Standing where the outnumbered longbowmen inflicted a crippling defeat on the armoured chivalry of France, I was reminded that I used to see archery targets set up on the London Welsh rugby ground next to Kew Gardens, near where I live; I wondered whether archery was still practised there.
The following April, passing through Kew, I noticed a sign advertising a “Have a Go” day with the Royal Richmond Archery Club – “turn up and shoot 12 arrows for £5”. With my memory of the battlefield still fresh, I went along. When my turn came to shoot, I told my instructor about my visit to Agincourt; when one of my arrows missed the target, embedding itself in its leg, she cheerfully said:
“never mind, you’d still have wounded a Frenchman” . . . .
Encouraged by the experience, I signed up for the Beginners’ Course. Three years later I practise every week, keeping my memory of Agincourt alive.
Founded in 1873, no-one could tell me why the Richmond Archery Club is allowed to call itself “Royal” – over the years, their clubhouses have burned down three times, and with them all the club records.
“. . . . And hold their manhoods cheap while any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day”.
King Henry V by William Shakespeare