601

12-webSix hundred and one years ago, today, King Henry V of England, with about 7,500 soldiers, many (6,000, perhaps?) of whom were English and Welsh archers using the deadly longbow, won the Battle of Agincourt against a much more powerful French army led by Charles d’Albret, the Constable of France, who had about 30,000 soldiers, 10,000 of whom were knights. “‘Twas a famous victory,” to be sure, as poet Robert Southey had old Kaspar say about another battle (Blenheim) in a poem he wrote in 1796. Of siege-of-orleans-abcourse the results were overturned at The Siege of Orléans in 1429 and the Treaty of Picquigny in 1453. Of course, also, we must remember, and in a very big way, give thanks to King John Lackland for losing almost all of the Angevin Empire in the years between 1202 and 1214 and, thereby, making England well, English. Finally, in 1558 Queen Mary Tudor lost the last remaining English foothold in France, at Calais, but the English, until 1801, still, symbolically, laid claim to France 410px-royal_arms_of_england_1399-1603-svgon their coat of arms. But, effectively, by 1558, when Mary died, shortly after the loss of Calais, and Elizabeth I became Queen, England and France remained rivals, usually, until the 20th century, enemies ~ often fighting bloody wars against one another but, de facto, “free” of each another.

Agincourt, indirectly, gave us one of the first and, arguably, still best examples of English jingoism:

“If we are mark’d to die, we are enow
To do our country loss; and if to live,
The fewer men, the greater share of honour.
God’s will! I pray thee, wish not one man more.

This day is call’d the feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam’d,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say “To-morrow is Saint Crispian.”
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say “These wounds I had on Crispin’s day.”

This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.”

It, the part about “And gentlemen in England now a’bed shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here” was, I have read somewhere, the most quoted lines, even more than prayers, in the landing craft approaching the beaches of Normandy in 1944.

We, all of us, should revel in Shakespeare’s words because they are, indeed, evocative and thrilling, but we should not celebrate the English “beating” the French, it happened often enough, nor should we make the mistake of assuming that Britain and France, or Britain and Canada or Canada and France, are, somehow or other, “tied” together by the bonds of history or language or even culture.

We, Canadians, are, as I have pointed out several times, fortunate heirs to a strong, flexible, durable British, mostly English, political system that began, I think, with the Anglo Saxon Witenaġemot (which was in use 1,400 years ago) through the evolution of parliaments and the long, slow, sometime bloody, devolution of power from sovereigns to the people. The French followed a somewhat different path of political philosophy; they were, and still are, always more statist, more collectivist, more protectionist and less liberal (individualistic) than are the Anglo-Americans, which includes us Canadians.

So there is reasons to celebrate Agincourt, “’twas a famous victory,” after all, but, really, the Hundred Years War, of which is was a key event, was just one in a long series of wars that made England and France separate and allowed each to develop its own systems in its own ways. But we, all, especially French speaking Canadians, might, better, celebrate on February 10th, which is the anniversary of the Treaty of Paris (the 1763 one) where France ceded Canada to Britain ~ France thought Canada to be just “quelques arpents de neige,” in Voltaire’s words, and they thought that a couple of tiny islands in the Caribbean were of more value.

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