The Hundred Years’ War is a bit of an historical oddity, because it’s a significant conflict that can be appreciated from both sides. The same people, historians both professional and armchair, can enjoy the study of its causes, events, and consequences without siding with one side or the other.
Well . . . except perhaps for the English and the French, but I suppose that’s to be expected. After all, one of the most significant consequences of the Hundred Years’ War was the redevelopment of significant cultural differences between those two nationalities. More specifically, both nations developed what a modern audience would recognize as a “true” national identity after this conflict. War often does that, and a hundred-year-long mix of hot and cold war tends to bake it in.
There are two events in the Hundred Years’ War that even Westerners who are not English or French know at least a little about. The more famous is Joan of Arc, the famous woman warrior and Catholic saint who turned the tide of battle in the latter part of the conflict, preventing English victory. (Xena, eat your heart out.) Almost as significant is the Battle of Agincourt, the most significant use of English longbow tactics in military history and a truly lopsided defeat for the French. That battle took place exactly 600 years ago yesterday.
To say the English were outnumbered at Agincourt is an understatement. Remember the article on the Battle of Lepanto from a couple weeks ago? We’re talking an even more lopsided battle here. Due to incomplete sources, numbers on both sides vary; but since the most conservative estimate is 4:3 odds in favor of the French, and historians tend to shy away from anything that might seem fanciful, the actual totals are probably skewed even higher. It is known that the result was heavily to the English, with English casualties in the hundreds and the entire French army dead, wounded, captured, or fled.
Another notable element of the battle was that Henry V, King of England, participated in the battle. I don’t mean he stood on a hilltop overlooking things, giving orders and looking magnificent. I mean he got down in the mud and the melee, trading blows with the French alongside his own men. Say whatever else you want about the man; he did not lack for courage, and did not order his men to do anything he wasn’t willing to do himself. How many kings, presidents, prime ministers, and other leaders, today and throughout history, would be willing to do the same?
The Battle of Agincourt is one of the most significant battles of all time, even if only for its decisive result in favor of the outnumbered force. Still, the Battle of Agincourt wouldn’t be at all famous in popular culture except for one man named Bill. Bill Shakespeare, that is. The “Band of Brothers” speech from Henry V is one of the most stirring exhortations in the history of any language.
For that reason, if for no other, the Battle of Agincourt has been remembered for centuries, and — barring alien invasion or zombie apocalypse — will remain part of popular culture for centuries more. Even those who have never even heard of the Hundred Years’ War will have heard the phrase “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.”
Shakespeare’s words resonate with anyone facing a struggle against overwhelming odds, from sports teams to soldiers to individuals experiencing their own David-vs.-Goliath moment. Take that, people who think that Shakespeare isn’t universal.
The Lego recreation of the Battle of Agincourt I’ve been showing here was a collaborative display, constructed by four members of WAMALUG: Magnus Lauglo, Gary Brooks, Joshua Brooks, and Lady Kianna. They built this display at the October WAMALUG meeting as the inaugural collaborative of HistoryLUG, a new group for those who enjoy displaying historical Lego creations.
If you want to see more (and in higher resolutions), take a look at the HistoryLUG Flickr group.