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St Crispin’s Day

Six hundred years ago today

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25 comments to St Crispin’s Day

  • Mr Ed

    And they still hate us.

  • mojo

    Technological paradigm shift, armor goes away. It wasn’t firearms. Those were responsible for the end of castles.

  • Looking closely at the last image, in fact the arrows would have been bodkins rather than broadheads 😉

  • pete

    Yes, 600 years ago men were just as aggressive and violent as they are now, and as they had been for many thousands of years before the battle.

    Hardly something to celebrate.

    The costumes of Agincourt era soldiers look absurd, a sort of old-style version of the tacky, expensive designer gear football hooligans buy.

  • I lack your beta male sensibilities pete and thus find military affairs and history fascinating. And I think they look great.

  • Quintus

    ‘Agincourt’ is pronounced with its final letter, thanks to Shakespeare and no thanks to the BBC.

  • Tranio

    I wonder whether in 600 years time they will commemmorate the march across Europe of the migrants.

  • AKM

    “The costumes of Agincourt era soldiers look absurd…”

    They might look absurd to you, but they were the products of some thousands of years of practical experience of warfare. For those who like a bit of detailed history, this utube channel has a series of short 15 to 30 minute videos for each part of a suit of medieval armour: https://www.youtube.com/user/neosonic66

  • Paul Marks

    AKM is correct.

    Far from being absurd the way soldiers dressed in the 15th century was sensible.

    What I find absurd (because it is absurd) is the way that ordinary soldiers were dressed from the 18th century onwards.

    No protection, none at all, and uniforms (and the word “uniform” is not an accident – it was an imposed dress code from above) that were designed to look pretty on parade – with no consideration of the battle field.

    There were some exceptions – for example Russian military uniform is not that bad (at least from the very late 18th century). And the dress of the “Rifles” (green) is more sensible than the bright red of the rest of the British army – but the exceptions prove the rule.

    The practice of seeing men as disposable robots (whose lives did not matter) did not just suddenly emerge in the First World War – for all that I “slag off” Douglas Haig. It was an attitude that had been developing for a long time.

    Walk-slowly-into-enemy-fire-without-any-protection-at-all.

    That mind-set was already present in the 1700s.

    The word “robot” comes from forced labour in the Slavic languages, and was the mind set of the determinist ruler of Prussia Frederick the Great – someone who did not care how many of his own men died, as long as he got his glory.

    After all he was an agent (a person) – whereas they were just mindless predetermined lumps of flesh.

  • Paul Marks

    As for the war.

    I am often attacked for being “pro war”.

    And the attack on me is often JUST. I admit that.

    I support the general line of policy from the first Elizabeth onwards to prevent the coast facing this island coming under the control of a hostile power.

    Whether it is Phillip II of Spain, Louis XIV of France, the French Revolutionary regimes, the Keiser, the Nazis or the Communists.

    However……..

    I am lot less favourable to the 100 years war.

    To me it seems more of a war to take something, rather than defend something.

    Legally Edward III (and Henry V) were, perhaps, in the right.

    The idea that one can trace a claim via the female line seems to have been just made up to keep a English King off the throne of France.

    But, but, but…….

    Is war justified over this legal point?

    I support war as a defensive measure – to prevent a foe (including what Edmund Burke called an “armed doctrine”) getting into a position to attack.

    I do not support a war for trade, or for glory, or even to give the King more lands.

    That does NOT mean that I do not admire the courage and skill of such things as the event on St Crispin’s Day.

    But I do question the war of which it was part.

  • Paul, armour was only of any value against bayonets & swords by the 18th century, it was not going to stop a musket ball. And the reason they fought in ranks was that was the only way to make wildly inaccurate smooth bore musket fire effective: massed controlled fire at close range. Until the advent rifled muskets and their widespread adoption in the middle of the 19th century, the combination of terrible accuracy, and communication methods that were unchanged since the time of ancient Assyria, armies fought like that because there was no better way.

    Moreover the best way for a commander to see his troops was for them to be brightly dressed. The reason British riflemen or Jaegers or Tirailleurs wore green or black was they were specialist troops acting as open order skirmishers, using slow to reload early rifles… ie they could indeed hide as it was not their job to deliver massed gunfire at close range but rather to scout, harass and try to pick off leaders.

    However, as Dupuy pointed out in his statistical studies, the largest increase in battlefield lethality in history was caused by the complete replacement of the smooth bore musket by the rifled musket: rather than having an effective range of 50 paces, the typical infantryman suddenly had an effective range of “the next ridge line” (i.e. in an era where most artillery fired directly rather than indirectly, the infantry could shoot just as far… thus almost all artillery became indirect in order to remain viable).

    This paradigm shift, married to tactics designed for the smooth bore musket era, was what made the American Civil War and the Crimean War such bloodbaths. It is also why troop dispersal at the start and end of those wars were quite different and why both wars started as wars of manoeuvre but ended with extensive use of trenches. The history of post-rifling warfare has been one of continually increasing dispersal made possible by improved transport and communications technologies, which has more than kept pace with increasing weapon lethality. This explains why (contrary to the popular conception) daily casualty rates in modern warfare have been continuously falling since 1918 after that horrific spike in the 1850’s due to rifling.

  • The Fyrdman

    In terms of the 100 years war being justified, yes, it was. It was a war to protect or regain property. Just because the property was royal property doesn’t make it’s ownership any less sacrosanct. There’s side issues such as how funds were raised, how voluntary service was etc which I think can only be justified by a defensive war but the fight itself is justifiable.

  • Watchman

    Fyrdman,

    I might challenge whether war was justified since
    neither then nor now would rulership of a kingdom be regarded as property. The French coronation ceremony always emphasised the coronation was with the consent of the populus, which is less the people than the political community. Apart from a small number, these were opposed to English kings ruling them (many were also opposed to French candidates, but that is a slightly separate issue), hence the fact that the English resorted to war.

    In effect, you are stating property rights over people outweigh the will of those people. Whilst the late-fifteenth and sixteenth century (and later in France at least) developed a similiar ideology, this is not something that either we or the contemporaries of Edward I would have actually recognised. Famously, the Scots actually kept fighting the English to prove this…

  • Paul Marks

    Perry – I know these points you have made. And they are valid.

    But they do not explain such things as the “stock” (the nasty leather collar). Popular in some 18th century armies.

    Or the obsession with minor details of clothing – clothing that was uncomfortable and neither warm in cold weather or cool in hot weather.

    And the obsession with hair styles and so on.

    Yes drill-drill-drill is needed (for just about everything).

    But it was taken too far – military forces became very inflexible.

    The legend that was the Prussian army was badly exposed by the French Revolutionary forces.

    Although, yes, the British evolved their skirmish tactics and specialist skirmishers.

    Sadly this knowledge (painfully developed in the French wars) was lost by the time of the Boer War and the First World War.

    By the First World War the British army was more Prussian than the German army was – and remained so in the Second World War.

    Thinking was actively discouraged among common soldiers (apart from in a few specialist units) with the robotic solider who just did as he was told, de facto held to be the ideal.

    Not doing anything unless ordered to do so has a its disadvantages.

    As soldiers who do not receive orders from their officers (because they are dead) may carry on an attack (a suicidal attack) because they were ordered to do so.

    Like the ten thousand British soldiers who carried on attacking on the second day of the battle of Loos in 1915 because they had been ordered to attack – and their officers (having died first) did not order them to stop attacking.

    Or soldiers, in defeated units in the Second World War, who receive no orders just sitting about (or walking in circles) till they hear the words.

    “For you Tommy the war is over”.

    Rather than reforming their units (without orders) and carrying out military operations with clear objectives (the same German units have to be “destroyed” several times).

    Mission Command has its place.

    Explain what the objective is to the soldiers – and then allow them to think of the best ways to achieve this objective (with the benefit of their practical experience and knowledge of the ground).

    Of course, in any age, “slow is dead”.

    If one is attacking prepared defences (say a town) one attacks as fast as practical – so that the enemy has less time to shoot you.

    No one would have needed to tell this to the Duke of Wellington (any more than one would have needed to tell him that skirmishers are needed – and assault teams).

    But, somehow, the knowledge is lost.

    And there is also an odd resistance to learning from practical experience.

    British officers are far more educated in the early 20th century than they had been before – but this is not always a good thing.

    Someone can be forgiven for starting out in command ignorant.

    But if they remain ignorant (refusing to learn) – it is likely they have been educated.

    Educated in false ideas.

  • Paul Marks

    Although it should be mentioned that Irish soldiers, Protestant as well as Catholic, have a cultural tradition of contempt for the British army they volunteered to join and shed so much blood whilst in.

    I never met an old soldier of Irish extraction (including ones I was related to) who did not give me a long lecture on how the army was wrong about everything, and never does anything right.

    Although when asked the question of about whether they regretted volunteering (and getting shot and so on), they tended to be astonished by such a question.

    Of course not.

    What an absurd question to ask.

    They would, of course, do it all again.

  • Paul Marks

    One problem that remains the same in the 15th century or the 21st century is one’s attitude to killing people.

    Some men are indeed “sheep dogs” – they kill only to defend other people.

    With other men the reasons for killing are not always quite that.

    But in English culture (and I am very much part of English culture) it is culturally taboo to admit to any pleasure from killing people.

    This is, most likely, a good taboo – hypocrisy is not the worst vice.

  • jsallison

    PM re your 10:13

    I knew those guys. But they weren’t Irish and it wasn’t the British army they were on about. An easygoing contempt for the chain of command becoming more marked the further up the chain the soldiers were griping about may be a universal thing. The further away the headquarters was from my tank the more pessimistic I became about their concern about my guys’ well being. Still, orders are orders for all of that. I’d do it again, too, if they took old, weighty, almost pensioners.

  • Regional

    In the early 1450s French Knights rode down and slaughtered English sportsmen holidaying in France, it was a great military victory.

  • Mose

    There is an English character which was not arrived at by accident. Hadrian cursed it; angles, saxons, and normans succumbed to it, and the world got Magna Carta. If the hundred years war severed the continental aspirations of a few English kings, it was for the better for the English character, suited as it was to an independence of spirit which could only thrive on an island apart.

    At Agincourt the English character stood tall and gave a two finger salute to a far more numerous foe. She did it again in the channel against the Armada, at Blenheim, and at Waterloo. When the darkness overspreading Europe reached out to crush her, she shone in Spitfires and turned the tide. She is an inspiration even to us yanks, who owe to her our rebellious spirit.

    I see it all in that day at Agincourt, longbows at ready, two fingers defiantly raised, and sounding like the Sex Pistols.

  • Paul Marks

    Regional – I think you mean the French use of artillery in the 1450s.

    But written communication (especially internet stuff), I do not really grasp it a lot of the time.

    jsallison.

    Yes indeed Sir – yes indeed.

  • Paul Marks

    Mose.

    My first thought was what “English” character could Hadrian have come upon?

    However, you have a point.

    Karl Bath (the German Swiss theologian) described the British as “hopelessly Pelagian”.

    And he had a point – even about many British people who have never heard the name of Pelagius.

    The belief that humans are beings – that we can use our reason to find the universal law, and exercise our free will to choose good over our desire to do evil is especially strong in these islands.

    From the monks of Wales and Ireland to English theologians (as much as they dared – even Roger Bacon got into trouble) and theologians.

    It is the spirit of the Common Law (which rests on the idea that there are unwritten principles of law that can be found by reason – and which people can CHOOSE to obey against their base desires) – and makes parts (not all) of the British Reformation different from that of most of Europe.

    Richard Hooker has a place in Anglicanism and he was rather different from Martin Luther and John Calvin.

    Just as philosophers such as Ralph Cudworth and the Scots Thomas Reid – and the rest of the Common Sense School.

    Down to Harold Prichard and Sir William David Ross (Major Ross) in the 20th century.

    And popular figures such as Edmund Burke and Dr Johnson – and Tolkien and C.S. Lewis also.

    This is why I hate and despise Francis Bacon, Thomas Hobbes and (yes) even David Hume so much.

    As well as the Bowood Circle and Westminister Review crowd.

    They were not representative of the British sprit – as liars claim.

    If there is such a thing as the British spirit they were traitors to it.

    Traitors to the central principles that a person can tell right from wrong (universal right from wrong) and choose good over the base passion to do evil.

  • jsallison

    Horribly off topic, apologies, but on the day of the Vulcan’s last flight, crossposted from Instapundit:

    Watched the video. That refueling plan was whacked, but worked, and the navigator, having no southern hemisphere charts, (How does the RAF have no southern hemisphere charts? Not on speaking terms with the RN?) turns a northern hemisphere chart upside down and uses the Azores as the Falklands, and it works…which is what counts. Once again the RAF muddles through. God must be a sponsor of the Royal Air Force. I was stationed at Ft Carson when that happened and the only thing I thought was how the F did they do that? Now I know. 😉

  • jsallison

    PM, re your 10:19, appreciate the accolade, but undeserved. I’m no sir. I’ve been known to work for a living from time to time. 😉

  • Paul Marks

    jsallison – my friend Mr Ed can tell you a lot about the Vulcan – and about the Falklands War.

    He has met many of the people involved in the operation.

    Although neither of us were military.

  • Paul Marks

    To get as off topic as it is possible to go ……

    But to complete my point about the so called “English” character.

    In the Islamic world there was also a movement that held that reason could find universal laws of right and wrong, and that Free Will could choose right against the desire to do evil.

    The Mu’tazila theology within Islam.

    And the Caliphs who favoured this theology created the famous “Golden House” in Baghdad to promote learning.

    Modern Muslims often mention the “Golden House” – but they forget to mention that it was created by Muslims who would be considered heretical today – and for the last thousand years.

    However, learning should not need the promotion of the state – indeed, in the end, the state is a corrupting influence on universities and so on. Such places should not be established by the state and should have nothing to do with the state.

    And so it proved with Islam – for the Caliphs who favoured the Mu’tazila theology set up an Inquisition to attack its foes.

    “Do you believe the Koran was created?” was the question.

    Of course it was – for example it contains questions from Mohammed so it can not have existed for all time.

    Unless………

    Unless everything that Mohammed said was predetermined by God from the start of time. Then, and only then, could the Koran have existed since the start of the universe.

    A Martin Luther style position – Determinism.

    “Here I stand, I can do no other” is not a statement of moral conscience as an “Englishman” would interpret it (say C.S. Lewis – an Ulsterman of Welsh ancestry) it is meant LITTERALLY.

    Like a modern Muslim, Martin Luther held that all actions and words are predetermined (at the start of the universe) by God – Determinism.

    By setting up an Inquisition, even to combat the insane ravings of the Determinists, the Caliphs helped discredit the Mu’tazila theology they were trying to help.

    And so the spirit of the Golden House died – and Islam became what we know today.