The Fight of Agincourt 600 years back is among the most famous English military successes – but should it truly be remembered as a victory for Wales?
Marking a major transition in the Hundred Years’ War, the battle on 25 October 1415 was fought over the English kings’ claim to the French throne.
However, legend has it that at Agincourt – like at the 1346 Battle of Crecy – Welsh longbowmen held the secret to English success.
Henry V’s army of around 8,000 was outnumbered by as much as 5 to one, yet 500 nimble-fingered Welsh archers had the ability to cut the heavily-armoured French knights to ribbons after catching them in a slim cleaning.
The majority of them originated from Monmouthshire, the birthplace of Henry V, where their ventures are kept in mind in Monmouth’s Agincourt Square – along with a stained glass window in Brecon Cathedral.
To mark the 600th anniversary of the battle, throughout 2015 a group of enthusiasts from around Brecon and Monmouthshire have been staging a series of occasions to discuss this not likely medieval alliance.
Bryan Davies, the organiser of Agincourt 600 Wales – Cymru, has actually been interested with the contending folklores ever because he saw the Agincourt roll of honour at Brecon Cathedral as a boy.
“Even then I remember wondering why numerous Welshmen from these towns and villages strung out along exactly what would ultimately become the A40 went to combat in an English army; especially considering that this was all taking location at the very same time as Owain Glyndwr’s disobedience,” he said.
“The biggest draw – then as now – was cash. A longbowman could make sixpence a day while a ploughman made twopence.
“But also some owed loyalty to Norman Marcher lords, while others signed up to make amends for having actually backed the wrong side after Glyndwr’s rebellion failed.”
Yet Swansea University’s Welsh historian, Dr Matthew Stevens, believes that maybe the English and Welsh were never such unusual bed-fellows after all.
“Glyndwr’s disobedience truly had its popular support in north Wales,” he said.
“When he marched south he burnt-out as many Welshmen as he did Norman inhabitants.
“But even going back as far as Edward I’s reign, Welsh archers were an important part of English armies. In 1298, simply 16 years after Wales was conquered, they existed in numbers at the Fight of Falkirk.
“It’s wrong really to consider a national Welsh identity at this time.
“Individuals had much more of a sense of regional commitment, and whether it be a Welsh prince or a Marcher lord, guys in south Wales were much more most likely to remain devoted to the individual on whom they depended for their own success.”
But if the reasons for why Welshmen defended an English king are clear, it’s harder to describe how they became so knowledgeable with the longbow in the first place.
Although Dr Stevens believes he may have an idea.
“As early as 1283 Gerald of Wales describes the males of Gwent as being highly knowledgeable longbowmen, and to comprehend why possibly you have to look at the natural deposits offered to them,” he included.
“It appears strange considering the metal industries of the 19th and 20th centuries, however at the time of Agincourt there was in fact a significant shortage of iron in south Wales.
“Whilst a suit of armour and heavy swords would have to be created at terrific expense, from iron imported from Spain, arrows and spears only needed a tiny metal point.”
Read more: http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-wales-34618197