Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Thinking about the past -- Agincourt

French authorities are investing lots of money in the historical displays at Agincourt. Why? Tourist spending, of course!

But the real story, as far as I am concerned is the grown-up emphasis in the historical presentation, particularly on the French side, as reported by the BBC.
When the old museum opened on the site in 2001, its exhibition boards said 9,000 English soldiers fought 30,000 French at Agincourt.

The new centre, expected to open in the autumn, will reduce these figures to 8,500 English and 12,500 French.

It's still an upset, but a long way from Shakespeare's underdog story of Englishmen outnumbered five to one.

Before diehard fans of Henry V cry foul, Mr Gilliot [the museuum director]says the numbers were agreed in consultation with historians from England and France.
They are based on research by Professor Anne Curry of the University of Southampton, who studied financial records at the National Archives in London.
Records show that Henry V took 12,000 men with him when he set out from Southampton and left many of them behind to man the garrison after an earlier victory at the port of Harfleur.

Prof Curry says her findings are respected by medieval historians, but unpopular with some English fans of the Agincourt story.
 Chain mail to hate mail
"I've had hate mail and trolling and I've been astonished how seriously people take these things," she said. Prof Curry thinks this can partly be explained by how Agincourt is seen in England in patriotic terms. When she attended the 600th anniversary of the battle in 2015, people came draped in St George's flags. There is a sense of "how we have fended off France in the past", she said.

Prof Curry believes Agincourt's myths persist in part because so many people claim to be descended from soldiers who fought there. Unsurprisingly, her research on the size of the armies has not faced resistance in France. But regardless of the troop tallies, it still seems surprising that the French national and regional governments are investing so heavily in a lost battle.

'Just history'
But Mr Gilliot says patriotism in France is "different".
"We had the revolution in 1789, and since this period we don't really care whether a battle was lost or won by what we call the 'ancien regime'," he said.
"It is just history." Mr Gilliot says the level of knowledge of this historical period differs between French and English visitors.

"We are very surprised that a lot of English people know their national history very well and sometimes we have visitors who are descended from a nobleman who participated in the battle," he said.

"English people want to know where the castle was that Shakespeare describes in his play, or to visit the battlefield.
For the French visitors, the questions are very different, they often ask who won the Hundred Years War. We are seeing that the Medieval period is not really covered in schools in France."
'No boasting'
But he has never met English visitors boasting about the result.
"Our English visitors are very respectful, interested and well-educated, and they sometimes help us by pointing out problems in our translations," he said.

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