A Byzantine's Tale of Agincourt, by Iustinos Tekton

Greetings to all in this time of dread, as we of Byzantium gather in the moneychangers' halls to pay our annual taxes in support of the Empire. This year, His Imperial Majesty the Emperor has adopted a very simple formula by which a merchant such as myself may determine his taxation. One must first ascertain how much coin was taken in throughout the previous twelve months. Next, one divides by ten to signify the Emperor's concern that not too much is taken. Finally, one multiplies by ten to signify one's voluntary desire to support in every way His Imperial Majesty's programs to advance our Empire. Ah, what joy I take from patriotism, and it is with pride that I shall starve to death in the streets of Constantinople, knowing that it is in service to my Emperor!

But enough of that! What care you of the travails of a simple merchant such as I? Rather would I ply your ear with a story, one that was told to me recently by two brothers from far-off Italy, who claim they have seen it with their own eyes and that every word is true. Dear reader, you shall be the judge of their veracity!

Some years ago, in 1415 if my addled mind may be relied upon, there was a war being waged in a far-western land known as "France." This war, which would eventually last nearly an hundred years, would later come to be known as the Hundred Years War, which shows one just how imaginative these Westerners are. Now France was nowhere near as glorious nor as beautiful as Byzantium, but to those who dwelt there, it was their home and so they loved it and defended it with great tenacity. At the time, there seems to have been a certain disagreement between one Henry V, who was the undisputed monarch of another insignificant western district that I believe is known as "England" (we in Byzantium would crave to know more of these "Engs" and how they came to claim this land, but that is another story), and King Charles of France, about which of them actually was the King of France. Of course, this conflict had started decades earlier between another King of England and another King of France, but as is the way of men and wars, both of these men were altogether happy to carry on their predecessors' destructive traditions.

As it happened, the army of Henry V numbered about five thousands of men, and the army of France numbered between twenty-and-five thousands and thirty thousands of men, depending upon whom one allowed to do the counting. So it was with confidence that the French approached the English in late October of that year, hoping for an easy victory that would prove their greater valor. Their knowledge that the English had trudged for seventeen days with only one day's rest and that many of them were ill with dysentery and bronchitis, gave the French still more reason to anticipate a decisive victory. The English had walked nearly three hundred miles through rain and mud with little to eat, and had carried with them a large number of heavy wooden stakes, plus some lighter wood staves which shall be discussed later. For their part, the French made their encampment between two woods, Tremecourt and Agincourt. Not only was this a rather poor military choice, but it happened that on the night of October 24, heavy rains fell and the French knights spent most of the night in their saddles to keep their armour dry, or at least not sodden with mud. Thus, on the morning of October 25, it could well be said that none of these fellows were in high spirits!

Both armies formed their ranks, and for half a day they scowled with deadly ferocity and keen accuracy at one another, although fortunately no one was actually injured by these fearsome tactics. The mounted knights of the French began to grow restless and to argue among themselves about who should have the honor of being in the first rank as they trounced the English, once the battle began. In the meantime, the English grew weary and, having placed the heavy wooden stakes in the mud with the points facing the French, they began using the light wooden staves they had brought. These staves, also known as Welsh longbows, are a most ingenious contraption that uses a taut piece of cord to hurl a sharpened stake, or "arrow" as they are called, toward one's enemy at a great distance. Through such artifice, the English were able to injure many of the French and their horses even across the field of battle.

Not surprisingly, the French grew angry at this intrusion into their private conversations, and they spurred their mounts across the field toward the English to give the latter a good lesson in manners. Unfortunately, the English continued to fire their bows and hundreds of French knights were felled. So deep and so slippery was the mud that a goodly number of the French were killed not by arrows, but by suffocation when they fell face-down into the muck while wearing their heavy armour. As the battle ended, the English suffered losses of five hundreds of their soldiers, while the French losses numbered over ten thousands of men. The decisive victory the French had anticipated was not to be theirs this day, and the feudal tactical theory of masses of knights in heavy armour as an invincible force was forever shattered. (I would be remiss at this time if I did not mention that we in New Rome have far more civil, and far less lethal, ways of instructing our brethren in courtly mannerisms, which civility being only one of the many reasons we take pride in our more refined customs, and find it difficult to comprehend the barbarous ways of others.)

Now, all that I have said until now is known to be true, and has been foresworn by many witnesses. What the two men from Italy told me, that is to follow, is something whose truth may only be guessed at. These two men, a pair of carriage-makers called Thomas and Raymond, claim that just before the battle of Agincourt the French had taunted the English, vowing to remove the index and middle fingers from their right hands so that they would never again trouble France with their silly longbows. When the battle was over and the French soundly defeated, the English reversed the taunt by flaunting on high these selfsame two fingers, coincidentally making the sign of a "V" which even today is used by some as a symbol of Victory. Some say it was not two fingers, but only the middle finger, which was presented. But of these things, your humble writer knows not what is true and what is merely legend. That, dear gentle, you must judge for yourself.