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Friday, July 29, 2011

Welsh Heroes at Agincourt: Their Legacies

"The result can however be summarized in a single sentence: a regular, trained and disciplined army defeated one that possessed none of these virtues"1.

1.Hibbert, C. Agincourt, B.T. Batsford Ltd, London, 1964, p.88

The Battle of Agincourt (25 October 1415) is one of those rallying cries that stir the blood of the English and their Welsh allies but chill the blood of the French. Many accounts give varying testimony and estimates of this famous event during the 14th and 15th centuries, an era known as the Hundred Years War.

A recent item on BBC Radio 4, mentioned the plight of the French army and their heavy armor, weighing between 30 and 50 kilos with much of it around the legs of the soldiers. According to the item, this was a significant factor in the defeat of the French. The presenter of this report also mentioned the skill of the longbow archers, in a defensive position while the French were advancing – using all their energy to trudge across the battlefield.

Fatigue was only one deciding factor, as the French also had longbow archers and greatly outnumbered the combined forces of the English and Welsh soldiers. Estimates run from between 10,000 French against 8,000 English and Welsh to 36,000 to 6,000 – the 6,000 being comprised of 900 men-at-arms and 5,000 archers.

Of the archers, the majority were from Wales and especially from the town of Llantrisant, northwest of Cardiff. Because of their bravery and skill, the Welsh archers were honored with the freedom of the town and, to this day, are credited with this victory over the French.

During the battle, Welsh bowmen were known to taunt the French by holding up the index and middle fingers of their hands. Captured bowmen were invariably maimed by the French by having these fingers amputated so that they were unable to draw the bow. To show their defiance, Welsh bowmen gave this two-fingered salute to their opponents. The rebellious gesture survives today as the backhanded “peace” salute used throughout the countries of Great Britain and Ireland. This insolent salute does not have the same meaning as the one-fingered gesture of the American variety.

Among the renown Welshmen who fought for Henry V at Agincourt, Dafydd Gam ('Dafydd Gam ap Llywelyn ap Hywel Fychan ap Hywel ap Einion Sais')*, an opponent of Owain Glyndwr during the Rebellion of 1400, earned his appellation, Gam, in one of two ways, depending on which side of the Rebellion your sympathy falls. Gam comes from cam, meaning either “crooked” (Dafydd either had a squint or had lost an eye) or “wrong”. He is still considered a traitor among some Welsh patriots for his opposition to Owain Glyndwr and support for the Plantagenet Norman rulers of England.

A popular Welsh idiom is: mae hi/e wedi cael cam meaning “s/he has been wronged”. Descendents of Dafydd Gam have adopted the family name of Games. In 1404, Dafydd is said to have attempted the assassination of Owain Glyndwr at the Senedd of Machynlleth at which Owain was recognized as a true Prince of Wales (Tywysog Cymru) – the last native Welshman to hold that title.

According to the Welsh nationalists, all others who proclaim themselves by this title are pretenders as they are not descendents of any Welsh family, but of Norman, and later, German origin. September 16th is celebrated as Owain Glyndwr Day and the banner of his rebellion against Norman English rule is flown above many civic buildings. Dafydd Gam is not similarly recognized as a national hero of Wales.

*ap is the Welsh equivalent of ‘son of’ and is used here as Dafydd Gam son of Llywelyn son of Hywel Fuchan son of etc . In my novel, Traitor’s Daughter, I have used the longer form: mab and in the case of a daughter, merch. A few Welsh last names that have incorporated this prefix are Bowen (ab Owain), Bevan (ap Ifan), Pritchard (ap Rhisiart), Price (ap Rhys), Powell (ap Hywel). The feminine equivalent is ach, from merch.

I hope you enjoyed reading this brief article. If you would like further information about Welsh history, excellent sources are at http://llgc.org.uk (Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru/National Library of Wales) and http://museumwales.ac.uk (Amgueddfa Genedlaethol Cymru/National Museum of Wales).

Diolch yn fawr, Lily Dewaruile


mmccall0911 said...

Thanks so much, Lily. I'm studying an earlier period of Welsh history, but your post is great and lets me known that times didn't change as fast as many suspected.

Barbara Scott said...

I always thought the two-fingered salute originated with Churchhill to signify the V for victory. I should have known it had a longer and more storied history. Thanks for the fact-filled blog and for setting me straight.

Alex Florence said...

Hi, A very interesting informative article. The English still look back to Agincourt as the definitive English victory. The underdog winning against superior odds. However the story about cutting off the fingers of the bowmen is probably apocryphal, the bow is drawn back by the index finger above the arrow and the two middle fingersbelow, using three in all. Hwever the two finger salute as it's called in England is certainly as direct and unpleasant as the single finger is in the USA. But it makes for a nice story and I have to admit I tell it that way too from time to time.

iamleneslover said...

There were at a MAXIMUM 400 Welch archer at the Battle Of Agincourt.
ALL the rest were English.
You need to do some serious research ie Muster rolls Exchequer accounts. Read Ann Curry and Juliet Barker. Welch uprisings had just been put down in Wales and they were not trusted.
NO recruiting was done in North Wales at all.

iamleneslover said...

In south Wales the chamberlain John Merbury raised from the counties of Carmarthen and Cardigan 10 men-at-arms, 13 mounted archers, and 327 foot archers, and from the lordship of Brecon 10 men-at-arms and 146 foot archers, making 500 Welsh archers in all, the same number as from Lancashire.

lee woo said...

Archers are pretty focused. See the link below for more info.


Anonymous said...

Like all things it appears the English. think its only them in any major or important event They forget the Blood stock of most of Britain is Celtic
Most of the ruling class were Normans or other invaders
Don't believe me check up on the invention of the first steam train which happened in Wales long before Stephenson check on Richard Trevithick Merthyr Tydfil?
Have you notice any famous victories inventions If they are not English they are touted as British
But if its an English event It is forever a English ???
The Welsh longbow was bigger and more powerful than the English Longbow

Expat Welsh man

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Karl Lancaster said...

That's because this article is wrong. Of 6000 archers only 400 were Welsh