Today was a funny day. I thought I’d written a lot more during the day than I had – around 600 to 700 words was my guess, but it ended up being just 402 more words for the Time’s Arrow story about an alternate Agincourt. But at least the words flowed pretty well and I was generally happy with them.
Also I feel that I’m nearing the end of the story, which is a good feeling.
I also did a bit of thinking about the next story – it might be called Broken Lance and will have some basis on the grail legends and a fantasy Morte Arthure feel about it – I think!
Other activity included located primary sources for the next section of Stonehearted, the sequel to By the Sword’s Edge. I’m getting copies of Medieval chronicles that relate the events of the Pontvaillan campaign of 1370, which is the setting for the story. Praise be to archive.org!
Not quite finished Sweet Justice and read second chapter of Feast of Crows – loved the third new setting and set of characters – Sand Snakes awesome and very evocative!
I have been experimenting with some video capture software recently and recorded this brief video of the Battle of Agincourt from Medieval 2 Total War. The game version of the battle is actually pretty accurate.
This is the moment when the French cavalry wings charge the English and are defeated quite easily by the English longbowmen fire! By the way there is not supposed to be any sound!
I am thinking about paying for the full version of the software so I can record longer clips!
This is something that has been bothering me for a while now. I’m a fan of PC computer games such as Medieval II: Total War and the other titles in that series, and I have also occasionally played a few other PC strategy wargames. Most of these vary in the amount of realism that they include, but usually they aim to get things like the effects of weapons, terrain, morale etc fairly accurate. You can argue about the finer details of how effective crossbows or longbows should be, but at the end of the day the differences aren’t too great, and if you’re into modding can be corrected by access to the game’s source files.
Where I feel that all such PC games always fall down is on the realistic portrayal of command and control. All PC games tend to allow the player pretty much omnipotent control of his forces. You click on a unit and command it where to go, and usually pretty soon it gets going. There might be a slight delay sometimes, but the order is obeyed and carried out.
Back in the 1980s when I was a schoolboy I was interested in actual wargames with lead figures etc, and although I didn’t get much further than playing a bit of Warhammer, I did buy War Games Rules: 3000 BC to 1485 AD by the Wargames Research Group, published in August 1980. These guys did wargaming properly, and for them it was all about accurately portraying what might happen on a battlefield, as well as the thrill of commanding troops and all the excitement associated with a game.
Now as any military historian will tell you, the ability of a commander to actually change the course of a battle in pre-modern times was fairly limited – things got better in the times of Napoleon I think, mostly because battles just took a lot longer – whole days, so things could be changed, but once troops were off and marching you would have to send them a message to change their orders. You would have to hope the messenger got through alive and then that the subordinate commander actually understood and correctly implemented the new order – by which time of course the situation of the battle may have changed radically.
War Games Rules: 3000 BC to 1485 AD actually recreates such situations. Commanders are required to write orders for their units prior to the start of the battle. You can write standing orders which can be applied if certain circumstances occur, which is quite handy, but if you want to change orders during a battle you actually have to send an order to your units and tell them to do something different – this can be by some sort of pre-arranged signal, or by sending a messenger. And each type of order despatch is subject to realistic chances of success. If your General figure is engaged in combat then quite rightly you can’t send any commands – something that’s quite important during battles before the Early Modern period. For instance Henry V was engaged in hand to hand combat during Agincourt, and probably had the opportunity to change very few of his orders once the battle was under way – in fact the only decision he made during the battle was probably to kill the French prisoners because of the threat to English rear.
Should PC games reflect reality in this way? I think so. I think it would make games actually more challenging for players, more exciting and more realistic. You wouldn’t have the arcade style click and shoot style action, but I think the there would be a lot more involvement in actually planning and trying to react to events in time to make a difference, that would actually add to the excitement.
You’ll need to have read Paul Hoffman’s Left Hand of God to appreciate this, so that’s why I’ve flagged this up as potentially a spoiler.
If you’ve read the book you’ll know that nest the end of the book there is a big battle between the Materazzi and the Redeemers. What I found unusual about this is that the battle pretty much exactly mirrors the historical battle of Agincourt of 1415. So the redeemers are the English, lots of archers, smaller numbers, and the Materazzi are the heavily armoured and over confident French. The battlefield is a narrow muddy field flanked by woods, the Redeemers use stakes to protect themselves from the Materazzi, etc etc. The only detail I think that is different is that there’s no equivalent of the French attack on the English camp that prompted the English execution of prisoners.
As a description of Agincourt it’s all very good. But for me it doesn’t feel quite right in a fantasy novel. I enjoy the way that Hoffman plays with historical events in this book, so we have a pseudo Christian religion, we have a sort of WW2 eastern front allusions, we have place names such as York, Memphis, and Norway used, but not in their historical and geographical contexts. All well and good and nicely thought provoking, but somehow the dumping of Agincourt into the book didn’t work for me.
If you have read any of my previous posts about Agincourt you’ll know that I’m slightly cynical about the overwhelming effect of the longbow commonly attributed by historians and novelists.
The famous longbow, at 6 foot in length required great strength and skill to draw and use properly and is usually seen as the weapon of choice for English archers throughout the hundred years war from 1337 to 1453. According to historical myth it was responsible for the destruction of French armies at Crecy, Poitiers, Agincourt and a host of smaller battles.
Because of the bow’s fast rate of fire and stopping power it could prove hazardous to even armoured knights and in certain battles no doubt it did some damage. But it really was the case that the reason for the English victories was down to:
a) Bad French leadership and disorganization on each occasion.
b) Well drilled combined arms strategy from the English – although outnumbered there is evidence that the English wanted the French to fight them as they knew they could defeat them.
c) The professional and battle-hardened troops of the English army – troops in the early years had gained experience from wars in Scotland, and retinues were raised on the basis of pay rather than as a feudal array.
The archers were an important factor and together with well armed infantry men-at-arms they could defeat the French.
But wasn’t the longbow an amazingly powerful weapon. Yes, but…
It’s quite interesting for me to see what people are reading. It’s fairly clear that readers of my blog are interested either in the content about writing techniques or the content I wrote when investigating the Battle of Agincourt.
I have now completed the initial plan for the Agincourt gamebook. I decided to keep things simple by only doing the writing for the initial historical deployment and actions of Henry V’s army – so they will start with the same formation and advance towards the French. I have started planning out alternatives to these situations, but it will take quite a lot more writing, so I have decided to see how things look with a shorter historical version.
I have now started putting together the html documents.
I’ve decided that I really need to grind out the content for the Agincourt gamebook as swiftly as possible to keep up the momentum – more sweat and less prevarication and distraction from things like blogging is required!!
I found when I put together www.marklord.info over the weekend, that I was able to get this done by just concentrating on it. The fact that I had started to publish some web-pages and wanted to get everything as tidy as possible online as soon as possible really helped. I think it doesn’t look half bad now, apart from the annoying GoDaddy advertising!
I hope to take the same approach with the Agincourt gamebook, get the html together soon and start getting it online. Then I can turn to the fun part of sending it out to people and promoting it.
To continue my debate about why men-at-arms on foot would not attack archers, there is another reason as well, which I believe is the one that Anne Curry might support – that they would be put off by the hail of arrows coming from the archers. This might be analogous to the problems that infantry would have charging down other infantry who are firing at them heavily – so for instance infantry charging other gunpowder infantry. This did happen, but the infantry often had to be supported by artillery and cavalry to succeed. Also they would be well-drilled.
Medieval men-at-arms, although organised into groups and individually well equiped and trained to fight, might lack the unit organization, drilling and collective discipline to advance on command and charge down an enemy shooting at them.
This might be one possibility, but I still favour my belief that it was also a class and status thing. And also to do with how it was believed that one won battles. It wasn’t by outflanking the enemy, killing more of them, but by destroying his best fighters, and in particular by killing of capturing his leaders. Thus the targetting by the French of the English men-at-arms. In particular it could well be the case that the Duke of York and many of his retinue were killed at Agincourt because his standard would have been similar to Henry’s.
There is also evidence that at Agincourt Henry had others dressed as him. This is an acknowledgement that he as leader would be targetted, and that if he died the battle would be lost.
I have been thinking again about some what ifs for the Agincourt gamebook. For example What If the English men-at-arms had not repulsed the French attack. Would Henry have ordered the English archers to join the melee? Would he have had a reserve of some sort that he could deploy? It seems unlikely, because of his small number of men-at-arms, about 1000, that he could afford to have a reserve. The archers on the flanks were not engaged in the initial melee, until they attacked the struggling French as the floundered in the face of the English centre. This seems to have been an impromptu act on the part of the archers though once they realised that the French men-at-arms were pretty much helpless, the archers helped their comrades finish off the French. But if the French had been getting the upper hand could the archers have been called upon to help in the melee, perhaps by charging the French in the flanks. I think it’s unlikely for a few reasons:
1. An order would have been difficult to reach them, and its not clear who was in charge of the archers themselves. Their commanders might have effectively been deployed in the men-at-arms battles, with the archers left to their role on the flanks.
2. They were not trained for melee fighting, their attack would not have been well co-ordinated.
3. The importance of status may have prevented Henry from contemplating such an order – archers were not meant to take part in the melee after all.
I’m trying to find examples of where the archers were actually called upon to fight in a melee.
Also I have been puzzling over why the French men-at-arms did not attack the archers. As they were on foot they would not have been prevented too much by the stakes. Curry thinks that the weight of archery kept them away. However, the cavalry were not expected to be prevented by this and it seems that less damage would have been done to the men-at-arms. I think it wasn’t because they couldn’t do it, but because they wanted to take on their opposite numbers. By the time they had reached the English lines the means to win the battle was not to destroy the archers, but to defeat the English men-at-arms, and in particular attempt to kill or capture their leaders.
There was probably also a status issue as well. After all the cavalry sent to attack the archers were the varlets, not mounted men-at-arms. It was beneath the French men-at-arms to fight the archers hand to hand. If they had done so they would no doubt have scattered them quite easily and possibly been able to envelop the English. It is apparent that this tactic never really occured to the French in this period.