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was so smug that when we were 11 steps
out, I felt compelled to act.
With an encouraging arm over his
shoulder I said, “ You had some interesting
questions earlier about Shakespeare’s
Henry V and the 100 Years War. Yes, it was
really 116 wasn’t it? How many arrows did
Henry take with him to Agincourt? ”
“Er ...15,000 ... ? ”
“ Slightly more. He took 8,982 archers
with him. That’s not quite two each.”
“Really? That would last the full army
less than a minute. Even grounded with
dysentery, the reduced English and Welsh
archers fired a thousand arrows a second
into the French.”
Researchers through the records of
the day reckon Henry packed between one
and two million in his luggage.
To supplement the arrows that the
English fletchers were churning out at six a
day for three farthings each, Henry charged
import duties not in cash, but in arrows
and bow staves: ten Spanish or Italian yew
staves for every ton of imports. Strangely,
Mediterranean yew was preferred for
making the English long bow.
England had prepared generations of
bowmen by forbidding all sport except
archery on Sundays. Any man who earned
more than two pounds a year was required
to own a bow. If you could not fire ten
arrows a minute and hit a target 100 yards
away you were considered a wimp and unfit
for military service. The bow pull was 75
kilos. Get one of your gym junkie mates to
demonstrate this: lift 75 Kilos half a metre,
twelve times a minute, with two fingers
around a bit of string. The longbow could
wound at 250 yards and kill at 100. Even
The arrow’s metal barbs (or ‘bodkins’
against armour) were secured only with
beeswax so the shaft could only be
withdrawn without the head and the
competition could not fire them back. They
were shipped in circular leather collars
of 24 to protect the flights. For a million
arrows, that’s over 40,000 batches.
Henry realised that his official navy of
seven ships would need a bit of help to get
men and equipment across the Channel.
He negotiated with the owners of merchant
ships over 20 tons to charter their vessels at
a rate of two shillings per ton per quarter.
This was a bareboat charter; the crew was
extra at threepence a day for seamen and
7d for masters.
Some of the largest stoutest ships
were in the Bordeaux wine trade, many
were French owned but they still joined
Henry’s fleet. Even the faster defensive
convoy protection vessels were French.
That’s like Churchill calling up Admiral
Donitz just before D-Day and asking if he
could borrow a couple of E-boats.
He raised 130,000 pounds in 1415 money
by hocking the family (crown) jewels and
selling shares in the expedition which was
basically a real estate and ransom venture.
Among the investors in Henry V inc. was the
Lord Mayor of London, Dick Whittington
who received a very good return. Yes, he
really existed and became Mayor three
times, just like in the children’s story.
In ‘A zincourt’ Bernard Cornwell puts
the invasion fleet at 1,500 but forensic
accountants, digging through the records
reckon there were 750 ships carrying 2,265
men at arms, 8,982 archers, the ships’
crews of 2,566 ... and 18,000 horses. (And
no doubt a few jars of horse radish) plus
stores and weapons for all of the above.
That’s food for 13,813 active blokes plus
horse fodder. They crossed the channel in
just two days and made a more accurate
landfall than we did 550 years later with
a diesel engine, an ex R AF compass and
a school cert in maths.
These were fat, barrel bilged ships,
normally with a single squaresail and
loaded right down to their podgy gunnels
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