Sunday, October 25, 2009

Henry V Less Virile than Previously Believed

Interesting article in the NY Times--Historians Reassess Battle of Agincourt: "Agincourt’s status as perhaps the greatest victory against overwhelming odds in military history — and a keystone of the English self-image — has been called into doubt by a group of historians in Britain and France who have painstakingly combed an array of military and tax records from that time and now take a skeptical view of the figures handed down by medieval chroniclers."

The revisionist historians have determined that rather than facing thousands of heavily-armed French nobleman, Henry's troops actually fought a couple of char women, a rabid cow, and perhaps a killer rabbit. But what is most interesting in the article is the description of the "new science of military history" that has produced a reevaluation of Agincourt: "The new accounts tend to be not only more quantitative but also more attuned to political, cultural and technological factors, and focus more on the experience of the common soldier than on grand strategies and heroic deeds . . .The approach has drastically changed views on everything from Roman battles with Germanic tribes, to Napoleon’s disastrous occupation of Spain, to the Tet offensive in the Vietnam War. But the most telling gauge of the respect being given to the new historians and their penchant for tearing down established wisdom is that it has now become almost routine for American commanders to call on them for advice on strategy and tactics in Afghanistan, Iraq and other present-day conflicts."

For those wishing to dig further this 1991 article by Peter Paret titled "The New Military History" provides a background.

1 comment:

Craig said...

Nice post. Hiring the right adjutant is nine tenths of the battle. Have spent time recently commenting on a blog hosted by a professor of English who needed help chasing down historical referents to some of Marianne Moore's literary allusions. She apparently fed herself for several years teaching typing at the Carlisle Indian School. They made the mistake of beating Army in a football game, provoking a federal investigation that closed down the school and turned it into the Army War College. I had an ulterior motive in commenting. I was shopping out my translations from German of a few poems written by a Civil War general who didn't speak English. One of the other commenters on that blog is a poet-musician who feeds himself by being a monk in order to teach multiculturalism. It's quite a bit like playing pinball, but I did get an e-mail from the great great grandson of the Civil War poet. It was interesting and fun hearing from him. He told me his grandfather spent nearly forty years as athletic director at a fairly prominent Catholic university after serving as a track and field coach in the 1936 Olympics. My translations of the Civil War poems could undermine their power.