Hermit wrote:Bronshtein wrote:Having worked for a year on research in a stately home and had to put up with guides talking bollocks to the punters I am less inclined than Khusrau to smile on folklore, but I can see the appeal of two fingered salutes, defensive spiral stairs, knights stranded like turtles on their backs and gentle parfait knights. But it's all wrong.
The two-fingered "Agincourt Salute" has always puzzled me, but it's easy to have that romanticised idea it originated at the battle itself, considering how vastly outnumbered Henry V's troops were. You could just imagine him bolstering his ranks of bowmen by spinning a bullshit yarn to them that they were so important that the French had threatened to cut off the two fingers of their hands if they were ever caught (in reality, they would have just been put to death. They weren't worth taking prisoner).
Or even years later, the English tormenting the French over the battle because it was essentially won by the bowmen, and using a two-fingered salute to symbolise that victory.
It's all lost in history. It's a shame the rank and file troops in the 15th century were mostly illiterate, or we'd have a better understanding of what went on at that time.
At least we haven't yet devolved to accusations and innuendo, like on that LAF thread in which I suggested the English longobow wasn't Welsh...
A BS Historian's take on it: Two fingers up to English history…
Whilst reading the fascinating “Blood Red Roses” on the subject of medieval battlefield archaeology, I became aware (as Prof. Curry and many others no doubt already are) of a genuine inspiration for this myth, in the shape of contemporary Burgundian chronicler Jean de Wavrin (or Jehan de Waurin), as referenced in Prestwich’s “Armies and Warfare in the Middle Ages” (1996). I was pleased to discover a PDF version of Wavrin’s chronicle, hosted by the quite wonderful people at La Bibliothèque nationale de France. The quote that seems to have started this whole myth; appears in the English translation (found in the Fifth Volume of Book One – page 203 of this PDF document) as follows:
“…And further he told them and explained how the French were boasting that they would cut off three fingers of the right hand of all the archers that should be taken prisoners to the end that neither man nor horse should ever again be killed with their arrows. Such exhortations and many others, which cannot all be written, the King of England addressed to his men”.
Whilst the Middle French original reads like this:
“En oultre leur disoit et remoustrait comment les Francois se vantoient que tous les archiers Anglois qui seroient prins feroient copper trois doitz de la main dextre adfin que de leur trait jamais homme ne cheval ne tuassent. Teles admonitions et pluiseurs autres que toutes ne puis escripe fist lors le roy d’Angleterre a ses gens.”
..and carries a rather amusing modern French footnote, amounting to “this is really anti-French, but hey, all’s fair in love and war!”.
As you can see, the quote gives us the probable origin of the V-sign tale as a contemporary suggestion by the English that captured archers would be mutilated by the enemy. At the same time it strikes a fatal blow to the myth as it makes clear that the number of fingers said to be at risk is clearly three, not the two famously used in the modern gesture. The war-bows of the time, with a draw weight of around 100lb, would certainly have required all three. Interesting that this medieval myth, probably intended to spur on the archers by the demonising of the enemy, should give rise to the modern myth of a nationalistic origin for the two-fingered insult. To me this shows the real value of going back to the source material. Wavrin was actually at the battle, although we should remember that he was present on the French side, and so is unlikely to have heard Henry’s speech first-hand. He was also writing more than twenty years after the fact. But on the plus side, he’s about as impartial as medieval chroniclers get, having ties to both sides in the conflict (his father and brother fought and died on the French side, whilst he fought for England later on).
Neither Wavrin nor any other contemporary source mentions any manual sign of defiance associated with this, and the Agincourt archery story didn’t become popular until the 1990s. It can be seen as both innocent post-hoc rationalisation, and as a conscious attempt to ascribe great antiquity to a culturally distinctive gesture. Either way it’s pretty unhelpful in our understanding either of medieval history, or of the genuine origin of the “V-sign”. Any positive evidence for the latter seems to have been lost, and this myth has been constructed to fill the gap.