Category Archives: French Battlefields

King Arthur’s Hall; all roofless and wind-blown

Image of King Arthur's Hall, Cornwall

The remains of King Arthur’s Hall on Bodmin Moor. The “Hall” is thought to be a Bronze Age ceremonial centre for cremation although some argue that it was a pound for animals.

Into Cornwall I climb seeking comfort from winds

Among lower levels of that lofty moor Bodmin;

Through fields richly-flanked by leaves of fair green

I come up to Blisland by blowing moor’s edge.

In that soft church I sit to regain of my senses

With its vault above me which arches twice vast

And shouts of Agincourt when its arcs were stretched

On shield-bearing angels, their wings wafting high

And sailing in joy over scenes from the centuries.

Rested, I rise onto Gringolet’s saddle

Who carries me slow up ascents to the moor

And there in the blowing wind blasting my body

And sharp-shafting showers that strike to the soul

I see that square building which bold sits in bog-land;

King Arthur’s Hall it is known in Kernow.

Yet no knight knows that place, not to my knowing,

The years have long passed that parsed of its purpose

And my uncle Arthur never nursed in that place

Ideas of adventure to alter his aims

For the season, or Christmas, or sweet holidays.

It is but a pound to pen but some sheep or maybe a place to bury

The dead.

Surrounded by gorse and granite stones

That Hall it must be said

Just now sits square in moors alone,

Its story long unread.

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Filed under British History, British Landscape, Cornwall, English Counties, English Landscape, English myths and legends, French Battlefields, Gawain and the Green Knight, Historic places to visit in Britain, King Arthur, Knights of the Round Table, Touring Britain, Uncategorized

Fulk Nerra – the Butcher of Anjou

This knight, part of a frieze at the collegiate church of St Ours, Loches, shows an early mediaeval knight. The church was built by Fulk's son; could this be an image of the man himself?

This knight, part of a frieze at the collegiate church of St Ours, Loches, shows an early mediaeval knight. The church was built by Fulk’s son; could this be an image of the man himself?

Lithes and listen you ladies and young gentlemen
To my jolly journey now as I on le Gringalet jaunts
South  to Loches in the Loire, lively once to the sounds
Of clinking iron clattering in the clamour for blood
and now silent in the sunshine.
Enter here Fulk Nerra, the Black – and blackest of the black;
Blacker here than the blue-black crack of Beeston’s fractured well.
Fulk the Black, founder of the fight to form
A future in a land of chaos, chancing to chafe
His enemies by brutal power pressing with a pounce.

I knew him well, that man who men mention that
Even God and the Devil in equal measure paled from his presence.
I saw him when fresh-wed in the fruiting of his lust he
Clasped young breast and pink beauty to his bosom
And planted seed a plenty with the pleasantry of seduction.
But then I saw him have fair wife whipped in flames
For adultery unsupported by actions or actuary.
I saw his enemies bludgeoned, burned and bastard sons
Blossom in the aftermath of his cruelty.
No man, count, courtier or king could withstand
His blood red eyes and bleeding passion for bloodshed.
Even the king, it is said, was made with eyes a-wet
To watch on old friend executed on Fulk’s command!

Yet here was a man of contrasts contrary:
His ferocity was fewtered by a fear fecund;
On four crusades he crossed to be crossed
And his flesh bore witness to a whipping
Bare naked in the streets of Jerusalem –
Penitence indeed for the power he pricked
With spurs of spurting contempt for his fellow man.
Yet he held with fear and favour his fideles and in
So doing he built donjons dramatic to dab
The skies of the low and looming Loire and Indre.

Which brings me now to Loches, the light of lovelies:
The finest of all fine keeps and fair in faint colour,
Its tuffeau tower twinkling on horizons
For mile after mile as a monument of power
And suppression silent to all who see it far and wide.
This columned keep captures the eye from where man roams
In this part of Anjou; no angel from any angle
And but a blunt stub to bludgeon the blind.
It towers on its hill high, the highest of all keeps
And in its day dwarfing even Rochester in our own isles.
But this was one of the first – and what a first fastness!
It is peerless , matchless and unmatched;
It housed in later years the Lionheart himself
And still today stands almost to its full height,
Diminished but a little by the passing of the years.

What this has watched we wouldn’t wish to know:
Torture, touching tender its secrets to will out;
De Commynes confined in cruel uncertainty;
Sforza in centuries later secured in solemn dark;
Untold horrors hidden in these holes.
But time treats all the same
As the seasons wend and waft their way
And Fulk himself did to dust dimly pass
As so we all must in the drifting of our days.
Now at Beaulieu, Fulk be-fears no more his folk
But sleeps soundly in a solemn grave
Among the stones that once astounded one and all.

If we slay others in the vanity of our aims
On pursuit of glories only we can see
Then little wonder the payment for our gains
Is contempt of others – on our death their glee.


Filed under Castles, French Battlefields, King Arthur, Loire Valley

The long road to Agincourt

The battlefield of Agincourt - with Azincourt on the left and Tramecourt on the right

The battlefield of Agincourt - so pleasant today, so horrific 596 years ago

In autumn time when leaves crumble on the bough and birds turn eyes to warmer climes, that’s when eyes of men and women turn oft to distant lands and long-remembered places. It’s that time of year again. The nights are drawing in and kings, queens, knights, yeomen, serfs and all look into the warmth of their homes rather than the cold outside. Yet think back 596 years to the 25th October 1415 and for a small band of English, Welsh, Irish and Scottish soldiers home was a long way away.

On this morning all those years ago, I recall our good king Henry V extolling all of us to do our duty in the face of horrendous odds: to do battle against the glory of France and to win. The problem we faced was this: our total force was fewer than 6,000; those of our enemies were – as far as I could see – at least 20,000. But there were probably more.

It had rained the night before. My fellow soldiers were cold and wet. The ground was muddy underfoot. I recall Sir Thomas Erpingham, the commander of the archers, wandering among this filthy soldiers, offering calm and reassuring words – his Norfolk burr whispering like a plane over elm.

I recall the king explaining to his lords the protocol of what to do should defeat occur. But I also recall him laughing in the face of adversity across the sodden field ahead of him. If we can be touched by the hand of God, then let that time be now. Within hours the French would overwhelm us – only prayers and fate could help us beneath the leaden skies of Picardy.

There we were at Maisoncelle, a small hamlet of fewer than 100 souls, standing and looking across the plain ahead of us. In the distance, to the left, we could see the church as Azincourt nestling in the trees. To the right, another woodland. In between, the feudal host of France glistened in the early morning.

We could hear jesting and laughter – the confidence of well fed men, fully rested and ready for battle. Yet we few souls knew that we would have to face these men on this field or lose the war. Azincourt, this dirty village, would either be famous for all time or some nameless burial ground for an army of lost souls.

Yet the French would not come forward. We knew then that we had to advance and attack them: sheer folly, given the size of the field in front of us and the risks of flank attack. Yet so it was that Henry gave the instruction for our pitiful band to advance. Fortune favours the brave.

Across that field we walked, the archers upping sticks and then, as we neared the village, placing them again in the earth – hammering their stakes into the ground and sharpening their tips. We were but 300 yards from our enemy. We could see them, their faces, their movement, their laughter. They were drinking and scornful of our ragged force. And still they would not come…

Here it was that Henry urged strength and with a signal to Sir Thomas urged our archers to loose upon the enemy a hail of arrows so vast that it would seem as if it snowed. Sir Thomas raised his baton in the air and at the command of “Next Stroke” lowered his arm. The arrows loosed like a cloud of darts and down they fell. In minutes the French, the immovable host, started to edge forward. I will be honest and say that fear gripped us but we knew now that we must stand and fight.

Our archers delivered wave after wave of arrows in a storm upon the French. Many brave men fell and piled high in mounds, crushing those still living until they drowned in the soft earth of that sodden field. It was not chivalry. It was not war. It was carnage. Yet still they came, pushing back our knights so that even our archers had to get amongst them.

I recall the Duc d’Alencon at one point surrendering his sword to Henry in surrender – yet to my shame I saw him cut down by the king’s bodyguards. Ih the height of battle, urgency overwhelms sensibility. As it did when fear of a French attack from the rear compelled the king to order the killing of many prisoners. With ransoms due on those men, I can assure you that this was not a decision taken lightly nor indeed received well by those guarding them. Yet so it is when victory can turn to defeat.

Within hours – I would say two hours at most – it was all over. The long road to Agincourt and on to Calais had ended here. Perhaps two hundred of our own in exchange for many thousands of the enemy lay strewn across the mud. As in all such battles at that time, those who lay suffering through terminal wounds were despatched where they lay by friends and fellow warriors. The peace of death came brutally to those who had avoided it during the battle’s climax.

When I think back to that fateful day all those years ago, I sometimes wonder what might have happened had things turned out against us. And yet they didn’t. And as our good bard William Shakespeare was to write so many years later, “gentlemen in England now a-bed shall think themselves accursed they were not here and hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks that fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s Day.”

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Filed under British Battlefields, British History, English History, French Battlefields