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Archery Archive: Arrow Storm at Azincourt
By Nils Visser
Contemporary Azincourt is a sleepy hamlet in northern France. Even though it is the site of a French defeat, namely the Battle of Agincourt (the English name, the French call it Azincourt), the locals have no qualms about preserving the memory of that wet autumn day in 1415. The village boasts an excellent museum and information centre and driving by one cannot miss the bright cutouts of knights and archers by the roadside, first appearing miles away on the Hesdin-Fruges road, then positively multitudinous in the village’s center and along the Rue Henri V to the east of the village.
Since 2001 every summer has witnessed a historical encampment organized by the Azincourt-Alliance, an event that has steadily increased in size and popularity, attracting hundreds of re-enactors from across Europe. Recently, the Azincourt-Alliance have revealed stunningly ambitious plans for the 600 year anniversary of the battle in 2015.
The commemoration will occur in two phases. Adhering to the 1415 campaign trail, there will be a 19 day march, a gruelling 238 mile walk between the port of Harfleur and Azincourt, timed so that Azincourt will be reached on October 25th, St. Crispin’s Day.
Preceding that wee ramble, three months before the actual anniversary, the annual encampment will be larger than ever. In a bid to set a world record, the organizers hope to field at least 1,000 archers along the Rue Henri V, on the left flank of the original battlefield. In 1415, the English had 5,000 archers gathered there who could shoot up to 15 arrows a minute, meaning a collective output of 75,000 arrows in sixty seconds, the so-called arrow storm.
Medieval chroniclers said that such arrow storms were capable of blotting out the sun. Modern historians speculate about the sights and sounds, but truth be told, apart from digital representations in the cinema, an arrow storm generated by many hundreds of medieval war bows has not been witnessed for over 500 years.
Christened “The Big Shoot”, the event will kick off with a single arrow volley shot on command. That will be followed by a controlled continuous volley, that is a sequence of arrows being loosed on command for the duration of a minute. Participants’ training is expected to be on a par with the archers of old, so they should be able to shoot an impressive 15,000 arrows in those sixty seconds.
Following this there will be target and distance shooting contests for individuals and groups. The finale will occur in the early evening, when a volunteer force of armoured men-at-arms will form line 300 meters from the archers, and then proceed to charge into an arrow storm. For this part of the programme, the archers will use rubber blunts which will punch rather than pierce the protective armour worn by the charging foe.
Many re-enactors view participation as a-once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It is likely to be equally fascinating for spectators, so jot down the 25th of July, 2015, in your agenda, for a rendezvous with history, at Azincourt.