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My dad was at Agincourt

Posted by Lewis on July 14, 2003

In Reply to: Re: The v sign / two fingers posted by Lotg on July 07, 2003

: : : Sorry - all the explanations about english archers at Agincourt etc. being threatened with loss of fingers are most probably a myth see http://www.snopes.com/language/apocryph/pluckyew.htm

: : In the UK it is widely believed that the battle of Agincourt was origin of the 'two fingers' salute. Most folk beliefs of this sort turn out to be unsupported by hard evidence and rely on retrospectively fitting the facts to a neat story. We've seen enough of these here to be suspicious - POSH, Scot Free etc. The web site referenced above offers opinion rather than fact, so doesn't prove anything either way.

: : I would like to believe this one. I've seen references claiming that Henry V's speech before the battle (the real one not Shakespeare's version), referred to the threat to the archers from the French. If anyone can turn up any real historical material on this I'd love to see it. Like we always have to say here though - evidence not opinion.

: :: Bit of a cultural thing here. This may be a Victory sign in some cultures, but if you turn your hand over, with your back of your hand pointing to the ground, and use the V sign, raising your fingers, in Australia, it's actually rude. Basically means something to the effect of 'up yours'. The single second finger means pretty much the same thing. Maybe there's a subtle difference of which I'm not sure. But this sign isn't considered subtle in the first place. Often used during fits of road rage, to indicate your displeasure at something the other driver has done to you as well as a whole host of other circumstances.

: A visiting American president used the sign unwittingly, intending to convey a Victorious sentiment, however, the Australian public laughed, some (who obviously take themselves far too seriously and ought not), were even outraged, as in this country it is an insulting gesture.

My dad was at Agincourt - well, when I wrote an historical play, the father of my fictional character had been there. I don't think that the suggestions of it being from those campaigns are wrong. I read research material for that period and Bernard Cornwell, whose research is also good, uses that tradition in the "Harlequin" books. The idea was that the French were so aggrieved at the British archers (many of the bowmen were from Wales, not England) - that they took revenge by cutting off the bow-fingers - the fingers necessary to draw the bow. it was cruel, but in the days when prisoners of war were very often ransomed or released, in the aftermath of losing so great a proportion of their available military might, the French were in no mood for another humiliation (Don't mention Crecy/Poitiers etc)

The French armies often contained crossbow using mercenaries from Genoa, I think - the longbow was a peculiarly British enthusiasm and the victory at Agincourt cemented its place in popular culture. Crossbows were the semi-automatics of their age - you often wound them up with a crank
and left the stressed bow ready to fire. They could not compete with longbow volleys for sheer terror - sheet after sheet of hundreds of arrows blackening the sky before they rained death upon you. up to 6 sheets a minute - the longbow was fired before the last arrow had landed at long distance. when people are put under that terror, when they have the opportunity for revenge, they often take it in brutal ways. hence the cutting off of fingers. Psychologically, it rings true. I know of no reason to doubt that the British used the gesture in defiance - perhaps somebody can dig out an old letter/church record that supports it?

The "two-fingered salute" was to show clearly that the signaller still had both fingers and theoretically at least, could do harm to the Frenchman at whom it was aimed. That it entered general usage is a tibute to the amount of anger or defiance that the physical action of the gesture can transmit.

It was the equivalent of "two world wars and one world cup" sung to Germans at football matches - a defiant gesture based upon past glory.

Not much different from "I wave my genitals in the general direction of your aunty!"