Other History Topics

The Battle of Agincourt – a summary

On the 25th October 1415, the English king Henry V celebrated a major victory in the Hundred Years War when he defeated the numerically superior French army at the Battle of Agincourt. Famous for its use of English and Welsh longbowmen, the battle is also falsely claimed to provide the origin for the so-called ‘two finger salute’, the V sign that is used as an offensive gesture in England.

Having landed in northern France on the 13th August, Henry sought to regain control of lands that had once come under the rule of the English kings. However, the time taken to capture the town of Harfleur meant that Henry was not able to mount an effective attack on the French. Instead the English marched to Calais as a ‘show of force’, but were shadowed by the French who continued to raise an army en-route. By the 24th October both armies had gathered at Agincourt, and in the morning of the 25th Henry began the battle.

Henry’s archers launched an initial volley that incapacitated many of the French army’s horses and forward troops. As well as struggling to find a way through this mass and across the muddy field that separated them from the English, the French cavalry was unable to advance efficiently due to stakes driven into the ground to protect the English archers. The French advance became more and more densely packed, making the forward French knights less and less able to fight efficiently. Over 8,000 French troops are estimated to have been killed in the battle. The English army’s losses were less than 500.

Battle of the Herrings fought between France and England

On the 12th February 1429, the curiously-named Battle of the Herrings was fought between French and English forces near the village of Rouvray in France. One of numerous clashes during the Hundred Years War, it ended in English victory. However, Joan of Arc’s prediction of the French defeat is said to have contributed greatly to her securing a visit to the French Dauphin Charles VII.

On the 12th October 1428 the English besieged the city of Orléans, but by the end of January were in need of additional supplies. A convoy of “some 300 carts and wagons” containing various weapons was sent in response. In addition, as the troops would soon be observing Lent when Christians abstain from eating meat, it also included barrels of herrings.

The convoy met a large force of 3,000-4,000 French and Scottish troops led by Charles de Bourbon, Count of Clermont, outside the village of Rouvray. The English arranged their carts into a defensive wagon fort, with sharpened stakes similar to those used at the Battle of Agincourt around the perimeter. Unable to use their cavalry, the French launched a gunpowder artillery bombardment, but were forced to abandon this after the Scots advanced prematurely. The English seized the opportunity for a counter-attack and forced them to retreat.

At the same time Joan of Arc was attempting to persuade Robert de Baudricourt help her visit the French dauphin at Chinon. Apparently she told him of the terrible defeat near Orléans, something that was only confirmed several days later. De Baudricourt felt Joan must have experienced divine help to know this, so agreed to help her.

The Fall of Constantinople

On the 29th May 1453 the troops of the Ottoman Empire under Sultan Mehmed II successfully took control of Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire. The capture of the city effectively brought the Roman Empire to an end and, for many historians, also marks the end of the medieval period.

The Ottomans began their siege of the city on the 6th April, but their enormous cannon was unable to break the walls and their ships were unable to cross the defensive chain that protected the Golden Horn. Even attempts to dig tunnels and lay mines to blow up the walls failed, because the Byzantines intercepted the tunnels before they were completed.

Despite these setbacks for the Ottomans, the continuing siege slowly weakened the resolve of Constantinople’s inhabitants. A Greek legend even says that on the 26th May, as the Ottomans began to plan their final offensive, the Holy Spirit left the Hagia Sophia under cover of a strange fog that had descended on the city.

Around midnight on the night of the 28th to 29th May, the first Ottoman troops attacked the city. Three waves of increasingly experienced troops made only limited progress but when Giustiniani, the commander of the Byzantine troops, was mortally wounded the city’s defence quickly began to collapse. When a Turkish flag was raised over the northern Kerkoporta Gate, the defence crumbled.

Three days of looting followed, although some Greeks managed to leave the city and move west. The knowledge and ancient documents they brought with them helped to fuel the Renaissance.

Battle of St Albans and the start of the Wars of the Roses

The 22nd May 1455 marked the start of the Wars of the Roses, when the First Battle of St Albans was fought between Richard, Duke of York, and King Henry VI.

The Wars of the Roses were fought between the Houses of Lancaster and York, both of whom had claims to the English throne.  Although the Lancastrians had ruled England since 1399, Henry VI had come to the throne in 1422 when he was just 9 months old.  England had therefore been ruled by regents for 15 years, during which time the monarchy was weakened.

The situation didn’t improve after Henry took full control of the country in 1437, since he experienced periods of mental illness that affected his behaviour and decisions.  Having experienced a long period of mental instability from August 1453, the “kingmaker” Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, made Richard, Duke of York, protector of the realm.

When Henry recovered 18 months later, Richard was excluded from the royal court.  In response he led an army to London, but was met by the King’s forces 22 miles north of the city in St Albans.  After many hours of failed negotiations, Richard ordered his troops to attack.  The battle was fought in the streets, and lasted for less than an hour before the Lancastrians were outflanked, key Lancastrian nobles were killed, and Henry was taken prisoner.

Richard was declared Protector of England just a few months later, but the Wars of Roses raged for another three decades.

SOURCES:

http://www.warsoftheroses.com/stalbans1.cfm

http://www.historytoday.com/anthony-pollard/battle-st-albans-1455

http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/516701/battles-of-Saint-Albans

Battle of Bosworth: one of the last major battles of the Wars of the Roses

On the 22nd August 1485, King Richard III was killed at the Battle of Bosworth and the forces of Henry Tudor brought the Plantagenet dynasty to an end. Henry secured his reign soon afterwards by later marrying Elizabeth of York, the niece of Richard III and daughter of Edward IV, and united the two warring houses through the symbolism of the Tudor rose.

Wishing to capitalise on Richard’s diminishing support following the disappearance of the Princes in the Tower and the death of his wife, Henry Tudor prepared to invade England from his base in Brittany and fight Richard for the throne. Funded by Charles VIII of France, and supported by three times as many French mercenary soldiers as his own troops, Henry set sail on the 1st August with 2,000 men. Landing at the Welsh port of Milford Haven, Henry secured the support of the influential Welsh landowner Rhys ap Thomas, on his march to England.

Richard’s army gathered in Leicester from the 16th August and, on the night of the 21st, camped on Ambion Hill near the town of Market Bosworth with 10,000 men. The next morning, facing Henry and his force of around 5,000 soldiers, the Yorkists were defeated when the Stanley family switched sides and surrounded and killed Richard after the king chose to break ranks and target Henry himself. Henry was crowned under an oak tree near the site.

Richard’s body was taken to Leicester by the Lancastrians where it was buried in an unmarked grave in Greyfriars church. The body was only found again in 2012.

Perkin Warbeck and his claim to be King Richard IV

On the 7th September the Second Cornish Uprising of 1497 began when Perkin Warbeck landed at Whitesand Bay near Land’s End. The significance of Warbeck is that he soon declared himself King Richard IV as he had convinced his followers that he was Richard, Duke of York, the younger of the two “Princes in the Tower”.

After surrendering to Henry VII’s forces in Hampshire, Warbeck was held by the King in relative luxury even though he confessed to being an imposter. His admission that he was actually the son of a prosperous family in Tournai, in what is now Belgium, was subsequently proven by the nineteenth century historian James Gairdner who had access to the town archives.

Warbeck’s career as a pretender to the throne began shortly after he arrived in the Irish city of Cork where he was soon identified as a member of the York dynasty. He quickly adopted his new identity, and travelled around the royal courts of Europe securing support for his claim. The French King Charles VIII lent him support, as did Margaret of York – the aunt of the Princes in the Tower.

Warbeck led an invasion of England from France in 1495, but this went disastrously wrong. After finding little support in Ireland, he instead headed to Scotland where he stayed for two years and married the Scottish King’s cousin. After another failed invasion of England he was invited by Cornish rebels to join with them in what was to be his final failed assault.

Two years after his capture, Warbeck was hanged at Tyburn on November 23rd, 1499.

The Supermarket and the Christmas Truce – lesson plan and resources

Sainsbury’s decision to use the story of the Christmas Truce to drive their 2014 seasonal advertising campaign provoked debate about the ethical and moral issues regarding advertising and war, but also served to bring the story of the Truce to the front of many peoples’ minds. Shortly after the advert was first shown in the UK, a cancelled Geography fieldtrip led to Year 9 students returning to their ‘normal’ lessons without their usual classroom equipment or books. I therefore chose to seize upon their interest in the Sainsbury’s advert and the story it tells to teach an impromptu lesson in which the students were asked to evaluate the advert as an historical source.  This post attempts to give an overview of the lesson I taught, and the responses from my students.

The context

A hundred years on, the Christmas Truce has become mythologised to such an extent that the stories peddled by some are dangerously misleading.  Although I’m a big fan of Horrible Histories, for example, their sketch based on the Christmas Truce focuses almost exclusively on the legend of the football match.  They do make some good references to the wider context of the war but, for a TV show that (usually) presents well-researched and accurate history, the clip below is a concern due to its emphasis on football at the expense of everything else.

Such popular histories can mean that when people think of ‘the Christmas Truce’ they imagine the entire Western Front downing arms and having a huge kick about in the middle of No Man’s Land.  This isn’t true of everyone, but UEFA’s recent series of Remembrance events has further reinforced the stereotype.  My students’ subconscious ‘knowledge’ of this was awakened by the new Sainsbury’s advert, and I was keen to think of a way to address the reality of this interpretation with my classes.

Setting It Up

I began by simply showing the advert in its entirety, and asked the students to share their initial thoughts.

Some students immediately commented on the ethical/moral debate surrounding the advert.  Whether this is because they were repeating lines that have been featured heavily in the media in recent days is unclear.  I duly noted down their responses on a huge sheet of paper, but then physically ‘put them to one side’.  I explained that we were not going to debate the pros and cons of the advert itself.  Instead we were going to analyse the advert as an historical source in order to arrive at a response to the question, ‘How much can we learn from the Sainsbury’s advert about the First World War?’

First impressions

Students were divided into groups and asked to discuss and note down their answers to four key questions to help them answer the lesson enquiry question.  I’m fortunate in having a classroom equipped with desks that are designed to be written on, and so by giving each group a couple of board markers they were able to record their responses to these questions:

  • Who made the advert?
  • Why was it made?
  • What does it tell us about the First World War?
  • What does it not tell us about the First World War?

The first two questions were designed to get students thinking about the provenance of the source, which I hoped would feed in to their answers to the next two questions about the content.  The most obvious thing they picked up on was the football match shown in the advert.  However, they also commented that the advert can be used to tell us what the soldiers wore and how they passed their time in the trenches,  One student also pointed out that the portrayal of the trenches matched with what they’d already learned about trench construction in a previous lesson.  In terms of the counter argument a student highlighted that, although the advert focuses on a truce, it doesn’t really tell us how common it was for troops to lay down their arms.  This point was developed by another who commented that the explosion that sends the two sides back to their trenches shows that the fighting continued elsewhere, even though the section of the line in the advert held a truce.  They were beginning to grasp that idea that one specific event does not prove the presence of a wider trend.

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Filling in the background

I then showed the students the ‘making of’ video, and the ‘story behind the advert’ video, both of which provided them with more contextual information.  Many noted that the ‘story behind the advert’ video clearly states that the events are fictional, but that the makers say they tried to be as accurate as possible.

After viewing these videos, students were given a few minutes to return to their group discussions, in which they began adding details about the origin and purpose of the film related to the ‘who’ and ‘why’ questions they had originally been set.  In particular, they found it important to note the involvement of the British Legion, and the presence of an historical consultant to ensure accuracy.

Who Made It?

Analysing the interpretation

It was at this point in the lesson that students began to realise that the advert was therefore an interpretation of the Truce, based on the different aims of those involved in its production.  To help them further explore this idea, I distributed two more sources of information.  Half the groups received a series of extracts from the Twitter feed of Taff Gillingham (https://twitter.com/Taff_Gillingham), the historical consultant on the advert.  The other groups were given the joint press release by the British Legion and Sainsbury’s.

With Mr Gillingham’s permission I have copied his tweets and formatted them into prose paragraphs to make them easier to read – you can download the PDF file from https://www.mrallsophistory.com/revision/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/Taff-Gillingham-Twitter-combined.pdf

You can download the press release from the British Legion’s website at http://www.britishlegion.org.uk/about-us/news/remembrance/sainsburys-and-the-legion-partner-to-bring-ww1-christmas-truce-story-to-life

The students were asked to read and annotate these additional sources.  Those with the Twitter feed were able to learn about Gillingham’s own background, and noted that he is a respected commentator on the Christmas Truce.  One group highlighted the section where he tells of how he and the director didn’t want football to dominate the advert, but that “the client” (i.e. Sainsbury’s) wanted to ‘push the football hard’.  They also found it helpful to read the section where he outlines his own process of historical research to find corroborating evidence of a football match taking place.  Meanwhile the groups with the press release highlighted that the advert is referred to as ‘a creative interpretation’ although they ‘sought to make the portrayal of the truce as accurate as possible’.  Many also highlighted the charitable element of the advert.

Depending on time you may also wish to include additional sources.  The Football Remembers source pack includes some good materials.  I’ve had most success with Source 9 (which is actually one of the sources used by Taff Gillingham used when advising Sainsbury’s), Source 32, and Source 48.

Since first teaching this lesson, a previously unpublished letter has come to light which could be a great additional source.  Most sources are from lower ranking soldiers, but this is from General Walter Congreve who was awarded the Victoria Cross.  It’s particularly interesting because the majority of accounts of the Truce say that senior officers were opposed to the Truce, whereas Gen Congreve’s letter seems quite supportive of it – if only for tactical reasons.  The Daily Telegraph published a full transcript of the letter on their website, though the headline ‘The real story behind the 1914 Christmas Truce’ is to be taken wit ha pinch of salt!

It can also be interesting to contrast the portrayal of the war in the Sainsbury’s advert with that in Private Peaceful, which is taught in many Y7 English classrooms.  Although Private Peaceful  does not address the Truce, it offers an almost-entirely opposing interpretation of the war in general and can provide a good stimulus for a discussion of audience.

Reaching a conclusion

Students with different sources then paired off to share their new-found insights with each other.  This led to some interesting debate, with one pair commenting that the purpose of the historical account – i.e. Sainsbury’s desire to advertise their product – meant that some of the nuanced history from Gillingham’s research was lost.  This final piece of paired work also enabled students to discuss the overall lesson question to reach a conclusion about how much the advert can teach us about the First World War.  Using a technique shared by Patrick O’Shaughnessy on Twitter (https://twitter.com/historychappy), students then recorded their opinions on Post-It notes which they stuck to the board to form a continuum. These views were discussed as a plenary activity.

Sainsbury's Continuum

Since first teaching this lesson five days ago, it is clear that many of the students have watched the advert again.  They have found yet more historical references in the advert, some of which I’m sure they will have been looking for after reading Gillingham’s tweets.  Although I recognise that there is an important debate to be had about Sainsbury’s decision to produce this advert, I believe that we have the opportunity to use it as a springboard to address the real history of the Christmas Truce and correct the myths and legends that overshadow the reality of life on the Western Front at the end of 1914.

Welcome to the revision section for Y8 students at MES Cairo

The resources below are made available for students at MES Cairo to help them prepare for their end of year exams.  Remember to use your own exercise books and textbooks as well, though!

Y8 Revision – The French Revolution

Y8 Revision – WW1 video (Part 1)