By Russell Bruce
During George Osborne’s budget speech he announced in extraordinary terms £1m to celebrate the Battle of Agincourt:
“And, Mr Deputy Speaker, we could not let the 600th anniversary of Agincourt pass without commemoration.
“The battle of Agincourt is, of course, celebrated by Shakespeare as a victory secured by a “band of brothers” It is also when a strong leader defeated an ill-judged alliance between the champion of a united Europe and a renegade force of Scottish nationalists.
“So it is well worth the £1 million we will provide to celebrate it.”
Now I do not have a problem with the English and Welsh, who fought under Henry V, celebrating their victory at Agincourt on 25th October 1415. By all accounts it was a remarkable victory. Henry’s forces were exhausted after a 260-mile march in two and a half weeks as they retreated towards their base in Calais. Henry had lost a third of his army in the campaign, and suffering from sickness and dysentery, the English forces were outnumbered by a well-equipped French force.
It was a victory against the odds, so the English have a reason to celebrate and perhaps we should not take too much umbrage at Osborne’s ‘renegade force of Scottish nationalists’ remark. His budget speech on what a “wonderful job” he had performed on the economy was peppered with jibes, mostly at Labour’s expense. It might have been a real achievement to have hit his five-year target to bring national debt to almost 100% of GDP; unfortunately, he seems to have forgotten that his actual target back in 2010 was in fact to reduce national debt to 40% of GDP by the end of this parliament. Oops.
Perhaps then, we should take it in good form and see it as recognition that Scottish nationalist forces, in the shape of SNP members are likely to occupy more of the green benches in a few weeks’ time. The “joke” about the national debt is a little more serious. But back to Agincourt.
The victory at Agincourt needs to be placed in the wider context of the 100 Years’ War, as Henry pursued his ambition to gain the French crown. Osborne being a historian, rather than an economist, has no doubt researched the contribution Scots made to the French military campaign on the day. Agincourt nearly brought about the collapse of the French state and the Dauphin turned to France’s Scottish allies for help.
It is said 15,000 Scots sailed from the Clyde between 1419 and 1424 to fight for France. The Scots crushed the English army at the Battle of Bauge in 1421. Honours were lavished on the Scots and they are credited with buying time and saving France from English domination, despite a Scots army of 4,000 being wiped out at Vernuil in 1424.
The twists and turns of history are littered with such victories and reversals. In 1453 Bordeaux, which had been in English hands for 300 years, surrendered, leaving Calais as the last English outpost in France. The Hundred Years’ War was officially at an end. In 1558 the English were finally driven out of Calais.
Just months later, in July 1559, history took a different path and Mary, Queen of Scots became Queen consort of France. Mary, through descent from James IV and Margaret Tudor, had a claim to the English throne when the Tudor line came to and end. That also did not work out well in the end.
This is 2015. In six weeks’ time Scotland can send a peaceful and democratically elected force into the heart of Westminster to claim our place, and put to rights some of the inequalities in this unequal union of nations.
Our southern friends were less than relaxed about our celebrations of the 700 anniversary of Bannockburn. But let us be magnanimous and let them celebrate Agincourt – in historical terms one battle in a long war that England eventually lost.
Such magnanimity comes with a warning. England is moving ever further from Europe and threatens to take Scotland with it on a final retreat with dangerous consequences for the security and prosperity of Europe.
Britain has nowhere else to go. UK global geopolitical aspirations are a mirage. Our conventional defence capability has massive gaps that leaves the North and East Atlantic inadequately protected in the face of Putin’s testosterone-fuelled geopolitical games.
Celebrations over Agincourt must not be used as a means of the UK further distancing itself from Europe.
Image from Wikibooks Histoire de France, Wikimedia Commons