Luke Upward Discovers A French Spin On Agincourt
Luke Upward could not stand the Prince de Millecrêpes, first husband of Annie Oldiron, who later married his patron, the affable Marquis de Tarpaulin, and helped him create a “big tent” for writers in their regular Friday salons where she poured out the Clicquot with considerable verve.
However, Upward was intrigued by his ancestor, the Sieur de Millecrepes, who was awarded the family circumflex by King Charles VI (the Mad) for his services at Agincourt. Even a deranged monarch (he believed he was made of glass and was terrified of being broken by his courtiers) might be expected to realize that Agincourt was a disaster. Why would he hand out orders and diacritical marks to any of his commanders?
Upward discovered that the Sieur was one of the more clear-headed Frenchmen of his time. Bearing proudly the nickname of Foie de Lys, he rode into battles on his destrier, Pegasu, subject of a ballad by the popular troubador, Boudé Auxlaits. Pegasu had been trained to gallop on the spot, and although Upward did not know it, she was the common ancestor of all the horses he backed on the racecourse centuries later. This equine skill allowed her master to create the impression of a fierce charge at the enemy while being overtaken and passing unnoticed into the rear.
The Sieur and Pegasu very soon realized that Agincourt would end in tears or even in tiers of dead French knights. Pegasu added a few bucks and kicks to her normal repertoire and soon became a back marker, defying the apparently frantic efforts of her master to urge her towards the English lines. When the first wave of English arrows flew, under the expert direction of Sir Laurence Olivier, the Sieur turned tail and Pegasu showed a hitherto unknown speed on the flat and over the jumps. The sight of the legendary Foie de Lys at full gallop inspired a band of other French knights, later immortalized as the Vol-a-Vents (in flight with the wind up). They found him, still on Pegasu, in a clearing some way from the battle, calmly filling in his bank details for his ransom from any English captor. The spectacle inspired the fleeing poltroons to rally and ask him to be their leader. They knew that Foie de Lys would know the safest and swiftest way out of Agincourt.
He took his band on a wide circle to the right of the battlefield, pausing briefly for directions at the visitor information centre, and they arrived without incident at the main road behind the English position. But there they found themselves blocked by the English baggage train. The Vol-a-Vents made ready to turn tail, but their keen-eyed commander rose to the occasion, and rallied them with the cry: “Ce sont des gosses!” (They’re only kids!) The baggage train was guarded only by teenagers displaying designer underwear, armed with a few cans of Taureau Rouge, the local energy drink which Henry V had used to pep up his dispirited army on the night before the battle. Even the quaking Vol-a-Vents realized that these would be no match for mounted men-at-arms whose weapons were still in mint condition.
The subsequent carnage is treated with revulsion in Shakespeare’s Henry V. It moves Fluellen to zeugma: “Killed the poys and the luggage! ‘Tis expressly against the laws of arms; ‘tis as arrant a piece of knavery, mark you now, as can be offert.”
However, its perpetrator, the Sieur de Millecrepes, had prudently employed his own chronicler, Pierre de Mandlespin. In his hands, the incident was re-packaged as a desperate rearguard action in which the Sieur had led a gallant band of French nobles against a rampaging mob of feral youths in clear breach of their Asbeaux. Mandlespin’s version was imposed on all the other French chroniclers with a mixture of blandishments and threats (“je connais votre rédacteur…”). Thus it reached King Charles VI. Although batty, he still knew a bit about spin himself. He knew that a decoration for a national hero would take some coverage away from the disaster at Agincourt.
That is why the Sieur de Millecrêpes acquired his circumflex which the family has sported ever since. Agincourt remained its only battle honour, but its aptitude for banking and a series of loans to cash-strapped monarchs propelled its advance from Sieur to Prince.