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HISTORY

England marks 600 years since Agincourt victory

England was this week celebrating the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt, one of its greatest-ever battlefield victories, when king Henry V's longbow archers routed the French nobility.

England marks 600 years since Agincourt victory
"Morning of the Battle of Agincourt, 25th October 1415", painted by Sir John Gilbert in the 19th century. Photo: WikiCommons
The battle on October 25, 1415 saw a heavily-outnumbered English army inflict a catastrophic defeat on the enemy that altered the course of the Hundred Years' War.
   
Commemorative services, Shakespeare performances, anniversary dinners, exhibitions, conferences and archery tournaments are marking the anniversary.
   
“By defeating the French, Henry V united the English. He was the last great warrior king of the Middle Ages,” said Andrew Gimson, author of “Brief Lives of the Monarchs since 1066”.
   
King Henry was 28 at the time of the battle, two years into his nine-year reign.
   
He is buried in London at Westminster Abbey, which is holding a service marking the anniversary on Thursday, six centuries on from the day when news of the victory reached the city.
   
The abbey holds king Henry's “funerary achievements” — the personal items carried at his funeral, namely his sword, shield, saddle and helmet.
   
King Henry's sword will be paraded through the abbey once again on Thursday and placed on the altar.
 
Shakespeare's inspiration 
   
Agincourt was immortalised in William Shakespeare's 1599 play “Henry V”, whose stirring battle speeches still resound and feature in popular lexicon, including “Once more unto the breach, dear friends”, “we happy few, we band of brothers”, and “Cry 'God for Harry, England, and Saint George!'”
   
The Royal Shakespeare Company is staging the play at its base in the bard's hometown of Stratford-upon-Avon, central England, with Alex Hassell in the title role.
   
“Henry says that he and his troops shall be remembered because of their actions on St Crispin's Day until the ending of the world,” Hassell told AFP.
   
“Well, we may not be there yet but being part of their remembrance 600 years on feels rather wondrous.”
   
He added: “There will be an added weight to the notion of dying in battle, of legacy, of being remembered, and of making history”.
   
Casualty estimates vary widely, but English losses are thought to have numbered more than 100, while the French lost thousands, including around 40 percent of the French nobility on some counts.
 
London guilds helped victory 
   
The historic Worshipful Company of Bowyers, or bowmakers, held a special Agincourt Dinner on Thursday and hailed the longbowmen who it described as “a key component in a stunning victory”.
   
The guild is part of the City of London, the British capital's financial hub, which is keen to recall its part in bankrolling the expedition.
   
It contributed 10,000 marks — £3 million ($4.6 million, 4.1 million euros) in today's money.
   
It is putting on show the rarely-seen Crystal Sceptre, the 17-inch (43-centimetre) long mace given to the City by king Henry to mark his gratitude.   
 
“Over the last six centuries, only a handful of people have seen or touched the Crystal Sceptre,” the City said.
   
It is only removed from the Guildhall vaults for coronations and the ceremonial swearing-in of City of London mayors, who silently place their hands on it.
   
It contains red spinels from Afghanistan, blue sapphires from Sri Lanka and pearls from the Gulf.
   
“The story of Henry V is part of our national consciousness,” said Guildhall gallery curator Katty Pearce.
   
The Guildhall exhibition also contains an iron mace used in the battle.
   
The anniversary is, of course, also being remembered in Azincourt, the village in northeastern France where the two armies clashed.
   
A remembrance ceremony will take place on the battlefield, involving French and British troops.

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HISTORY

‘Lost’ manuscript of pro-Nazi French author published 78 years later

A book by one of France's most celebrated and controversial literary figures arrives in bookstores this week, 78 years after the manuscript disappeared

'Lost' manuscript of pro-Nazi French author published 78 years later

It is a rare thing when the story of a book’s publication is even more mysterious than the plot of the novel itself.

But that might be said of Guerre (War) by one of France’s most celebrated and controversial literary figures, Louis-Ferdinand Celine, which arrives in bookstores on Thursday, some 78 years after its manuscript disappeared.

Celine’s reputation has somehow survived the fact that he was one of France’s most eager collaborators with the Nazis.

Already a superstar thanks to his debut novel Journey to the End of the Night (1932), Celine became one of the most ardent anti-Semitic propagandists even before France’s occupation.

In June 1944, with the Allies advancing on Paris, the writer abandoned a pile of his manuscripts in his Montmartre apartment.

Celine feared rough treatment from authorities in liberated France, having spent the war carousing with the Gestapo, and giving up Jews and foreigners to the Nazi regime and publishing racist pamphlets about Jewish world conspiracies.

For decades, no one knew what happened to his papers, and he accused resistance fighters of burning them. But at some point in the 2000s, they ended up with retired journalist Jean-Pierre Thibaudat, who passed them – completely out of the blue – to Celine’s heirs last summer.

‘A miracle’
Despite the author’s history, reviews of the 150-page novel, published by Gallimard, have been unanimous in their praise.

“The end of a mystery, the discovery of a great text,” writes Le Point; a “miracle,” says Le Monde; “breathtaking,” gushes Journal du Dimanche.

Gallimard has yet to say whether the novel will be translated.

Like much of Celine’s work, Guerre is deeply autobiographical, recounting his experiences during World War I.

It opens with 20-year-old Brigadier Ferdinand finding himself miraculously alive after waking up on a Belgian battlefield, follows his treatment and hasty departure for England – all based on Celine’s real experiences.

His time across the Channel is the subject of another newly discovered novel, Londres (London), to be published this autumn.

If French reviewers seem reluctant to focus on Celine’s rampant World War II anti-Semitism, it is partly because his early writings (Guerre is thought to date from 1934) show little sign of it.

Journey to the End of the Night was a hit among progressives for its anti-war message, as well as a raw, slang-filled style that stuck two fingers up at bourgeois sensibilities.

Celine’s attitude to the Jews only revealed itself in 1937 with the publication of a pamphlet, Trifles for a Massacre, which set him on a new path of racial hatred and conspiracy-mongering.

He never back-tracked. After the war, he launched a campaign of Holocaust-denial and sought to muddy the waters around his own war-time exploits – allowing him to worm his way back into France without repercussions.

‘Divine surprise’
Many in the French literary scene seem keen to separate early and late Celine.

“These manuscripts come at the right time – they are a divine surprise – for Celine to become a writer again: the one who matters, from 1932 to 1936,” literary historian Philippe Roussin told AFP.

Other critics say the early Celine was just hiding his true feelings.

They highlight a quote that may explain the gap between his progressive novels and reactionary feelings: “Knowing what the reader wants, following fashions like a shopgirl, is the job of any writer who is very financially constrained,” Celine wrote to a friend.

Despite his descent into Nazism, he was one of the great chroniclers of the trauma of World War I and the malaise of the inter-war years.

An exhibition about the discovery of the manuscripts opens on Thursday at the Gallimard Gallery and includes the original, hand-written sheets of Guerre.

They end with a line that is typical of Celine: “I caught the war in my head. It is locked in my head.”

In the final years before his death in 1961, Celine endlessly bemoaned the loss of his manuscripts.

The exhibition has a quote from him on the wall: “They burned them, almost three manuscripts, the pest-purging vigilantes!”

This was one occasion – not the only one – where he was proved wrong.

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