Exercise 65

Saturday afternoon. Powl, Mark and Danyel are visiting the Open Day of Mediaeval Crafts that has been organized by the historical re-enactment society in which Tôny and Crysten are members. While Paul takes a look at the woodworking of the carpenters, where Tôny is demonstrating the technique for making the joints of his chair, and explaining at the same time how chairs were a sign of status in the Middle Ages, Mark and Daniel check out the archery enclosure, where Crysten is showing people her longbow.

Crysten:

This bow is made of yew. But the string is a modern material; in the Middle Ages it would have been flax, or silk, or hemp. The bow is almost two meters and very powerful. Two hundred and fifty newtons. And the power of the biggest bows in the past was much greater, up to eight hundred newtons.

Mark:

What was the range of an arrow?

Crysten:

Well, it would depend on the strength of the bow and the weight of the arrow. At the Battle of Crécy, for instance, the longest range was over three hundred and fifty meters. And they could shoot up to six times a minute.

Mark:

Could the arrows pierce a man in armour?

Crysten:

Chain-mail perhaps. Rarely a man in plate armour. But lots of ordinary soldiers were only dressed in thick cloth. A hail of longbow arrows was lethal for those men, and the enemy offered fled in sheer terror.

Exercise 66

Danyel bumps into his teacher Mrs Rowe at the Open Day.

Mrs Rowe:

Hello, Danyel! Have you been learning lots about bows? I spotted you just now in the archery enclosure.

Danyel:

The lady was talking about the strength of the longbow. And about the Battle of Crécy. I’ve read about that battle. Twelve thousand soldiers died on the French side, with just three hundred dead among the English. I don’t think Edward III had any right to perpetrate an atrocity like that. Why do so many people praise such bloodshed? As if it's something glorious!

Mrs Rowe:

That’s a very good question, Danyel. The techniques of warfare were changing at the time, and French forces were maybe a bit slower to adapt than Edward’s army. But no battle is glorious in itself. There’d be no battles in an ideal world. What’s glorious is the story that’s fashioned when the event is over. The history of the thing.

Danyel:

So what’s the history of the Battle of Crécy?

Mrs Rowe:

It’s part of the process by which the English grew up to be the nation they are today. The English and the French were once very similar in many ways, before the Hundred Years War. The aristocracy spoke French on both sides of the Channel. After all the fighting both nations started to feel there were much bigger differences between them.

Danyel:

So Crécy is to blame for Brexit!

Mrs Rowe:

There’ll always be loads of people who claim history is to blame for everything! We have to understand history, so we can see how powerful it is. But we absolutely must not become slaves to it.

Exercise 67

After leaving Danyel, Mrs Rowe walks along some of the row of stalls till she comes to the gazebo where Powl is still watching the carpenters at work.

Mrs Rowe:

Good afternoon, Mr Tonkin. Isn’t all this wonderful?

Powl:

Hello, Mrs Rowe. Are you here to gather ideas for interesting history lessons for the kids?

Mrs Rowe:

I never say no to fresh ideas. I've spoken to your son Danyel, over there, coming from the archery enclosure. He asked some sensible questions about the Battle of Crécy. He’s by no means childish. Very intelligent, even though he’s only ten.

Powl:

History is one of his favourite subjects.

Mrs Rowe:

He looks to see what’s behind the simplified facts in the books written for children. He needs to be careful not to learn about human nature only on the basis of historical events, in case he gets a twisted impression. But if he learns what makes people tick from a broad range of sources, he'll be able to analyse the past very effectively once he is a little bit older.

Powl:

Well, thank you for focusing his imagination. My other son, Mark, he'll be content to admire the power of all the weaponry here. But I’m not surprised that Daniel will be looking beneath the surface of things.

Mrs Rowe:

And this gentleman – the chap working on that handsome chair? Isn’t he the new English teacher at the secondary school?

Powl:

That’s right. And I’ve proposed to him, as a school governor, that he might presently bring his chair and all his traditional tools to the primary school, to give a presentation about mediaeval carpentry to all the pupils. There’ll be no safeguarding issue, because he’s already a teacher. Lily Goss is sure to agree, I think.

Mrs Rowe:

That’s another excellent idea!

Exercise 68

So long as I’m chair of this society, I’m not going to allow members of the committee to insult one another.

Can you run faster than her?

That’s the sword of Damocles hanging over them.

Until you’re ready to apologize, you won’t get a penny more from me.

Now my salary is ten times what it was before.