Watching an episode of Connections last night, describing the battle of Agincourt, I made my own connection. James Burke was describing the French cavalry riding onto the spikes the English had set into the ground, and all at once I remembered an episode of a terrible show from four or five years ago. This being the internet, I was able to find that episode - be warned, it's quite grisly. For those who can't view the episode, an instructor runs blindly into the end of the javelin he's just thrown.
Perhaps this has been obvious to many of you, but I've simply never considered it before. There was always something odd about the cavalry willingly running onto those spikes ... but in a flash, I realized they probably never knew what hit them.
Think about it. The field is muddy, it's been raining all day and night before, as it usually does in late October in northern France. The stakes themselves are probably the same color as the ground, as they've been fixed by muddy soldiers with muddy hands. The knights are riding on horseback, with helmets, so all they can see is what's visible through visors - and their eyes are seven or eight feet above the ground. If the spikes are five feet long, and bent at just the right angle, they're practically invisible.
My thinking would be they never knew what hit them. The horses would hit the stakes at full gallop, throwing the knights at twenty five miles forward into more spikes ... those that weren't spiked would still hit the ground on the fly, points of the armor digging into the muddy ground and breaking limbs, landing on their weapons, the straps of their helmets grabbing at their necks and breaking them. Most would have the wind blown out of them, meaning that before they could even adjust to the fact that they had just been thrown, there would be peasants standing over them. Imagine you're on a horse, you're thundering at the enemy, and then you're flat on your back, in pain, and through the slits of your visor you look up, and a gnarled, grisly, pathetic-looking minion is raising a mace ... and you're done.
That must have been unbelievable to see. The front line of ten thousand knights - two thousand, say - breaking against the wall of spikes, that you can see but they cannot, crashing to the ground with an enormous, unbelieveable noise, horses screaming, your commanders shouting to rush forward to that maelstrom of metal and flesh and mud, to "KILL THEM, KILL THEM ALL!" How would you ever forget that? How would you forget the nightmare dream of that moment?
I was going to write a post about the mess of battle, the perception of the combatants and the disconnect between combat mechanics and real life, but I think I'll just leave this post here, and write about those things later. The reader has enough to think about already.