Thursday, 8 June 2017

Nonsense Syllables

"'Ulla, ulla, ulla, ulla...'"

That is a quotation from English literature. It is the sound made by Martians dying in London. See HG Wells, The War Of The Worlds, Chapter 8.

The following coincidence is probably of no significance. When Poul Anderson's Merseian character Brechdan Ironrede speaks to his newest grandcub, he croons:

"'You will have stars for toys...Wudda, wudda, wudda.'" (Ensign Flandry, end of Chapter Three)

- and, in SM Stirling's The Scourge Of God, when an enemy assesses the Mackenzies before a battle, he refers to their war-paint and the "'...wudda-wudda-wudda stuff. It's like something out of ancient history.'" (Chapter Eleven, p. 292)

A familiar phrase resonates even when there is probably no implied cross-reference.

Stirling's battle scenes are intense. All those arrows in the air at once. Is this what it was like?

13 comments:

  1. Kaor, Paul!

    Hmmmm, did Stirling remember Brechdan Ironrede's use of "wudda, wudda, wudda" and deliberately use it in his THE SCOURGE OF GOD? Possibly, altho it was probably accidental or an unintentional allusion.

    I think Stirling's use of massed flights of arrows to be accurate and very likely. Exactly analogous to concentrated volley firing by riflemen or machine guns.

    Sean

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  2. Several sources for the "wudda, wudda, wudda"; besides Poul's work, I've heard a British archaeologist use it to describe Celtic war-cries as Caesar's men assault Kent.

    There have been a number of mathematical treatments of English "arrowstorms", based on number of bows, number of recorded arrows hauled along (some were reused, too), and the length of engagements and the distance the attackers had to cover to come to close quarters.

    Eg., it was found that at Agincourt each French man-at-arms was probably hit more than 30 times before he trudged through the muddy plowed field and reached the English heavies.

    (They were on foot because massed longbows did dreadful things to horses.)

    Arrows have some interesting ballistic characteristics; one is that if you shoot them at maximum range (at 45 degrees upward) when they come down they have 75% of the velocity they had when they left the string.

    From a 100-lb warbow, that means they hit -hard- even at extreme range. Leather or chain armor has very little value against bodkin points from heavy longbows, only a little more than cloth.

    Plate armor is much better (especially the sort of tailor-made high quality suit the very wealthy had), but coming down at those angles it means you have to keep your head way down or the shafts will hit you in the thin metal of your visor.

    That's how Henry V got badly wounded at Shrewsbury when he was Prince of Wales, and presumably had the best plate suit money could buy, with a shaft right through his face -- he was very lucky not to get a lethal infection.

    That head-down posture increases the strain of walking in armor very considerably, and slows you down, keeping you in the killing zone longer and making you more fatigued and making falls and "pile-ups" more likely (those men were densely packed).

    A certain percentage of arrow strikes would penetrate and kill or disable; rather more would penetrate enough to wound; and every hit was like being hit with a hammer, hit -hard-, disorienting and frightening and painful. The noise would be like iron hail on a tin roof, punctuating the whistle and hum of clouds of thousands upon thousands of arrows rising, pausing and then falling towards you.

    When you got close the longbowmen switched to aimed fire at joints or other weak spots like the crotch, and at point-blank range shafts would sometimes penetrate even a good breastplate.

    By the time the men-at-arms got to arm's length from the English force they were exhausted, many were wounded, and their morale was already shaky. They were very vulnerable to disaster fighting the fresh, unwounded English-men-at-arms (pile-ups again; smothering was a likely way to die in that sort of battle) and even the lightly-equipped archers could often engage them successfully, using their agility and relative freshness.

    There's a reason English armies in the 100 Years War steadily increased the percentage of bowmen, up to 80% or more in Henry V's campaigns.

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    1. Dear Mr. Stirling,

      Thanks for the very interesting explanation for why massed archery fire was so deadly to the French the English fought in the Hundred Years War. No wonder Agincourt was such a disaster for France!

      I have read of how the French TRIED to take massed archery fire into account at Agincourt. It was deliberately decided the French would have to stoically accept heavy losses until the main force actually reached the English lines. It was hoped that their still greater numbers would enable the French to fight and win in an up close and personal battle. Your explanation shows why that idea did not work.

      Also, of course, the political chaos in France played a role. The reigning king, Charles VI, suffered from frequent bouts of insanity. Which means, lacking a strong hand on the reins, there was plenty of opportunity for factional strife to tear apart France. Which is exactly what happened when the Burgundian and Armagnac parties fought each other.

      Sean

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    2. The ghastly science of killing.

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    3. Kaor, Paul!

      Ghastly? Yes, but also sometimes necessary or unavoidable.

      Sean

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  3. The French tried to raise an archer corps of their own, but couldn't institutionalize the training necessary. For a number of reasons -- just for starters, France didn't have as high a proportion of prosperous upper peasantry as England did, and that was the class that contributed most archers (you needed time to practice).

    Also, many French nobles were jittery about letting the lower classes have something so deadly -- during the Wat Tyler's peasant revolt in England in 1381, when this class did turn on the government, the state was utterly helpless and knew it, and the gentry just kept out of their way as they marched to London.

    It's notable, btw, that the 1381 revolt in England wasn't the sort of volcanic chaos you got in France during the Jacquerie, when the peasantry tried to wipe the ruling class out. The English rebels had certain well-defined political demands (a change of ministers, reduced taxes, and an end to vestigial feudal dues) and they attacked only those who fought them and certain specific institutions, like manorial court records. It wasn't a despairing uprising of the desperate, but a movement of village notables and solid middling farmers, many of them with military experience in France, and all with their bows over their backs.

    (England didn't have the option of fielding armies composed mainly of men-at-arms the way France did; it just wasn't big enough or rich enough.

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    1. Mr Stirling,
      This sharing of historical knowledge gets better and better. People power, past and present!
      Paul.

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    2. Dear Mr. Stirling,

      Your first paragraph: yes, I had wondered if the French could have raised a corps of archers similar to English bowmen. But, as you said, France didn't have a high enough proportion of well off peasants who had the TIME needed for practicing and drilling.

      Yes, while Wat Tyler's Revolt was violent enough in all truth when it reached London, it wasn't like the French Jacquerie. What the gov't of Richard II did was to bargain with the rebels, to gain time and for the rebellion to lose momentum. When it did, then the revolt was put down.

      My thought was that France finally won the Hundreds Years War not only from a sheer stubborn unwillingness to allow a foreign dynasty to usurp the throne, but also from the French building a new kind of army based on infantry, arqubusiers, and, increasingly, the use of gun powder weapons. All of which the English seemed unable to adopt themselves. Because, as you said, England wasn't as big and rich as France.

      And, of course, there was the role played by Joan of Arc, who rallied France in its hour of despair, when all seemed lost.

      Sean

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  4. England trying to conquer France in the 100 Years War was like a weasel trying to eat a cow.

    The weasel is fierce and well-armed, but the disparity of size makes it ridiculous.

    Henry V -nearly- brought it off, because he was a military -and- a political genius, and knew not only how to win battles but how to conquer and hold, and how to take advantage of France's internal divisions (which were very bad). No other English king even came close.

    If he'd lived to be 70, he'd probably have secured the throne for his descendants.

    Which would have meant England becoming a French province, just as the Stuarts becoming Kings of England meant Scottish subordination to England. The kings would move where the revenues were. England was equivalent to one French province (Aquitaine or Normandy, say) rather than the whole realm; and it wasn't even as populous or as rich as some single French provinces, either.

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    1. Dear Mr. Stirling,

      Yes, it's very possible Henry V might have managed the feat of conquering France if he had not died young. Yes, it makes sense to think the English kings would soon have NEEDED to live mostly in France, because that was where the richest tax revenues and densest population was to be found.

      I have wondered if God raised up St. Joan of Arc precisely to prevent an English conquest of France. Because if someone like Henry VIII had ruled both England and France then the harm done to the Catholic Church by his schism would have been incalculably worse.

      Sean

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    2. Well, if Henry V had succeeded, there would almost certainly have been no Wars of the Roses and no Tudor dynasty. What would have happened vs. a vs. the Church would be impossible to predict, though an Anglo-French realm would have dominated Western Europe, and possibly Italy and Spain as well. It might well have been drawn into the Balkans against the Ottomans, too.

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    3. Mr Stirling,
      My thought also. The whole subsequent history would have been different.
      Paul.

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    4. Dear Mr. Stirling and Paul,

      Mr. Stirling: I agree, a successful conquest of France by Henry V would have meant no Wars of the Roses or Tudor Dynasty. Yes, a united France/England would have dominated western Europe, including possibly Spain/Italy. But a ruler with that kind of power might well have Protestantism very tempting, if it meant he could control a puppet church in his realms. My suggestion about St. Joan came, I think, from what I recalled reading in Henri Daniel-Rops history of the Church. And I think God DID intervene when He raised up St. Joan to inspire and rally a demoralized France.

      Sean

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