Wednesday, 28 October 2015

The Archers V sign (First visual evidence of use).

Much has been said about the Archers of Agincourt showing the two fingers as a sign of defiance against the French nobility. 

The mythical tradition originated from a document by Burgundian chronicler Jean de Wavrin were he states, 

“…And further he told them and explained how the French were boasting that they would cut off three fingers of the right hand of all the archers that should be taken prisoners to the end that neither man nor horse should ever again be killed with their arrows. Such exhortations and many others, which cannot all be written, the King of England addressed to his men”.. 

The quote was then used in the 20th century as a reference to the archers two finger demonstration of their ability to draw their bows. This then supposedly developed into the modern insult that is used today, Unfortunately no contemporary record has ever been found for this usage of the two finger gesture. The closest possible image is  from the 15/16th c. Swiss "Chronicle of Diebold Schilling", which shows an archer with two fingers raised at a besieged castle. 

However, I do know that the paintings in Schillings chronicles show many representations of figures using expressive hand gestures some using two fingers (Not all are military).  I would like to think that this image is showing an archer giving the V sign but it could equably be an expressive directional sign the same as the one below it. 

Civilians  with expressive hand gestures using two fingers, Schillings chronicles. 

Many will say that the sign developed in the Second World War whilst others state that there is no reference to the sign being used by the archers before the 1970's. 

However, the first solid evidence of the rude V-sign dates from 1901, (see above) when the Edwardian film-makers Mitchell and Kenyon were filming workers outside Parkgate ironworks in Rotherham. An unhappy looking young man can be seen making the gesture aggressively to the cameraman. (59 seconds into the film).  Prior to this film no other record can be found that directly associates the sign with a show of defiance. 

Of course during the medieval period the recording of something that was a lower class form of defiance against the upper class might not have been seen as a wise thing to do. So, with this in mind, we must ask ourselves where did the surly young man in the film learn this sign from? and how long had it been in use before the film was made?

As an afterthought Whilst I was doing the Online Agincourt course run by Leicester university, members were asked to find anyone with the same surname in the 1415 Rolls. There were 16 Walkers (the majority being called William). All were Archers. Two were commanded by Humphrey Duke of Gloucester. four by Edward Duke of York. one by Thomas Beaumont. One by Robert Lord Willoughby who was part of the Standing force in France. one by Robert Chalons. One by Robert Laurence. One by John Harrington and One by John Tiptof who commanded the Standing force in Acquitaine from 1415 to 1417. The other four Walkers have missing captains. I've not found that any come from my neck of the woods but then Walker is a common name.

You can see the 1901 film in full by clicking on the link below