Speaking of Flags…

We were watching Season 2, Episode 10 of the 2015 television series Poldark, which is set in the fourth quarter of 1793. Dr. Dwight Enys, heartsick for a woman who has rejected him, has decided to enlist in the Royal Navy as a surgeon and fight against Revolutionary France. Here he is at the recruiting station.

The only problem is that the White Ensign and the Union Jack on display here are anachronistic: they are the versions employed after 1801, following Irish parliamentary union (itself partly a response to the revolutionary wars). (This is to say nothing about whether floor stand flags would be on display like this in Britain in the late eighteenth century.)

And this is a British show! I would expect this sort of mistake with Murdoch Mysteries, but not from the BBC. 

Here is the same error made closer to home – specifically, on a poster up at Reinhardt last year. Even the Betsy Ross flag dates from 1777 at the earliest. 

UPDATE: In Season 3, Episode 3 of Poldark, we see that the producers haven’t procured the correct version of the Royal Arms either. This appears on the wall behind George Warleggan as he acts as the local Justice of the Peace.

Yes, the image is rather blurry, but it clearly shows 1. England, 2. Scotland, and 3. Ireland, with the fourth quarter somewhat obscure. The arms of George III in 1794, however, looked like this.

Wikipedia.

That is, in the first quarter we have England impaling Scotland (for the parliamentary union of 1707), while in the second we have France, illustrating the king’s ancient claim to be the rightful ruler of that kingdom, which he only relinquished in 1801. The fourth quarter shows the Hanoverian territories on the continent. It would appear that the royal arms shown in Poldark are those of Queen Victoria (and thus heraldically current, although stylistically nineteenth-century). 

Once again, I acknowledge my pedantry and wet-blanketness. But I still say that with a little extra effort, you can minimize such mistakes, and thus not alienate those audience members who might notice them. There are plenty of underemployed historians out there who would be happy to help out! I would add that while absolute accuracy might not matter all that much with eighteenth-century heraldry, it might be more important when depicting other times and places. Imagine a movie that showed, say, a Sioux encampment of teepees, each one with its own totem pole and/or inuksuk in front of it, to give an authentic “native” cast to the scene. Anyone with half a brain would be able to see that this represents an amalgamation of three quite distinct Native American cultures, and would be a major insult to the people in question. So if you get into the habit of thinking accurately anyway, it will help you avoid charges of insensitivity when the topic is politically significant.

The Treaty of Troyes

From the blog of the National Archives (UK) (which will always be the Public Record Office to me!) (hat tip: Deb Salata):

21 May 2020 marks the 600th anniversary of the Treaty of Troyes, a peace treaty which sought to unite the crowns of England and France under one king – Henry V – and his heirs, and end the Hundred Years War….

That stalemate was shattered by outbreak of war after King Henry V (1413-22) came to the English throne. Henry V’s seismic victory at Agincourt in 1415 opened the way for a new occupation of Normandy, the establishment of garrisons and the more affirmative exercise of a claim to the French throne. It put the English king firmly in the ascendant.

In France, the assassination of the Duke of Burgundy in 1418 had left the way open for a truce and an end to the war. The new duke, Phillip the Good, and the French queen, Isabeau, were willing to form an alliance with England in order to end the ongoing war, and to secure a strong presence on the French throne.

It was agreed that Phillip, Isabeau (acting on behalf of the king, Charles VI, who was often incapacitated with bouts of mental illness) would meet with Henry V at Troyes in May 1420 – with limited numbers of men on either side – to seal a peace treaty intended to unite the crowns of England and France in perpetuity.

The records for this agreement, as well as the muster rolls for the English expedition to Troyes, are held in our collections, and give details of the army who travelled to the proceedings.

By the terms of the treaty Henry would marry Charles’s daughter Catherine of Valois, and would inherit the French throne as heir after the French king’s death.

This was not to be a full integration of the two kingdoms – the institutions of each kingdom, and issues such as taxation remained separate – rather a dual monarchy: one king with two crowns. In the meantime, Henry was to act as regent, but not to name himself as King of France, while Charles VI’s son (also Charles), the Dauphin, was also disinherited for his ‘great and shocking crimes and misdeeds’.

Many years ago I used this document as the starting point of my master’s thesis. It is important to remember that, as impressive as Henry V’s generalship was, the treaty would not have been possible without the support of the duke of Burgundy – whose repudiation of it at the Congress of Arras in 1436 (the closing point of my thesis) heralded the end of English ambitions in France. 

It also calls to mind Act 5, Scene 2 of Shakespeare’s Henry V, in which Henry attempts to woo Katherine across a language barrier:

KING HENRY V: O fair Katharine, if you will love me soundly with your French heart, I will be glad to hear you confess it brokenly with your English tongue. Do you like me, Kate

KATHARINE: Pardonnez-moi, I cannot tell vat is ‘like me.’

KING HENRY V: An angel is like you, Kate, and you are like an angel.

KATHARINE: Que dit-il? que je suis semblable a les anges?

ALICE: Oui, vraiment, sauf votre grace, ainsi dit-il.

KING HENRY V: I said so, dear Katharine; and I must not blush to affirm it.

And so on.

I admit to being of two minds about the history plays. I’m glad that the fifteenth century got some attention from the greatest playwright in the English language, but his great influence means that it takes continuous effort to realize that the plays are more about (fictionalized) characters than actual people or historical events. 

Still, I have enjoyed reading Henry VI, Part 1 and Richard III live on Zoom with fellow Shakespeare enthusiasts during this time of lockdown. This was the idea of Sasha Volokh of Emory Law School and I thank him for organizing it. 

Henry V

My wife and I enjoyed seeing Henry V at the Shakespeare Tavern Playhouse in Atlanta this evening. I was amused to see so many women actors on stage playing male parts, as though the director was saying, well, in Elizabethan times men played women, so now we’re going to reverse it.

But I was less amused to see King Henry V bearing a shield that looked like this:

Wikipedia.

As king, of course, Henry should have borne a shield that looked like this:

Arms of Henry IV from 1406, arms of Henry V. Wikipedia.

Edward III, back in 1340, was the first English king to quarter the arms of France with the arms of England, by means of illustrating his claim to the throne of France. At the time France was represented by Azure, semé de lys Or – that is, a blue field strewn with an indeterminate number of fleur de lys – “France Ancient” in the lingo.

Arms of Edward III from 1340, arms of Richard II, arms of Henry IV to 1406. Wikipedia.

In 1376, King Charles V of France reduced the number of fleur de lys in the French royal arms to three (“France Modern”) and King Henry IV of England followed suit with own his coat of arms in 1406 or so. Henry V inherited this coat of arms, along with the throne, in 1413.

So where does the coat of arms France Ancient quartering England with a label of five points per pale Ermine and France come from? Apparently it was borne by Henry V’s father Henry IV, before he became king, for a brief period in 1399, when he was both Duke of Hereford and Duke of Lancaster. The label was reused by Henry V’s brother John, Duke of Bedford, who served as his regent for France, but the first and fourth quarters of his coat of arms were France Modern, not France Ancient.

Arms of John, Duke of Bedford (d. 1435). Wikipedia.

I realize that few people care about heraldry as I do – and that critiquing an entire production of a Shakespearean play based on a single anachronism is pedantic and philistine! But I still think that with a little extra effort, you can get such details right. The Shakespeare Tavern is proud to claim that it’s an Original Practice playhouse; I can assure you that Shakespeare’s audience would have noticed this.

Or was it intentional? This is always the question when faced with apparently problematic details. Richard II had exiled the future Henry IV in 1397, and upon the death of Henry’s father John of Gaunt in 1399, seized the Duchy of Lancaster. Henry’s return to England reclaim his rightful inheritance gathered so much support that it turned into a revolution, deposing Richard and installing Henry as king. By using the arms of his father “coming to reclaim his inheritance,” is the play suggesting that Henry V’s French expedition is somehow parallel to the Lancastrian Revolution – that Henry V is attempting to live up to the example of his father, who did the same thing in 1399?

Perhaps. Personally I don’t like having to make the “fanboy save,” as I heard it described once.

UPDATE: The Shakespeare Tavern responds:

Unfortunately, I think it wasn’t as much an artistic decision as a practical one. We didn’t have the correct shield already “in stock” as it were, and just used the shield that we already had available. As artistic director Jeff Watkins likes to say: “We don’t do history, we tell stories.”

Things I did not know until this year

• According to a drama major in one of my classes, a theater (-er) is a place, while theatre (-re) describes the acting profession. And here I thought it was just a British variant spelling still acceptable in the US.

• “Thespian” to describe an actor derives from Thespis of Icaria; “Thespian” as a demonym describes someone from Thespiae in Boeotia. These Thespians were with the Spartans at Thermopylae (not that the movie 300 shows them).