Agincourt 600: The ‘Livre des fais du bon messire Jehan le Maingre, dit Bouciquaut’

The ‘Livre des fais du bon messire Jehan le Maingre, dit Bouciquaut’ is one of the beautiful manuscripts included in the Royal Armouries’ Agincourt exhibition at the Tower of London, commemorating the battle’s 600th anniversary this year.To accompany the exhibition, the Royal Armouries has produced a catalogue with Yale University Press, edited by our Curator of Tower History and Tower Special Collections Malcolm Mercer and trustee Professor Anne Curry. Here, contributor to that publication Dr Craig Taylor of the University of York, introduces you to the man and this remarkable object.

Jean le Meingre, Marshal Boucicaut, was a seasoned military commander with experience in the Northern Cusades and against the Turks. He was born August 28, 1366 and died June 21. In his early years he became a page at the court of Charles VI of France, and at the age of 12 he accompanied Louis II, Duke of Bourbon, in a campaign against Normandy. At age 16 he was knighted by Louis on the eve of the Battle of Roosebeke (November 27, 1382).

Jean le Maingre miniature from the Agincourt Model

Jean le Meingre, Marshal Boucicaut, miniature from the Agincourt Model

Boucicaut was taken to England as a prisoner after the battle of Agincourt in November (1415) with other leading commanders. Boucicaut remained in custody, his ransom unpaid, probably dying at Metheley in Yorkshire on 25 June 1421 at the age of fifty-six. His body was returned to France and buried at Tours, alongside that of his father.

The Livre des fais du bon messire Jehan le Maingre, dit Bouciquaut 

The Livre des fais du bon messire Jehan le Maingre, dit Bouciquaut. BnF, Département des Manuscrits, Français 11432

The Livre des fais du bon messire Jehan le Maingre, dit Bouciquaut. BnF, Département des Manuscrits, Français 11432

The Livre des fais du bon messire Jehan le Maingre, dit Bouciquaut presented Jean Le Meingre, as a flower of chivalry and the embodiment of the highest qualities expected of a knight. The text is one of the finest medieval chivalric biographies, written at the high point of this genre, as seen in parallel examples such as Guillaume de Machaut’s life of King Peter I of Cyprus, Cuvelier’s biography of Bertrand Du Guesclin and the Chandos Herald’s life of the Black Prince.

Yet where all other medieval chivalric biographies were written posthumously, the Livre des fais du bon messier Jehan le Maingre, dit Bouciquaut is unusual because it was written while its subject was still alive. The text was completed by 9 April 1409 and must have been written during Boucicaut’s governorship of Genoa (1401–9). The anonymous author was a close supporter of Le Meingre and almost certainly a cleric from Paris. He claimed that he was encouraged to write the book by Boucicaut’s comrades, who were keen to create a permanent record of the great deeds that they had witnessed. The author denied that Boucicaut himself had played any direct role in the composition of the work, but it does seem highly likely that Boucicaut did know that the biography was being written, and he could conceivably have commissioned it. Either way, there is no doubt that the text served as a defence of the tarnished reputation of Boucicaut following his controversial involvement in the murky politics of Genoa, Venice, Florence and Pisa.

The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH.

The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH.

Following the conventions of chivalric biographies, the Livre des fais recounted the great deeds of arms of its hero, from the battlefields of France and Flanders to the great wars against the enemies of Christendom in Prussia, Hungary and the eastern Mediterranean. The work celebrated the knighthood of Boucicaut, presented as a perfect knight who demonstrated unmatched prowess, courage and leadership, but also courtesy and other courtly virtues.

The biographer recounted not only Boucicaut’s martial adventures, but also his defence of women through the creation of a chivalric order of the Emprise de L’Escu vert à la Dame Blanche (Enterprise of the Green Shield of the White Lady). In the prologue, the author emphasised the important role played by writers and the written word alongside knights and knighthood. He described Knighthood (‘Chevalerie’) and Wisdom (‘Science’) as twin pillars that upheld the laws of God and man, and argued that any kingdom lacking wisdom would subside into anarchy, just as any realm without knighthood would be conquered by its enemies. It was fitting, therefore, argued the author, that the deeds of the finest knights should be celebrated just as much as the writings of great sages.

In the fourth and final part of the Livre des fais du bon messire Jehan le Maingre, dit Bouciquaut, the anonymous author drew together the themes of the book by comparing the virtues and qualities of Boucicaut with those of the great heroes of antiquity, effectively underlining the lessons presented by his life and constructing a manual of chivalry and knighthood.

To discover more from our ‘Agincourt’ publication, please see further posts via this link, or pick up a copy for yourself via the Yale University Press website. The Royal Armouries Agincourt exhibition is open at the Tower of London from 23 October until 31 January. For more details please visit our website.

Agincourt 600: Tudor Portraits of Henry V

As part of our 600th commemoration of the battle of Agincourt, the Royal Armouries is currently exhibiting a unique temporary collection of arms, armour, art, music and manuscripts at the Tower of London. To accompany the exhibition, the Royal Armouries has produced a catalogue with Yale University Press, edited by our Curator of Tower History and Tower Special Collections Malcolm Mercer and trustee Professor Anne Curry. Here, one of the contributors of the publication, Catherine Daunt, British Museum, writes on the portraits of Henry V.

“He was of stature higher than the common sort, of body leane, well membred & strongly made, of face beautiful, somwhat long necked, blacke heared stoute of stomacke, eloquent of tong, in martiall affaires a perfect maister, & of chivalry the very paragone.”

Raphael Holinshed, The first volume of the chronicles of England, Scotlande, and Irelande (London: John Hunne, 1577), vol. 4, p.1218

NPG 545. King Henry V by Unknown artist oil on panel, late 16th or early 17th century. Credit line: © National Portrait Gallery, London.

NPG 545. King Henry V by Unknown artist oil on panel, late 16th or early 17th century. Credit line: © National Portrait Gallery, London. Currently in the Royal Armouries temporary Agincourt exhibition at the Tower of London.

In sixteenth-century England Henry V was viewed as a model of good kingship and was celebrated for his astonishing military achievements. Historians including Polydore Vergil, Edward Hall and the contributors to Holinshed’s Chronicles (a collaborative project) presented Henry as a courageous, pious and diplomatic ruler and the Battle of Agincourt as a divinely sanctioned moment of success and optimism.  Around 1599 Shakespeare famously drew on these sources in crafting his own portrayal of Henry V. The resulting play no doubt both fed an existing appetite for stories about the king and generated new interest in his life.

During the reign of Elizabeth I widespread interest in English history and the lives of its key protagonists was reflected in a growing demand for portraits of historical figures. By the time Shakespeare wrote Henry V a standard portrait type of the king had been well established. The image, a bust portrait in which Henry is shown in full profile with a distinctive cropped hairstyle, had become recognisable through the multiple painted and printed versions (of varying quality) that had been produced. The precise origins of this design are unknown but it was probably developed in the first or second decade of the sixteenth century for either Henry VII or Henry VIII. The earliest known example of the image is a panel painting that survives in the Royal Collection and which has recently been dated by dendrochronology (tree-ring dating) to the years 1504-20 (see image below). It is part of a small group of posthumous royal portraits that also includes paintings of Henry VI and Richard III. Each portrait is set against a red brocade-style background and is painted on an oak panel (all three of which contain wood from the same tree) measuring around 22 x 14 inches (56.5 x 35.5 cm). It is therefore highly likely that these paintings were made as a small set.

Henry V by an unknown artist, oil on panel, 1504-20. The Royal Collection. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014

Henry V by an unknown artist, oil on panel, 1504-20. The Royal Collection. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014

Although visual sources dating from the sitters’ lifetimes were probably used in the making of the Royal Collection group, sketchy drawing beneath the paint and small changes to the designs indicate that these paintings may have been the original prototypes for the standard portraits of Henry V, Henry VI and Richard III. Panel paintings of this type are not known to have been produced in England during the reign of Henry V so it is likely that the visual sources used in the making of his portrait took another form. It has been noted, for example, that the distinctive hairstyle with which Henry V is depicted in the Royal Collection picture resembles images of the king in illuminated manuscripts including Thomas Hoccleve’s The Regiment of Princes, 1411-32 (see below).

Detail of a miniature of Henry V from Thomas Hoccleve’s The Regiment of Princes, 1411-32 (British Library Arundel MS 38, fol. 37r).

Detail of a miniature of Henry V from Thomas Hoccleve’s The Regiment of Princes, 1411-32 (British Library Arundel MS 38, fol. 37r).

The use of earlier sources may also explain why Henry V is shown in profile unlike Henry VI and Richard III who are depicted in a more conventional three-quarter-profile position. It has been suggested that a small devotional image may have been used in which the king was shown at prayer, which could also explain why his left hand is raised in the Royal Collection picture. Alternatively, the source may have been a medal or perhaps a contemporary likeness in another medium in which the king was shown in profile to hide the facial scar that he had sustained at the battle of Shrewsbury in 1403.

Whatever its origins, by the end of the sixteenth century the image was accepted as an authentic likeness. Although numerous copies and versions of the Royal Collection painting survive from the 1580s onward, there is little evidence to suggest that the portrait was widely copied before this time. Copies may have been made for a small number of elite courtiers at an earlier date but it was not until the last quarter of the century that the image was reproduced for a larger audience. There are a number of reasons for this. Firstly, panel portraiture in general became more accessible to a wider audience in the second half of the century as paintings could be acquired more easily and had become more affordable. Secondly, the architectural fashion for long galleries, built in emulation of those added to the royal palaces during the reign of Henry VIII, generated a demand for paintings to decorate these newly created spaces.

This in turn led to a fashion for portrait sets of historical figures, primarily sets of English kings and queens, which would hang alongside or perhaps above, family portraits and images of contemporary sitters. It was common practice for painters to copy pre-existing paintings or to trace designs and as more and more copies of particular portrait types were produced, it became easier for other painters to obtain the patterns. As a result, ‘authentic’ images of famous figures became standardised and recognisable. The development of the print trade in England and especially the availability of single-sheet portrait engravings from the end of the sixteenth century also helped spread the designs and in some cases provided the immediate prototype for painters.

© Trustees of the British Museum

© Trustees of the British Museum

Above: Henry V by Renold Elstrack, engraving, published as part of a bound set of engravings of English royal figures by Henry Holland titled the Baziliologia, or Booke of Kings in 1618. A painted set of kings and queens in the collection of Dulwich Picture Gallery are based on the engravings in this set.

By the end of the sixteenth century an image of Henry V is likely to have been among the paintings in most substantial portrait collections. Those known to have owned one include William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley (at Theobalds, Hertfordshire); Elizabeth Talbot, Countess of Shrewsbury, better known as Bess of Hardwick (at Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire) and John Lumley, 1st Baron Lumley (probably at Lumley Castle, County Durham). In domestic long galleries portraits of Henry V were usually part of a set but in some cases they may have been acquired as a single portrait especially, perhaps, if the family could claim a specific historical connection to the king. Some institutions such as schools or civic buildings are also known to have owned portraits of Henry V, also usually as part of a set. Among the numerous versions that survive from the period are examples now at Ripon Deanery, North Yorkshire; Longleat, Wiltshire; Hatfield House, Hertfordshire; The Queen’s College, Oxford; Eton College, Berkshire and the Society of Antiquaries, London.

The painting of Henry V in the current exhibition at the Tower of London is the only painted portrait of the king in the collection at the National Portrait Gallery. Although it is known to have been produced in the late sixteenth century, it is not known where it first hung or whether or not it was made as part of a set. By the mid eighteenth century it was owned by the antiquary Dr. Andrew Gifford (1700-1784) who presented it to the British Museum where it was displayed for a number of years. In 1879 it was transferred to the NPG along with a number of other portraits. The painting is clearly derived from the Royal Collection picture and is probably a relatively typical example of a late-sixteenth-century version. To the Tudors the image was a symbol of national pride, heroism and exemplary kingship. Displayed alongside images of other English monarchs it was part of a display of royal genealogy that would have reminded viewers of the illustrious bloodline from which the reigning monarch was descended. In addition, with the words of Holinshed, Shakespeare and others in their minds, the picture no doubt reminded Tudor and Jacobean viewers of the great stories of Henry V’s reign.

To discover more from our ‘Agincourt’ publication, please see further posts via this link, or pick up a copy for yourself via the Yale University Press websiteThe Royal Armouries Agincourt exhibition is open at the Tower of London from 23 October until 31 January. For more details please visit our website.

Agincourt 600: The Prisoners of Agincourt

As part of our 600th commemoration of the battle of Agincourt, the Royal Armouries is exhibiting a unique temporary collection of arms, armour, art, music and manuscripts at the Tower of London. To accompany the exhibition, the Royal Armouries has produced a catalogue with Yale University Press, edited by our Curator of Tower History and Tower Special Collections Malcolm Mercer and trustee Professor Anne Curry. Here, one of the contributors of the publication, Rémy Ambuhl of the University of Southampton, writes on the contentious element of the prisoners of the battle.

A French noble man encourages his men toward the English lines.

Pictured Jean le Meingre, Marshal Boucicaut, who is taken prisoner at the battle.

The significance of ransoming has long been recognised by students of medieval chivalry and diplomacy. The system led to a pan-European conception of a chivalric brotherhood, as ransoming a defeated member of the military elite became seen as indicative of much that was civilised about Western European aristocratic culture. By contrast, those who slaughtered, mutilated, or enslaved members of the aristocratic elite were considered inherently ‘barbarous’.

The increasing professionalisation of military activity had a considerable impact on the process of ransoming during this period. Changes in recruitment, strategy, tactics, payment, equipment, and other facets of military activity brought new pressures and possibilities. As ransoming had developed primarily as a practice between members of the aristocracy, the increasing importance of the ‘common soldier’ – of longbowmen, infantrymen, and gunners – had major implications on this elitist system.

Because of this change of nature of the battlefield, the Plantagenets established clear rules by which they could acquire prisoners of note or public standing. In despite of this, at Agincourt 25 October 1415, Henry V famously ordered the slaughter of the French prisoners towards the end of the battle, when fears arose that the French may begin a fresh wave of attack. Although this was understood strategically by his contemporaries, many captors or ‘masters’ were displeased that they had lost the opportunity for significant income raised by these prisoner’s capture.

Despite the estimations of contemporary chronicles, which vary from 700 to 2,200 prisoners, records indicate a possible total of 300 French were captured – 50 of which were very high ranking nobles.

The fate of these survivors is unusually well documented, but who were these ‘lucky ones’ and what happened to them? While French literature sheds light on the distress of prisoner’s families, narrative and administrative records give an unusual insight into their fates at the hands of the enemy.

For instance, the capture and long captivity of Charles duke of Orléans, ‘the poet prisoner’, who had become second in line of succession to the French throne at the death of the Dauphin John de Touraine in 1417, was made famous by a miniature picturing him imprisoned at the Tower of London (see below).

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A manuscript (British Library, MS Royal, 16 folio 73) of poems by Charles, Duke of Orléans (1391–1465) [1]. The original manuscript is held by the British Library. A copy of the image is available on plate 1 of Parnell, Geoffrey (1993), The Tower of London, Batsford, ISBN 978-0713468649.

The miniature depiction of the imprisonment of Charles, Duke of Orléans, in the Tower of London from a 15th-century manuscript. The White Tower is visible, St Thomas’ Tower (also known as Traitor’s Gate) is in front of it, and in the foreground is the River Thames.

Many other French aristocrats fell into the hands of the king in the aftermath of the battle: the duke of Bourbon, the count of Richemont, and the French marshal called ‘Boucicaut’ among them (see their miniatures below).

Charles, Duke of Orleans miniature from the Agincourt Model

Charles, Duke of Orleans miniature from the Agincourt Model, currently featured in our exhibition at the Tower of London.

Louis De Bourbon, Count of Vendome miniature from the Agincourt Model

Louis De Bourbon, Count of Vendome miniature from the Agincourt Model

Arthur of Brittany, count of Richemont miniature from the Agincourt Model

Arthur of Brittany, count of Richemont miniature from the Agincourt Model

Jean le Maingre miniature from the Agincourt Model

Jean le Meingre, Marshal Boucicaut, miniature from the Agincourt Model

These men were the cream of the cream, those important and wealthy prisoners from whom the king of England could possibly secure a political advantage. Their higher public and social standing secured them the attention of the chroniclers of the time. But these greater men only represented a very small fraction of the number of prisoners from whom the English Chancery and Exchequer have kept a record. The surviving contracts detailing captors’ payments to the crown on the ransom of their prisoners is simply unique, and gives an exclusive insight into the extent of the ransoming practice in the late Middle Ages – challenging widespread views on the killing of lower-ranking prisoners.

Late Medieval English armies were contractual. The opportunity to make profit out of the ransoms of prisoners must have been a powerful driver for many a man to go to war. Documents on the survival and fate of lower-ranking French prisoners at Agincourt show how deeply rooted this mercantile mentality was in late medieval warfare. Whether, from a broader perspective, combatants were right to believe that war would make them rich is another question. The wheel of fortune turned fast.

To discover more from our ‘Agincourt’ catalogue publication, please see further posts, or pick up a copy for yourself at the Royal Armouries shopThe Royal Armouries Agincourt exhibition is open at the Tower of London now until 31 January. For more details please visit our website.

Agincourt 600: Getting into battle formation

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As part of the museum’s commemoration of the 600th anniversary of the battle of Agincourt, the Royal Armouries is exhibiting a unique collection at the Tower of London from 23 October until 31 January. For this special exhibition, the museum commissioned a bespoke diorama of the battle with David Marshall, model maker of MMDioramas, along with the Perry brothers of Perry Miniatures.

So far in our blog series on making the model…

  • David Marshall has given an overview of how the project took place – see this link
  • The Perry brothers have detailed how they produced the bespoke figures for the battlefield – see this link
  • David has detailed how he shaped the terrain of the battlefield – see this link. 
  • and Rob Henson (Painted Wargames) and Aly Morrison have taken us through how they painted the armies of Agincourt – see this link.

Here Alan Perry (one half of Perry Miniatures) details how the miniatures were placed ready for battle.

King Henry V encourages his English army to victory

King Henry V (centre with sword raised) encourages his army to victory

As the painted figures were finished in batches of 500 we started to work out the formations and dispositions on the terrain. The first thing to nail down was the positions of the main French ‘battles’. Their cores were made up from the resin ‘bricks’ mentioned before (see this link). These had to be glued down before David Marshall could finish the terrain around them.

However before anything was secured David placed all the figures in polystyrene blocks so we could arrange them in various ways to get the correct positions. We had quite a few meetings at this point with the Royal Armouries’ committee to pin down what they wanted to show i.e. how close the French vanguard were to the archers, how far round the archers were on the flanks, where the nobles should be with their banners etc. The meetings were all carried out in Loughborough where David had his studio.  It was great to watch Anne Curry (Royal Armouries trustee and ‘Queen of Agincourt’) moving the blocks of figures around the terrain like a seasoned wargamer – it looked like she was enjoying it!

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Professor Anne Curry, Royal Armouries trustee, commentating on figure placements with Alan Perry and Curator at the Royal Armouries Thom Richardson.

After the positions were agreed we could start gluing them onto the terrain. Surprisingly the placing of the figures didn’t take that long, less than a week in total. A couple of friends Aly Morrison and Dave Andrews came along to help the three of us (myself, David and Michael) on one of the days. We drilled holes into the groundwork and simply glued the pegged figures in. The horses needed a bit more attention as they were on bases so needed to be blended into the terrain.

The French cavalry charge the English lines

The front two French formations are shown packed in close together (something that was commented on at the time) as they surge forward whilst being hit in the front and in the flanks by the arrow storm. The archers on the other hand are in a loose formation, so they can use their longbows, which created a comparatively wider frontage – suddenly the French started to look like they’re up against it!

A French noble man encourages his men toward the English lines.

Arrows needed to be shown in the ground so Dave Andrews came up with a brilliant idea of using bristles from a broom. Before cutting them down to size, the ends were dipped in light paint to simulate the goose feather fights. Once cut off, 1000 of these were placed by five of us, a painstaking task and one which will hopefully be noticed (if you look closely)!

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The last bits to add were the banners. We asked Graham Black of GMB Designs if he would be interested in the creating the banners for the diorama. He’s known for the high quality of his flags so it was a no-brainer! The RA wanted to show the main leaders with their banners and heraldry, this in the end worked out to be around 40 in all. As you can see the banners are all shown stiff, not fluttering. During this period banners (as opposed to standards) were silk stiffened with buckram (a treated linen/canvas) in the middle, like a sandwich, or had a wooden baton along the top edge so they didn’t ‘fly’.

AgincourtWI6To see the model visit the Royal Armouries’ Agincourt exhibition at the White Tower of the Tower of London from Friday 23 October until the 31 January. For more details please see this link.

Agincourt 600: Key items of the exhibition

This Sunday, 25 October, will mark 600 years since the battle of Agincourt, arguably one of the most famous Medieval battles in both British and French history. To commemorate the battle, the Royal Armouries museum has created a very unique exhibition of objects relating to the battle – including arms, armour, music and manuscripts create a full sensory experience of what happened that fateful day. Below we introduce you to the star objects of the exhibition, which opens this Friday 23 in the White Tower at the Tower of London.

by Unknown artist,painting,1570. C. National Portrait Gallery.

by Unknown artist,painting,1570. C. National Portrait Gallery.

Portrait of Henry V, late 16th century

This painting is a version of the standard portrait of Henry V that was widely reproduced in England in the late 16th century. It is believed to be based on contemporary images and reflects Henry’s known appearance and dress. © National Portrait Gallery, London (NPG 545)

 

The Agincourt carol, English, 15th century

There are several poems which celebrate the victory at Agincourt but the only one in carol form is ‘Deogracias Anglia’, popularly known from the 18th century as the ‘Agincourt Song’ or ‘Carol’. © Bodleian Libraries (MS. Arch. Selden. B. 26)

 

 

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The Lyle bacinet, North Italian, late 14th century

This is arguably the finest surviving late medieval bacinet. This style is commonly called a ‘pig-faced’ bacinet because of the protruding snout. Helmets like this were used between c.1380 and 1420, and worn on both sides at the battle of Agincourt.

The Lyle bacinet was a bequest to the Royal Armouries of Sir Archibald Lyle, in memory of his sons Captain I A de H Lyle, Black Watch, killed at El Alamein, October 1942 and Major R A Lyle, 79th (Scottish Horse) Medium Regiment, Royal Artillery, killed in Normandy, June 1944.

 

Credit. Daniel Faulconbridge, Wargames Illustrated.

Credit. Daniel Faulconbridge, Wargames Illustrated.

The Agincourt diorama

The Agincourt diorama, made by David Marshall of MMDioramas, is 4 meters by 2 meters in size and made up from four 2m x 1m sections. 4,400 28mm figures make up its face, supplied by Perry Miniatures. The model itself took two years to make and will form a key element of the exhibition in the White Tower. For further information on how this model was made please click this link.


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 Warwick shaffron, European, c. 1400

The Warwick shaffron is a head defence for a war-horse and is the earliest surviving piece of European medieval horse armour as well as an important example from the period of Agincourt. Formed of a main plate and two side plates in steel, it is pierced with large holes for the ears. The eyes are protected by a high embossed plate pierced with holes.

 

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Angel figurine, 15th century.

A wooden angel from the tomb of Alice Chaucer, duchess of
Suffolk, 1404-75, from St Mary’s Church, Ewelme. Alice Chaucer survived the loss
of three husbands during the course of the Hundred Years’ War including her first husband, Sir John Phelip, who died on the Agincourt campaign.

 

54.DI 2012-1569Long sword or ‘sword of war’, probably German, Passau 1350 – 1400

Swords such as these were used by men-at-arms throughout the Hundred Years War. The longer grips and heavier blades enabled them to be used with two hands to deliver a more powerful blow. Henry V had at least two swords made in Passau; this example came from the medieval arsenal at Alexandria.

 

10.DI 2011-0074 (1) A saddle, possibly for the Hungarian Dragon Order

Early fifteenth century, constructed of wood and veneered with bone, the saddle has a high forward curved bow; the outline of the cantle forming two semi-circles set at an angle to the tree. It is pierced on each side with slots for the girth and stirrups, and holes for the panels and harness. The bone plaques are decorated with dragons and foliage, and on either side of the pommel with a scroll held at the top by a hand and below in the mouth of a dragon, inscribed in Gothic lettering, in South German dialect, right side, ich hoff des pesten/ dir geling (I hope the best fortune may attend you); left side hilf got/ wol auf sand Jogen nam (Help God! Forward in the name of St George). Two scrolls at the back of the cantle are inscribed im ars/ is vinster (in the arse it is black)/. At the point of the bow is a cross of St George, and the whole design is emphasised by inlays of black, red and green mastic.

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Tabard, worn by Richard Burton as Henry V, United Kingdom, 1951

This tabard was worn by Richard Burton in the title role of King Henry V at Stratford-upon-Avon in 1951. It was made of hessian and felt which simulated armour at the shoulders so it would appear to have been worn on the battlefield. © Victoria and Albert Museum (S.2076-1986)

 

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Pollaxe, North European, probably English, 1450-1500

The pollaxe was a two-handed infantry weapon designed to hack, crush and pierce armour plates as well as flesh and bone. The pollaxe head was made up of three parts, an axe-blade, rear hammer-head, and a top-spike.

 

Agincourt 600: Painting the armies of Agincourt

As part of the museum’s commemoration of the 600th anniversary of the battle of Agincourt, the Royal Armouries is exhibiting a unique collection at the Tower of London from 23 October until 31 January. For this special exhibition, the museum commissioned a bespoke diorama of the battle with David Marshall, model maker of MMDioramas, along with the Perry brothers of Perry Miniatures.

So far in our blog series on making the model David Marshall has given an overview of how the project took place (see this link), the Perry brothers have detailed how they produced the bespoke figures for the battlefield (see this link), and David has detailed how he shaped the terrain of the battlefield (see this link). Here, Rob Henson of Painted Wargames takes you through how painted the figures for the battle, and Aly Morrison gives you a quick ‘how to guide’ of how he painted key figures of the battle.

From Andrew Isherwood of Painted Wargames:

When David Marshall and the Perry brothers first spoke to Rob Henson and me about the diorama, we were very excited to be involved in a project of this size and scope. We have both been involved in painting wargaming figures for the better part of two decades each, and in that time it’s rare that a project comes along that you can sink your teeth into as wholeheartedly as this one. The scale of the display is also a lot larger than most dioramas that have been attempted (to our knowledge).

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Credit: Daniel Faulconbridge, Wargames Illustrated.

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The initial plan was that Rob and I would be asked to do a portion of the painting, and then as the display brief evolved and the numbers of models were finalised we became more heavily involved – until we were set to paint around 4,000 figures! (The final count I believe came to 4,109.) We kept a white board in our office that we updated every time we finished a batch of miniatures and increased our percentage tally closer and closer to the 100% mark. This helped motivate us both, whilst also showing how far we had to go!

In the past both Rob and I have painted numerous wargaming armies of over 200 figures, but this was an order of magnitude higher than that. From an early stage we discussed what we believed would be a taxing, but settled on a realistic target of 500 figures per month and then set about dividing the models that had been delivered into batches of around that size.

65D413D6-39C7-45B5-AEEA-E66727E25FBA A4276330-D3E6-4572-A132-4858FC19A1B1The first 500 painted figures on their return from Painted Wargames.

This project was made more interesting (and exciting) because both Rob and I were getting married to our respective fiancées within a week of each other at the end of May 2015, and this meant that we had to keep that in mind on the run up to the final few months of the project as well as preparing for our respective big days.

Throughout the 12-18 months that we were directly involved with the project, we made sure that we were constantly liaising with David, Alan and Michael with regards to any queries we had regarding the models, the uniforms and the painting palettes that we were working from. This meant that we were able to keep to these self-appointed targets and provide each batch of miniatures at the end of each month on time, as well as making sure that the finished models were suitable and coherent with each previous batch and the display as a whole.

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One of the most exciting things about the whole display was seeing the models starting to be laid out on the table and the finished display before it was transported to the Tower and installed.

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With the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt fast approaching next week (Sunday 25th October), the interest that is being received for the display goes to show how the events from our history are still relevant and interesting to people now.

If you are a student of history you may have a particular appreciation for the efforts that have gone into this reproduction and diorama however, if you are not aware of the events that led up to and followed on from the Battle of Agincourt then this may just be a gateway to the period. This is one of the most powerful things that dioramas (and historical wargaming) allow, by giving a visual backdrop to key moments in history and thereby putting events and actions in context.

With other events of historic significance (such as the centenary of The Great War) also reflecting and resonating in the collective public consciousness at the moment, it would be fantastic to see more projects such as this commissioned and produced to allow the general public to really engage with these significant conflicts.

We’re both looking forward to working on new projects and glad that the involvement of both of us at Painted Wargames has received such a fantastic response. We encourage you all to see the model itself at the Tower of London, and hope you enjoy it!

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A ‘how to guide’ by Aly Morrison

The first thing I do when painting any miniature is give it a coat of spray primer, usually grey but black or white can also be used. Once the primer has completely dried I like to start painting the largest area of colour first – with a medieval man at arms this is silver (if I were painting a large number of armoured figures I may even be tempted to prime the models with silver spray paint).

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The next stage is to give the armour an ink wash, I like to use a mixture of blue and brown ink – this gives a nice warm shade of grey, once this is dry I put a second coat of wash on any mail.

The armour is then highlighted using a slightly dilute silver paint, followed by pure silver to the edges of the plates, top of the helms, knees, elbows etc.

Thomas, Lord Camoys miniature from the Agincourt Model

Thomas, Lord Camoys miniature from the Agincourt Model

Next the various items of clothing are painted in turn using the same principle as the armour; base coat, ink wash, dilute highlight, final highlight.

Now we come to the heraldry, I use a darker shade of the base coat to draw the initial design then paint it in using an appropriate none dilute shade, the design is then defined using an undiluted highlight colour. The big secret here is to take your time and be as neat as possible – which is common sense really!

Sir Thomas Erpingham miniature from the Agincourt Model

Sir Thomas Erpingham miniature from the Agincourt Model

When painting straps and belts I try to use a colour that is a good contrast to the clothing and armour to make these details really stand out.

Once everything is coloured and shaded I like to leave the miniature for a while, and then go back to it with a fresh pair of eyes to check if anything needs tidied up or given a bit more shading.

The final thing is a coat of varnish, which can be matt or gloss depending on the finish required. For the Royal Armouries’ Agincourt diorama the finish was kept matt to give the model a more authentic appearance.

To see the model visit the Royal Armouries’ Agincourt exhibition at the White Tower of the Tower of London from Friday 23 October until the 31 January. For more details please see our website.

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Agincourt 600: the defeat of armour?

As part of our 600th commemoration of the battle of Agincourt, the Royal Armouries is exhibiting a unique temporary collection of arms, armour, art, music and manuscripts at the Tower of London.To accompany the exhibition, the Royal Armouries has produced a catalogue with Yale University Press, edited by our Curator of Tower History and Tower Special Collections Malcolm Mercer and trustee Professor Anne Curry. Here, one of the contributors of the publication, Thom Richardson of the Royal Armouries, writes about the developments of armour leading up to the battle.

The accounts of the privy wardrobe (the fourteenth century organisation which ran the armoury at the Tower of London and is the earliest ancestor of the present-day Royal Armouries), give incredible detail about the manufacture, storage and issue of armour and weapons, especially longbows and arrows, throughout the first half of the Hundred Years War. Unfortunately the records run out after 1410, so the details about what went over to Harfleur with Henry V for the Agincourt campaign don’t survive. But we have a pretty good idea of all the processes from what went on before.

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The Lyle bacinet, North Italian, late 14th century.

By about 1375 plate armour for the well-equipped man-at-arms was pretty much fully developed. The effect of improved missile weapons (the longbow in England but especially the crossbow elsewhere in Europe) had driven men-at-arms to dismount and fight on foot. The plate defences which protected them from arrows and crossbow quarrels allowed them to discard the shield, so they could wield close combat weapons in two hands. The cumbersome great helm, brilliant protection for a headlong mounted charge with the lance, had long been relegated to the tournament. The closely fitting bacinet (see above) had now taken over as the helmet of choice for most men-at-arms. On wearing mail under armour, we now know that complete mail shirts largely ceased to be worn under plate harness. In their place mail sleeves, collars and paunces (literally mail pants!) replaced them as soon as plate became widespread in the middle of the fourteenth century.

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Brigandine, Italian c. 1470. Royal Armouries.

The last big change in plate armour was the replacement of the pair of plates, a cuirass formed of iron plates riveted inside a textile covering which evolved into the brigandine (above), by the solid plate breastplate and backplate. We find the very earliest references to solid breastplates around the time of Agincourt, and the few surviving fragments of armour of the period, assembled in the exhibition, illustrated how plate armour was close to achieving the pinnacle of its expression. As well as the account of armour in our excellent catalogue (see here) readers might also like to consult our learned colleague Tobias Capwell’s brand new Armour of the English Knight.

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Pair of cuisses, probably Italian, c. 1420. Royal Armouries.

Pair of vambraces, Italian, 1430-1440. Royal Armouries.

Pair of vambraces, Italian, 1430-1440. Royal Armouries.

Ballistic testing of longbow arrows against plate armour remains controversial. Recent research has confirmed the experiments of the 1970s, that 2mm of medieval plate armour could resist any medieval arrow or crossbow. Our experimental work at Ridsdale in 1996 (Royal Armouries Yearbook 3, 1998, 44-9) supports Peter Jones’s earlier work, and Matheus Bane’s recent piece (see this link) does so as well. To the contrary, much of the work suggesting the longbow arrow could pierce plate  is theoretical rather than practical (P. Bourke and D. Wetham’s article in Arms & Armour 4, 2007, 53-81 has been roundly criticised and generally condemned) but work by the highly respected archer and broadcaster Mike Loades, Longbow, Oxford 2013, continues to support the armour piercing longbow as do Mark Stretton and his circle (H.D. Soar, M. Stretton and J. Gibbs, Secrets of the English war bow).

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Longbow stave, English, c.1545. Royal Armouries.

Also controversially, research conducted at the University of Leeds with the help of the Royal Armouries, suggests that the wearing of armour to fight on foot might seriously have hampered the French knights at Agincourt: G.N. Askew, F. Formenti and A.E. Minetti, ‘Limitations imposed by wearing armour on medieval soldiers’ locomotor performance’, The Royal Society Proceedings B, Biological Sciences, 279, February 2012, 640-44.

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Image of the Royal Armouries’ Agincourt diorama. Credit: Daniel Faulconbridge, Wargames Illustrated.

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Image of the Royal Armouries’ Agincourt diorama. Credit: Daniel Faulconbridge, Wargames Illustrated.

The arms and armour of the medieval knight remain wonderfully controversial, even after close to two centuries of scholarly research into the subject. To be as well informed as you can be on the controversies, why not visit our Agincourt exhibition at the Tower of London!

To discover more from our ‘Agincourt’ publication, please see further posts via this link, or pick up a copy for yourself via the Yale University Press websiteThe Royal Armouries Agincourt exhibition is open at the Tower of London from 23 October until 31 January. For more details please visit our website.

Agincourt 600: Shaping the battlefield, with David Marshall

As part of the museum’s commemoration of the 600th anniversary of the battle of Agincourt, the Royal Armouries is exhibiting a unique collection at the Tower of London from 23 October until 31 January. For this special exhibition, the museum commissioned a bespoke diorama of the battle with David Marshall, model maker of MMDioramas, along with the Perry brothers of Perry Miniatures.

So far in our blog series on making the model David Marshall has given an overview of how the project took place (see this link), and the Perry brothers have detailed how they produced the bespoke figures for the battlefield (see this link). Here, David will take you through how he made the terrain of Agincourt for this extremely detailed diorama.

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When we started the project in January 2013 we had an outline of what the battlefield would look like and its size, but the details and final decisions were still to be made. The first few months were taken up with working out these elements until we had a final design concept.

The completed diorama would be 4m x 2m in size, with woods flanking on either side comprised of a selection of autumnal trees and evidence of coppicing.

(Coppicing is a traditional English term for a method of woodland management, which takes advantage of the fact that many trees make new growth from the stump or roots if cut down. In a coppiced wood, young tree stems are repeatedly cut down to near ground level. In subsequent growth years, many new shoots will emerge, and, after a number of years the coppiced tree, or stool, is ready to be harvested, and the cycle begins again.)

The plan and terrain of the fields of Agincourt where the battle took place was then decided on, and a contour map supplied of the area for reference. The terrain of the battlefield would be muddy as a result of the trampling armies (think Glastonbury festival), but there would also be evidence of ploughing and planting in areas less touched by the action. There would be no roads and no buildings.

As the model would have to be installed into the top floor of the White Tower in the Tower of London via crane through a 1.2 meter wide window (the Normans weren’t big on wide access stairs or lifts), the whole model had to be split into four smaller sections of 2m x 1m. This dividing of the model also made the diorama easier to work on.

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Making the terrain of the diorama – shaping the field of battle:

The contour map of the battlefield was converted into a series of profiles so a carpenter could use them to make four wooden carcasses. Each one was 2m x 1m and was the foundation of the whole diorama.

Once I had these delivered back, I filled each one with polystyrene and weighted them down and left them to dry for a week or so. This keeps the weight down but still gives me a firm base to add all the texture and figures later on.

3CAE359E-2E41-45D9-9545-363FA34A164CThen I shaped the polystyrene with a hot wire cutter and sandpaper until it resembled the right shape. This job turned my workshop into a snow storm as the polystyrene went everywhere!

3C4517CD-6507-417A-BCF5-0A871CFD8AFBAlthough I had used sandpaper the surface was still quite rough, so I then skimmed it with a thin layer of tile grout before putting another thicker layer on top, so it would be strong enough to support the figures later.

Up until now it was just hard work with no creative touches. Now the fun could begin, starting with a layer of Artex. Most have heard of this used to create texture on ceilings, but it is great for model making. It is a powder that you mix with water to the thickness needed. The result was I could use a more watery mix for the areas that were very muddy and firmer for the ploughed areas. It also takes ages to dry, so I was able to work a long time on it as it set.

The trampled area needed hundreds of small footprints added so it looked like an army had walked all over it. I found a piece of resin that resembled a small footprint so I just set to pushing this into the Artex until the whole area was covered in tiny footprints! This process was rather time consuming so I wasn’t sorry to finish it!EF5DB256-38C2-402F-8CC9-CC40F193C973

For the ploughed areas, I ran a small trowel repeatedly over it in a series of straight parallel lines until the field was covered in furrows.IMG_0626

I left that to dry for a week or so and then painted the whole battlefield a special mix of brown wall emulsion paint that I selected to match the sample of Agincourt earth I had been given by the Armouries.AF702946-C3DB-41D3-986E-3D303F42D6F4

82849A75-5BB6-441A-AC76-9C7AFFC4554DA single coat of brown paint gives a very dull and uninteresting finish, so I then diluted raw umber acryllic paint and splashed that all over the brown base. This ran into all the footprints and furrows adding extra colour and tone to the whole field, which started to bring it to life.FFF49013-D0D7-4AC3-B263-787DDA45DB47

The final paint job was to dry brush a cream paint all over it. Dry brushing is the technique where you add paint to a brush, wipe as much of it off as you can and then very lightly draw the brush backwards and forwards over the field. The cream paint stays on the peaks of all the footprints and furrows highlighting all the detail and adding more contrast and life to the field.1DA7CC97-08C9-4C9B-87DD-8F62C8238769

Months before I had ordered the trees and coppicing from Realistic Modelling Services. We had long discussions about the colour of autumnal foliage on the trees and worked very closely with the Royal Armouries to get the coppice looking authentic. It was worth the effort when all the trees were planted.

Then I had to add the grass where the English army was deployed. I used a series of coloured ‘flock’- different shades of green, brown and cream of finely chopped foam and static grass. I counted 7 different layers and shades by the time I had finished.5404C27C-ED47-4653-9A70-EAFB1B32F027

Finally, I needed to add a few puddles where water hadn’t drained away. It made sense to use the low areas of the field where water would collect and just left to slowly drain away. The field’s high point runs along the middle of the field and then slopes away to each of the woods on both flanks so the puddles were added near the woods. I remember it fooled a number of people who thought we had had a water leak. Very satisfying!

The finishing touches on the battlefield occurred was once the model had been safely craned into the White Tower. We needed to fill the gaps between each section with Artex, once this was done the final footprints or furrows could be added and finally painted with the same colours as the rest.

All of this, of course, was the canvass to display the battle involving 4,500 figures…..that is another story….

Next up – painting the armies of Agincourt.

To see David Marshall and Perry Miniatures stunning diorama in the flesh, be sure to visit our Agincourt exhibition at the Tower of London, running from October 23 until the 31 January.

Find out more about how the model was made and the figures made in the posts below.

For more details about the Royal Armouries’ Agincourt exhibition please click this link.

Agincourt 600: Making the model – the figures

As part of the museum’s commemoration of the 600th anniversary of the battle of Agincourt, the Royal Armouries is exhibiting a unique collection at the Tower of London from 23 October until 31 January. For this special exhibition, the museum commissioned a bespoke diorama of the battle with David Marshall, model maker of MMDioramas, along with the Perry brothers of Perry Miniatures.

In the last post, model maker David Marshall introduced himself and the Perry’s and gave an overview of the project. Here, Alan and Michael talk through how these figures were made.

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When David Marshall approached us initially to ask whether we would be interested in working on the Agincourt diorama with him for the Royal Armouries, we of course considered it an honor to be involved in such an amazing project.

Fortunately, we had already developed an Agincourt range of figures with the help of Tobias Capwell (Head of Arms and Armour, Wallace Collection in London), so we were fairly confident that our figures were historically accurate enough for the job.

The way we make original Perry Miniature figures before they’re cast in metal is fairly standard. The figures we make are generally 28mm from the foot to top of head. We start with a 1mm tinned copper wire armature (or framework); bent in the right places to form the basis for the torso, head and legs in the right pose.  This is placed into a cork (see stage 1 below), which is handy to hold and maneuver in your other hand (or bionic arm in Michael’s case).

An ‘Epoxy putty’ is then added to the wire, but only a thin skin in the bulkier areas of the torso and muscles of the legs. This is then left to set, which takes about an hour. Once hardened, more putty is applied to the figure starting with the feet and legs, adding the general body shape and adding detail (stage two below). Starting with the feet and travelling up is the best way, as any overhanging cloth/armour etc. will automatically hang over in layers going up the body. Once the legs have dried, the body and head are treated in the same way (stage 3). Armour is usually added to the body at this stage, the head is left to dry before the hair/hat/ helmet is added (stage 4-5). When this is all dry, holes are drilled in the shoulders for the arms (stage 6).

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Wire is inserted and bent into the right pose, and a thin skim of putty is then attached to the arms and shoulders to hold them in place and left to dry (stage 7). The arms are then worked up with more putty as before, whilst also adding the finer details. After the arms have set, the weapons are added with super glue and the figure’s hands are sculpted around the weapon (stage 8). We usually make and cast the weapons in metal before the figures so we have ready supply at this point. After this, the figure is removed from the cork and glued to a base. These putty figures are then sent off to be cast in metal.

As the majority of the figures were already in our range, one of the first jobs was to get the entire Agincourt metal figure range approved by the Royal Armouries before we could start production on the diorama itself.

Unlike our Perry Miniatures range however, these model figures weren’t intended for wargaming but for a static diorama. This meant once they had been approved we had to take off all their bases and replace them with pegs, so they could blend in seamlessly with the terrain on the model. This meant quite a bit of work as we had to go through the entire range, but it was well worth the effort in the end. Once this was done, these figures all went off to be re-moulded and cast in a tin alloy centrifugally i.e. spun-cast (see examples below).

Metal castings with pegs

(Above, a short video showing the process of spin-casting metal miniatures in a rubber mould. Casting being done by DP Casting.)

This was the way we were going to produce all the figures for the diorama, in just the same way we make all our metal figures. However, Alan came up with the idea of making a resin block of around 40 French men at arms, all tightly packed and weathering the arrowstorm (as mentioned in accounts), which conveniently reduced both some weight and painting time required.

Along with the lightness of the resin, the middle two ranks of men at arms were just heads and shoulders, which saved a little painting – although metal spears still had to be drilled into the figures’ hands. Single metal figures were then placed along the front and rear ranks of these resin blocks on the diorama in order to blend the mass together, which worked really well.

Basic resin blocks in rough formation

As the project progressed we also needed to make more bespoke figures specifically for the diorama i.e. falling horsemen, key nobles at the battle, artillery pieces on carts, arrow carts with attendees, running bowmen making way for the nobles to fight, etc. Most of these were metal, although we did use a few plastic parts as our new English Army box had just been released. Making these ‘one off’ figures for the model was great fun and what we think big dioramas are all about. In the end it’s all about the detail, something that the public – especially kids with their keen eyes – will pick up on.

King Henry V miniature from the Agincourt Model

King Henry V miniature from the Agincourt Model

French cavalry falling back French unloading guns from their wagons Marurding peasants resupplying arrows

To see the figures for yourself visit the stunning Agincourt diorama in the Royal Armouries Agincourt exhibition at the Tower of London. Please visit this link for further blog posts from David Marshall and the Perrys on how the model was made as they are published.

After the exhibition closes at the Tower on the 31 January, the model will be making its way to Leeds later in the year where it will remain in our permanent War Gallery. The museum will be marking the occasion when it arrives with a special Hundred Years War Wargaming event. For details please get in touch with Kirsty Rogers via kirsty.rogers@armouries.org.uk.

Pick up or download the October issue of Wargames Illustrated for more pictures and details of the model!

Agincourt 600: Shakespeare’s Henry V

As part of our 600th commemoration of the battle of Agincourt, the Royal Armouries is exhibiting a unique temporary collection of arms, armour, art, music and manuscripts at the Tower of London. To accompany the exhibition, the Royal Armouries has produced a catalogue with Yale University Press, edited by our Curator of Tower History and Tower Special Collections Malcolm Mercer and trustee Professor Anne Curry. Here, one of the contributors of the publication, Ros King, University of Southampton, writes on Shakespeare’s Henry V.

Shakespeare’s play of Henry V covers the whole of Henry’s 1415 campaign in France from initial discussions as to the validity of going to war to his eventual conquest of the French Princess Catherine in marriage. En route it presents the uncovering of the plot against him by the Earl of Cambridge and others, the death of Falstaff, Henry’s former friend and drinking companion; the embarkation of the army on an enormous flotilla of ships, the siege of Harfleur, and his notable victory at Agincourt—all, as the play’s Chorus famously remarks, by exploiting the imagination of its audience. But it is also one of Shakespeare’s most contentious works, dividing readers between those that think the play glorifies Henry’s role as one of England’s most successful military leaders, and those who think it condones war-mongering brutality. Ever since it was written, it has been cut and rearranged in attempts to iron out its contradictions and make it more simply heroic, more ‘band of brothers’. Meanwhile its most famous phrase ‘Once more into the breach’ has taken on a life of its own, being pressed into myriad uses great and small by those seeking to persuade others to do something they would probably rather not do.

A print of Act III, Scene i: "Once more unto the breach, dear friends!". Thomas Robinson (printmaker) - Folger Shakespeare Library Digital Image Collection http://luna.folger.edu/luna/servlet/s/v91611

A print of Act III, Scene i: “Once more unto the breach, dear friends!”. Thomas Robinson (printmaker) – Folger Shakespeare Library Digital Image Collection http://luna.folger.edu/luna/servlet/s/v91611

My chapter in the Royal Armouries ‘Agincourt’ exhibition catalogue argues that the evident contradictions in the play are a deliberate part of its design and the reason why it is still so compelling 400 years on. The play presents a variety of crunch points on the road to war: Henry seeking the church’s support so that he does not have to bear the moral responsibility for war; church leaders persuading him to make war in order to distract him from the bill before parliament that would confiscate church lands; French ambassadors delivering a load of tennis balls, thus goading him into waging a war they believe he will lose. Most tellingly we see a poor ordinary soldier, Michael Williams, one of the very few commoners in the history plays to whom Shakespeare ever gives a name, as he struggles to make sense of what has brought him, cold and hungry, to a field in France. How does he know that this war is just? What will happen to the many wives and children who will be left destitute back home? And how is it that an unknown stranger (Henry in disguise) somehow manages to deflect his anxieties with platitudes about an individual’s responsibility for his own soul? He knows that the stranger has not answered his question about whether the war is just, but cannot put his finger on quite how he has sidestepped the issue. His frustration breaks out into violence.

Title page of Q1 The Chronicle History of Henry Fift (1600)

Title page of Q1 The Chronicle History of Henry Fift (1600)

In fact the play is as full of instances of treachery, deceit, exploitation and violence between the multinational, English, Scots, Welsh and Irish troops in Henry’s so-called ‘English’ army as it is of battle between English and French. Its contradictions ask us to consider both the idea of ‘right’ on the road to war, and the nature of justice in the conduct of that war: these are the same questions that currently fill the news channels with regard to the conduct of wars in Iraq and Syria.

Henry horrifies us with his attempt to force the surrender of Harfleur by threatening to rape and murder its women, children, and old people. In Shakespeare’s day this speech might have recalled the behaviour of (Catholic) Spanish troops sacking (Protestant) towns in the Netherlands. Today it evokes the actions of so-called Islamic State. But the licence to sack a town that has held out under siege, and to kill or enslave its inhabitants is justified in the bible (Deuteronomy 20.10-20). Objecting to that behaviour means being able to reject part of a revered religious text. In the end, the play’s Henry orders that the inhabitants be well treated; the historical Henry expelled them so that the town could be settled by poor Englishmen.

Shakespeare’s play also presents, one after the other, two different historical versions of Henry’s other potential violation of the law of war: his order to kill the French prisoners. In one version, this act is pragmatic, although still brutal: the French are regrouping and the English cannot afford to keep prisoners alive. In the other, it is retribution for a French war-crime—the massacre of unarmed boys. The Welsh and English captains, Fluellen and Gower, are completely satisfied by this second explanation. Audiences, though, have just been made to witness the so-called ‘fog of war’ in operation.

Henry V at the Battle of Agincourt : The King wears on this surcoat the Royal Arms of England, quartered with the Fleur de Lys of France as a symbol of his claim to the throne of France. Harry Payne - http://www.britishbattles.com/100-years-war/agincourt.htm

Henry V at the Battle of Agincourt : The King wears on this surcoat the Royal Arms of England, quartered with the Fleur de Lys of France as a symbol of his claim to the throne of France. Harry Payne – http://www.britishbattles.com/100-years-war/agincourt.htm

It is well known that Shakespeare borrowed extensively from other writers—for this play, his main source was Holinshed’s Chronicle history of England. But he was not someone who would make do with the obvious sources if something else could be brought in to complicate the plot.  My colleague Craig Lambert has recently demonstrated that the fleet that transported Henry’s army to France was only half the size previously thought: a mere 700 ships rather than the 1500 claimed in the St Albans Chronicle or even the 1000 in Holinshed. In reality, he says, rather than the ‘city on th’inconstant billows dancing’ that Shakespeare describes, it was more of a ‘town’.

But truth in plays, even history plays, is sometimes wider than a single set of historical facts. I demonstrate that Shakespeare was exploiting a very different maritime event in order to make his dramatic point: Cleopatra in her barge on the River Cydnus when she first beguiled Mark Antony. Shakespeare knew of this extravaganza from the description by the Romano-Greek historian Plutarch in a recently published English translation by Sir Thomas North. He would later incorporate it word for word in the play Antony and Cleopatra. As used in Henry V, a few strangely antique words betray their origin, and give the description of Henry’s fleet an exotic, mythical character. If it seems odd to liken Henry’s military expedition to the most famous seduction event in history, the idea finds ironic culmination at the end of the play when he presses his suit to Catherine: ‘in loving me you should love the friend of France; for I love France so well that I will not part with a village of it; I will have it all mine’; all his, even though it now lies in ruins from the effects of his war.

The Meeting of Antony and Cleopatra, by Lawrence Alma-Tadema, 1884, Sotheby's New York.

The Meeting of Antony and Cleopatra, by Lawrence Alma-Tadema, 1884, Sotheby’s New York.

Thus, although the confident assertions of the play’s Chorus have contributed to the lasting myth that is Agincourt, the play’s structure, taken in its entirety, with its wide-ranging comparisons, contradictions, ironies, and black humour raises questions to which we still seek answers: about appropriate punishment; the nature of loyalty, and of treachery; the responsibility of friendship; and the right to make war. If we really were to engage our imaginations, this structure might help us expand our ethical understanding of these topics. Rather than asking us to make an either/or interpretation, the play invites us to respond with ‘yes, and . . .’.

To discover more from our ‘Agincourt’ publication, please see further posts via this link, or pick up a copy for yourself via the Yale University Press website. The Royal Armouries Agincourt exhibition is open at the Tower of London from 23 October until 31 January. For more details please visit our website.