Warrior Treasures: ‘Look beyond the gold!’ meet Chris Fern, Lead Specialist.

IMG_1010At the Royal Armouries in Leeds, visitors can see our new temporary exhibition ‘Warrior Treasures: Saxon Gold of the Staffordshire Hoard’, running from the 27th May until the 2nd October 2016. In parallel with the exhibition, the museum is running a blog series providing behind the scenes details on how these fascinating items were discovered, conserved, and prepared for the exhibition. In this post,  Anglo-Saxon specialist Chris Fern, lead researcher on the Staffordshire Hoard, encourages to ‘look beyond the gold’ of this Saxon treasures… 

The Staffordshire hoard is an extraordinary treasure of the 7th century, found in 2009, that is providing a new window on England’s early history in a time of forming kingdoms and changing beliefs.  In the period, the eastern half of the country was split into numerous Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, many in regions still recognised today, including East Anglia, Northumbria, Kent and Mercia. These kingdoms fought each other frequently, and also campaigned against British kingdoms in the west. The competition was for territory and resources, but casual raiding for livestock and in pursuit of slaves was probably also commonplace. Above all gold was the prize most desired, and at this period, when coinage was still rare in England, the metal was transformed into beautiful objects. Kings used these treasures to reward loyal warriors, creating bonds of fealty which underpinned political power.

Gold — noblest of metals, bright and incorruptible – is the instantly defining attribute of the hoard. Similarly it is woven through the fabric of the famous Anglo-Saxon poem, Beowulf. Not since the great kingly treasure of Sutton Hoo was discovered in 1939 has a single find so captured the imagination of Anglo-Saxon scholars and the public alike. Each of the finds of the hoard would ordinarily be a rare prize. Yet, the find from a field in Staffordshire makes clear as never before that the warrior ranks of early England were bedecked with golden weapons, transformed by expert artisans into beautiful works of art. The glittering blood-red garnets inlaid on many of the objects were also well suited to the business of the battlefield (Fig. 1).

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Figure 1. Pommel no. 52 (K284, K327) in gold and garnet cloisonné. One end was found torn off. © Birmingham Museums Trust.

Quite literally the ‘devil’ is in the detail. To see this one must look beyond the gold of the objects. By closely examining them, deeper messages are revealed, wrought in the metal. The art of the hoard was not simply decoration, but conceals in many cases creatures and other symbols that relate to the traditional pre-Christian ‘pagan’ and new Christian beliefs of the warriors. In many periods in the past, soldiers have worn or carried symbols of belief, to give divine protection on the battlefield. The objects of the hoard served the armies of kingdoms in a time of great change, with the coming of Christianity to pagan England, that challenged long-held beliefs.  In some cases, sword pommels and other objects bear motifs from both traditions, depictions of battling beasts that relate to paganism, as well as crosses. Pommel no. 52 is one example (Fig. 2). In these cases the individuals who owned the weapons may have been seeking protection from the gods of both faiths. Paganism was not an exclusive doctrinal faith like Christianity and there is one famous account of an Anglo-Saxon ruler setting up altars to pagan ‘devils’ and Christ (Bede HE II.15).

The manufacture of the objects is also incredible to behold, though a magnifying glass is often a necessary aid to appreciating this. The gold wires used in the filigree decoration were handmade to as little as 0.2mm, and each garnet stone was individually shaped. Some of the garnets may have come from as far away as India. We know little of the craftsmen who made the objects. The famous legend of Weland, tells of a smith hamstrung and forced to work on an island by a king. It is possible the smiths who made the hoard objects were also bondsmen in royal service, tasked with creating kingdom styles.

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Figure 2. Pommel no. 52 (K284, K327) showing the combining of religious beliefs. One side has a geometric pattern of rounded and triangular arches, evoking classical architecture, and at the ends are Christian crosses; the other side shows a motif of a pair of embattled beasts, with disembodied bird beaks at the ends, and probably had pagan meaning. © Drawing Chris Fern/Barbican Research Associates.

As the lead specialist working on the collection, it has been my privilege to work on unlocking the secrets of the hundreds of objects, a process that will long continue.

Remember to look beyond the gold!

To find out more about the Royal Armouries exhibition ‘Warrior Treasures: Saxon Gold of the Staffordshire Hoard’ please visit our exhibition microsite http://warrior-treasures.uk/

Join our Warrior Treasures exhibition conference Saturday 11th June to hear from leading experts in the field, who will explore the many aspects of this remarkable Anglo-Saxon find and explain how it is adding to our understanding of the people that made, used and buried this magnificent hoard. Please see full details and purchase tickets via the Royal Armouries website.

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Warrior Treasures: meet Henry Yallop, lead curator of the exhibition

In just a week’s time, a selection of the Staffordshire Hoard will be shown in Leeds as part of the Royal Armouries ‘Warrior Treasures: Saxon Gold of the Staffordshire Hoard’ temporary exhibition, running from the 27th May until the 2nd October 2016. The Royal Armouries is therefore running a blog series providing behind the scenes details on how these fascinating items were discovered, conserved, and prepared for the exhibition. Today we hear from Henry Yallop, Lead Curator of the exhibition and Assistant Curator of Edged Weapons at The Royal Armouries.

Find out more at our exhibition conference day, Saturday 11th June, see details on the Warrior Treasures exhibition website.

IMG_3519 - FWW YEP Photocall - 110714 - FWW YEP Photocall - 120714We are now very close to opening of our exciting summer exhibition Warrior Treasures: Saxon Gold from the Staffordshire Hoard.  The marvellous new exhibition space will bring visitors face to face with one of the most important discoveries of early Anglo-Saxon material culture; which in addition to being hugely important to historians and archaeologists is comprised of exquisitely crafted objects of outstanding beauty.

I truly believe this is going to appeal to a wide range of visitors for a whole host of reasons. If you already have an interest in the early medieval period, or are a regular visitor to our National Collection of Arms & Armour and are interested in historic weapons, then I am sure you are already planning to come.  However, you don’t need to be a military history enthusiast to enjoy this particular exhibition. Those with a passion for jewellery and the decorative arts will be impressed by the craftsmanship and artistic quality of these stunning objects. I am sure many others will be coming to our Leeds site for the first time; drawn by the lure of gold, our interpretation of an Anglo-Saxon mead hall and our varied series of events.  Whatever your interest or age, I urge you not to miss the opportunity view this fascinating part of Britain’s cultural heritage.

If you’re thinking ‘what does Staffordshire Hoard have to do with me?’ I answer with this; the hoard has both national and local relevance. The hoard is from the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Mercia, which at the time of its burial (650-675 AD) was one of the largest and most powerful kingdoms in what later would be known as England.  At various points as its power waxed and waned, Mercia contained large parts of modern day Yorkshire.  In addition, the objects that comprise the hoard came from a variety of sources, both domestic and foreign.

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K328 – Cloisonné bird with garnets, probably from a hilt grip © Birmingham Museums Trust

The hoard’s discovery is not just something that will interest archaeologists but is of universal appeal: unearthing buried treasure of international importance is a story I defy anyone not to be excited by!  The objects themselves really are unique in terms of their number, quality and condition.  You don’t have to be especially interested in swords to be awed by the Hoard.  When considered as standalone art objects each hilt plate, pommel cap or sword pyramid is a breath-taking object, crafted from the finest of materials by the most skilled of hands. Yet these objects fitted together to be beautiful, yet crucial functional parts of weapons of the 7th century AD, which brings an additional level of appreciation to them. Ornate, prized possessions of the elite these objects certain were, but a warrior elite who wore these weapons and used them in war.  Despite the absence of blades in the hoard many of the hilt fittings show signs of use.  These were parts of quite literally cutting edge weapon systems; not simply status symbols for ceremonial use.

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K108 and K699 – Pair of collars from a sword hilt decorated with fine gold filigree wires © Birmingham Museums Trust

The decorative arts, craftsmanship of the highest standard using precious materials often went hand in hand with arms and armour, but can be a forgotten part of the subject. In any period the most masterful of crafts people applied their skills to the creation and adornment of high status arms and armour. Even unadorned swords, due to the materials and complex processes involved in their creation would have been the rare objects owned only by the few; yet the richly decorated weapon fittings of the Staffordshire Hoard speak of the very highest ranks of these warrior elites.

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K1497 – Decorative filigree mount from a sword hilt, probably in the shape of a horse © Birmingham Museums Trust

For me, it is a great privilege to be involved in this project.The Staffordshire Hoard was not only an amazing discovery due to the materials and age of the objects, but also their purpose.  Unusually for a hoard it is mainly comprised of military equipment, specifically hilt fittings from swords. As someone fascinated by the early medieval period, and whose ‘day job’ is as Assistant Curator of Edged Weapons this exhibition presents a special combination. At the Royal Armouries we have 18,000 edged weapons from all periods and places, but of course relatively few survive from the early Anglo-Saxon period. As such, the hoard which contains the parts of over 100 swords, including hitherto unknown forms, is of huge significance to our knowledge of arms and armour of the period and of great interest to the National Museum of Arms & Armour. What has previously been discovered in terms of Anglo-Saxon weapons typically come from grave goods, and the arrival of the Staffordshire Hoard has enabled us to showcase one such group which the Royal Armouries generously has on long term loan from the owners. The Wollaston warrior is a high status warrior grave, which like the Staffordshire Hoard came from the Anglian kingdom of Mercia and is 7th century in date, which will also be available to view in the exhibition space.

To find out more about the Royal Armouries upcoming exhibition ‘Warrior Treasures: Saxon Gold of the Staffordshire Hoard’ please visit our exhibition microsite http://warrior-treasures.uk/

Join our Warrior Treasures exhibition conference Saturday 11th June to hear from leading experts in the field, who will explore the many aspects of this remarkable Anglo-Saxon find and explain how it is adding to our understanding of the people that made, used and buried this magnificent hoard. Please see full details and purchase tickets via the Royal Armouries website.

 

Warrior Treasures: Conserving the Staffordshire Hoard

A selection of the Staffordshire Hoard will be shown in Leeds as part of the Royal Armouries ‘Warrior Treasures: Saxon Gold of the Staffordshire Hoard’ temporary exhibition, running from the 27th May until the 2nd October 2016. The Royal Armouries is therefore running a blog series providing behind the scenes details on how these fascinating items were discovered, conserved, and prepared for the exhibition. In this post Kayleigh Fuller, Staffordshire Hoard Conservator, talks about her work with the collection and the exhibition so far.

Find out more at our exhibition conference day, Saturday 11th June, see details on the Warrior Treasures exhibition website.

IMG_0567Myself and Lizzie Miller are objects conservators working on Stage 2 of the Staffordshire Hoard Project in Birmingham. Our job involves facilitating the research aims of the project through stabilisation, re-assembly, documentation and cataloguing of the 4000 fragments of Anglo-Saxon treasure found in 2009. Most recently we have been involved in preparation for the touring exhibition ‘Warrior Treasures’. I will visit in May to install the objects and Lizzie will be talking about the conservation work in Leeds on the 11th June.

I’m really excited about the opening of the Warrior Treasures tour in Leeds. First of all because the Staffordshire Hoard Project team have put a lot of work into this touring exhibition, and it shows some of the most stunning and unusual sword adornments we have been reassembling over the last year. Secondly, being from the North, it gives my close friends and family the opportunity to travel and see some of the incredible objects I have been lucky enough to work on.

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Decorative filigree mount from a sword hilt, probably in the shape of a horse, which is included in the Warriors Treasures exhibition.

Throughout my time working on the Hoard, we get to look at the objects and fragments under a greater magnification and through this are able to see the objects in a completely different light. It is very likely that you will see the promotional images for the exhibition and then be astounded at the true size of the objects in reality. I feel that one of my personal favourite items, a horse mount, demonstrates the extreme skill in the craftsmanship of these items. If you look at the magnified image above, a scroll is around 1mm in width and 2mm in length. Each of these scrolls are perfectly curled and made from individually beaded wire.

This year we have been reassembling some complexly designed objects from a mixed array of fragments. The below object is one of three rare pommels with two sword rings attached to either side (http://www.staffordshirehoard.org.uk/three-very-special-pommels). Two of these items are in the Warrior Treasures exhibition.

Initial selection of fragments for the pommel

Initial selection of fragments for the pommel.

Fragments lined up, ready to be joined

Fragments lined up, ready to be joined.

As we have progressed in the task of reassembling the fragments, the objects have developed over time with us. This cast silver-gilded pommel is a prime example of this and shows the unique benefit of close working relationships between the conservators and the archaeological finds expert throughout the execution of the work.

Organic material inside on the right

Organic material inside on the right

The pommel also has some hidden organic material inside the sword rings which we have ensured is stable and preserved in situ, before fully assembling by mounting. See if you can spot it in the exhibition. This is the only item to have a rock crystal as part of its design.

Silver Gilt  pommel

Silver and gilt pommel.

Another of my favourite pommel caps in the exhibition is the garnet cloisonné one below. If you look at each side in turn, you can see a noticeable different in the stylistic design on either side. One with a geometric arranged pattern and, the other with zoomorphic designs and a curled leaf either side. This makes me think that these items are truly bespoke to the Anglo-Saxon warrior that wielded them.

Geometric design on the back of the pommel

Geometric design on the back of the pommel.

Although initially it might seem counter-productive, one of the most brilliant things about the Staffordshire Hoard is that the objects have been ruthlessly damaged when they were removed from their original mounts. This has enabled us to carry out a thorough and intensive program of research to understand more about the craft techniques and materials used by the mystery Metalsmith’s of the period.

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Two fragments with the break where you can see the construction of the cloisonné cells.

The object above was originally in two fragments before re-assembly. Thorough documentation of every fragment within the Hoard has enabled us to keep a clear record of important details before assembling the final object.
These objects are overall helping to expand our understanding of the Anglo-Saxon period and the society which lived during that time. The exhibition is well worth a visit, whether it is to learn more about Anglo-Saxon warriors, the incredible craft skills and technology of the period or even just to view some incredibly beautiful objects from this unique and astounding archaeological discovery.

All images © Birmingham Museums Trust unless otherwise indicated.

To find out more about the Royal Armouries upcoming exhibition ‘Warrior Treasures: Saxon Gold of the Staffordshire Hoard’ please visit our exhibition microsite http://warrior-treasures.uk/

Join our Warrior Treasures exhibition conference Saturday 11th June to hear from leading experts in the field, who will explore the many aspects of this remarkable Anglo-Saxon find and explain how it is adding to our understanding of the people that made, used and buried this magnificent hoard. Please see full details and purchase tickets via the Royal Armouries website.

Warrior Treasures: The Grave of the Wollaston Warrior

As part of our blog series surrounding our upcoming exhibition ‘Warrior Treasures: Saxon Gold of the Staffordshire Hoard’  Claudia Rogers – PhD placement student at the Royal Armouries in Leeds – writes on the grave discoveries of the Wollaston Warrior. Discover more at our exhibition conference day, Saturday 11th June, find more details on our micro-site http://warrior-treasures.uk/

Claudia picThe Wollaston Warrior’s grave was first discovered in 1997 just outside the town of Wollaston in Northamptonshire. Alongside the scarce remains of the warrior himself, this seventh-century Anglo-Saxon grave contained a helmet (at the time, only the fourth Anglo-Saxon helmet to be recovered from England), a sword, knife, three iron buckles, a dress hook, and a copper alloy hanging bowl, with one surviving decorative mount.

During my PhD placement at the Royal Armouires in Leeds, I’ll be helping with the upcoming exhibition ‘Warrior Treasures: Saxon Gold from the Staffordshire Hoard’ – a collection of gold and silver military ornaments unearthed by an amateur metal-detectorist in 2009. In this exhibition, the Wollaston Warrior’s grave goods will be displayed alongside the small but stunning objects of the Staffordshire Hoard. Whilst the Warrior’s grave goods may not be as dazzling to the eye, they’re a precious collection of great archaeological and historical importance, and, I think, rather captivating in their own way.

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This is the Warrior’s small knife.

I’ve spent the first part of my placement in the Collections department, undertaking research on the Wollaston grave goods. After receiving object handling training, it was a pleasure to view the objects in stores for the first time. A number of the goods were quite hard to ‘see’, due to the state of their preservation: I was quite reliant on labels on the artefact’s cases when it came to identifying the knife and buckles, which were encapsulated in centuries of natural deposits. The copper alloy hanging bowl (see below) however, was instantly recognisable, with its striking green-blue copper colouring almost glowing. Unfortunately, the bowl (like many of the artefacts) was damaged in the grave before its discovery, most likely due to the shallowness of the grave itself. Although it was sad to see the bowl in various pieces rather than intact, I was amazed that I was handling an artefact that had been buried for over 1300 years – it’s incredible such a delicate object has survived at all.

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This is the largest buckle of the three. Found next to the scabbard, it likely functioned as part of the suspension system for the scabbard.

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This beautiful object is a basal escutcheon, a mount attached to the underside of the bowl for decoration. It originally featured about 24 squares of millefiori, a kind of ornamental glass.

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After viewing the grave goods, I was intrigued to learn more about who the Wollaston Warrior actually was. As the archaeological findings and excavation report established*, his skeletal remains are very fragmentary and poorly preserved, which really limits what we can find out about him. Most likely, though, he was a lightly-built adult who died before he reached the age of 25. Following the examination of his skeletal remains, Wollaston’s mystery man has been resting peacefully in Northamptonshire archaeological stores.

We can also learn more about the Warrior from the grave goods themselves, which indicate that the grave belonged to a male of high status. The hanging bowl, for example, was made from one sheet of bronze, requiring the talents of a highly-skilled craftsman. The bowl would have originally been suspended from three hooks and decorated with escutcheons: these embellishments would have been made of brass or high-tin bronze – rare alloys used sparingly to adorn high-status objects in the early Anglo-Saxon period. This bowl, then, certainly reflects the standing of the Wollaston Warrior, although it remains unclear what uses the bowl had. Historical research into early medieval hanging bowls generally focuses on their Romano-British origins, for which they’re often associated with Christianity and liturgical contexts. How the Anglo-Saxons adopted them for use, though, is still largely uncertain. Accordingly, what the Wollaston Warrior used his hanging bowl for remains a mystery (for the time being).

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The Hanging Bowl: Notice the holes along the rim section here – this is one of the points where the bowl would have been suspended from.

Along with researching the historical context of the Warrior and his grave, I’ve completed a number of different tasks during my time in the Collections department, as well as having the privilege of taking part in planning meetings and other ‘behind the scenes’ things. I found that one of the most challenging jobs was to draft exhibition labels for the hanging bowl, buckles, and dress hook – something completely new to me. Writing object labels definitely encouraged me to think about what’s most important about each of these precious artefacts, but trying to tackle all the key points about the artefact in question – age, production, physical description, state of preservation, purpose… – in less than 60 words made for an exasperating afternoon of word counting and calculations. Yet, despite the maths-related trauma, it was an enjoyable lesson in prioritisation and writing concisely; I hope it’s worth it in the end! I’ve certainly been kept on my toes.

Figure 8

The next part of my work placement will be with the Interpretation team, focusing on the staging of the ‘Warrior Treasures’ exhibition. I’ll keep you posted with how I get on!

*Ian Meadows, An Anglian Warrior Burial from Wollaston, Northamptonshire (Northampton: Northamptonshire Archaeology & Northamptonshire County Council, 2004 [digital edition 2010])

 

“Sent under plain wrapper – Killer Chrysanthemum included”

Behind the scenes as the Royal Armouries at the Tower prepare for Christmas, by keeper of Tower Armouries Bridget Clifford.

‘Tis the season when Santa’s little elves are packing as if their lives depended on it – and museum curators are not immune from the bug.  In the Royal Armouries case, the jewel that is the ‘Battle of Agincourt‘ exhibition will close on 31st January 2016 and the unique assemblage of objects, archive material and books will depart back to their parent organisations never to meet again. In October a new interactive gallery will re -occupy the vacated space, but in the interim the Tower Armouries has a chance to display some of its more quirky pieces which usually lurk in the furthermost corners of its reserve collections and rarely see the light of day.

As the oldest visitor attraction in the world and heir to the Office of Ordnance stores and traditions, the Royal Armouries has collected a wealth of curious objects through the centuries. Unfortunately rather than telling a joined up story, more often than not they present a patchwork quilt of Ordnance history and interests. One gets the distinct impression that some objects found a home in these stores because no one else knew quite what to do with them.

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A relic of an 18th century naval disaster

The sinking of the Royal George in 1782 while undergoing routine maintenance cost over 800 lives.

Exhibitions do not display themselves – a lot of behind the scenes work has to go on before the public are invited to view. Currently we are unable to make mounts on site at the Tower, so the objects have got to go to the museum in Leeds to be fitted up for their mounts with both then returning to the Tower. This has posed quite a prickly problem for the curators on site, as everything has to be packed securely – both for their own  and everyone else’s safety.  Despite our best hopes, the blue fairy failed to materialise and magic it all done, so we found ourselves cast in the role of Santa’s helpers.

I must say, the wrapping paper left something to be desired – very plain and a bit bobbly –and much ingenuity was required to render some of the pieces travelling North less lethal.  My favourite was the Killer Chrysanthemum – a vaguely floral number constructed from the tips of old socket-bayonet blades.  No matter how much packing we arranged around this deadly bloom, we still managed to find a spike.

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Cactus – nothing compared to the killer chrysanthemum!

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…and under wraps

Meanwhile, Tower curator Malcolm Mercer turned out to be a dab hand with masking tape, securing errant tissue snakes before they uncoiled and slid off the objects they were supposed to be protecting.  His dexterity with the gibbet – a two- parter with decided wriggle – will be the talk of the Tower for some time to come.

The gibbet before – with supporting elf lurking…

…and after – tamed and now with over excited elf to one side.

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We are also very proud of the swine’s feathers also known as brandistocks – transformed from a mid-17th  Century spikey number into  a workmanlike (and blunt) paddle through the magic of bubble wrap and tissue, with a stiffener of plastazote.  What the colonists of Virginia made of these strange 3-pronged staff weapons when 1,500 of “the best swynnes ffeathers” were produced by the Board of Ordnance from stores in October 1676 to equip the military expedition sent there is not recorded, but this is probably their the last military issue.  They remained among the stores in America “left att Virginia as a standing Trayn & Magazine and nott to be returned againe for England” and one wonders if they were put to a more domestic use and helped foster local enthusiasm for spit-roast barbeques? (For more information on this episode of American history, see Geoffrey Parnell’s article “The Artillery Train Sent to Virginia in 1676” in Man at Arms  (vol 17, no 2)March/ April 1995 pp 10-17).

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Suprise! A cages and unleashed swim’es feather. (You’ll just have to imagine the paddle transformation – no photographs available)

Finally everything was packed, and the majority of items cocooned in a flight case for their trip.  Certainly a Christmas delivery with a difference, and Malcolm and I will find present wrapping 2015  a doddle in comparison.

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A Christmas hamper with attitude!

 

William Siborne: Part 2 – the challenges of research

William Siborne, maker of the Royal Armouries ‘Battle of Waterloo’ diorama, played a major role in our understanding of the battle and left a lasting legacy of his work. For an introduction to the man and the model, make sure you first read our previous post here.

When Siborne began to look for information on the crisis of the battle to assist in the construction of his first model, he found that the official records lacked the level of detail he required. He therefore wrote to Sir Rowland Hill, General Commanding in Chief of the British Army, requesting permission to send a circular letter to officers who had fought at Waterloo, to ask them about their regiment’s role in the battle. His proposed solution was a radical one. No survey of this nature had been attempted before, and some senior military figures raised concerns that the differing versions of events that officers were bound to give, would merely result in a mass of contradictory information, and might weaken the authority of Wellington’s official dispatch.

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London Gazette © Crown Copyright. The Gazette.

The Waterloo Dispatch was written on the evening after the battle, and although it was an official report to the Secretary of State for War, it was composed in the knowledge that it would be published in the London Gazette (the official journal of the British government) and then reprinted in the London and provincial newspapers. It was a matter of public record, and the fears that Siborne’s circular letter might produce some unwelcome results were not altogether unfounded. The pages of the United Services Journal were already occupied by a heated debate between General Sir Hussey Vivian and Major George Gawler relating to the roll of their respective brigades in the events following the repulse of the Imperial Guard. But Siborne was not to be dissuaded, and after explaining his research methodology more fully, and promising to submit a copy of the final plan for the model to the Duke for his approval, Lord Fitzroy Somerset, the Military Secretary, gave his consent albeit with the comment, ‘then let him issue his Circulars and the Lord give him a safe deliverance’.

Siborne conducted his survey, and in response received some 700 letters from British, Hanoverian and King’s German Legion officers who had fought at Waterloo. Some had served on the general staff, others had been regimental officers, but all branches of the service were represented except for the Royal Engineers. The letters covered every aspect of the campaign, and Siborne diligently checked every piece of information, and where necessary entered into detailed correspondence to clarify matters of detail. An examination of the original letters shows that rather than shake the foundations of the Waterloo Dispatch the letters added important details to the main features of the battle.

Siborne was naturally anxious to elicit Wellington’s views, but the Duke was notoriously reticent about giving interviews, and rarely spoke about the battle in which he had lost so many ‘old friends and companions’. However Siborne had informed Fitzroy Somerset that in addition to his circular letter he also intended to ask for information from the War Departments in Paris and Berlin, and when it became apparent that he intended to represent the Prussians on his model, he was offered the chance of a private meeting with Wellington. Unfortunately for Siborne when the time came his health would not permit him to travel to London, and the opportunity was lost. He did submit a copy of his plan to Wellington as promised, and was sent a short memorandum in return, but this contained little new information.

7. Wellington Memorandum

Wellington’s Memorandum

Wellington was aware of Siborne’s plans to include Blucher’s army on the model, but he did not raise any objections in his memorandum, and there is no evidence at this stage that he was actively opposing the project. However, if the Duke was silent on the subject others were not. Siborne continued to receive warnings from Fitzroy Somerset that his proposed representation created the risk that ‘those who see the work will deduce from it that the result of the battle was not so much owing to British valour and the great generalship of the chief of the English Army, as to the flank movement of the Prussians’.

By 1837 Siborne was in severe financial difficulties, following the withdrawal of official funding for the model, and his decision to continue the project at his own expense. The need to pay his creditors and recoup his losses probably influenced his decision to write a history of the Waterloo campaign, and he entered into an agreement with the publishers, Messrs Boone of Bond Street. It was the threat of this publication, and not the model, which ultimately brought him into conflict with Wellington.

NPG 405; Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington by Alfred, Count D'Orsay

Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, by Alfred, Count D’Orsay. © National Portrait Gallery, London, NPG 405

In 1842 the Duke received a translation of a study by the German military theorist Carl von Clausewitz, in which he criticized several aspects of Wellington’s conduct of the Waterloo campaign. It so annoyed the Duke that in response he drafted a detailed memorandum to rebut the criticisms. Siborne became aware of the existence of the document, and even attempted to obtain a copy from the Duke’s private secretary, Colonel John Gurwood, but without success. Two years later Wellington drafted a second memorandum this time in answer to errors in the final volume of Alison’s History of Europe during the French Revolution, and inaccuracies in Siborne’s History of the War in France and Belgium in 1815 an advance copy of which he had received.

During his military career Wellington had been renowned for his ability to produce detailed memoranda on all manner of subjects relating to the conduct of the war in the Peninsular, and his response to Alison and Siborne was in much the same vein. He began by recognising the duty of the historian to seek the most authentic details of the subject, and to evaluate all that had been published, but added that in his opinion official sources of information should be preferred to the ‘statements of private individuals’ written some time after the events. Then in the remainder of the document he gave a detailed and thoughtful analysis of the errors in both works, in particular those relating to his co-operation with the Prussians.

History of the war in France and Belgium, in 1815

Siborne’s History

Siborne’s history appeared in 1844, accompanied by a folio of maps and plans. The advance reviews had been unanimously favourable, and this combined with the continued interest in the battle, ensured that the first edition was rapidly sold out. Siborne had done his best to produce a balanced account based on the information he had gathered, but inevitably the book sparked renewed debate from Waterloo veterans in the United Services Journal, and criticisms that the representation of the achievements of the regimenta was inaccurate. Wellington’s own detailed analysis was used by his close associate, Francis Egerton, as the basis for a review of the work that was published in the Quarterly Review in 1845. Siborne took careful note of all of the comments, and made revisions to the text of subsequent editions, that have subsequently led to accusations of a conspiracy to suppress the truth, but his notes reveal how he reviewed the evidence before making any change.

Siborne’s history has never succeeded in escaping the criticism that it relied too heavily on the personal accounts of British officers, a weakness that he himself acknowledged in the preface to the first edition, and that it failed to take into account the contributions of some of the Allies during the campaign. The research methodology he adopted and the use of multiple eyewitness accounts was radical for the time, and enabled him to produce a type of work that modern historians would recognise, and many have copied. His history remains the most cited authority on the Waterloo campaign.

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: 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: Triumph of the longbow?

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 iconic longbows of the battle.

© His Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Trustees of Lambeth Palace Library

The battle of Agincourt from the Brut Chronicle (Chronicle of St Albans), English, late 15th century. © His Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Trustees of Lambeth Palace Library

The accounts of the privy wardrobe, the fourteenth century organisation which ran the armoury at the Tower of London and 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.

On the whole, each archer in an English army was issued for each campaign with a bow, between two and five bowstrings and two ‘sheaves’ of arrows (each of twenty-four arrows tied up with hemp cord, which they reused to tie the arrows round their waists for battle, no quivers).

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An example of an ‘arrow bag’ as used at the battle in 1415.

Ordinary arrows were of poplar, fletched with goose feathers and fitted with a single type of low-barbed head. The best bows were painted, and supplied with ash arrows with steel heads, fletched with peacock feathers.

Though hardly any medieval longbows survive either, we now have an amazing group of them from the Mary Rose, which have revolutionised our understanding of the weapon in the last twenty years. We now think they ranged in draw weight between 65–160 lb, with an average about 110 lb, double what we thought a generation ago.

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Bow, from the wreck of the Mary Rose sunk in 1545, English, mid-16th century.

Odd that this change in understanding should have taken so long, as we have had two of the Mary Rose bows, excavated from the bottom of the Solent by John Deane and William Edwards using their newly invented diving apparatus in 1840, on display at the Tower ever since.

Anyway, the ‘new’ high-powered bows have been reconstructed, experimented with, and enabled the rediscovery of a medieval style of shooting ‘in the bow’ which had been lost through centuries of target archery with much lighter longbows. One of these experimental archaeologists, Mark Stretton, who is one of the best exponents of this rediscovered style of shooting, undertook a fascinating experiment with a bow, some arrows and a radio-controlled lawnmower, which showed that a skilled medieval archer could shoot just three aimed arrows into a charging French knight (or lawnmower). See below a clip of Mark shooting a 140lb self yew bow made by Pip Bickerstaffe.

Filmed at the shooting at Malestroit Medieval Festival 2011, by bowyer (longbow-maker) Ian Cootes (40bowyr).

While the bows have ‘become’ more powerful than we used to think, the ‘arrowstorm’ beloved of English archery enthusiasts has diminished. We used to talk about resupply of arrows as if it was a natural and simple process, but the privy wardrobe accounts show otherwise. Each archer had two sheaves of arrows to last a campaign, and would probably go into battle with just one of them. So all the statistics of how many arrows an archer can shoot in a minute are very much put into perspective by realising that such an arrowstorm could last just three minutes, then the arrows were gone. Once we are aware of that, we can see it happening in the sources: at Poitiers in 1356 the English archers ran out, and tried to recover spent arrows. At Towton in 1461 the Lancastrian archers ran out of arrows, and suffered the indignity of having the Yorkists shoot their own arrows back at them. So the vision moves away from darkening the sky with arrows like the Persians’ at Thermopylae towards a smaller number of accurately aimed arrows shot from very powerful bows by highly skilled and practised professional archers.

The Battle of Agincourt catalogue and exhibition present a whole new way of looking at English medieval archery, derived from the study of actual objects, experimental archaeology and medieval documents, all working together to provide a new understanding of the past. And we have acquired a large group of English arrowheads of the period, mostly from the River Thames, to go in the exhibition. Sadly Westminster Abbey, who own the only fifteenth century arrow in England, couldn’t lend it to us, but our bows and arrowheads will join forces with the Mary Rose bows and arrows (no heads, iron hardly survives at all on the Mary Rose) to present in the catalogue and exhibition the most comprehensive display about English medieval archery ever staged.

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Broadhead (arrowhead) European, 15th c. Royal Armouries collection.

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: An introduction to the battle

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Battle of Agincourt (1415) Chroniques. d’Enguerrand de Monstrelet (early 15th century) – H. W. Koch: Illustrierte Geschichte der Kriegszüge im Mittelalter, S. 133,

The battle of Agincourt took place on St Crispin’s day, Friday 25 October 1415, between the armies of King Henry V of England and King Charles VI of France. For the 600th anniversary of the battle, the Royal Armouries is exhibiting a unique collection of arms, armour, objets d’art, and manuscripts at the Tower of London, as well staging a family events programme and publishing a book commemorating the battle in association with Yale Books.

To introduce you to this battle and the Hundred Years War period, we’ll have to take you through some family history of Henry V.

The background

Henry V was the son of Henry Bolingbroke (later Henry IV of England). Edward III was Henry V’s great-grandfather;his grandfather was Edward’s third son John of Gaunt (1st Duke of Lancaster). Henry V inherited the ‘Hundred Years War’ from his great-grandfather after Edward III challenged Phillip VI’s right to the French crown.

When Charles IV, the French King, died in 1328 he left no male heir. His nearest male relative was his nephew Edward III;Charles IV’s sister Isabella was Edward’s mother.The French nobility did not want to be ruled by an English King, and there was already recognition that femailes could not succeed to the throne. Therefore they agreed that the heir would be Phillip of Valois, Charles IV’s first cousin. Despite this Edward III argued that although a woman was unable to inherit , it did not  prevent inheritance through the female line – which formed the basis of his claim.

100 years war family tree

There were many other factors that contributed to  outbreak of  the Hundred Years War: including England’s relationship with Scotland, France’s disruption of the English wool trade, and England’s complicated land ownership history of Gascony and Aquitaine (regions of South West France) – but it was his claim to the French throne that Edward III’s campaigns, and those  of his descendants, would be later justified.

The Battle

Agincourt was one of three major land battles of the Hundred Years War (1337–1453), which in fact lasted 116 years. On 26 August 1346 Edward III defeated Philip VI at Crécy. On 16 July 1356 Edward’s eldest son, Edward of Woodstock (the Black Prince) captured Philip VI’s successor John II at the battle of Poitiers. He was subsequently imprisoned in the Tower of London. Yet it is hard to imagine national celebrations of these battles or a major exhibition devoted to them.

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Battle of Crécy, 1346. Copiste inconnu – Grandes Chroniques de France, British Library Cotton MS Nero E. II pt.2, f.152v

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Battle of Poitiers, 1356 (miniature from the Chronicles of Froissart).

Agincourt is a well-documented battle. 1415 was the first occasion since 1359 that an English king had invaded France in person. It was also the largest army taken to France since the battle of Crécy 69 years previously. His preparations indicated that Henry V was planning to conquer the kingdom in what would be a long campaign. Despite this, Agincourt was a swift victory; one chronicler suggesting it was over in half an hour, while others suggest that it lasted between two and three hours.

Henry V set sail for France on 11th August, landing near Le Havre on the 13th. He then laid siege to Harfleur from  17th August until the 22nd September when the town surrendered. Despite his intention to conqueror France, this would be Henry’s one and only capture of his campaign.

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A map of Henry V’s campaign route

On the morning of Friday 25th October both English and French armies met in battle at Agincourt.  In the early afternoon, fearing a renewed French attack, Henry famously ordered the French prisoners to be killed. This has generated controversy in more recent times, even to the extent of asking whether Henry V should be deemed a war criminal. Contemporaries, however, saw the battle as distinctive primarily for the high number of French casualties and prisoners, and for the exceptionally low number of English casualties.

There was no ‘standing army’ (a permanent, often professional, army composed of full-time soldiers that is not  disbanded in times of peace) in either France or England in 1415. Troops were raised on a campaign-by-campaign basis. There were many similarities between the armies in terms of their recruitment, armour and equipment, but one crucial difference: the English brought relatively few men- at- arms on campaign (soldiers who wore full plate armour in battle) but a much greater proportion of archers. The significance of archers in the battle was noted at the time. Their ‘arrowstorm’ disrupted  the French advance, thereby undermining  their numerical superiority. Henry’s deployment of his archers has been a contested area in modern historical work, alongside the sometimes heated debate on the size of the armies.

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Images of the Royal Armouries’ Agincourt diorama, made by model maker David Marshall and Perry Miniatures, which forms part of the exhibition at the Tower of London. To find out more about how the model was made, please click this link.

This takes us to the nub of historical study of the battle. Despite pioneering work in the mid nineteenth century by Sir Joseph Hunter, one of the founders of the Public Record Office, and the extensive but antiquarian narrative of the campaign in James Wylie’s Reign of Henry the Fifth (1914), there was no full- scale study of the financial records of Henry’s army until Professor Anne Curry (trustee of the Royal Armouries) published ‘The Battle of Agincourt: Sources and Interpretations’. There are many documents to draw on, especially the muster lists which provide names and details of pay. Records for the French army also exist but are less extensive and await fuller analysis.

Narrative sources are numerous, as Curry’s study outlines. The most well-known English sources include the Gesta Henrici Quinti (‘Deeds of Henry V’) written by an English priest present on the campaign, plus battle narratives in two eulogistic Latin lives of Henry V written in the late 1430s, and insights into ‘popular’ views through English poems and chronicles – especially the vernacular chronicle known as the Brut. On the French side, the most influential account has been that of Enguerrand de Monstrelet, who sought to continue the earlier chronicling begun by Jean Froissart in the late fourteenth century, but there are many others – testimony to the impact of the battle on the French. Many studies of the battle have drawn on the sixteenth- century English histories of Edward Hall and Raphael Holinshed, which informed Shakespeare, rather than on narratives written closer to the period.

The battle’s legacy

Why should there be so much interest in commemorating this battle today? Agincourt was not a decisive battle. The French suffered heavy losses in terms of dead and captured but politically these were not significant enough to force the French to the negotiating table. Henry’s victory made his later conquest of Normandy easier, as the French were reluctant to meet him in battle again. But his final triumph in May 1420 – acceptance as heir and regent of France by the treaty of Troyes – was the result of political divisions in France rather than simply military success.

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

The simplest explanation for the special place of Agincourt is Shakespeare. His Henry V (1599), probably the first play performed at the Globe Theatre, provides the image of a charismatic individual and his great victory that still predominates today. Had Shakespeare’s involvement in the writing of the play Edward III (1590–94) been greater, we might have been celebrating Crécy and Poitiers too, but its language comes nowhere near the memorable and inspirational speeches of Henry V (for more on this topic please see this link). Over the centuries Shakespeare’s Henry V has come to stand for Englishness and for triumph in the face of adversity Nowhere is this more evident than in Laurence Olivier’s famous film of the play released in 1944, dedicated to the commandos and airborne troops who made D- Day possible.

Poster of Henry V. British Film Institute.

Poster of Laurence Olivier’s Henry V, 1944. British Film Institute.

The dominance of Shakespeare explains why we have included the play, the Olivier film and the musical legacy in this exhibition. The Agincourt Carol, which may have been composed only weeks after the battle for Henry V’s triumphal entry to London, was used to good effect by William Walton in his film score. It was also played when the announcement was made that London had pipped Paris to the 2012 Olympic Games. A fifteenth century manuscript of the Agincourt Carol is included in our exhibition at the Tower of London.


Performance of the Agincourt Carol by the Alamire.

The frequency of conflict with France until the Entente Cordiale (peace treaty between England and France) of 1904 helped to keep Agincourt in the public gaze. It is not surprising that families, from the sixteenth century onwards, have been keen to find (or invent) ancestors who distinguished themselves at the battle, or that objects should be forged to provide a tangible link with the glorious victory.

The first serious study of the battle by Harris Nicolas in 1827 was coloured by the Napoleonic Wars. Even though it publicised important sources it also perpetuated myths, including the notion that we did not know the names of the archers in Henry V’s army. Excavations at Azincourt in 1818, initiated by Lt- Col. John Woodford – who commanded the army of observation in the region after Waterloo, clouded rather than extended knowledge of the battlefield. Current efforts to apply modern standards of battlefield archaeology are starting to advance our understanding, but as yet the location has not been confirmed.

The aim of the Royal Armouries’ Agincourt exhibition, events programme, and publication, is to set the battle in context as well as to explore the event itself. The aim is to enhance understanding of the proceedings leading up to the battle, including the military preparations made by each side, the immediate consequences of Henry V’s victory, and finally the influence that Agincourt has exerted on historical and cultural memory in the centuries following the battle. The Tower of London provides an ideal starting point since it played a crucial role in preparations for the campaign as well as its aftermath. The Royal Armouries were not formally established until 1984, but as the successor body to the Tower Armouries and, before that, the Ordnance Office, we have enjoyed a continuous presence at the Tower of London since the establishment of the privy wardrobe in the early fourteenth century. The privy wardrobe managed the supply and logistical requirements for the military campaigns of English kings from the reign of Edward III onwards. The 1415 campaign was no exception.

The Royal Armouries Agincourt exhibition will run at at the Tower of London from 23 October 2015 until 31 January 2016, please visit our website to find out about the objects on display and our half term events programme. Further posts on the content of our ‘Agincourt’ catalogue, in association with Yale University Press, can be found as they are published via this link.

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