The Battle of Agincourt

07 October 2015

Arundel 12 f. 1rThe Battle of Agincourt took place on 25th October 1415, one of a series of engagements between England and France in what would later be known as the Hundred Years' War. The English King Edward III in 1337 claimed the throne of France as his inheritance through his mother, sister of Charles IV, the last Capetian King of France. The level of conflict rose and fell over the ensuing century or more; the reign of Henry V saw France divided by civil war, and the opportunity for gains was apparent.

The English army under Henry V landed in France in August 1415 and besieged the port of Harfleur, which surrendered in late September. The English army left Harfleur on 8 October, heading for the English port of Calais. The French blocked the way several times, forcing the English to deviate from their route, so that their food supplies ran very low. When the two armies prepared to face each other in countryside outside the town of Agincourt on 25 October 1415, the English army had marched 260 miles in recent weeks, and its numbers were probably dwarfed by those of the French. However, the English army made great use of the longbow, with archers making up about five-sixths of the English fighting force. Large numbers of French crossbowmen and infantry did not deploy. The French attack, constricted by the English archers and the terrain, was ineffectual, and many men at arms became bogged down. The result was a victory for the English and a disaster for the French.

Although it could not end the war, the victory was significant for Henry; it enabled him to promote further expeditions to France, resulting in the treaty by which he would marry the French King's daughter and place their son, Henry VI, on the throne of France. The triumph was short-lived: the French would regroup and unite, expelling the English from nearly all their French possessions only four decades later. Agincourt's fame was of course greatly boosted by the stirring rhetoric later imagined for King Henry by William Shakespeare in Henry V, where the King rouses his troops for battle by claiming all who fight as his brothers, who when victory is won will be envied by those who were not there:

But we in it shall be remember'd, —
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me,
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England, now a-bed,
Shall think themselves accurs'd, they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap, whiles any speaks,
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

Chronicle Accounts of the Battle of Agincourt

The College of Arms holds several mediaeval chronicles which describe events of the reign of Henry V, all forming part of the collection built up by Thomas Howard, 14th Earl of Arundel (died 1646) but dispersed by his grandson, the Duke of Norfolk, in 1678.

The 15th century Life of King Henry V shown above was written for Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester. His arms are represented on the opening page in an elaborate illuminated capital letter. William Howard, whose name appears at the top of the page as a previous owner of the manuscript, was Lord William Howard (1563-1640), the Earl of Arundel's half-uncle (his grandfather's son by his second marriage), a learned scholar and collector of manuscripts.

College of Arms reference: Arundel MS 12 f.1r


Arundel 12 f. 13r cropped compressedThis later page of the manuscript has been annotated with 'Agincourt' in the margin next to the point in the narrative where the account of the battle begins. It describes the English army reaching the French army at the town of Agincourt (ad oppidum Agincourt ad gallos hostis devenissent), where 'the great roar of the trumpeters stirs the souls of all to battle' (tum tubicinum clangor maximus ad praelium omnium animos excitat).

College of Arms reference: Arundel MS 12 f.13r

Arundel 15 1r compressedThis mid 15th-century copy of the Vita et Gesta Henrici Quinti Anglorum Regis ('Life and Deeds of Henry V, King of the English') was made by Roger Walle (d. 1488 as Archdeacon of Coventry) and like Arundel MS 12 was later owned by Lord William Howard. The work had been attributed to Thomas of Elmham, Chaplain to Henry V, who was present at the Battle of Agincourt and wrote a life of Henry V in verse, but modern scholarship suggests that this is not his work and so its author remains anonymous.

College of Arms reference: Arundel MS 15 f.1r


Arundel 8 64v croppedcompressedresizedThis 15th century manuscript includes a version of the 'Brut' chronicle, the earliest prose chronicle in English and the most popular history of England in the Middle Ages. Copyists would add to the chronicle, so that this version continues to the end of the reign of Henry V. Also in the same volume are a Legend of St Michael and a Life of St Thomas Becket. This passage about Agincourt makes reference to a speech made by King Henry to his troops, calling on them to make ready for battle in the name of Almighty God and St George. It goes on to say: 'Thenne the ii battell[ion]s metten & sore & longe fou[gh]ten but allmy[gh]ty god g[ra]nted Kinge Henry the victory and this wasse in the Fryday on Crispins and Crispinianis Day'.

College of Arms reference: Arundel MS 8 f.64v

The Fenwick Roll

Fenwick Roll membrane 150724 A4 compressedThe first membrane of the 'Fenwick Roll', held by the College of Arms, dates to the reign of Henry V (1413-1422). Although its precise date is not known, many of those whose arms are represented here would have fought at the Battle of Agincourt. The top part of the roll, which would most likely have contained the arms of Dukes and Earls, is missing, but the arms of other chief men in the King's army can be seen. These include Lord Camoys, whose arms or on a chief gules three roundels argent are on the last row, 4th from the left. Camoys helped to plan the invasion of France and commanded the rear guard at Agincourt. He died in 1420; his title and arms were inherited by his grandson.

In the roll, only Lord Scrope and Lord Grey are designated as being 'of' a place – Lord Scrope of Bolton and Lord Grey of Codnor. This distinguishes them clearly from Lord Scrope of Masham and Lord Grey of Heton, who were executed in August 1415, two months before the Battle of Agincourt, for conspiring with the Earl of Cambridge against the King. The Lord Scrope of Bolton who fought at Agincourt was the grandson of the first 1st Baron Scrope of Bolton, disputant in the 'Scrope vs Grosvenor' heraldic lawsuit. On discovering that Sir Robert Grosvenor bore the same arms as he did, he took the case to court in order to prove his superior claim to the arms. The case was heard before the High Constable of England, and judgement came only five years after the case was brought, but fell in Scrope's favour.

The Fenwick Roll depicts the arms of Lord Bourchier (row 3, last shield), Argent a Cross engrailed Gules between four Water Bougets Sable. The alternative mediaeval spelling 'Bousers' is used on the roll. Chronicle sources name Lord Bourchier as Hugh, born Hugh Stafford but who bore the title of Lord Bourchier in right of his wife, Elizabeth, the only daughter and heiress of the third Lord Bourchier, who died in 1409. It is interesting that here his arms are depicted as being solely those of Bourchier, whereas his Garter Stall Plate shows his arms as those of Bourchier quartered with those of Stafford.

Elizabeth's uncle, Sir William Bourchier, was one of the foremost captains at the Battle of Agincourt, leading 102 men. In November 1415 he was made Constable of the Tower of London (replacing the Duke of York, who had died in the Battle), with special responsibility for the French prisoners. He returned to serve in France in 1417, and in 1419 was made Count of Eu in Normandy. His arms were those of Bourchier quartered with those of Louvaine (the arms of his mother, an heraldic heiress). He died in 1420, and was succeeded by his son Henry, aged 12.

The Rouen Roll

Although the Fenwick Roll is probably not a roll of those who fought at Agincourt (for example Lord Harington, who appears on the roll, was sent home ten days before the battle due to sickness), rolls recording the arms of those who were present at particular military engagements are known. Such a roll existed to record those who were at the Siege of Rouen in 1410, but is now lost. However, three copies were made of it in the 16th century, either as drawings with abbreviations to show what colours were used, or as written descriptions. Two of these copies are contained in manuscripts held by the College which form part of the collection of the 17th-century herald Augustine Vincent.

Vincent 170 f. 181r cropped

College of Arms reference: Vincent MS 170 f.81r


M. 10 f. 50r

Many of the shields depicted on the Fenwick and Rouen Rolls appear in manuscripts created 100 years later. This manuscript was created in the early 16th century – nine of the sixteen shields on this page can also be seen on the Fenwick Roll.

College of Arms reference: M.10 f.50r

Agincourt Rolls

M. 1bis f. 117r croppedCollege of Arms manuscript M.1bis, a 16th century collection of heraldic and ceremonial precedents and miscellaneous historical and genealogical materials, includes a list of the names of those who were with King Henry at Agincourt. It was made by Sir Robert Babthorp, steward of the household, over a year after the Battle, and the College's copy was made by the herald Robert Glover (died 1588). It is sometimes referred to as the 'Agincourt Roll'. The photograph shows the first page of the roll, which begins with the Duke of Gloucester's retinue.

College of Arms reference: M.1bis f.117r

Arundel MS 29 f. 54r croppedList of French noblemen taken prisoner at the Battle of Agincourt, in a 15th century miscellany

College of Arms reference: Arundel MS 29 f.54r

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