To many, the Battle of Agincourt might only sound familiar because of Shakespeare’s Henry V, or Laurence Olivier’s role in the famous 1944 film adaptation of the play. Consequently, Agincourt has somewhat of a hazy and mythical status; I’m pretty sure a fair amount of people think of Agincourt as ‘a load of medieval knights shooting a ton of arrows and defeating the French’. It is in no way as talked about as Britain’s other battles, but being one of the pivotal events in the Hundred Years War, the Battle of Agincourt is a win we should probably know a little something about.
The 25th October 2015 marks the 600th anniversary of this epic battle. To celebrate this occasion, as well as dispel the myths and further educate on the realities of Agincourt, the Royal Armouries are running a special exhibition appropriately titled ‘The Battle Of Agincourt’ at the Tower of London. The small yet perfectly formed selection of armour, muster rolls and artefacts housed in the White Tower are as intriguing as the events of the battle itself. Covering the important road to battle as well as detailing the realities of fighting in chainmail on horseback, the exhibition features iconic items on loan from places such as The National Portrait Gallery, St. Alban’s Cathedral and The British Museum.
Perhaps the most impressive part of the Agincourt exhibition is the centrepiece which draws all the other elements of the selection together: a (pretty much) historically correct model of the battle featuring over 4000 detailed scale model figures. This astounding diorama depicting the fight between the French and the English portrays the utter chaos and destruction of this pivotal battle. The model gives some perspective on the harsh realities of a medieval melee; it is directly underneath a stunning art installation showing hundreds of shooting arrows overhead, and being accompanied by a battle soundscape, a feeling of being at the heart of the action is unavoidable.
When talking to Alan Perry, one of the modellers who took on the epic challenge of creating the thousands of figurines, I was shocked to find out that the whole thing took two years to make, and no magnifying glasses were used – and I am not exaggerating when I say that these little archers shooting at the French are pretty tiny. However, the use of periscopes around the model mean that visitors can see these little men from various angles, despite their size, and with even the landscape reflecting the original battlefield, this model is, in my opinion, the best bit of the exhibition.
Shakespeare’s influence on the perception of the Battle of Agincourt is not forgotten, though; there is a dedicated section to the playwright’s Henry V dram and the impact this has on the legacy of the battle. Even the rare First Folio of Shakespeare’s plays is on display, and a tabard worn by Richard Burton in his role in Henry V in 1951 has pride of place alongside this. A vintage film poster advertising the Henry V film starring Laurence Olivier concludes the exhibition, suggesting the importance of literature and media in maintaining the legacy of Agincourt and its achievements
I left the exhibition enlightened, impressed and grateful; enlightened as to the historical facts and significance of the Battle of Agincourt; impressed at the intricacies of the modelling; and grateful that I wasn’t one of England’s archers wearing 25lbs worth of chainmail on the battlefield. Clearly, we should take this opportunity, in the 600th anniversary of the battle, to learn about one of England’s most important wins against the French. Entry to the exhibition is free with a ticket to the Tower of London, so there is no reason why The Battle of Agincourt should not be on your city to-do list (chainmail optional).
Where: The Tower of London , London, EC3N 4AB