25 October 2015 marks the 600th anniversary of the battle of Agincourt, dramatized by Shakespeare in his play Henry V, and one of the pivotal events in the tumultuous relationship between England and France during the Hundred Years War (1337 -1453). To commemorate this event Royal Armouries will present a special exhibition in the White Tower at the Tower of London this winter.
The exhibition brings together, for the first time, rare and iconic objects from the collections of the Royal Armouries and elsewhere to retell the moving story of this deadly encounter; from the road to battle, to the events of 25 October 1415 and the aftermath, which in turn will explore the popular
myths, reality and legacy of this extraordinary battle. Medieval arms and armour, art, music, sculpture and manuscripts will be on loan from leading institutions in Europe. Highlights include an austere Tudor portrait of Henry V, on loan from the National Portrait Gallery, exhibited alongside a bacinet and mail shirt associated with Charles VI of France as Dauphin, from the Musée des Beaux Art in Chartres.
Archers were used to devastating effect on the day of the battle and significant examples of medieval archery equipment will be on show from the Museum of London, Newport Art Gallery and Museum, and the Museum of Somerset, along with longbows and arrows from the Mary Rose Trust. These items will be complemented by arms and armour from the Royal Armouries, including the stunning Lyle bacinet and the Warwick shaffron, showcasing the contemporary equipment of men-at-arms and their mounts.
At the centre of the exhibition will be a detailed diorama of the battlefield. Featuring over 4,000 intricately painted scale-model figures this extraordinary and unique representation will give visitors the opportunity to witness the turmoil and chaos of the battle at a crucial stage. Above it will hang an installation and soundscape of a mass of arrows evoking the sights and sounds of the battle.
The displays relating to the aftermath of battle include a delicate 15th-century manuscript of the Agincourt Carol from the Bodleian Library, thought to have been commissioned to celebrate Henry V’s homecoming. In addition, a poignant reminder of the impact of the defeat on the French will be presented in a moving poem of lamentation by women, written in 1416-8 by Alain Chartier, and on loan from Bibliothèque nationale de France.
The battle inspired one of Shakespeare’s most famous speeches in his play Henry V, thought to have been first performed in 1599 at the Globe theatre in London. This aspect of the enduring legacy of the battle will be illustrated with the rare First Folio of Shakespeare’s plays, on loan from Cambridge University Library. From more recent times the exhibition will display a tabard worn by Richard Burton in the title role of Henry V at Stratford-Upon-Avon in 1951, on loan from the Victoria and Albert Museum.
The exhibition draws on the latest research and expertise from historical advisers, most notably Professor Anne Curry from the University of Southampton on the history of the battle and Royal Armouries weapon experts, Dr Thom Richardson and Bob Woosnam-Savage. The exhibition’s curator and medieval specialist , Dr Malcolm Mercer said, “This is an important retrospective which draws on recent research and expertise to shed new light on some of the popular myths about one of Europe’s most famous medieval battles. The battle and its legacy have had a significant impact on our identity as a nation. The latest thinking about the battle of Agincourt in certain respects tells a different, but equally fascinating and important story.”
The exhibition will be accompanied by a full-colour and sumptuously illustrated and peer reviewed volume published in partnership with Yale University Press.