Read More: Agincourt, 1415 – and Pontefract Castle

  • by Antony Ramm, Local and Family History, Central Library

This is an entry in our Read More series. These are ‘long-form’ articles, where staff offer a curated and detailed look at areas of our book collections, usually based around a specific theme or subject. These posts aim to guide the interested reader through to those books that offer a more in-depth look at a topic, or which are classics in their field.

With Sunday marking six-hundred years since the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, we thought it an appropriate time to bring you details of relevant holdings in the stacks of the Central Library; resources that would help interested readers gain a deeper understanding of both that battle and the wider Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453). Our stack holdings are generally drawn from titles published up until the 1900s and are written from a broadly academic perspective.

Any serious study of the Hundred Years’ War has to start with Jonathan Sumption’s monumental three-volume study. Shorter introductions include Desmond Seward’s The Hundred Years’ War: The English in France, 1337-1453 and Alan Lloyd’s illustrated study. Lieutenant-Colonel Alfred Burne’s The Agincourt War is a military history covering the latter years of conflict, while a 1971 volume, edited by Kenneth Fowler, contains thematic essays by prominent historians of the time. The wider contexts of the times are laid out in works such as Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror: the Calamitous 14th-century, while the national mood in both countries is explored in works such as Gerald Harriss’s Shaping the Nation: England, 1360-1461 and Georges Duby’s France in the Middle Ages, 987-1460: From Hugh Capet to Joan of Arc.

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Of the major protagonists at Agincourt, the library possesses many biographies of Henry V –including full-life studies by Margaret Wade Labarge (1975) and James Hamilton Wylie’s three-volume The Reign of Henry Fifth (1914). E.F. Jacob’s 1947 study focuses specifically on Henry’s invasion of France. One notable presence on the French side was that of Charles, Duke of Orleans. Captured by the English – after he was discovered under a pile of corpses, unwounded but incapacitated by the weight of his own armour – Charles d’Orleans was held captive for the next twenty-four years, including at Pontefract Castle.

Spending his time wisely, Charles wrote around five hundred poems in both French and English; you can read more about the poet-Duke’s life in Enid McLeod’s Charles of Orleans: Prince and Poet. Further information about the fascinating history of Pontefract Castle – which includes the likely murder-scene of King Richard II and three fierce battles during the English Civil War – can be gained through various resources available in our Local and History library. These include The Honour and Castle of Pontefract, a privately-published 1865 volume by the Reverend C.H. Hartshone, and a 1990 guide produced by the West Yorkshire Archaeological Service and written by Ian Roberts.

Reproduction of Pontefract Castle in the 15th-century. Taken from Lorenzo Padgett's Chronicles of Old Pontefract
Reproduction of Pontefract Castle in the 15th-century, just prior to the Duke of Orleans’ imprisonment. Taken from Lorenzo Padgett’s Chronicles of Old Pontefract

That little anecdote about the poet of Pontefract is the kind of detail you are most likely to find in contemporaneous accounts of an event. Several such reports from the Hundred Years’ War are also available from our stacks, including Jean Froissart’s Chronicles (covering the period to 1400); a richly-annotated translation of the Latin Gesta Henrici Quinti (“The Deeds of Henry V”); and a collection covering accounts from Froissart, Jean le Bel and Enguerrand de Monstrelet.

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Perhaps the most interesting item from our collections, however, is Sir Nicholas Harris Nicolas’ 1827 work The History of the Battle of Agincourt, an in-depth account of the battle drawn from further contemporary accounts – and one which includes the ‘roll of the men at arms in the English Army’; or, to give the full description: the “names of the Dukes, Erles, Barons, Knights, Esquires, Serviteuers and others that wer with the Excellent Prince King Henry the Fifte, at the Battell of Agincourt, on Fryday, the XXVth Day of October, in the Yere of our Lorde God, 1415”.” Perhaps your ancestor was one of these men, Shakespeare’s “few…happy few…band of brothers”? To make a start on uncovering any possible connection, visit our Local and Family History library and talk to staff about researching your family tree.

Map of the Agincourt battleground. Taken from Sir Nicholas Harris Nicolas' book
Map of the Agincourt battleground. Taken from Sir Nicholas Harris Nicolas’ book

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