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An Eyewitness of the Battle of Agincourt

Gregory DiPippo

Today marks the anniversary of the battle of Agincourt in 1415, the victory by which King Henry V of England asserted his claim to the throne of France. In many parts of northern Europe, including England, October 25th was celebrated as the feast of two brothers named Crispin and Crispinian, said to have been martyred at Soissons in the middle of the 3rd century. Hence the St Crispin’s day speech, as it is known, one of Shakespeare’s most famous (Henry V, iv, 3), in which the king addresses his men on the eve of the battle: “And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by, / From this day to the ending of the world, / But we in it shall be remember/d, / We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.”

Several accounts of the battle survive, one of which forms part of the anonymous “Henrici Quinti Angliae Regis Gesta.” The author was one of the company of priest chaplains who attended Henry’s army, and witnessed it in person from behind the lines. (Priests were, of course, strictly forbidden from participating in combat.) Here is his description of the prayers which he and his fellow clerics offered right before the battle began.

“Sed et tunc quidem et quamdiu duravit praeliorum adversitas, ego qui scribo, insedens equum inter evectiones ad dorsum praelii et alii qui intererant sacerdotes humiliavimus animas nostras coram Deo, et recordati (lectionem) quam eo tempore legebat ecclesia diximus in cordibus nostris, “Memento nostri Domine! Congregati sunt inimici nostri et gloriantur in virtute sua. Contere fortitudinem illorum et disperde illos, ut cognoscant quod non est alius qui pugnet pro nobis nisi tu, Deus noster!” Sub timore etiam et tremore ex oculis nostris in caelum clamavimus ut compateretur nostri Deus et coronae Anglicanae, et ut orationes et lacrimas quas fudisset, et ea hora in suis processionibus solitis verisimiliter pro nobis fudit ecclesia Anglicana perire non sineret, sed ad sinum admitteret suas clementiae, et illam inceptam devotionem regis nostri circa cultum divinum, ampliationem ecclesiae, et pacem regnorum non toleraret per inimicos supprimi, sed potius eam et in reliquum ex ostensa munificentia miserationis suae magis exaltari faceret, ac ab his periculosis eventibus sicut ab aliis misericorditer liberaret.

(The Battle of Agincourt, represented in a nearly contemporary manuscript now in the library of Lambeth Palace in London. Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.)

But then indeed, and as long as the contest of the battle lasted, I who write, sitting on a horse among the riders at the back of the battle, and the other priests who were present, humbled our souls before God, and remembering the Scripture which the Church was reading at that time (lessons from the books of Maccabees, read in the Divine Office in October), said in our hearts, ‘Remember us, o Lord! Our enemies are gathered in their might; break their strength and scatter them, that they may know that there is none other to fight for us, but Thou, our God!’ In fear and trembling from our eyes we cried out to heaven, that God might have compassion on us and the crown of England, and that He might not allow the prayers and tears which the church in England had poured forth for us, and with its usual processions poured forth most likely even in that very hour, to be lost, but rather, admit them to the embrace of his clemency; and likewise, that He might not allow that devotion which our king had undertaken for divine worship, and the enhancement of the Church, and the peace of the kingdoms, to be put down, but rather cause it to be exalted even henceforth from the generosity of the mercy which He had shown, and mercifully deliver it from these dangerous events as He had from others.”

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