The 25th of October 2015 marked the 600th anniversary of the battle of Agincourt, Henry V’s victory over the French in 1415. The exhibition commemorates this event at the Tower of London, presented by The Royal Armouries in the White Tower.
You have 10 days left to see this fine exhibition
The exhibition brings together, for the first time, rare and iconic objects from the Royal Armouries and elsewhere to retell the moving story of this deadly encounter. As well as all the details of the battle itself, it examines its aftermath and also sets it in the context of its time. There are displays of medieval arms, armour, art, music sculpture and manuscripts that have been loaned from leading institutions in Europe. Highlights being the Agincourt Carol from The Bodleian Library, thought to have been commissioned to celebrate Henry V’s homecoming, and an austere and pious portrait of Henry V from the National Portrait Gallery.
It is popularly thought that it was the English archers who won the day for Henry and there are significant examples of medieval archery equipment including longbows and arrows from the Mary Rose Trust. Just how the archers lined up, in the scheme of the battle, is portrayed in an extraordinarily detailed diorama. This gives the visitor an extraordinary and unique perspective, a large and detailed model of the battlefield, featuring over 4,000 intricately painted figures, shows how the opposing forces gathered, and led their attacks. There is also a clever low-level perspective to be had, seeing things from a soldier’s point of view. Above the model hangs an instillation and soundscape of a mass of arrows evoking the sights and sounds of the battle.
The battle inspired one of Shakespeare’s most famous speeches in his play Henry V, thought to have been performed first in 1599 at the Globe theatre on London’s Southbank, not far from the Tower of London in fact. This aspect of the enduring legacy of the battle is illustrated with a rare First Folio of Shakespeare’s plays on loan from Cambridge University Library.
From more recent times there is a wonderful tabard worn by the great Richard Burton in the title role of Henry V at Stratford-Upon-Avon in 1951, on loan from the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. There is also a lovely film poster too from Lawrence Olivier’s 1944 presentation of Henry V in which he starred and also directed. A clever wall projection shows other actors who have played Henry over the years, in this most enduring role.
The exhibition is a real treat; it allows us to become immersed in the context of the medieval world and its thinking before and after the battle. The use of compelling visuals and sound, give new insight into what it must have been like for the soldiers on the ground of this famous bloody. The final, contemporary pieces, show the lasting popularity of the play Henry V, and how the battle of Agincourt continues to live-on in our imaginations today.