Agincourt Carol, The
DESCRIPTION: King Henry (V) travels to France "wyth grace and myght of chyvalry," captures Harfleur, and wins a great victory at Agincourt, "Wherfore Englonde may call and cry, 'Deo gracias (x2) anglia Rede pro victoria.'"
EARLIEST DATE: before 1500 (Bodleian MS Selden B. 26); hints in chronicles imply that it was sung at Henry V's return to England 1415/16
KEYWORDS: England France battle royalty
1413 - Accession of Henry V
Aug 11, 1415 - Invasion of France
Sept 22, 1415 - Surrender of Harfleur
Oct 25, 1415 - Battle of Agincourt. Henry V, outnumbered by about 10 to 1, defeats the French, inflicting casualties in the same 10:1 ratio
1422 - Death of Henry V
REFERENCES (11 citations):
Percy/Wheatley II, pp. 29-31, "For the Victory at Agincourt" (1 text)
Stevick-100MEL 51, "(The Agincourt Carol)" (1 text)
Chappell/Wooldridge I, pp. 25-30, "The Song of Agincourt" (1 text, 1 tune)
DallasCruel, pp. 189-190, "The Agincourt Carol" (1 text, 1 tune)
ADDITIONAL: Richard Greene, editor, _A Selection of English Carols_, Clarendon Medieval and Tudor Series, Oxford/Clarendon Press, 1962, #90, pp. 156-156, "(Deo gracias, Anglia)" (1 text)
Reginald Nettel, _Seven Centuries of Popular Song_, Phoenix House, 1956, pp. 21-22, "(The Agincourt Carol)" (1 text, plus an image of part of a manuscript copy facing page 60)
Celia and Kenneth Sisam, _The Oxford Book of Medieval English Verse_, Oxford University Press, 1970; corrected edition 1973, #151, p. 381, "The Agincourt Carol" (1 text)
Brown/Robbins, _Index of Middle English Verse_, #2716
Digital Index of Middle English Verse #4317
Noah Greenberg, ed., An Anthology of English Medieval and Renaissance Vocal Music, pp. 62-65 (1 text, 1 tune with harmonization)
ST MEL51 (Full)
cf. "King Henry Fifth's Conquest of France" [Child 164] (subject)
Oh Wondrous Typr! Oh Vision Fair (English version of "Caelestis formam gloriae) (#80 in the 1978 Lutheran Book of Worship)
For the Victory at Agincourt
NOTES [625 words]: The Latin refrain means, "Thank God, England, for victory."
Henry V had a legitimate claim to the throne of France derived from his great-grandfather Edward III (whose mother had been a French princess). Under English law, he was rightful King of France (or would have been, were it not for the fact that Henry had cousins who were proper heirs to both the thrones of England and France. But that's another story).
The French, however, didn't want an English king, and eventually dredged up the "Salic Law" to prevent succession through the female line. Henry V's predecessors Richard II and the usurper Henry IV had been too busy to do anything about that, but Henry V had the leisure to invade France.
The invasion of 1415 was the first and most spectacular of Henry's campaigns. After taking Harfleur to give him a base in Normandy, he engaged in a great chevauchee (destructive raid in which he burned everything in his path).
The enraged French pursued, and even appeared at one point to have Henry trapped; he reportedly offered terms, which the French foolishly ignored (they thought ten to one odds in their favor were enough to win the day). Henry found a good position and waited for the French to show up. He then used his longbowmen to shatter their army. He proceeded to Calais to return his army to England and prepare his next campaign.
Henry reportedly forbade any musical odes to Agincourt, preferring to give credit to God. He got them anyway (though the clever author here never explicitly credits Henry).
For more historical background, see "King Henry Fifth's Conquest of France" [Child 164].
This, the most famous Agincourt piece, appeared very shortly after the campaign. Two copies survive, the more important being MS. Selden B.26 (Bodlian library, with music; as of this writing, scans are available at https://digital.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/inquire/p/11d9f36c-2e48-47d3-b7a3-a9decd76fd28); the other is at Cambridge, Trinity College O.3.58, a manuscript containing several carols, most of them for Christmas and the New Year. Modern catalogs will sometimes number it Trinity MS. 1230. It is a most unusual manuscript; instead of being a codex (what we think of as a "book"), it is a roll (with running down the roll rather than in columns across the roll as in, say, a Hebrew Bible manuscript), seven inches wide by about seven feet tall (Robbins, p. 85).
There is no evidence that this song ever entered oral tradition; it's almost unsingable. But the frequency with which it is quoted argues for its presence here.
Jarman, p. 191, suggests that the song is by John Lydgate -- but while Lydgate did write about Agincourt, there is no reason to think this is his work. Lydgate was a prolific writer, but he wasn't really very good. (For background, see the notes to "The London Lackpenny.") Barker, p. 361, suggests that this was "probably a production of Henry's own royal chapel or a religious house and has been preserved in ecclesiastical archives." She suggests that other Agincourt songs were written but are lost.
This song was designed for three voices (Barker, p. 360): two voices in unison singing the verses, with the opening line of the chorus sung by a single voice, then two voices in harmony for the second line, and the remainder sung with variations by all three voices.
A high-resolution digital image of the Selden Manuscript is now available on the Bodleian web site. Go to the Bodleian manuscripts page at http://tinyurl.com/tbdx-BodleianMSS and scroll to MS. Arch. Selden B. 26. It is on folio 17 verso. The manuscript is very fine, with black and red inks and and some blue initials. Sadly, the margins have been trimmed too closely, cutting off at least one marginal remark, but the main text is intact.- RBW
Last updated in version 4.5
- Barker: Juliet Barker, Agincourt,2005 (I use the 2007 Back Bay paperback edition)
- Jarman: Rosemary Hawley Jarman, Crispin's Day: The Glory of Agincourt, Little Brown, 1979
- Robbins: Rossell Hope Robbins, Early English Christmas Carols, Columbia University Press, 1961
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