Our Livery was invited in 2013 to join the Agincourt 600 Organising Committee to take part in planning the commemoration of the 600th anniversary of this world-shaping battle. The Court appointed me to join the Organising Committee in a supporting role with the Clerk, John Allen. John Allen had been on the Committee as former Clerk to the Cutlers Company (the only Company to have received its Royal Charter from King Henry V, himself, the victor of Agincourt). We were invited to join as a ‘Warrior Company’ with the Cutlers, Bowyers, Fletchers and Armourers and Braziers Companies.
The committee’s purpose was to promote understanding and commemorations of the battle, including its place in history and to set up a charity fund for these purposes. Funds were raised from various parties including some Livery companies. In the 2015 budget, the Chancellor announced that Government would support this charitable endeavour with a grant of up to £1m. The Gunmakers encouraged an application from British Blind Sport which resulted in the charity receiving a grant of £38,000 for the development of target shooting and archery for the blind.
Most of us learned about Agincourt at school. Stalwart English men with longbows overcame the armoured ranks of French chivalry. Huzzah! It was the great British victory of the Hundred Year’s war, and helped to establish Henry V as theoretical heir to Charles VI, King of France. Had Henry not died of dysentery at 35, just seven years after Agincourt and just a couple of months before Charles VI, he would most likely have become ruler of both kingdoms, and established England as a continental power. Instead, his successors lost the battles of Patay, Formigny and Castillon – and with them the lands England claimed in France. Henry V is buried in his own chapel at Westminster Abbey, with his sword, helm and saddle.
As Lord Sumption, Law Lord and historian, has pointed out, a united France and England would probably have been governed from Paris, if only because the French outnumbered the English. Instead, England developed as an island nation, with Agincourt as a glorious memory of historical bravery rather than a turning point in political history.
Although the Gunmakers’ Company was not formed until 1637, our predecessor companies were involved in providing guns for the campaign in 1415, such guns being mostly involved in the successful siege of Harfleur.
A banquet was held at the Guildhall on 22nd September, fully subscribed and including a number of our Liverymen, to commemorate the financial support given by the City to the campaign to reclaim the King’s lands in France – lands in which the City had great investment.
The Gunmakers also played a special part in a commemorative service held at Westminster Abbey on 29th October, the anniversary of the Lord Mayor and City receiving word of the victory at the battle. On hearing the news, they marched in great procession through the City to the Abbey to give thanks and to honour the (French born) Queen, Catherine of Valois. Together with the Masters of the other four ‘Warrior Companies’, I escorted the sword of King Henry V to the High Altar.
The exhibition on Agincourt at the Tower of London remains open to the public until January and is well worth a visit. The Agincourt 600 web site, www.agincourt600.com, contains a variety of fascinating articles on both the history of the battle and the charities now being supported in its memory.