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Rose without Thorn, Eagle without Feathers: Nation and Power in Late Medieval England and Germany

Rupert King of Germany with his wife Elizabeth of Nuremberg
Rupert King of Germany with his wife Elizabeth of Nuremberg
Rupert King of Germany with his wife Elizabeth of Nuremberg

Rose without Thorn, Eagle without Feathers: Nation and Power in Late Medieval England and Germany

Len Scales

German Historical Institute London Bulletin: Bd. 31 2009 Nr. 1

Abstract

It is hard at times to take the Agincourt Carol entirely seriously. Patriotism of such brash exuberance seems more properly to belong in a brightly lit Laurence Olivier world of mid twentieth-century medievalism than amid the grim and tangled realities of fifteenth- century politics and war. Yet these words, and the hardly less tub- thumping verses which follow, cannot date from long after the battle; and the assumptions upon which they rest merit some reflection. God has favoured Henry V and his cause in France; therefore let England give God thanks. The divinely favoured monarch is paired with his Chosen People, those new Israelites the English, in whose name he conquered, and who were made glorious through his glory. By the time of Agincourt, God was not only a Lancastrian; he was an Englishman. God, king, and people stand, it seems, in perfect harmony. And the same God who favoured the English had spurned their French foes: against the Chosen are pitted the damned, consigned to stew in their own disgrace ‘tyl domesday’.

It is instructive to contemplate Henry in his hour of glory along- side another European prince of his day: Rupert of Wittelsbach, Count Palatine of the Rhine and ruler of the western Roman Empire, the close of whose reign (1400–10) overlapped with the start of Henry’s own. But there, it seems, the parallels end. Rupert was a monarch with no resounding triumphs to his name and few discernible marks of divine favour. It was Rupert’s modest, mostly stay- at-home reign that drew from the conciliarist Dietrich von Niem the tart observation that the king had evidently embraced the student’s maxim, that there is no life outside Heidelberg, site of Rupert’s court. While the Agincourt poet lauded Henry, a near-contemporary versifier was heaping scorn upon the goeckelman—the ‘travelling trickster’—on the imperial throne, who made his rounds clutching an ‘empty purse’.

German Historical Institute London Bulletin

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