In 1415, Henry V defeated the overwhelmingly superior French army in one of the most famous battles in British history. Massively outnumbered, Henry V overcame incredible odds to win the battle, thanks in part to the pin-point precision and undeniable skill of his longbowmen, including 500 Welsh archers.
But the Welsh connection doesn’t end there, and the Welsh Government is highlighting the important role the country played in this historic event in honour of its 600th anniversary.
Often seen as an English triumph, Wales played a role in the victory and many Welsh places are connected to the story.
‘Harry of Monmouth’
Agincourt was Henry V’s most famous victory, but what a lot of people don’t know is that the king was born here in Wales. Labelled ‘Harry of Monmouth’ by Shakespeare, Henry was born in Monmouth Castle in 1387. Today, his statue stands outside Shire Hall, and Monmouth’s central marketplace is named Agincourt Square in honour of the town’s historic connections with the battle.
To mark the 600th anniversary, Agincourt 600 will be offering a free walking tour of Monmouth town, during which local experts will recount the story of Agincourt and Henry V in relation to the town’s own landmarks.
Tretower Court and Castle is one of the sites most strongly connected to Agincourt. Not only was it the likely muster point for all local soldiers who responded to Henry’s call of arms in 1415, but later in the fifteenth century it became the home of the Vaughan family, the descendants of Sir Roger Vaughan, who is said to have fought at Agincourt alongside his father-in-law, Sir Dafydd Gam.
Both men tragically perished at Agincourt. However, legend has it that they saved Henry V’s life during battle, protecting him from French knights when he came off his horse. According to later tradition, their heroic defence of the king brought them knighthoods as they lay dying on the battlefield.
In 1415, Raglan was home to Sir William ap Thomas, another Welshman who fought alongside Henry at Agincourt.
Famously called the ‘Blue Knight of Gwent’ because of the colour of his armour, he was also responsible for beginning the massive programme of building works that expanded Raglan from a simple manor house to the grand castle we see today.
Sir William ap Thomas’s Agincourt connections go even further; he went on to marry Gwladys, daughter of Dafydd Gam and widow of Sir Roger Vaughan who were both said to have died at Agincourt. Known as the ‘Star of Abergavenny’ for her beauty, Gwladys was buried with William in St Mary’s Priory in Abergavenny, where their impressive tomb can still be seen.
Trecastle in Brecon was the home of Watkin Lloyd, captain of the Brecknock contingent of Welsh archers. The Agincourt 600 exhibition will stop by Trecastle this August, and depict the route that the archers took on their way to Agincourt.
Later in the year, the Trecastle Show will feature a special archery competition to mark the anniversary of the battle – whoever can make the longbow that fires an arrow the furthest will be crowned winner of this unique event.
Many of the Welsh archers who fought at Agincourt originally came from the Brecon area, and traces of their legacy are still recognisable in the town today. Brecon Cathedral’s stained glass window commemorates Roger Vaughan, while the Gam family tomb can be found inside Brecon Cathedral. Additionally, if you visit the heritage centre you can see a list of all the names of the local archers who fought in the battle.
To mark the anniversary in October, Christ College, Brecon, will see the battle remembered in poetry, songs, stories, theatre scenes and speeches, including Shakespeare’s famous St Crispin’s Day speech.
Ken Skates, Deputy Minister for Culture Sport and Tourism in Wales, commented, “The defeat at Agincourt is one of history’s key moments, and during its 600th anniversary year Wales’s role in this historic defeat is being celebrated.
“With a full programme of events planned to tell the story of the Welsh at Agincourt in a lively and accessible way, Agincourt 600 Wales and Cadw are giving people the opportunity to engage and find out more about the role Wales played in this significant historic event.”
— Agincourt 600 Wales (@agincourtwales) June 25, 2015