Tag Archives: Henry V

Lord Bardolph of Agincourt at Dennington


Image of Dennington Church, Suffolk

Dennington Church, Suffolk. The interior will astonish the visitor

Suffolk, the sandlings and sky. Here Le Gringalet guides me through the greenswards of England along the old road to Southwold and the coast of the German Ocean. Flat land, a fair wind and a festival of flowers dot the roadside as here at Dennington I find myself.

As with so much in my quest, the world has turned and wended a way beyond my comprehension. Yet this old church, charming still stands and chides those who choose to turn their heads to the gods of greed and avarice. And well have the centuries like sentinels kept this saintly place!

Square the tower stands as the squires had seen it built, squatting by stonemasons. The nave, when new, nestled here at the junction of quiet lanes and the glass glistered to all who glimpsed upon its luxury. Let us press inside and see what my eyes had seen in the silence of past sights…

Disappointment is not a word which deigns to dirty the glory herewithin. Light cascades as a carapace of calm onto dark figures dancing before the Greatest Deity. Poppy-headed pews portray people, poets and priests. And monsters, mystical figures and even a mermaid sit silently as you in prayer solemnly contemplate order, place and your own insignificance. 

Science and scepticism stop here now to see the Sciapod. Unusual in these islands, our one-footed friend falls in slumber on sunny days beneath the shadow of his single sole. Here he has lain, forever entombed by the bench-end since the day he was carved in oak by a carpenter skilled. Few who come here know of him yet those who find him scarce forget their fortune in such discovery.

More, too, looms here in this noble nave nestling. An old clock whose clicking has long since ceased to clatter and tell the passing of the days. Oaken chests which once chimed with the chink of tithe moneys given. And now, a great prize indeed: the tomb of Lord Bardolph, maligned in ignorance by the great bard of later years but who, in beauty now, belies a legacy undeserved.

Here in his chapel Lord Bardolph chatters in eternity to his cheery wife, holding hands in heaven as here on earth their visage still remains. Study now his armour, beaten on the field of Agincourt by blows French – but yet he stood. The arrows flew, the horses shied, and Frenchmen were flung to the field and drowned in the mud and crush of that October day long ago.

In the horror of that foreign furrowed field did this man found his glory. Here was a man who knew well the wounds of Henry, his cheek chiselled by a charmless bodkin at Shrewsbury in 1403. This man knew in dysentery disembowelled the distress of archers daunted by the chivalry of France. And blessed he was by the baton-beating command of Erpingham: Nestroque! Now Strike!

In one day at Agincourt the flower of France wilted in those furrows and brave men on both sides took belting blows. There is no fame in the fear that frets a man at the moment his life is soon lifeless to become. Yet those who stay behind stall not with their words when stating that they who died on Crispin’s day will be remembered well by Englishmen for all time.

So Bardolph sleeps in  bier ornate

His memory spanning time

In his survival fortunate

In life he saw his prime

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Filed under British History, British Landscape, English Counties, English History, English Landscape, English myths and legends, Historic Churches in England, Historic places to visit in Britain, Suffolk, Touring Britain, Touring England

The long road to Agincourt


The battlefield of Agincourt - with Azincourt on the left and Tramecourt on the right

The battlefield of Agincourt - so pleasant today, so horrific 596 years ago

In autumn time when leaves crumble on the bough and birds turn eyes to warmer climes, that’s when eyes of men and women turn oft to distant lands and long-remembered places. It’s that time of year again. The nights are drawing in and kings, queens, knights, yeomen, serfs and all look into the warmth of their homes rather than the cold outside. Yet think back 596 years to the 25th October 1415 and for a small band of English, Welsh, Irish and Scottish soldiers home was a long way away.

On this morning all those years ago, I recall our good king Henry V extolling all of us to do our duty in the face of horrendous odds: to do battle against the glory of France and to win. The problem we faced was this: our total force was fewer than 6,000; those of our enemies were – as far as I could see – at least 20,000. But there were probably more.

It had rained the night before. My fellow soldiers were cold and wet. The ground was muddy underfoot. I recall Sir Thomas Erpingham, the commander of the archers, wandering among this filthy soldiers, offering calm and reassuring words – his Norfolk burr whispering like a plane over elm.

I recall the king explaining to his lords the protocol of what to do should defeat occur. But I also recall him laughing in the face of adversity across the sodden field ahead of him. If we can be touched by the hand of God, then let that time be now. Within hours the French would overwhelm us – only prayers and fate could help us beneath the leaden skies of Picardy.

There we were at Maisoncelle, a small hamlet of fewer than 100 souls, standing and looking across the plain ahead of us. In the distance, to the left, we could see the church as Azincourt nestling in the trees. To the right, another woodland. In between, the feudal host of France glistened in the early morning.

We could hear jesting and laughter – the confidence of well fed men, fully rested and ready for battle. Yet we few souls knew that we would have to face these men on this field or lose the war. Azincourt, this dirty village, would either be famous for all time or some nameless burial ground for an army of lost souls.

Yet the French would not come forward. We knew then that we had to advance and attack them: sheer folly, given the size of the field in front of us and the risks of flank attack. Yet so it was that Henry gave the instruction for our pitiful band to advance. Fortune favours the brave.

Across that field we walked, the archers upping sticks and then, as we neared the village, placing them again in the earth – hammering their stakes into the ground and sharpening their tips. We were but 300 yards from our enemy. We could see them, their faces, their movement, their laughter. They were drinking and scornful of our ragged force. And still they would not come…

Here it was that Henry urged strength and with a signal to Sir Thomas urged our archers to loose upon the enemy a hail of arrows so vast that it would seem as if it snowed. Sir Thomas raised his baton in the air and at the command of “Next Stroke” lowered his arm. The arrows loosed like a cloud of darts and down they fell. In minutes the French, the immovable host, started to edge forward. I will be honest and say that fear gripped us but we knew now that we must stand and fight.

Our archers delivered wave after wave of arrows in a storm upon the French. Many brave men fell and piled high in mounds, crushing those still living until they drowned in the soft earth of that sodden field. It was not chivalry. It was not war. It was carnage. Yet still they came, pushing back our knights so that even our archers had to get amongst them.

I recall the Duc d’Alencon at one point surrendering his sword to Henry in surrender – yet to my shame I saw him cut down by the king’s bodyguards. Ih the height of battle, urgency overwhelms sensibility. As it did when fear of a French attack from the rear compelled the king to order the killing of many prisoners. With ransoms due on those men, I can assure you that this was not a decision taken lightly nor indeed received well by those guarding them. Yet so it is when victory can turn to defeat.

Within hours – I would say two hours at most – it was all over. The long road to Agincourt and on to Calais had ended here. Perhaps two hundred of our own in exchange for many thousands of the enemy lay strewn across the mud. As in all such battles at that time, those who lay suffering through terminal wounds were despatched where they lay by friends and fellow warriors. The peace of death came brutally to those who had avoided it during the battle’s climax.

When I think back to that fateful day all those years ago, I sometimes wonder what might have happened had things turned out against us. And yet they didn’t. And as our good bard William Shakespeare was to write so many years later, “gentlemen in England now a-bed shall think themselves accursed they were not here and hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks that fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s Day.”

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A meeting with John de la Pole of Chrishall, Essex


Sir John de la Pole

Sir John de la Pole - an old friend

Left to travel this world in immortality, I find it difficult at times to see what happened to the people and the places I once knew and loved. In my rides on La Gringalet, sometimes we come across places which hold so many ghosts that it causes us both to stand and breathe in silence. One such place is Chrishall in Essex, home of an old acquaintance, Sir John de la Pole.

It’s been many years since I dropped in on Sir John. When last we met in the 1360s, he was a young man in his teens and about to be married to a beautiful woman called Joan Cobham from Kent. Alas, the next time I was to see him was just yestereday – a face now frozen in brass at Chrishall Church on the Icknield Way in Essex.

But he wasn’t always thus, oh no! John was full of life – a huntsman who excelled in arms – a true and perfect knight, whose skill at the horse was renowned and whose good looks were the envy of his fellow knights. Like me, he came from the north country – in his case, his father from Kingston-upon-Hull by that great river Humber.

It is sad now to see his face, staring out at me from the church floor. I can hear his gruff Yorkshire tones now saying  how in the south it was “fair warm and not as gradely as when ‘t’ cold winds blow from the German sea”. A true northerner if ever there was one – he preferred it when it rained to when the sun shone!

I wonder what he would say today about the village he left when his life was so cruelly cut short? When last we talked among the dunnocks and woodpeckers which seem to thrive here, the church was at the centre of the village but now the village seems to have moved up the hill, as if to turn its back on a life long lost. The farmsteads I knew have long gone, even his fair manor has not fared well with the passage of the years – not one stone stands upon another and no more do we hear the recitals of poetry and the laughter that was so much a part of his life.

Alas, poor Sir John, he died so young – living only long enough to father his young daughter Joan with his fair wife, of the same name and buried with him too at this place. But all is not lost to the silence of time, dear reader. If Sir John could know what I know now, he would be proud of what he created.

Joan, his daughter, went on to marry well. Not once but five times,  and sometimes I do wonder whether our great scribe Geoffrey Chaucer didst have her in mind when he created his Wife of Bath? In 1380 she married Sir Robert Hemenhale who died in 1391; then she married the Member of Parliament Sir Reynold Braybroke, who died in 1405; thirdly she married. Sir Nicholas Hawberk, who tragically died only two years later and by whom she had a son (who also tragically died).

I have looked into this matter further dear friends and have found she then went on to marry Sir John Oldcastle who by this marriage appears to have been annointed to Lord Oldcastle before, strangely, being executed by our great king Henry V in 1417. This must have been a cause of great sadness to Joan but she was clearly seen as a true asset: marrying for a fifth time Sir John Harpenden who outlived her on her death in the 1430s, dying in 1458.

Ah Joan, Joan! If your father had known what you had achieved beyond the few short years of his own brief life, he would have been a proud man indeed! On my travels I must visit soon your grave at Cobham and pass on my respects to you, dear child…

The stones and brass at Chrishall are quiet today but their silence is more eloquent than words.

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