“The Agincourt Carol”

Alternate titles: “For the Victory at Agincourt”
Author: unknown
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

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.'"

Supplemental text

Agincourt Carol, The
  Complete text(s)

          *** A ***

The Song of Agincourt 

From the Bodleian Library (Cambridge), MS. Selden B. 26
As transcribed in Chappell/Wooldridge, pp. 25-26.

Collated against the version in Robert D. Stevick, One Hundred
Middle English Lyrics, #51 (S), the version in
Percy/Wheatley, II.i.5 (P), and that in R. T. Davies, Medieval
English Lyrics, #80 (D), all of these being versions of the
same text but with different modernizations. (It appears that the
original probably used the letter yogh (3). Chappell, Davies, Stevick
have transcribed this as gh; Percy uses y. I suspect the manuscript
had thorn also, but this cannot be proved from the transcriptions.
Chappell/Wooldridge report that Percy's source was from a copy of
the Cambridge MS.)

The Song of Agincourt

Deo gracias anglia,
Redde pro victoria

1 Owre kynge went forth to normandy,
  With grace and myght of chyvalry:
  Ther god for him wrought mervelusly.
  Wherfore englonde may calle and cry
                        Deo gracias....

2 He sette a sege the sothe for to say,
  to harflu toune with ryal aray;
  that toune he wan, and made afray,
  that fraunce shal rywe tyl domesday.
                        Deo gracias....

3 Than went owre Kynge with alle his oste,
  thorwe fraunce for all the frenshe boste:
  he spared no drede of leste ne most,
  tyl he come to agincourt coste.
                        Deo gracias....

4 Than forsoth that knyght comely,
  in agincourt feld he faught manly:
  thorw grace of god most myghty,
  he had bothe the felde and the victory.
                        Deo gracias....

5 Ther dukys and erlys, lorde and barone,
  were take and slayne, and that wel sone,
  and some were ladde into Lundone
  with ioye and merthe and grete renone.
                        Deo gracias....

6 Now gracious god he save owre Kynge,
  his peple, and all his wel wyllynge:
  gef him gode lyfe and gode endynge,
  that we with merth mowe savely synge,
                        Deo gracias....

Variant readings (differences such as upper/lower case are
   not noted, nor is the modernized punctuation of Davies,
   but spelling differences are listed. Differences which
   affect the sense are noted in ALL CAPS:

Refrain: gracias: gratias P (P also prints as a single line)

1.1 owre ] oure S D; kynge ] kyng S, kinge D
1.2 with ] wyth S; myght ] myyt P, might D; chyvalry ] chivalry P D
1.3 THER ] THE P;
    him wrought mervelusly ]
    him wroghte merveilously S,
    hym wrouyt  marvelously P
1.4 Wherfore englonde ] wherfor Englond S

2.1 sothe ] soth S; for to ] for-to S; say ] seye S
2.2 harflu ] harflue P; toune ] toun S, towne D;
  with ] wyth S; ryal aray ] royal array S, ryal array D
2.3 toune ] toun S; afray ] affray S D, a fray P
2.4 shal ] shall P; rywe tyl ] rewe til S, riwe till D;
    domesday ] domes day P

3.1 than ] then P; owre kynge with all  his oste ]
                   oure kyng  wyth al   his ost S
                   oure kinge with alle his hoste D
3.2 thorwe ] thurgh S, thorowe P; all ] al S; boste ] bost S
3.3 no ] 'for' (sic) P; leste ] leest S, lest D
3.4 tyl ] til S, till D; COME ] CAM S; coste ] cost S

4.1 forsoth ] for sothe S P; knyght ] knyyt P, knught S, knight D;
    comely ] comly S
4.2 feld ] feeld S; faught ] fauyt P
4.3 thorw ] thurgh S, thorow P; myghty ] myyty P, mighty D
4.4 had ] hadde S; felde ] feeld S; victory ] victorie S

5.1 dukys ] dukis D; erlys ] erles S, erlis D;
    lorde and barone ] lord and baroun S
5.2 slayne ] slayn S, slaine D; sone ] soon S, sone D
5.3 ome ] summe D; ladde into ] ledde in to P; led in-to S, ladde into D;
    Lundone: Londoun S
5.4 with ioye ] with joye P D; wyth joye S; merte ] myrthe S, merthe D;
    grete renone ] greet renoun S

6.1 owre kynge ] oure kyng S, oure kinge D
6.2 all ] alle S D; wel wyllynge ] wel-wyllyng S, well-willinge
6.3 gef ] yeve S, yef D; gode lyfe ] good lyf S, gode life D;
    gode endyng ] good endyng S, gode ending D
6.4 with merth ] wyth myrthe S; savely synge ] saufly synge S,
                                safely singe D

Transcription into modern English

Deo gracias anglia,                  [Give thanks to God, England
Redde pro victoria                   In return for victory]

1 Our king went forth to Normandy,
  With grace and might of chivalry:
  There God for him wrought marv'lously.
  Wherfore England may call and cry
                        Deo gracias....

2 He set a siege, the truth for to say,
  To Harfleur town with royal array;
  That town he won, and made afraid,   [properly "made a disturbance"]
  That France shall rue till doomsday.
                        Deo gracias....

3 Then went our Kynge with all his host,
  Through France, despite the French [lords'] boast
  He feared no danger from least or most,
  Till he came to Agincourt coast.      [district]
                        Deo gracias....

4 Then in truth that knight comely,
  In Agincourt field he fought manly:
  Through grace of God most mighty,
  He had [held] both the field and the victory.
                        Deo gracias....

5 Theer dukes and earls, lord and baron,
  Were taken and slain, and that so soon,
  And some were brought into London
  With joy and mirth and great renown
                        Deo gracias....

6 Now gracious God he save owre King,
  His people, and all his well-wishing: [those who wish him well]
  Give him good life and good ending,
  That we with morth more safely sing,
                        Deo gracias....

Notes

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).

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); the other is at Cambridge.

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. - RBW

Historical references

Cross references

References

  1. Percy/Wheatley II, pp. 29-31, "For the Victory at Agincourt" (1 text)
  2. Stevick-100MEL 51, "(The Agincourt Carol)" (1 text)
  3. Chappell/Wooldridge I, pp. 25-30, "The Song of Agincourt" (1 text, 1 tune)
  4. ADDITIONAL: Brown/Robbins, _Index of Middle English Verse_, #2716
  5. Noah Greenberg, ed., An Anthology of English Medieval and Renaissance Vocal Music, pp. 62-65 (1 text, 1 tune with harmonization)
  6. DT, AGINCRT1*
  7. ST MEL51 (Full)
  8. BI, MEL51