By Dan Spencer
On 23 November 1415, Henry returned to the city of London in triumph with the Corporation of London putting on extravagant displays of pageantry to celebrate the king’s victory.
This evidently made a deep impression on contemporaries, with the chronicler Walsingham stating that the reception of the king was so brilliant and varied that it would require a special treatise to record it adequately. Fortunately detailed descriptions of the celebrations do survive from chronicles, including the Gesta Henrici Quinti (1417), the Chronicle of Adam Usk (1421), and the Chronicle of London (late fifteenth century). Further information is provided by verses which were once thought to have been written by Lydgate.
The Chronicle of London states that Henry arrived back in England on 16 November at Dover and made his way towards London. On 24 November, according to the Gesta Henrici Quinti, he was greeted outside the city at Blackheath by 20,000 citizens on horseback wearing red clothes together with red and white hoods. At 10 o’clock the king came into their midst wearing a gown of purple, with the Londoners congratulating him on the victory he had achieved and praising God. The citizens then headed to London with the king following with only a small retinue, including his most important French prisoners.
Evidently the corporation and citizens of London had been busy since receiving news of the victory as they then put on a series of lavish displays to celebrate the battle.
The Gesta Henrici Quinti provides a detailed description of Henry’s reception in the city.
At the south entrance to London Bridge he was confronted by two enormous figures bearing the royal arms. ‘And, all around them, projecting from the ramparts, staffs bearing the royal arms and trumpets, clarions, and horns ringing out in multiple harmony embellished the tower, and the face of it bore this choice and appropriate legend inscribed on the wall: Civitas Regis Iusticie (City of the King of Justice)’.
As the king made his way further along the bridge as far as the ‘little drawbridge’, he would have seen two pillars with the appearance of towers on either side of the bridge, each built of wood and covered with linen cloth painted to resemble stonework. The pillar on the right had the figure of an antelope with a shield of the royal arms and a royal sceptre. On the other pillar was a lion holding a staff with the royal standard unfurled.
Directly in front of the king was another pillar which contained a figure of St George in armour except his head which contained gems, set in a canopied niche. Behind the statue was a crimson tapestry with his heraldic arms on shields. The tower itself had the message ‘Fluminis impetus letificat civitatem dei’ (There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God)written on it.
In the house next to and behind the tower choirs of boys dressed as angels sang ‘Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini’ (Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord).
A second choir, dressed as prophets of the Old Testament, were present at Cornhill where they chanted ‘Cantate domino canticum novum, Alleluia. Quia mirabilia fecit.’ (Sing to the Lord a new song, Alleluia, because he has done marvellous things) and released a flock of little birds ‘of which some descended on to the king’s breast, some settled upon his shoulders, and some circled around in twisted flight’.
From there the king’s entourage proceeded to the tower of the conduit at the entrance to Cheapside. This was covered by a green cover bearing the escutcheons of the city’s arms. Under an awning were old men dressed as the Apostles, who on the king’s approach in perfect time sang the psalm ‘Salvasti enim in nos de affligentibus nos, et odientes nos confudisti’ (But it is thou that has saved us from our enemies, and have put them to confusion that hate us). They then gave to the king round leaves of silver, wafers of bread and wine from the conduits ‘that they might receive him with bread and wine just as Melchizedek did Abraham when he returned with victory from the slaughter of the four kings’.
An account of the pageantry from here onwards is provided by Usk:
At the cross in the middle of Cheap, reaching from one side to the other, as far as the church of St. Peter, was a three—storeyed building mounted by a remarkable series of ladders, to which towers and bulwarks and the coats of arms of the kingdom and its princes were attached, the whole thing being constructed from planks, a remarkable example of the skills of both carpenters and painters; it was covered with a large linen sheet decorated in lapidary colours, so that it looked like a wall made of porphyry, marble, and ivory, and on it were written the words, ‘Things glorious are said of thee, thou city of the Lord’; and it was completely filled with models of angels, singers and organs. Six citizens, magnificently dressed, came out of its iron gates carrying two basins made of gold and filled with gold, which were offered to the king. As he approached the lower conduit, chanting virgins came dancing to meet him, accompanied by choirs and drums and golden viols, just as in King David’s time, after the slaying of Goliath. What more can I say? The city wore its brightest aspect, and happiness filled the people-and rightly so. At St Paul’s the king dismounted and went devoutly forward to make offerings at the Holy Cross, the tomb of St Erkenwald, and the high altar, before moving on from there to dine at Westminster.
The Gesta Henrici Quinti further states that such was the dense crowd of spectators in the city that the mounted procession had difficulty getting through to Westminster. Throughout these celebrations the king proceeded with ‘an impassive countenance and at a dignified pace. Indeed, from his quiet demeanour, gentle place, and sober progress, it might have been gathered that the king, silently pondering the matter in his heart, was rendering thanks and glory to God alone, not to man’.
On the day after the pageants, according to the Chronicle of London, the mayor and the aldermen of London went to the king at Westminster and presented him with two basins of gold worth £500 which contained gold worth a further £1,000.
For more information on the Agincourt Pageants follow this link NCHenryVAgincourtPageants
This information came from Chris Given-Wilson, ed., The Chronicle of Adam Usk, 1377-1421 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997); R. R. Sharpe, London and the Kingdom, volume 1 (London: Longmans & Co., 1894); Nicholas Harris, ed., A Chronicle of London from 1089 to 1483 (London: Longmans, 1827); Frank Taylor and John S. Roskell, eds., Gesta Henrici Quinti: The Deeds of Henry the Fifth (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975); Nicola Coldstream, ‘Pavilion’d in Splendour’: Henry V’s Agincourt Pageants’, Journal of the British Archaeological Association, 165 (2012), 153-171.
Image of Old London Bridge from a picture by Claes Van Visscher (1616), obtained from Wikipedia and is in the Public Domain