By Roger Thomas
A significant local landowner in the Forest of Dean, Sir John was closely associated with the local freeminers who travelled to France as part of the war effort. He had a long military career before Agincourt, notably in the wars against Welsh leader Owain Glyndŵr in battles at Shrewsbury, Grosmont and Pwll Melyn in the early 1400s. The indenture signed by Sir John in 1415 supplied Henry V’s forces with a company of 30 archers and 120 miners, believed to be from the Forest of Dean. It is not certain that Sir John reached Agincourt himself, but records show that he was part of the Harfleur garrison between December 1415 and April 1416.
The Forest of Dean
It wasn’t just archers who took part in the campaign. Miners were a key component in Henry V’s forces, using their underground expertise to weaken and undermine enemy fortifications. The Forest of Dean, was a well-known place from which to recruit these miners, thanks to a history of iron and coal mining that stretches back to prehistoric and Roman times. To this day, the Forest’s freeminers hold special prospecting rights, reportedly as a result of their service in battle during the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries.
According to a local freeminer saying, 120 miners left for the 1415 campaign and only 63 made it back. Though hard evidence of the freeminers’ involvement in Agincourt is difficult to come by, there are a few connections that back up claims of a link. Local nobleman Sir John Greyndour signed an indenture with Henry V providing a company of 30 archers and 120 miners. Given the close connection the Greyndours had with the area in which the freeminers operated in the Forest of Dean, plus the wealth of local folklore, it seems highly probable that the miners in the indenture came from the area.
More clues can be seen at St Michael’s Church in Abenhall, near Mitcheldean. The church’s fine font, which dates from the middle of the 15th century, is carved with the symbols of local miners and blacksmiths. According to local legend, the font was presented to the church by miners in 1450 to commemorate their involvement in the French wars, including the Battle of Agincourt. It is said that the wealth gained from their adventures also paid for several improvements to the church, including a new tower. A carved stone over the tower door displays the arms of the miners and the head of a miner sporting the famous Monmouth cap, which was popular at the time.
The Forest of Dean’s Agincourt connections are just one reason to visit. Head to www.wyedeantourism.co.uk, to find out about more things to see and do in the Forest. It is a fascinating place with its own special character, history and heritage.
Roger Thomas for Agincourt 600 Wales Legacy Project
Image of St. Michael’s Church, Abenhall, taken from Wikipedia, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license, author Pauline Eccles