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The Agincourt Carol

[ Roud V29347 ; Ballad Index MEL51 ; trad.]

This song celebrates the victory of King Henry V over the French at Agincourt in 1415 which gave England for the first time the upper hand in the War of Hundred Years. Henry V had neither “good life” nor “good ending”; and his early death in 1422 and the subsequent defeat in France started the War of the Roses.

The Young Tradition sang The Agincourt Carol in 1968 on their last LP, Galleries. They were accompanied by The Early Music Consort and Dolly Collins. Heather Wood commented in the album's sleeve notes:

King Henry V was so appalled by the cost in lives of the victory of Agincourt that he forbade it to be made the subject of song, but the author of this carol was spared because of the quality of his verse. Well, it's a nice story. This song was something of an endurance test for the musicians who played it straight through without a break. David Munrow, on shawm, practically collapsed afterwards.

Canterbury Fair sang The Agincourt Song on their eponymous 1977 album Canterbury Fair. They noted:

After his great victory over the French at Agincourt in 1415, Henry V forbade any songs to be made of his victory—the victory was God's. Thus it would appear that to overcome the royal command, whoever created the song hat the sense to include in the text of the burden, “Deo gratias”—“Thanks be to god”. In the different versions of the carol, the burden may change, but “Deo gratias” is always there. The quotation preceding the song is Shakespeare's, though we couldn't ask him if he minded our using it.

A version of the song appeared in Erik Routley's The English Carol (Herbert Jenkins Ltd, 1958).

The Silly Sisters (June Tabor and Maddy Prior) recorded verses 1 and 6 of the Agincourt Carol in 1988 for their second album, No More to the Dance.

Sue Brown and Lorraine Irwing sang the Agincourt Carol in 1997 on their WildGoose CD Call & Cry. They noted:

It's said that Henry V was so horrified by the loss of life at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415 that he forbade any songs to be written about his victory.

Ewan MacColl used the Agincourt Carol as basis for his song Bring the Summer Home.


The Young Tradition sing The Agincourt Carol

Owre kynge went forth to Normandy,
With grace and myyt of chivalry;
The God for hym wrouyt marvelously,
Wherefore Englonde may calle, and cry

Chorus (repeated after each verse):
Deo gratias
Deo gratias
Anglia redde pro victoria.

He sette a sege, the sothe for to say,
To Harflue toune with ryal aray;
That toune he wan, and made a fray,
That Fraunce shall rywe tyl domes day.

Then went owre kynge, with alle his oste,
Thorowe Fraunce for all the Frenshe boste;
He spared 'for' drede of leste, ne most,
Tyl he come to Agincourt coste.

Than for sothe that knyyt comely
In Agincourt feld he fauyt manly
Thorow grace of God most myyty
He had bothe the felde, and the victory

Ther dukys, and erlys, lorde and barone,
Were take, and slayne, and that wel sone,
And some were ledde in to Lundone
With joye, and merthe, and grete renone

Noe gratious 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 syng