Skip to 0 minutes and 8 seconds ANNE CURRY: Here we are in the White Tower of the Tower of London for the Battle of Agincourt exhibition installed by the Royal Armouries, and I’m very pleased to have with me here Dr. Malcolm Mercer, who is curator of Tower history for the Royal Armouries.
Skip to 0 minutes and 22 seconds MALCOLM MERCER: Hello, Anne.
Skip to 0 minutes and 23 seconds ANNE CURRY: So Malcolm, you are the curator of it. I was the historical adviser, but you must have had some interesting choices to make.
Skip to 0 minutes and 30 seconds MALCOLM MERCER: Well, absolutely, Anne. I mean we came up with a fairly clear narrative of what we wished to do within the exhibition. We wanted to place it within context of the entire period, and by doing that, it presented us with various challenges on just how we achieve that through objects. We’ve managed to include objects, fine art, portraiture, some arms and armour, because we want to give to understand not only who the individuals were– they might know of the monarchs Henry V and Charles VI– but also the world in which they lived and just what kingship meant. So for that we needed a wide range of objects.
Skip to 1 minute and 11 seconds ANNE CURRY: This certainly is a very interesting collection of objects. One of my favourites is the saddle connected with Henry V and the Emperor Sigismund, whom Henry invited to–
Skip to 1 minute and 21 seconds MALCOLM MERCER: Very much so, yeah. I mean, we call it the dragon saddle. It’s bone veneer on wood, and it’s a lovely object, but it shows the contact between mediaeval monarchs, the chivalric club of monarchs across Europe. So Henry was initiated into Sigismund’s Order of the Dragon, but at the same time, Sigismund became a member of the Order of the Garter.
Skip to 1 minute and 45 seconds ANNE CURRY: There are quite a large number of objects here from the Royal Armouries own collection of arms and armour. I think those are in the second room.
Skip to 1 minute and 54 seconds MALCOLM MERCER: Those are in the second section about the battle, yes.
Skip to 1 minute and 55 seconds ANNE CURRY: About the battle itself. Shall we go through and have a look at that?
Skip to 1 minute and 58 seconds MALCOLM MERCER: Yes, let’s go and have a look at them.
Skip to 1 minute and 58 seconds ANNE CURRY: Thank you. Well, we’ve moved into the second room now, Malcolm, and this is where the pieces are from the Royal Armouries collection of arms and armour, and I think we’re standing in front of one of the most famous pieces you have.
Skip to 2 minutes and 9 seconds MALCOLM MERCER: Yeah, one of the star pieces with the Royal Armouries collections is the Lyle Bacinet, which you can see just behind us. It shows exactly what a man at arms would have been wearing at the time of Agincourt.
Skip to 2 minutes and 21 seconds ANNE CURRY: Presumably there are very few pieces like this surviving.
Skip to 2 minutes and 23 seconds MALCOLM MERCER: Yeah, I mean there’s very little early 15th century arms and armour anyway, so what we have in this exhibition is armour of a type that would have been worn.
Skip to 2 minutes and 33 seconds ANNE CURRY: Of the period. Yes, it is important for people to realise that we have nothing physical from the battlefield itself, but what you have here represents really the very limited amount of survivals of armour from the period.
Skip to 2 minutes and 49 seconds MALCOLM MERCER: What we’ve attempted to do here in this instance is show what the best dressed would have been wearing as a man-at-arms.
Skip to 2 minutes and 57 seconds ANNE CURRY: And the differences in armour between the two sides wouldn’t have been–
Skip to 3 minutes and 0 seconds MALCOLM MERCER: Minimal. Minimal. They really would’ve looked pretty much the same given that the centres of production are largely Italy and the Low Countries. You’re not getting much variation in type.
Skip to 3 minutes and 12 seconds ANNE CURRY: And also some horse armour.
Skip to 3 minutes and 14 seconds MALCOLM MERCER: Some horse armour, the Warwick shaffron, which is the head piece that a war horse would wear, and some spurs, funnily enough, as well. Beautifully decorated pieces, which reminds us that arms and armour are objects to be seen and admired as well as to be of practical use.
Skip to 3 minutes and 30 seconds ANNE CURRY: And there are some war axes and swords in this exhibition.
Skip to 3 minutes and 34 seconds MALCOLM MERCER: We’ve got swords. We’ve got one of the weapons of choice, the pollaxe.
Skip to 3 minutes and 38 seconds ANNE CURRY: Of course, yes.
Skip to 3 minutes and 39 seconds MALCOLM MERCER: Which was a multi purpose weapon for the man at arms and very popular on the battlefield. Oh, and also the brigandine, which is another form of armour. Becomes favoured by archers, but also men-at-arms because of its flexibility, as well.
Skip to 3 minutes and 52 seconds ANNE CURRY: Yes, of course, this is the sort of object where it’s a sort of a cheaper version.
Skip to 3 minutes and 56 seconds MALCOLM MERCER: It’s a cheaper version, but incredibly strong and incredibly flexible, often reusing old armour.
Skip to 4 minutes and 2 seconds ANNE CURRY: So sort of cutting it up into pieces and then sewing it to the fabric.
Skip to 4 minutes and 5 seconds MALCOLM MERCER: Cutting the armour up into pieces– and yes, basically.
Skip to 4 minutes and 7 seconds ANNE CURRY: Quite ingenious.
Skip to 4 minutes and 8 seconds MALCOLM MERCER: So it’s a flexible, but very strong piece of armour.
Skip to 4 minutes and 12 seconds ANNE CURRY: Well, thank you very much. It strikes me that perhaps now we could follow up looking at– you’ve mentioned the armour of the men-at-arms. We thought a bit about the brigandine. We can perhaps go and have a look at the database of soldiers to look a little bit more at who these people were.
Skip to 4 minutes and 29 seconds MALCOLM MERCER: Yeah, who these people just were. So Anne, we’ve already seen the original muster rolls and indentures, but just how much do we know about the English forces that were at the battle. Who were these people?
Skip to 4 minutes and 42 seconds ANNE CURRY: It’s not necessarily so easy to know who was at the battle. We know the names of people on the campaign. I think we can try to say something about a pretty large number of individuals. I think probably about 8,500 we have information on.
Skip to 4 minutes and 57 seconds MALCOLM MERCER: And so what does it tell us about the composition of the army, the English army?
Skip to 5 minutes and 2 seconds ANNE CURRY: What it shows is, of course, the great preponderance of archers, perhaps around 7,000 archers at the battle, maybe 1,000 to 1,500 men-at-arms, but it is possible through this interactive site here to actually know the names of them, and the idea of this was to put all of the muster rolls onto this searchable facility here. We have an A to Z facility. We have a campaign facility, and if I press that, yes, you see here the men-at-arms, archers, knights, and nobility. And if we have a look, say, at the nobility here, we see all the names of the nobles flashing up. Now, the A to Z facility is great fun to check if your ancestors were there.
Skip to 5 minutes and 54 seconds I don’t know whether there were any Mercers at the battle. Lets have a look. See if we can find–
Skip to 5 minutes and 58 seconds MALCOLM MERCER: Might have to go a bit further. Yes.
Skip to 6 minutes and 0 seconds ANNE CURRY: Yes, we’ve got an Edmund Mercer. We’re in luck.
Skip to 6 minutes and 2 seconds MALCOLM MERCER: Who knows?
Skip to 6 minutes and 2 seconds ANNE CURRY: Who knows? And he was an option with Robert Lawrence and believed to have been at the battle. In a way, you can say it’s a legacy of the battle. We still have all of this material, and by modern historical IT techniques, if you like, we’re able to look at these. The final part of the exhibition, Malcolm, is the legacy of the battle, essentially.
Skip to 6 minutes and 22 seconds MALCOLM MERCER: Yes, yes. I mean, what we want to give people an understanding of is how Agincourt has been remembered since then.
Skip to 6 minutes and 31 seconds ANNE CURRY: One thing that struck me as quite intriguing was the decision we made to have women as a section.
Skip to 6 minutes and 37 seconds MALCOLM MERCER: Well, we wanted to show that battles aren’t just about men. You had women camp followers, for example, but you also had wives and women family members left at home. And where are they left in the aftermath of a battle? So we’ve tried to reflect that in– widows, but also the wives of prisoners.
Skip to 7 minutes and 2 seconds ANNE CURRY: And you have lists of prisoners–
Skip to 7 minutes and 3 seconds MALCOLM MERCER: We have lists of prisoners, yeah.
Skip to 7 minutes and 4 seconds ANNE CURRY: –also take from the National Archive’s data. It’s really quite an amazing collection. So many thanks–
Skip to 7 minutes and 9 seconds MALCOLM MERCER: Thank you.
Skip to 7 minutes and 10 seconds ANNE CURRY: –for showing me around the exhibition.
Skip to 7 minutes and 12 seconds MALCOLM MERCER: You’re very welcome.
Skip to 7 minutes and 13 seconds ANNE CURRY: Thank you.
Tower of London: guide to the Agincourt 600 exhibition
In this video, Anne interviews Malcolm Mercer about the Royal Armouries’ 2015 exhibition celebrating 600 years of Agincourt.
The exhibition ‘The Battle of Agincourt’ ran at the Tower of London from 23 October 2015 until 31 January 2016. Much of it then moved to the Royal Armouries in Leeds, UK. Malcolm Mercer is Keeper of Tower History at the Royal Armouries and curator of the exhibition. Anne was a historical adviser to the exhibition.
They discuss the exhibition and reveal some of the decisions behind the design and curation of the content.
Did you visit the exhibition at the Tower of London, or in Leeds? Tell us your impressions of it.
When you visit this kind of exhibition in a museum, what kinds of things do you like to see or do? For example, do you like lots of information boards, original artefacts, models or displays or interactive activities? Tell us your thoughts.
© University of Southampton 2015