Agincourt 600 Poetry Competition

Young Poets Network is thrilled to be partnering with Agincourt 600 in a competition to get you grappling with the history of a bloody and brutal battle.

Illustration by Alex Foster
Illustration by Alex Foster

The Battle of Agincourt is one of the most famous and controversial battles in European history, forever associated in our minds with the clash of two nations, the might of medieval kings, and the fierce figure of the longbowman. To commemorate its 600th anniversary, the Agincourt 600 Poetry Competition asks you to delve into Agincourt’s history and legacy, and create a poem that explores this battle afresh.

Fought on 25th October 1415 in northern France, the Battle of Agincourt was a turning point in the Hundred Years’ War that had been raging between England and France since 1337 over possession of the French throne. In 1415, Henry V King of England, led his army on to win a decisive victory against the French, who were fighting under Charles D’Abret, Constable of France. The French suffered a devastating defeat; although sources vary widely, it is estimated that between 7,000 and 10,000 French soldiers were killed in battle, compared with reportedly less than 200 on the English side, and this victory paved the way for Henry V to assert his power and ‘right’ to rule. The Battle of Agincourt looms large in our imaginations for lots of reasons, including the scale of the French loss and the acclaim that was lavished on the victorious Henry V. All sorts of writers have commemorated the battle, and perhaps the most famous of these is William Shakespeare in his play Henry V. Published in 1600, the play contains the famous St. Crispin’s Day speech in which Henry rouses his troops with the memorable lines:

“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers For he today that sheds his blood with me Shall be my brother” (Henry V, Act IV, Scene III)

For more writing inspired by the battle, take a look at Michael Drayton’s celebratory ‘Ballad of Agincourt’, or listen to the haunting Latin chorus of the ‘Agincourt Carol’.

“Deo gratias Anglia redde pro victoria!” (“England, give thanks to God for victory!”) Agincourt Carol

The Agincourt 600 website is also a great place to find out about the history of Agincourt in more detail, and tells you how you can get involved in various commemorative events across the country.

The competition will be judged by the Poetry Society, Agincourt 600, and critically acclaimed and multi prize-winning poet Daljit Nagra, whose recent re-telling of the Hindu epic, The Ramayana, grapples with a sprawling narrative of ancient warfare. Keep your eyes peeled for further Agincourt features on Young Poets Network, which we’ll be posting throughout the next few months. These will give you the opportunity to explore Agincourt from various different angles, and challenge you to think about the battle’s history and its impact – from 1415 to 2015 – in unique and exciting ways. For starters… Five things we’ve learned about the Battle of Agincourt

  1. On the night of October 24th, the battle, Henry V ordered complete silence to fall in the English camp in contemplation of the battle ahead – and threatened to cut the ears off any man who disobeyed
  2. The English longbow was the most important weapon used in the Battle of Agincourt. It was used in huge numbers by the English soldiers, and the hail of arrows the French were faced with is said to be a critical factor in their defeat.
  3. 25th October is also the feast day of St. Crispin (hence the St. Crispin’s Day speech), a Roman nobleman who, along with his brother St. Crispian, is the patron saint of shoemakers
  4. The French Duke Charles of Orléans was captured during the battle and held prisoner in the Tower of London. From the Tower, he wrote what is considered to be one of the first ever Valentine cards  to his wife, Bonne d’Armagnac
  5. In contrast to English songs of victory such as the Agincourt Carol, French poet Alain Chartier composed Le Livre de Quatre Dames, a lament for the French loss told from the perspectives of four grieving women

To get you started, why not experiment with these ideas:

  • Take another look at Shakespeare’s St Crispin’s Day Speech. If you were writing a speech in the present day to encourage a group of people, how might you get them on your side? What would you be urging them to do (or not to do)? And what about a shout out for the sisterhood, as well as the band of brothers?
  • Imagine you are in the English camp the night before battle. Concentrate on the details that surround you – the slick mud beneath your feet, the smoke from a nearby fire that stings your eyes. You can hear the rough breathing of your fellow soldiers and the nervous snap from a bowman flexing his knuckles. Write a poem describing the mood of the camp on this night. Describe what you can see, smell and hear, and think about  what, or who, your thoughts might turn to as night finally falls.

Check out poet John Lindley’s first writing challenge  – this is particularly aimed at young writers up to the age of 11. 

Teachers – download John Lindley’s resource to explore the battle and create Agincourt-inspired poems with your primary class.

Illustration by Alex Foster

Prizes

The overall winner in each category will receive a certificate, £100 in book tokens and a day of poetry workshops at the winners’ school. Runners-up will receive £50 in book tokens, and all winners and runners-up will also receive books, notebooks and other poetry goodies. On top of that, all winners and runners-up will have their poems published on the Young Poets network – a fantastic addition to any writing CV!

This competition is now closed.

Published October. 2015

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