Does the Gesta Henrici Quinti provide the best account of the battle

Submitted By georgesparey
Words: 1988
Pages: 8

Does the Gesta Henrici Quinti provide the best account of the battle?

With regards to any source there are issues that need to be exploited in order to work how good it really is; their purpose and nature, authorship, date of composition, and influences on other writings. The way to define the ‘best account of the battle’ is to look at how reliable it is. It is clear that there is inevitable bias with the sources that cover the battle as no account of the battle aims to simply tell us what happened. The Gesta Henrici Quinti is often considered to be the best source when looking at the battle, mainly due to it being the closest chronicle to the battle. However a number of problems with the Gesta lead us to the interpretation that it perhaps is not the best, problems that will be shown in greater detail. Therefore, in short, there isn’t just one source that provides the best account of the battle, each source tells the battle differently, with different information making it hard to pinpoint the best account of the battle.

There is no doubt that the Gesta Henrici Quinti, translated to ‘The Deeds of Henry the Fifth’, is considered to be the most reliable source for a number of reasons.1 The Gesta commences in 1413 and is claimed to have been completed in 1417.2 With this in mind, its completion just two years after the battle itself makes it one of the first descriptions of the battle ever produced. Historians claim that because of this, it can be classed as one of our most reliable sources. The Gesta is considered to be the best source due to the author being present at the battle. Through descriptions of the source, the author claims to have been sat “on a horse among the baggage at the rear of the battle” which would have meant there was a first hand.3 This would lead one to think that by this author having a first hand view of the battle, the description would be accurate of the actual details. Thus it is clear to see how this source would be considered one of the best accounts of the battle of Agincourt.

However, despite this, the Gesta Henrici Quinti simply isn’t the best source when looking at the battle of Agincourt. This is for numerous reasons that seem to impinge on the question of reliability. One issue that is apparent to us is that the work is anonymous. Whilst evidence from the writing suggests this was the work of a priest, the full identity is unknown. In itself, this isn’t a major block in terms of reliability, however, it is clear that the author lacked in military experience due to poor descriptions of battle formation, amongst other details. Therefore without knowing the full identity we cannot be sure whether the poor military descriptions were due to his lack of knowledge or simply because it was not recorded properly in the heat of the moment. The issue of why the work was written is also an influence on the interpretation of the battle. As already said, evidence from the writing shows the author was a priest which would have meant this work was produced as a form of royal propaganda to please Henry V. Furthermore, Henry V follows medieval tradition in thinking its his divine right from God in being king. At times in the Gesta the author often breaks away from narratives of the battle to provide a religious reference towards the king. The details of the battle are all fit with praises to God. We see in the Gesta that the French lost because they were sinful and the English won because they were inspired and assisted by God. Every praise to the English victory is presented with ‘God’s will’ as oppose to the author explaining the military side to the defeat.

This intention of praising God explains why there is a substantial lack of information provided with the descriptions of the battle. Firstly, we know from other sources that a main contributor to the weakness of the French was the mud and rain straining their heavy armour making it hard to move and fight. The Gesta fails to mention any