Henry's Wars and Shakespeare's Laws: Perspectives on the Law of War in the Later Middle Ages

By Theodor Meron | Go to book overview

10
Heralds, Ambassadors, and the Treaty of Troyes

The scene on the battlefield at Agincourt, when the English appeared to have won and the French herald Montjoy arrived on yet another mission to Shakespeare's Henry, is vividly described by the playwright:

EXETER Here comes the herald of the French, my liege.
GLOUCESTER His eyes are humbler than they used to be.
KING How now, what means this, herald? Know'st thou not
That I have fined these bones of mine for ransom? . . .1
MONTJOY No, great King.
I come to thee for charitable licence,
That we may wander o'er this bloody field
To book our dead and then to bury them,
To sort our nobles from our common men --
For many of our princes, woe the while,
Lie drowned and soaked in mercenary blood.
So do our vulgar drench their peasant limbs
In blood of princes, and their wounded steeds
Fret fetlock-deep in gore, and with wild rage
Jerk out their armèd heels at their dead masters,
Killing them twice. O give us leave, great King,
To view the field in safety, and dispose
Of their dead bodies.
KING I tell thee truly, herald,
I know not if the day be ours or no,
For yet a many of your horsemen peer

____________________
1
See also the heroic answer by Shakespeare's Henry to the French herald Montjoy before the Battle of Agincourt, in which Henry ruled out the possibility of being ransomed in case of defeat: 'Herald, save thou thy labour. | Come thou no more for ransom, gentle herald. | They shall have none, I swear, but these my joints -- | Which if they have as I will leave 'em them, | Shall yield them little. Tell the Constable.' (IV. iii. 122-6)

-172-

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