SIX hundred years ago next weekend King Henry V led his army into battle at Agincourt.
The battle on October 25, 1415, was fought and won on the fields of France – yet the road to Agincourt is said to have begun with a very surprising event right here in Warwickshire.
Kenilworth Castle was a favoured residence of Henry, and it was while staying at the castle he reportedly received from the French an insulting gift of ‘pilas’ – or tennis balls.
The incident was recorded by monk and chronicler John Streeche who, writing shortly after the King’s death, wrote that the French embassy to the king ‘foolishly said they would send to Henry King of England, because he was young, little balls to play with and soft pillows to sleep on to help him grow to manly strength.’
The meaning was clear – the French implied the king, who was not yet 30 years-old, was too childish to engage in the serious kingly practice of diplomacy and warfare.
Whether Henry’s insulting gift from the French was indeed the spur to his invasion of Normandy, it was recorded as such by later chroniclers.
Famously, the incident features in Shakespeare’s play, and it was certainly the gift of the tennis balls that gave Henry his decisive impetus to war in Shakespeare’s Henry V.
And to mark the anniversary Alex Hassell who is currently playing the title role in Henry V at the RSC in Stratford popped along to the castle.
Visit www.rsc.org.uk for tickets and further details of the RSC’s production, or www.english-heritage.org.uk for information on visiting the castle.