The Wren Library’s most famous music manuscript has been loaned to the Musée de l’Armée in Paris, as part of a major exhibition commemorating the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt.
The two-metre roll of carols is a collection of songs and carols that includes the famous Agincourt carol.
The English famously defeated the French army on the Feast of St Crispin, 25 October 1415, through their superior longbows – a hail of arrows so devastating that 6000 French soldiers were killed in a day.
‘Chevaliers et Bombardes’ at the Musée de l’Armée places this catastrophic defeat at the start of a period of development of French military capability.
It is the first time Trinity’s Carol Roll, which dates from the early fifteenth century, has been loaned abroad. Such is the fragility and value of the manuscript that Edward Cheese, Conservator at the Fitzwilliam Museum, constructed a special box for its safe transport. Sub-Librarian at the Wren, Sandy Paul, delivered the manuscript to the museum and oversaw its installation.
The Agincourt carol recounts Henry V’s victory in English, interspersed with the Latin refrain ‘Deo gracias anglia, redde pro victoria’ (England, give thanks to God for victory!) The carol was revived in Victorian times and used by William Walton in his classic score for Laurence Olivier’s 1944 film of Shakespeare’s Henry V.
College Librarian, Dr Nicolas Bell, explained that Trinity regularly lends its treasures to exhibitions around the UK and abroad:
We are delighted to be able to support exhibitions further afield than our regular displays in the Wren Library. The Trinity Carol Roll is one of the earliest witnesses to the story-telling that quickly developed around the Battle of Agincourt, and therefore plays an important part in the Paris exhibition.
Other loans this year have included to the British Library’s Magna Carta exhibition, the Fitzwilliam Museum’s ‘Treasured Possessions’ show, and displays at Lincoln Cathedral and Dove Cottage, Wordsworth’s house in the Lake District.