Seven hundred and six years ago there was a battle in France, between the English and the French. 1415. The famous Battle of Agincourt. Songs have been sung and sagas written about this bloody battle that took place amidst the ardure and awfulness of the Hundred Years War.
At England’s helm, the young King Henry V, driven by his father’s failings and miscalculations as king to do better, to cement his divine rights, to be a true leader, and to unite the unruly, complex and fractious factions of the kingdom – Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Cornwell – a rich, wild, complex collection of cultures, and all at odds.
From the Battle of Agincourt, so legend and history would have us believe, Henry V emerged as the anointed king of a United Kingdom – the moment when the British Empire was born, a unity of cultures and countries in the British Isles, all under one banner and one king. A historic moment.
A moment that would ultimately lead us to here, in Australia, with our British heritage, our cultural ties, our language, literature and laws, our historical legacy of colonisation and tyranny, our indelible, unbroken ties to the Motherland. What a thought.
That direct link from Henry V – young King of England outwitting and smiting the French with valour, strategy, tenacity, courage and luck – and us.
Look around Leeton. The churches transplanted from that legacy. Presbyterian. Anglican. Uniting. Catholic. Methodist. Even Lutheran. The Leeton Phantoms – stewards and guardians of the great British game of Rugby. Our Court House, our Roxy, our library, our architecture, our books, our films, our schools, our agriculture. The cenotaph, that graces the centre of our town. A monument giving form to our belonging to the British Empire, our wars and sacrifices. All this comes from then.
The other thing that the Battle of Agincourt delivered us is some of the most memorable, moving and oft remembered passages of poetry ever penned. Through William Shakespeare. And his Henry plays – but specifically, Henry V. “Once more into the breach…” “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers..” and many more. Words that capture a raw and universal kind of masculinity, the brotherhood, the love, the courage, of men banding together against the odds to surmount these odds, to survive and then to triumph. True sentiments and virtues that echo here today, in our rural heartland, where sometimes courage and brotherhood are all these is, especially in tough times.
And so I think about these things, the powerful ideas, the poetry, the force of history, the legacy of the past, the storms of fate and politics that brought us here, the complex pain of that history for our Wiradjuri brothers and sisters, the might and triumph of the United Kingdom under Henry V – the beautiful and terrible consequences of this down through the ages. That we would not be here without The Battle of Agincourt. That Shakespeare recognised the absolute pivotal and powerful moment that it was, and wrote in into the annals.
And now – that Henry V will be staged in Leeton, in our beloved Mountford Park, a journey in itself that will be an epic saga.
Chapter 1 Jake has a dream.