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Agincourt Dinner 19 October 2016

The spectacularly atmospheric Armourers' Hall, redolent with the history of medieval warfare, was the scene of the Bowyers' Agincourt Dinner on Wednesday 19 October 2016.

This annual commemoration of Henry V's famous victory over the French is always the occasion for a patriotic celebration of 'Englishness' with a light-hearted hint of xenophobia, directed towards our Gallic neighbours, thrown in along the way. And this year, coming so soon after Britain's historic decision to separate from the European Union the principal speakers could not resist the temptation to fire a few jocular darts across the English Channel.

Seventy-seven Bowyers and their guests sat down to a splendid four-course dinner featuring Romney Marsh lamb. Following the drinking of the traditional Loving Cup and the formal toasts, the company joined Guildhall School of Music and Drama baritone Martin Hassler, accompanied by pianist Michael Sikich, in singing three songs from The Bowyers Songbook, concluding with a rousing rendition of 'Land of Hope and Glory'.

The guests were warmly welcomed on behalf of the Company by Court Assistant Mr Duncan Samuel. The principal guests were: The Master Fletcher Mr Stuart Fraser, the Commanding Officer 2nd Battalion The Mercian Regiment, Lt Col Ben Wilde and Dr Tobias Capwell, Curator of Arms and Armour at The Wallace Collection.

An internationally acknowledged expert on medieval and renaissance arms and armour, Dr Capwell has been competing in major international jousts and tournaments for more than twenty years and is the author of numerous books and articles on the subject of chivalric culture. Introducing him, Mr Samuel described him as an "academic knight errant for whom his jousting activities represent just another day at the office"".

Dr Capwell, an American who has lived in Britain for twenty years, explained that following a childhood passion for arms and armour he realised that it was a physical subject that could not be "pursued in a library". "The equipment is all very well", he said, "but they are like an empty picture frame with no picture in it".

Referring to the way the citizens of London celebrated the Agincourt victory as an opportunity "to teach the Frenchmen courtesy", he described how yeoman bowyers displayed "the intrinsic characteristics of Englishness".

"The archers and men-at-arms complemented one another and compensated for one another's weaknesses", he said, "in what the Americans these days rather bombastically call full spectrum dominance".

The Clerk, Lt Col Tony Marinos, proposed the Toast to the Company and, responding, the Master, Mr Tony Kench, apologised, tongue-in-cheek, to the handful of Celts present for the evening's unashamed appreciation of all things English. He praised the triumphant English longbowmen of Agincourt for their "sheer bloody-mindedness – a sentiment still alive today – not to be subjugated to anyone, and certainly not the French".

The Master also welcomed members who had been admitted at the earlier meeting of the Court - Mr Luke Beetlestone and Mr Michael Church as Freemen and Brigadier Tweedie Brown as a Liveryman.

The immensely convivial evening concluded with a Stirrup Cup.

Chester Stern

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