“Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our English dead!”
Henry V, Act III, William Shakespeare (first performed in the Summer of 1599)
In these oft quoted lines, King Henry V is rallying his men at the siege of Harfleur, 1415, asking them to make one final attempt to take the French township or die trying.
The siege was part of the ‘Hundred Years War’, where England repeatedly sought to assert a claim to the French throne. This small parchment document tells part of the story of one man who fought in these conflicts, Alan Lestraunge, a local Warwickshire lord.
This is essentially the presumptive will of Alan Lestraunge. It is dated 8 May 1417 and gives a personal connection to its time. Lestraunge left Warwickshire to fight under Henry V in 1417, a couple of years after the siege of Harfleur and the famous battle of Agincourt, which took place later the same year. This document reminds us that the battles of the past, so vividly dramatised by Shakespeare, involved the loss of real men. The record shows Lestraunge ensuring his daughter will be provided for in his absence, as he heads off to war to serve the King, as was his obligation within the feudal system.
The document takes the form of an enfeoffment, in which a group of trustees (known as feofees) were entrusted with land for it to be managed as dictated in the agreement. Here the trustees are asked to ensure Alice has food, clothing and all the necessities of life. Lestraunge also requests that the land should be transferred to Alice on the event of his death. This is notable, as without this agreement, the land would have otherwise passed to the nearest male heir, via the laws of primogeniture.
We know from another document in the archive (SBT Archive Ref: DR37/1/2795) that Lestraunge lost his life in France. The same document also confirms that his land was conveyed, as per his wishes, to his daughter Alice. We also know there are documents in other archives that tell us more of his story. If you have any information on this Alan Lestraunge, please do let us know.
It was nearly two hundred years after Lestraunge left Warwickshire that Shakespeare’s dramatisation of the life of Henry V was first performed, in the summer of 1599. Through Shakespeare’s great literary work, such battles have become imprinted on the English subconscious. Here we are now looking back almost 600 years later at the final wishes of man who paid the ultimate price for his part in those conflicts.