[identity profile] hyarrowen.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] ship_manifesto
Henry V/French Herald: Text, not subtext, as written by Shakespeare
Fandom: Henry V, 1989 film
Pairing: Henry/Montjoy
Word count: 3800
Spoilers: For history, the play, and the film.
E-mail: hyarrowen@gmail.com

The 1989 adaptation of 'Henry V' is one of the great war movies of all time.  It got seven Oscar nominations, and moreover began the current revival of Shakespeare on film. Not bad going for the young man who raised the finance, adapted the screenplay, directed it and starred in it - Kenneth Branagh, who turned 28 during the filming, the same age as the man he was playing: King Henry V of England.

And it's a rare reviewer who mentions Montjoy, the French Herald, without adding what a sympathetic character he is.


The film opens with Derek Jacobi as the Chorus, apologising – unnecessarily – for what is to come. The play cannot possibly show an adequate representation of the events of the Agincourt campaign, he says. Actually, it does a very convincing job of it, especially considering that it was made by a novice director on a shoestring budget.

An insulting gift of tennis-balls from the Dauphin, the Crown Prince of France, is the catalyst for the resumption in 1415 of the Hundred Years' War between England and France. Henry, a young man who has only recently succeeded to the throne, has the excuse he needs to invade France. Having warned Montjoy, the French Herald, of what will follow, Henry and his nobles prepare for war. In a counterpoint to this, we see the disreputable companions of his wild youth doing the same at the Boar's Head tavern; all levels of society are going to be affected by this conflict.

And there are traitors in the English ranks; three of Henry's most trusted advisors, and one of them, Lord Scroop, the man that was his bedfellow, was clearly Henry's lover in the past. The conspiracy is defeated, at great personal cost to Henry, and the invasion goes ahead.

The French town of Harfleur is taken after a long siege, and the English army begins a march through Northern France, flying the flag. But things go wrong from the start. The army is weakened by sickness and the rain that pours down incessantly. Meanwhile the French, having made no attempt to relieve Harfleur, finally begin to plan a counter-attack. But Katharine, the French princess, knowing that she will eventually be required to marry Henry, realises she must attempt to learn English and gets her maid to teach her; an opportunity for several very ribald Shakespearean puns.

Montjoy appears again with a message of defiance; Henry is defiant right back. We will not seek a battle as we are, nor as we are we say we will not shun it, he tells the herald, and Montjoy is unwillingly impressed; the contrast with his own over-confident and dilatory masters is just too great. That evening, he tries to tell them what lies in wait for them, and is ignored.

The night before the inevitable battle Henry walks round his camp, trying to gauge the mood of his men and finding that all is not well. He spends the rest of the night in prayer. The next morning he has found the strength to rally his men with one of the greatest of Shakespeare's speeches, St Crispin's Day: We few, we happy few, we band of brothers... and when Montjoy arrives again with a last-chance offer of escape, Henry sends him away with the words We are but warriors for the working day... but by the mass, our hearts are in the trim!

And the battle is on.

It's a long sequence of mud and blood and desperate endeavour, and at its end a band of French knights attacks Henry's camp, which is guarded by just a few lads. One of them is the Boy (played by a young Christian Bale) from the Boar's Head. Henry and his men rush back to the camp to find all the boys murdered. And when Montjoy reappears a few moments later, Henry, enraged, hurls him to the ground and yells in his face What means this, Herald? Come'st thou again for ransom?

No, he has not. He has come with the French surrender. Henry has won a great victory against overwhelming odds. And he is wrung out, both physically and emotionally, and all but collapses into Montjoy's arms. Montjoy, in his turn, reaches out to touch him, to comfort, but cannot; the person of the king is inviolate. So they part for that time; but later, when Henry is carrying the body of the Boy across the devastation of the battlefield, Montjoy is there once more, and protects Henry from a group of women, wives or mothers of the dead, who try to attack him.

The final scene is Henry's wooing of Katherine, and the signing of the treaty which will give him the French crown. Katherine is not unnaturally reluctant at first, and the soldier-king has to employ unexpected charm; gradually she is won over, and the scene is ended on a note of hope That English may as French, French Englishmen, receive each other. But the Chorus closes the doors on the film with a sad reminder that this did not happen in history, and that all that Henry achieved and hoped to achieve came to nothing in the end.

Thus far, with all unable pen I have tried to sum up the film... But what's all this about Henry/Montjoy? They are separated by nationality and war, a gaping chasm of social class and even by age, for the actor who plays the Herald, Christopher Ravenscroft, is fifteen years older than Branagh. How can they possibly be seen as a pairing?

Let's look at each of them in turn.

Henry V: Great King

It's a tough call to make an invader into a sympathetic character. But Branagh played Henry for the RSC at the tender age of 23, and had ample opportunity to refine his interpretation of the man.

So we see him coming to terms with what kingship as the son of a usurper means; trying to establish his authority over nobles and clergy; responding to an insult from a foreign power; putting his country first and his own personal feelings very firmly last.

Having condemned his lover to death, Henry must carry on as though nothing has happened, or allow himself to be seen as a weak king, thus risking his own position and having the country fall into chaos.

Throughout the campaign that follows he continues to learn the cost of kingship: the constant struggle to be a leader. The night before the final battle he walks around the camp - first as himself, to hearten his men, and then in disguise to find out what they're really thinking. It's a sobering experience; there's no personal animosity towards him but an uneasiness as to the justice of the war, and a universal gloom as to the outcome of the battle. Henry almost breaks under the burden, and a desperate prayer seems to go unanswered and leaves him in tears.

But he must go on; his men's lives depend on him. He leads his men into battle, and wins against the odds, and after it's over he walks across the desolation of the battlefield in a long, long sequence, and deposits the body of Falstaff's Boy in the death-cart: a kind of penance for what he has brought about. Henry has finally grown up.

Montjoy: Gentle Herald

Montjoy is the premier French Herald, who carries all the messages between his own masters and Henry. He is unfailingly courteous and dignified, attributes which seem to be his own rather than representative of the French nobility. On arriving at Henry's court, he finds a man young and untried to be sure, but within a few moments of delivering the Dauphin's insulting gift of tennis-balls, realises exactly what a hornet's nest has been stirred up. And he's impressed despite himself; a leader who will lead is exactly what France lacks.

His loyalty to his own country is not in question, though, and he displays an affection and gentleness towards King Charles VI that is lacking in the French nobles. Poor King Charles, struggling with melancholy bordering on mental illness, has to deal with an arrogant and power-hungry son and nobles who, one cannot help feeling, are waiting to see which way the wind blows. At the French court, as they sit in council to debate what to do about the invasion, Montjoy comes in with a message and leans tenderly over the bowed figure of King Charles, speaks gently to him and shows him a deference which is notably lacking in his son.

As he takes messages back and forth between the invader - who is struggling with increasingly desperate conditions - and his own masters, we see him coming to the conclusion that France deserves better than what she has. The conflict of loyalties - between his country, his king, and the invader who might see off these predatory nobles - is a quiet one, but evident when, the night before the battle in the French leaders' tent, he tries to defuse the bickering between the Constable of France and the Dauphin; tries to warn the Constable of the magnitude of the threat they are facing; and - just before the battle begins - tries to be a loyal Frenchman by speaking slightingly of the English. And, minutes after that, he's back in Henry's presence with a last-chance offer - and is impressed all over again by the young man's determination.

The poor Herald is constantly torn between loyalty and admiration; is it any wonder he's so endlessly fascinating?

Enemy mine

So, they're very different characters. How can they be seen as a pairing?

Dig deep enough into the words they use to each other and the evidence is there all along. Because Montjoy is the only character who consistently uses second person singular to Henry; thee, thou, thy. And Henry lets him get away with it, every time.

The intimate form of address in Shakespeare, according to Ben Crystal, the actor and writer (and also the son of the linguist David Crystal) denotes either physical or emotional closeness, when it's used between characters of higher social class. Either will do, as far as I'm concerned! Apart from Montjoy's first formal defiance to Henry (which, in the play as opposed to the film, is given to the French Ambassador, not Montjoy himself) he consistently uses second person singular. Scroop, before his unmasking as a traitor, when as far as he knows he is still the king's lover, does not. Neither do his brothers, nor his fiercely protective uncle, nor King Charles, his social equal, nor Katharine. Falstaff tries it, in a flashback scene from Henry IV, and gets slapped down (one would feel a lot sorrier for him if he hadn't just done much the same thing to Bardolph.) Old Sir Thomas Erpingham does so once, in a particularly 'grandfatherly' moment. He gets a smile.

Montjoy? All the time. And he's an enemy.

Christopher Ravenscroft played the Herald in the same 1984 RSC production as Branagh, and was one of the few actors to make it through to the film five years later. We can safely assume that they had plenty of time to think about the relationship between their characters, and that what we see in the film is there because they wanted us to see it. So, almost from the start, Henry and the Herald are talking to each other in a way that friends or lovers might.

We see Montjoy first as he enters the huge, dark audience-chamber where Henry and his nobles await the message from the French court. The gathering of nobles and clerics are all hungry for war; it's a very tense atmosphere. Henry has just shifted on his throne, bracing himself for yet another challenge, and the scene switches to his POV as this tall and elegant Frenchman walks into his life... and, so subtly that it's easy to miss, the whole scene becomes much brighter and more warmly-lit. It's hard to avoid the conclusion that the world is a pleasanter place for Henry simply because he's realised that Montjoy is in it.

The message Montjoy brings is, of course, a challenge and an insult, and has to be answered as such, or Henry will lose his throne. But though Henry's response is immediate and convincing, many a thousand widows shall this his mock /Mock out of their dear husbands he finishes the audience with an injunction Convey them with safe conduct. Fare you well. And watches for long moments as the French Herald turns and walks out of his presence.

All this is in marked contrast to the Duke of Exeter’s reciprocal embassy to the French court (Exeter being played by Brian Blessed, in his own inimitable style.) He's a martial and disturbing presence in this refined court, and can it be coincidence that he is placed for a while next to Montjoy; war and peace, an exercise in compare-and-contrast? But the French simply do not take his message seriously, as we see by their lack of response to the English invasion, whereas Henry has given full weight to Montjoy's message.

On the Herald’s second appearance, with an ultimatum from the French King, Henry's first reply to him is not a response to this ultimatum, but What is thy name? Yeah, he's interested all right.

And Henry spends a lot of time through this and subsequent meetings gazing at Montjoy, who gazes right back, and there are little almost-smiles and looks of admiration on both sides, and... I'm going all gooey just thinking about it.

The scene immediately after the battle, the only one where Henry gets hands-on, is the clincher, in both senses of the word. Henry is enraged at the slaughter of the boys, and Montjoy is the only Frenchman within reach. But Henry drops his sword before wrestling Montjoy to the ground; he really doesn't want to harm him, even in the depths of his rage. Montjoy, though unable to defend himself physically – he'd die if he laid hands on the king – talks him down out of his fury in a matter of seconds, and Henry bends his head close down against Montjoy's in a gesture than can be read as exhaustion or shame or a mixture of both; but it's certainly intimate. And he collapses into the mud, and Montjoy goes to pick him up out of it, and realises that he still cannot touch him. But, a short while later, he shields Henry with his own body from a band of Frenchwomen who want to attack him. He has forgiven him.

The scene where Henry throws Montjoy to the ground is almost a re-play of the scene where Henry seizes Scroop, the lover-become-enemy, and delivers his accusation and sense of betrayal into his face... but whereas he drags Scroop back to his feet and throws him furiously against a wall before condemning him to death, he allows Montjoy, the enemy-become-friend, to rise to his feet himself, shaken but very much alive. The trust he now feels in the Frenchman is shown by the exhaustion he allows to sound in his voice, and by the fact that he lets Montjoy stand close behind him; absolute vulnerability, emotional and physical, with none of his own men at hand should Montjoy suddenly decide to pull a knife on him as Scroop had done.

In the aftermath of the battle, Montjoy has risen so far in the estimation of the English that he is allowed to bring details of all the casualties, both English and French, to Henry. And he is allowed to sit on the same rough bench as the King; not next to him, to be sure, for Exeter sits firmly between the Frenchman and his nephew. But it's a sign of how far he has come that he's sitting there at all. Neither of the King's brothers are on that bench with him, for instance. Poor Montjoy is desperately sorrowful at the news that so many of his countrymen have been slain, but Henry is not in much better case: Here was a royal fellowship of death he says softly. And when he gets up to go about his next task, Montjoy is allowed to continue sitting quietly on the bench, though ordinarily one should not sit when a king is standing, and indeed everyone else gets up along with Henry. But no-one, not even Exeter, seems to find this breach of protocol at all reprehensible. 

From Montjoy's appearance on the wasteland of the battlefield shortly afterwards, we may infer that he has trekked across it, alone, and very obviously French. But none of Henry’s army, which has its fair share of low-lifes among it, has harmed or impeded him.  Perhaps they have all realised that something has changed between their king and the Herald.

Henry goes on in the last scene to woo the French princess, and does a convincing job of it; enough to make her reconciled to her fate. It is, in fact, funny and charming to watch. But a bit of thought reveals that it's rather out of character. For although he displays a wicked sense of humour in the previous plays, and we get a brief glimpse of this in the Boar's Head flashback scenes, in his persona as King he's rather a serious young man, struggling with the weight of his responsibilities. And nowhere, not even at the tavern, does he interact with women – though it would have been easy enough, either for Shakespeare or Branagh, to put a floozy or two with him in those scenes. One is forced to the conclusion that he's marrying Katharine because he must for the sake of his kingdom, and he's simply trying to make the process as easy as possible on both of them.

Given the choice, Henry prefers men. There's one man in particular that he likes and trusts. So... Henry/Montjoy isn't really subtext. It's text, from the pen of none other than the Bard himself, and the actors simply run with it.

My view of the pairing

Here are two men, each doing their duty as they see it, each of them decent in the context of their times, but brought into conflict by unfolding events. Pretty much everything is against them – except a mutual liking and admiration which deepens throughout repeated meetings. They're both highly intelligent, both somewhat isolated from their immediate circle. Frankly, it's irresistible to try and get them together! And, while neither of them is a Hollywood pretty-boy, this doesn't matter a bit, as they are both mind-numbingly gorgeous... or perhaps I'm prejudiced?

My history with the pairing

When I first saw this film on its release in 1989, cute little Henry grabbed my sympathies within a minute of his first appearance - not unnaturally, I feel - but the full glory of the film did not burst upon me until the traitors' scene with Scroop, when I suddenly sat up and thought, 'Oh... OK... this is new!' And felt sorry for the poor king all through the siege of Harfleur and the hanging of Bardolph, until the point at which the French Herald rode into his life again. Thereafter I didn't feel sorry for him at all, because he had found someone much better than Scroop, and though there were huge difficulties ahead of them (not least Henry's dynastic marriage to Katharine) I felt sure they would get together somewhere, somewhen, somehow. I even made up stories in my head about how it might happen.

And time passed and the Internet came along and I discovered fanfic and now and then I searched for fics about them. Surely I couldn't be the only one who 'saw' them? Apparently, though, I was. So I wrote a Henry/Montjoy story of my own, my first ever fanfic, and it still resides in my desk drawer and there it will stay forever. But in the end I realised that it was going to be quicker to write the pairing myself than spend any more time looking for other people's fics. So that was what I did, and very scary it was posting them, as a novice author writing an unknown pairing. But I had to get the stories out of my head somehow.

Within a year I had finished a novella, and history books had started to accumulate in my study, and I had learned more about the early fifteenth century than I ever thought I would. And astonishingly there were a few people in the world who 'saw' the dear boys too, and I was no longer the only person writing them.

'Henry V' is still one of the smallest fandoms in the universe, and the pairing is smaller still. But, I feel, there's so much interest to be found in these two and their world that I will be writing them for a long time yet. For one thing, they give me no option to do otherwise.

Why the reader should be following this pairing

Even getting them alone together is a challenge, and there, in part, is the fascination.

And apart from the fact that one of the best and most experienced slash authors in the business (not me, obviously!) is writing them, I offer this as my argument:

Fandom Guide

henry_herald, an index of fic for the pairing

we_few, a discussion com, rather small and quiet

A website, with all the fics plus various articles: http://indearalliance.blogspot.com/?zx=d28f03c9e9486f4d

Fics: There are about thirty in all, but here are a few for starters:

Hearts'-ease by Fiona Pickles.Montjoy the herald didn't quite reach out to touch King Henry after the Battle of Azincourt, but he wanted to. Suppose he had? What might have happened to them then? 41,000+ words, PG.

Ceremonies for Honest Men by sua_lay Never his own man, a herald does as his master commands. 6,250 words, PG.

The View from Byzantium by hyarrowen. The interest of an Emperor's cousin awakens Henry's highly-developed territorial instincts. 2,700 words, romance, PG.

The Night is Yours by aunt_zelda After the battle, in the rain, Montjoy is grieving – but not quite alone. 1500 words, M.


Screencaps by hyarrowen

Icons  by ravens_rising

Wallpaper by theficklepickle

And there are plenty of clips at YouTube

Other resources:

Full text of the play can be found here with the lines Branagh used highlighted.

For interest, Olivier's 1944 film is worth a look too; it's much lighter and brighter, understandably so, given that it was made as a morale-booster in the final year of the Second World War. Branagh modelled many of his scenes on it but gave them all a more realistic twist. But even in Olivier's film, there's a lovely moment when Henry and the Herald smile warmly at each other; this relationship obviously has quite a pedigree!
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