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St. Crispin’s Day

25 October 2011

596 years ago today, on the feast of St. Crispin, Henry V of England led his troops into the valley at Azincourt (Agincourt) to battle the French, at what would become a turning point in the 100 Years War. The English army was greatly outnumbered, but their victory over the far larger French army decimated the French aristocracy and would have consequences (i.e. the removal of military titles from the nobility, leaving them with no purpose) that would bring about the French Revolution.

The Battle of Azincourt plays a huge part in Shakespeare’s Henry V, one of my favorite of his works. Before going into battle, the king gives a rousing speech to his troops who are disheartened over the huge size of the French army compared with them. The speech is now famous, often called the “Band of Brothers” speech.

On this St. Crispin’s Day, I offer for your viewing pleasure, Kenneth Branagh’s 1989 film performance.

This day is call’d the feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam’d,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say ‘To-morrow is Saint Crispian.’
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say ‘These wounds I had on Crispian’s day.’
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he’ll remember, with advantages,
What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words-
Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester-
Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb’ed.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.”
Henry V, IV.iii

(Originally posted 25 October 2010)

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