It is a day to be remember-ed. The story starts with two third century shoe making saints and peaks on the fields of Agincourt (or the stage of the Globe Theatre) with Shakespeare’s Henry V.
The Saints… October 25th is the feast day of Saints Crispin and Crispinian. Two noble born Romans (they might have been brothers, they might even have been twins …when it comes to Christian mythology from the 3rd Century things get a bit iffy — which is why the feast day was down graded to a little “f” and it is no longer formally celebrated post Vatican 2). They also happened to be Christians. The boys (who either lived in Rome or Britain) fled to Soissans (France) to avoid persecution. Along the way they picked up the shoe making trade.
The legend relates that they were Romans of distinguished descent who went as missionaries of the Christian Faith to Gaul and chose Soissons as their field of labour. In imitation of St. Paul they worked with their hands, making shoes, and earned enough by their trade to support themselves and also to aid the poor. [Catholic Encyclopedia.com]
Unfortunately for the Crispin and Crispinian the long arm of the Roman Empire reached well into France and their work did not go unnoticed by the authorities. They were cajoled, threatened, and ultimately tortured (the usual stuff, “stretched on the rack, thongs were cut from their flesh, …awls …driven under their finger-nails,” [Ibid] thrown in the river with a millstone around their the neck, thrown in a fire– all of which they survived –it was a miracle! How do you think they got to be saints?) But in the end the Emperor, Diocletian had them beheaded. Canonization followed and the brothers became the patron saints of cobblers, tanners and saddler’s.
The Battles … Three major historical battle have taken place on St. Crispin’s Day:
- The Battle of Agincourt (1415)
- The Battle of Balaklava (1854) (with it’s famous Charge of the Light Brigade)
- and the Battle of Lyte Gulf (1944)
Agincourt had Shakespeare. (More on that in a moment.) Balaklava had Tennyson.
In reality it was an ill-fated tactical mistake but on paper, under Tennyson’s pen, it was immortal glory.
Half a league half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred:
‘Forward, the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns’ he said:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
You can almost hear the hoof beats.
The Battle of Lyte Gulf is just as epic — it was the biggest naval battle of World War II, perhaps the largest in history. But, except for a pretty awesome Victory At Sea episode, Lyte Gulf has yet to receive its literary due.
Shakespeare’s King Henry the Fifth’s St. Crispin’s Day speech that seeps the day into popular culture. We’ve watched Prince Hal grow from rambunctious rebel rouser to earnest King. His metal has been tested at the breach, but now, NOW his outnumbered, sick, weary English troops face the vanguard of the French army. Hal could have snuck away in the night, he could have randsomed himself to the French but he stands to fight. And before the fight he pulls his troops up with a speech to end all speeches.
Here’s Kenneth Branagh‘s 1989 version (the souring music is by Patrick Doyle) …
You can read along here:
WESTMORELAND. O that we now had here
But one ten thousand of those men in England
That do no work to-day!
KING. What’s he that wishes so?
My cousin Westmoreland? No, my fair cousin;
If we are mark’d to die, we are enow
To do our country loss; and if to live,
The fewer men, the greater share of honour.
God’s will! I pray thee, wish not one man more.
By Jove, I am not covetous for gold,
Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost;
It yearns me not if men my garments wear;
Such outward things dwell not in my desires.
But if it be a sin to covet honour,
I am the most offending soul alive.
No, faith, my coz, wish not a man from England.
God’s peace! I would not lose so great an honour
As one man more methinks would share from me
For the best hope I have. O, do not wish one more!
Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host,
That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart; his passport shall be made,
And crowns for convoy put into his purse;
We would not die in that man’s company
That fears his fellowship to die with us.
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’red.
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.
You should also check out Tom Hiddleston and Lawrence Olivier’s take’s on Henry V and their St. Crispin’s Day speech. It is worth listening to more than once.
This story shall a good man teach his son.
- St. Crispin’s Day – Battle of Agincourt-Parent Teacher Conferences (scarlett7liberty.wordpress.com)
- St. Crispin’s Day (jubilare.wordpress.com)
- October 25 – A Good Day to Pick a Fight – Or Not – Depending Which Side You’re On (rhapsodyinbooks.wordpress.com)
- OCTOBER 25 = Henry V and St. Crispian’s Day (krusty1960historysstory.wordpress.com)
- Last chance for alterations to listed buildings before zero vat rate is withdrawn (savills.co.uk)
- Today in 1415, Henry V won The Battle of Agincourt (bloggingtheology.wordpress.com)