Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
Whether summer clothe the general earth
With greeness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple-tree, while the nigh thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw; whether the eave-drops fall
Heard only in the trances of the blast,
Or if the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

St Crispin's Day

" 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."

These stirring words were spoken by King Henry V as he rallied his troops before the Battle of Agincourt and come from Shakespeare's play 'Henry V'. Today is indeed the feast of Crispian - and October 25th is the anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt. On this day in 1415 King Henry V led his men to victory over a French army who greatly outnumbered them. When I say he led them I mean that quite literally - he fought alongside his soldiers on foot as well as on horseback.

This victory was due largely to the English longbowmen whose reputation was fearsome in Medieval Europe. The archers began their training at the age of 7 and could fire their arrows at the rate of 12 -15 per minute. In 1252 a law was passed requiring every Englishman between the ages of 15 and 60 to equip themselves with a bow and arrows. In 1363 a further law was passed requiring all men to practice their archery on Sundays and holidays and failure to do so carried heavy penalties. There are many old churches where there are marks on the outer walls left by the constant action of the archers sharpening their arrows. Henry's archers were handpicked from the best archers in England and they cut down the French cavalry with a constant hail of arrows. Most of the archers who fought at Agincourt came from Cheshire and many of them from the area where my ancestors lived.Cheshire archers had the reputation of being the best of the best. There are forty seven archers named Wright on the muster rolls for Agincourt and I often wonder whether one or more of them were among my ancestors:)

I shall be remembering those Cheshire bowmen tonight as I watch Kenneth Branagh's wonderful performance as the king in the film 'Henry V'.


Roy said...

A really interesting post D. I can just imagine the political uproar from certain parts of society if such laws were past today about requiring persons to equip and train with some weapon or other.{:)

Mac n' Janet said...

I love Kenneth Branagh's Henry V, and Henry V is one of my favorite English Kings, Richard III being my favorite.
So a Happy St. Crispin's Day to you.

Diane said...

You really could have been a great teacher Rowan - fab post.

Rosie said...

Stirring stuff! I love that film, the music always brings a lump to my throat. I also enjoyed the recent TV adaptation of Henry V but I think Branagh's King is best. It's my niece's birthday today, I must tell her whe was born on St Crispin's Day:)

WOL said...

I've seen both the Branagh version and the Olivier version of Henry V. Lord Larry's version was more "theatrical" and shakespearian, but Branagh's version was more realistic. I think with Branagh's version you get more of a "this is what it actually was like" feel. It gives you a sense of what an "underdog" victory it was, and why Britains should be justifiably proud of it. Happy St. Crispin's day to you.

WOL said...

Everybody, go here ( ) and download this story to listen. For every download, a charitable contribution will be made, and you'll get a scary story for Halloween!

Lucy Corrander Now in Halifax! said...

Did you see the recent BBC version with Tom Hiddleston as Henry V? Bowled over by it.

Strawberry Lane said...

Rowan, this is simply fascinating! I love your historic posts. As an Anglophile planted in Southern California ... I cannot get enough.