Thursday, 25 October 2007

St Crispin, St George, and Harry the King


Apropos of a recent story told at the Anvil regarding St George's defence of Englishmen during the Great War, we should pause to recall St Crispin's Day.

It was on 25 October 1415 when Henry V met the Constable of France, Charles d'Albret on the fields near Agincourt in the North of France. An English victory to be sure, but probably better immortalised by the Bard in the eponymous play where King Harry rouses his troops thus:

What's he that wishes so?
My cousin Westmorland. No, my fair cousin:
If we are marked 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 ernes 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 presently 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 called the Feast of Crispian:
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a-tiptoe when the day is named,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall see this day and live t'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 Crispin'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 remembered.
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 remember'd;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he today 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 abed
Shall think themselves accursed 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.


A splendid speech this, nearly making Your Fair Editrix go berate the nearest Frenchman just on principle, but I digress.

Thus the memory of Harry and his happy few lives on to the modern day, and rightly so. Unfortunately the Saint(s) involved in the day-naming here have not been so well-spoke of late.

My sources (E.B.) expert in Celtic mythos tell me that Crispin and his twin brother Crispinian may have been syncretisations of Lugh (Mercury from Caesar's description from his Gallic histories). Not that there's anything wrong with that, of course, but by the modern era, the Bishop of Rome had these two fellows demoted a bit, so there are not many recent St Crispin's Day festivals, nor greeting cards.

Fortunately in the East, Crispin and Crispinian are still honoured as Saint-Martyrs, and in the Anglican West they still rate a commemorative day.

So, on this day, this happy day, let us who were not there raise a glass to King Harry and his Brothers, and while we're at it, toss back a wee bit for old Crispin and Crispinian.