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.


Hotspur O'Toole said...

"O! for a Muse of fire, that would ascend The brightest heaven of invention;
A kingdom for a stage, princes to act and monarchs to behold the swelling scene.
Then should the war-like Harry, like himself, assume the port of Mars; and at his heels, Leash'd in like hounds, should famine, sword, and fire crouch for employment."

Wonderful post, Miss Nicholas. I greatly enjoyed it. I am in RL a fan of the Bard's work, particularly the histories, and of the histories, particularly the Henry Cycle (as my avi name might attest).

If I might be so bold as to suggest a follow on topic, perhaps the tragic rise and fall of Henry VI (not even a shadow of his illustrious father) might make for interesting reading in the future?

Thank you again,

Hotspur O'Toole

Diamanda Gustafson said...

*humming the tenor line as she types, refusing to copy and paste*

Deo gracias Anglia redde pro victoria.

Our king went forth to Normandy,
With grace and might of chivalry;
There God for him wrought marvelously,
Wherefore England may call, and cry
Deo gracias!
Deo gracias Anglia, redde pro victoria.

He set a siege, the sooth for to say,
To Harfleur town with royal array;
That town he won, and made a fray,
That France shall rue till Domesday.
Deo gracias!
Deo gracias Anglia
Redde pro victoria.

Then went our king, with all his host,
Through France for all the French boast;
He spared no dread of least, nor most,
Till he came to Agincourt coast.
Deo gracias!
Deo gracias Anglia
Redde pro victoria.

Then for sooth that knight comely
In Agincourt field he fought manly
Through grace of God most mighty
He had both the field, and the victory
Deo gracias!
Deo gracias Anglia
Redde pro victoria.

There dukes, and earls, lord and baron,
Were taken, and slain, and that well soon,
And some were led in to London
With joy, and mirth, and great renown.
Deo gracias!
Deo gracias Anglia
Redde pro victoria.

Now gracious God he save our king,
His people, and all his well willing,
Give him good life, and good ending,
That we with mirth may safely sing
Deo gracias!
Deo gracias Anglia
Redde pro victoria.

Baron K. Wulfenbach said...

I've always had a bit of a soft spot for Owain Glyndwr, mangled but immortalised in that same series of plays. Brilliant man, Glyndwr, and a leader ahead of his time. They should have listened to him more closely.