St. Crispin’s Day and The Battle of Agincourt

An English illustration of the Battle of Agincourt © 1999-2004, Agincourt Computing

“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…”

~William Shakespeare, Henry V

The Battle of Agincourt, an important victory of the Hundred Years’ War, took place on St. Crispin’s Day, October 25th, 1415.

Although Shakespeare wrote his play almost 200 years after the real events and some facts are inaccurate, he did capture the feeling of England and the historical significance, while keeping the royal character of King Henry intact.

King Henry and his men crossed the English Channel into France on a journey to Calais to get back disputed lands.   He and his men were exhausted and cut off from supplies by the French.  At dawn each side had set up near their respective camps.  The battle lines were about a mile apart, and between them was a freshly plowed field of mud.  A fascinating brief description of the battle strategy (including maps) can be found here.

The English were outnumbered and needed nothing short of a miracle.  Here is the famous St. Crispin Day’s Speech (Henry V, Act IV, Scene III) as brought to life by Kenneth Branagh.  I think, this pre-battle speech blows away most others.

“Not to us, O Lord, but to your name be the Glory!”

With boosted spirits, and with Good King Harry alongside, they go into a bloody and muddy battle.  Shakespeare’s total of lives lost is a little off, but this next scene shows the chilling aftermath of the battle.

Non nobis domine, sed nomini tuo da gloriam. Performed at the end of the battle of Agincourt in the movie Henry V.

The song (Non nobis, Domine) lyrics are from Psalm 115:1: “Non nobis, Domine, sed nomine tuo da Gloriam” (Not to us, O Lord, but to your name be the Glory).

“For England, Harry and St. George” ranks with Trafalgar and Waterloo in the annals of English wars.  Henry returned to London to a hero’s welcome, married the French Queen Catherine and pretty much ended the 100 years’ war.

“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.”
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers!

Indeed, these soldiers could believe it when Good King Harry said “God fought for us.”  (Henry V: Act IV, Scene 8)

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2 responses to “St. Crispin’s Day and The Battle of Agincourt

  1. A gentler and more moving film of Henry V is the original with Sir Laurence Olivier – especially since it was made during the War in 1944. Some great cinematography too based on mediaeval illuminated manuscript techniques (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P9fa3HFR02E). The Branagh film is a little too modern for my taste. Best book on Agincourt: Agincourt, a New History by Dr Anne Curry.
    We are but warriors for the working day!

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  2. How wonderful to hear from you Sir Gawain! (I love your blog.) I have taken your advisement and will be watching the Olivier as soon as I can get it from the library. We have enjoyed the Branagh version over the years and had read that it was historically accurate, so we are greatly looking forward to the comparison.

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