597 Years Since Agincourt

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We are in God’s hand, brother, not in theirs.

King Henry V

The anniversary of the long ago battle of Saint Crispin’s Day gives us yet another opportunity to recall the immortal “Band of Borthers Speech” that Shakespeare put into the mouth of Henry V, a speech that could put fight into a dog dead three days, or, mirabile dictu, even a live Congress Critter:

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.

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October 25, 1415 was an amazing day for the English.  The English longbow had long proved in the Hundred Years War to be a devastating weapon in the hands of skilled archers, but rarely had the English faced such long odds as they did at Agincourt.  Approximately 6,000 English, exhausted and worn from their march, faced approximately 30,000 French.  About five out of six of the English were archers with the remainder men-at-arms, knights and nobility.  The French had about 10,000 men-at-arms, knights and nobility, and 20,000 archers, crossbowmen and miscellaneous infantry.

The English established their battle line between the woods of Agincourt and Tramecourt, which offered excellent protection to both of their flanks.  The English archers made up the front line with stakes set in the ground before them to impale charging horses.  Archers were also placed in the woods to provide flanking fire against advancing French.  The men at arms and knights and nobility, were divided into three forces behind the archers.  They fought on foot.

The terrain between the woods that the French would have to cross in their attack of the English consisted of newly ploughed, and very muddy, fields.  Having walked through muddy fields on several occasions in rural Illinois, I can attest that simply getting from point A to point B in such terrain can be exhausting, let alone fighting at the end of the tramp through the morass.

For three hours there was no fighting, the French waiting for reinforcements.  King Henry tiring of this had his army advance to put pressure on the French to attack.  Alarmed by this offensive movement by the English, the French finally attacked.

The French advanced in three battles, or lines, one behind the other.  The mounted French, only about 1200 men, were in the first line.  All the other French fought afoot.

The charge of the mounted French was a complete disaster  and set the tone for the entire battle.  Due to the woods, the English archers could not be outflanked, and their blizzard of arrows wreaked havoc with the horses of the French as they made their frontal charge.  The French cavalry fell back on the advancing dismounted French men-at-arms.  These advanced against heavy fire from the longbowmen, who fired into the French men-at-arms until they ran out of arrows, and then joined in the melee with the English men-at-arms.  The French initially succeeded in forcing back the English line.  However, their success was short-lived.  Exhaustion set in among the French after their trek through the muddy fields, and the English longbowmen, wearing no armor and therefore much more agile than their adversaries in the mud, attacked with surprising success, aiming their blows at unarmored portions of the bodies of the French men-at-arms.  The fighting lasted about three hours before the French withdrew in defeat.  The stunned English slowly realized that they had won one of the most incredible against the odds victory in military history.

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7 Responses to 597 Years Since Agincourt

  • Michael Paterson-Seymour says:

    St Crispin was the patron saint of souters or shoe-makers (from Latin suere = to sew) In Glasgow, up until the Reformation, he was the patron saint of the Incorporation of Cordiners (the Scots equivalent of English cordwainers), which included tanners (who had their own patron saint – St Bartholomew), curriers, barkers, as well as souters. The name derives from Cordoba, the source of the best Spanish shoe-leather.

    The Incorporation still survives and sends six member to the Trades House of Glasgow.

  • philip says:

    Great timing Donald.
    Thank you for the lift.
    In the very end the brotherhood of righteousness will unite in an endless Kingdom, a lasting city that St. Paul searched for within his being.
    Lord give us the grace to excell at servitude. To not count the cost nor attribute
    self worthiness to our works, remembering that your works are great.
    In twelve days the blizzard of ballots will fall from the sky to push back a defeated army.

  • T. Shaw says:

    I remember John Keegans’s, The Face of Battle, covering Agincourt.

    The English received Absolution and Holy Eucharist; and knelt down and took soil in their mouths in anticipation of burial, if memory serves.

    Then, the field flowed with blood, mostly French and etc. mercenaries.

    Courage and Christian humility ruled that day.

  • Michael Paterson-Seymour says:

    Donald R McClarey

    After the raising the siege of Orléans, the Dauphin refused to keep paying the Scottish Free Companies. The Maid told them the bad news. Sir Hugh Kennedy turned to his fellow-commanders and demanded, “Since when did we need paying to fight the English?” Now that was a miracle, if you like.

    Sir Hugh never did get paid, but, after the Loire campaign and the coronation at Reims, Charles VII granted him an augmentation of his arms

    http://heraldry-online.org.uk/kennedy/kennedy-roland.jpg

    Several branches of the Kennedy family bear them to this day, including my neighbours, the Ferguson Kennedies of Bennane

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