St. Crispin's Day
Crispin and his twin brother Crispinian, the patron saints of cobblers and leatherworkers, lived in 3rd cent. A.D. Gaul, a two days' ride northeast of Paris in the town of Soissons. William Shakespeare took note of their Feast on the liturgical calendar in his account of the Battle of Agincourt (October 25th, 1415, during The Hundred Years War). To quote "King Harry" (Henry V, Act IV Scene iii):
- 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."
Harry, who ascended to the throne just two-and-a-half years earlier, vowed at his coronation to revive the war against France and his claim to the French throne. His lengthy siege at Harfleur, however, left little time and forces for any further campaigns in France -- and the French nobles had put aside their quarrels to unite against the foreign invaders.
Rather than take the sea route to Calais, 100 miles away, Harry opted to march over land -- across the Seine and the Somme, in the face of the steadily-massing French armies. After crossing the Somme, just 30 miles from Calais and safety, a massive French force (estimated between 30,000 and 100,000 strong) blocked their path.
The ensuing battle, recounted in impeccable detail by John Keegan in The Face of Battle, was a resounding victory for the badly-outnumbered English and Welsh. Their effective use of terrain (choosing a narrow defile over freshly-plowed fields between two densely wooded forests), the substantial number of longbows with the strength to pierce armor, the deployment of numerous palings (wooden stakes driven into the ground pointed toward the enemy line) protecting the archers, and the lack of "unity of command" in the French forces all proved decisive for Harry and his "band of brothers".
- 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)