On this day in 1415, (Saint Crispin’s Day) the English army, led by Henry V, scored a decisive victory over the French at the Battle of Agincourt during the Hundred Years’ War. There had been several decades of relative peace, when the English resumed the war in 1415 amid the failure of negotiations with the French. Henry V of England was a claimant to the throne of France. Henry’s claim was through his great-grandfather Edward III of England, although in practice the English kings were generally prepared to renounce this claim if the French would acknowledge the English claim on Aquitaine and other French lands as outlined in an earlier treaty.In the ensuing campaign, many soldiers died from disease, and the English numbers dwindled; they tried to withdraw to English-held Calais but found their path blocked by a considerably larger French army. What happened at Agincourt has entered the treasury of British stories as the smaller, tired army defeated that large French forces. The account was made immortal in William Shakespeare’s play Henry V.
The play first came to the silver screen in the 1944 film directed by Laurence Olivier, who also starred in the film, playing the role of Henry V. The film was made near the end of World War II and was intended as a morale booster for Britain. The film was originally “dedicated to the ‘Commandos and Airborne Troops of Great Britain the spirit of whose ancestors it has been humbly attempted to recapture.'” The film won Olivier an Academy Honorary Award for his achievement as actor, producer and director in bringing Henry V to the screen.
The film achieved critical and financial success, which given the wartime setting was all the more remarkable. The film and Olivier’s portrayal of Henry became iconic, a masterpiece unequaled. And so when Kenneth Branagh announced he would direct and star in the 1989 version of Henry V the initial reaction was akin to “how dare he!”
While it would not be fair to compare the movies given the time, the technology, and production budgets, the 1989 version won unparalleled accolades, receiving a rash of Academy Award nominations and several Oscar awards. The later version also gave an amazing portrayal of the St. Crispen’s Day speech by Henry V, known as the “Band of Brothers” speech. You can watch the Branagh version of that scene here. Enjoy. It was on this day in history.
The Band of Brother’s Speech
WESTMORLAND. 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, Westmorland? No, my fair cousin;
If we are mark’d to die, we are enough
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, Westmorland, 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 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 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 rememberèd—
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.