This blog, written by Thomas E. Rutledge, focuses primarily on business entity law in Kentucky. Postings on contract law, contractual and statutory construction, and the entity law of other jurisdictions appear as well. There may as well be some random discussions of classical, medieval and renaissance history.
Thursday, October 25, 2018
Saint Crispin’s Day and the Battle of Agincourt
Saint Crispin’s Day and the Battle of Agincourt
Today is the anniversary of the Battle of
Agincourt, taking place in 1415 (603 years ago) between the forces of France
and her various allies and the invading English forces under the command of
King Henry V. Shakespeare, by having his character Henry V repeatedly refer to
the day of the battle as St. Crispin’s Day, otherwise saved this obscure saint
from being lost, save for experts in hagiography, to the mist of history.
Agincourt was the third of a trio of
famous battles in the course of the 100 Years War; the other two were Crecy
(1346) and Poitiers (1356).The English
won all three of these battles.In the
end they lost the war.If you should
want a comprehensive review of the 100 Years War, the four volume treatment by
Jonathan Sumption (The Hundred Years War I – Trial by Battle; The
Hundred Years War II – Trial by Fire; The Hundred Years War III – Divided
Houses; and The Hundred Years War IV – Cursed Kings) is
The English forces, likely numbering in
the range of 7,000, were compelled to do battle with a numerically superior
French force likely numbering in excess of 20,000. All else being equal, the
English force should have expected to be annihilated. As is typical in the case
of significant historical events, however, all things were not equal. The
French and their allies were disorganized, and overall command of the
battlefield was never achieved.Rather,
individual nobles led their own contingents forward in a disorganized and sometimes
conflicting manner.The terrain favored
the English in several ways.The French
“artillery,” crossbowmen (largely Pisan mercenaries) were not effectively
deployed, and they had the unenviable task of shooting uphill.That same terrain required the French forces,
both mounted and on foot, to attack uphill over a recently plowed field that,
consequent to the recent rain, was more mud than dirt. The French knights and
men at arms, slogging their way uphill, were a “target rich environment” for
the rain of arrows let loose by the English longbows; assuming Henry’s forces
numbered 7,000, likely 5,800 were longbowmen, each releasing four to six arrows
Another factor was that the very size of
the French force worked to its disadvantage in that those behind continued
pressing forward, hoping for their moment of glory, even while those at the
front were being slaughtered. It was not quite the situation suffered by the
Romans at the hands of Hannibal at Cannae, but then likely it was not hugely
While comparative casualty figures are
effectively impossible to ascertain, it is clear that the French were badly
mauled with significantly more casualties than the English. Further, a
significant number of French nobles fell in contrast to only two English
nobles. Also, a significant number of French knights who has been captured in
anticipation of being ransomed were executed.The validity of the execution order, given by Henry V, is to this day
For an excellent review of the battle,
see Juliet Barker's Agincourt. It is also covered in volume four of Sumption’s
As invented by Shakespeare in Henry V,
Scene iii, the St. Crispin’s Day speech would immortalize Henry V:
O that we now had here
one ten thousand of those men in England
do no work to-day!
What’s he that wishes so?
cousin, Westmoreland? No, my fair cousin;
are mark’d to die, we are enow
our country loss; and if to live,
fewer men, the greater share of honour.
will! I pray thee, wish not one man more.
Jove, I am not covetous for gold,
care I who doth feed upon my cost;
yearns me not if men my garments wear;
outward things dwell not in my desires.
it be a sin to covet honour,
the most offending soul alive.
faith, my coz, wish not a man from England.
peace! I would not lose so great an honour
man more methinks would share from me
the best hope I have. O, do not wish one more!
proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host,
he which hath no stomach to this fight,
him depart; his passport shall be made,
crowns for convoy put into his purse;
would not die in that man’s company
fears his fellowship to die with us.
day is call’d the feast of Crispian.
that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
stand a tip-toe when this day is nam’d,
rouse him at the name of Crispian.
that shall live this day, and see old age,
yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
say “To-morrow is Saint Crispian.”
will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
say “These wounds I had on Crispin's day.”
men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
he’ll remember, with advantages,
feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
in his mouth as household words-
the King, Bedford and Exeter,
and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester-
their flowing cups freshly rememb’red.
story shall the good man teach his son;
Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
this day to the ending of the world,
in it shall be remembered-
few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
to-day that sheds his blood with me
be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
day shall gentle his condition;
gentlemen in England now-a-bed
think themselves accurs’d they were not here,