The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

Remembering St. Crispin’s Day: ‘We Few, We Happy Few, We Band of Brothers …’

Posted on | October 25, 2023 | Comments Off on Remembering St. Crispin’s Day: ‘We Few, We Happy Few, We Band of Brothers …’

Today I was waiting for my pizza to come out of the oven and scrolling through Facebook on my phone when I saw my post from last year (“St. Crispin’s Day: ‘If We Are Mark’d to Die, We Are Enough to Do Our Country Loss’”), and said to myself, “Is today October 25?” Never shall we cease to celebrate one of the greatest victories in the history of the English-speaking peoples! It’s important to understand the background of Henry V and the Battle of Agincourt. His father, Henry IV (“Bolingbroke”) stood accused of usurping the crown from Richard II, disinheriting the Earl of March. Henry V gained his military education fighting his father’s wars to suppress a series of rebellions. Just 26 years old when he succeeded to the throne at his father’s death in 1413, Henry V did not face as much domestic opposition, but the old English claim to the French throne soon led him into foreign conflict to claim what he believed was rightfully his. Thus began the third phase of what came to be known as “The Hundred Years’ War.” By 1420, Henry had triumphed and wed Catherine, youngest daughter of the French king, with a guarantee that their son would inherit the French crown. That would not have been possible, however, had the French defeated Henry at Agincourt, where his army fought heroically against overwhelming numerical odds.

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.

So it was that the English yeomanry earned their military fame in a battle where the number of French casualties was larger than Henry’s entire army. Indeed we shall remember “to the ending of the world.”



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