“The Fewer the Men the Greater the Share of Honour”

  OK.  Enough.  Enough with the peace and quiet.  I’m not a girlie man.  Back to the blood, guts, and gore.  Real thing this time though, with The Bard’s representation to boot.

  Sunday (October 25) is St Crispin’s Day.  It’s named for twins Crispin and Crispinian who were martyred in about 286AD.  They were removed from the liturgical calendar by Vatican II, but they’re not what make the date noteworthy anyway.  Several historically important battles have been fought on October 25s: The Battle of Balaklava (The Charge of the Light Brigade) in 1854, The Battle of Leyte Gulf in the Pacific in 1945, and The Battle of Agincourt in 1415.

  The event at Agincourt occurred because King Henry V of England invaded Europe to prosecute his claim on the throne of France, the hand of Princess Catharine daughter of Charles VI King of France, and a dowry of 2 million crowns.  It is notable because of the fact that the English force of some 6,000 defeated catastrophically the French who numbered perhaps as many as 30,000. 

  Several factors worked to King Henry’s advantage including: the composition of the forces, the nature of the battlefield, and the sure knowledge that defeat would mean annihilation.  The resulting motivation helped overcome fatigue, hunger, and disease.

  Over 80% of Henry’s men were archers/longbowsmen.  Half of the French were dismounted knights and men-at-arms, a thousand or so mounted knights, and the balance archers.  These counter posed armies came to face each other in a very narrow strip of recently plowed open muddy land surrounded by dense forest.

Agincourt

  Short and simple, the English and Welsh archers on the flanks loosed tens of thousands of arrows killing and wounding many, hitting French horses on their unarmored hindquarters driving them madly through their own ranks. 

  The armor laden French pressed forward wave upon wave, but slogging through the muddy bottleneck tired quickly, were easy prey, and fell in huge piles.  Some even drowned in the mud.  Crucially, they were unable to outflank their opponents because of the thick wood on both sides.

  Once all arrows had flown, the English moved upon the French with hatchets and swords.  Without the weight of armor they tore through the horrible wallow with relative ease.  At the end of some three hours there were approximately 112 dead Englishmen, and as many as 10,000 French.  Uh, whoa.

  King Henry’s glory has regaled far more than just those with particular interest in military history through the agency of one William Shakespeare.  His Henry V dramatizes the story and Hank’s “St Crispin Day Speech” has to be one of the most stirring and momentous in all of literature.  After reading the play, you should rent and watch the film version with Kenneth Branagh in the lead role.  Or maybe be lazy and just watch the clip below.  Either way, be careful with your cutlery for a while thereafter.

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