We Few, We Happy Few . . .

Today is the feast of Saint Crispin and Crispinian, patrons of cobblers, shoe-makers, and leather craftsmen, martyred during the persecutions of Emperor Diocletian. it is probably better known among English-speakers for a battle that took place on this feast, and Shakespeare’s version of it. Other notable fights on this day came during Crimea (“Honor the charge they made,”) and Leyte Gulf. But it is the older battle most of us think of.

The Agincourt Carol, written by John Dunstable.

Deo gratias anglia, redde pro victoria.

Owre kynge went forth to Normandy,
With grace and myght of chyvalry;
Ther God for hym wrought mervlusly,
Wherfore Englonde may calle and cry,
Deo gratias,
Deo gratias anglia, redde pro victoria.

He sette a sege, for sothe to say,
To Harflu toune with ryal aray;
That toune he wan and made a fray,
That Fraunce shall rewe tyl domesday.
Deo gratias, &c.

Then went owre kynge, with alle his oste,
Thorowe Fraunce for all the Frenshe boste;
He spared for drede of leste, ne most,
Tyl he come to Agincourt coste;
Deo gratias, &c.

Than for sothe that knyght comely,
In Agincourt feld he faught manly;
Thorow grace of God most myghty
He had bothe the felde, and the victory;
Deo gratias, &c.

Ther dukys, and erlys, lorde and barone,
Were take and slayne, and that wel sone,
And som were ledde in to Lundone
With joye, and merthe, and grete renone;
Deo gratias, &c.

Now gratious God he save owre kynge,
His peple and all his welwyllynge,
Gef him gode lyfe and gode endynge,
That we with merth mowe savely synge;
Deo gratias, &c.

[after 1415]
(from http://www.luminarium.org/medlit/medlyric/agincourt.php )
The Bard summed up the wonder of the battle and of Henry V with the most famous of speeches, delivered by (in my opinion) the best Henry I’ve seen on stage or screen:

Ah, that we had leaders this day who could inspire us so.


7 thoughts on “We Few, We Happy Few . . .

  1. I’m not sure that his speech (if he made one) was that great in reality, but I suspect that making it clear that he was going to be with them in the coming battle was more helpful.

    IE The Troops knew that he was not running leaving them to face the French.

    Hey, yes I have a touch of cynicism. đŸ˜‰

    • No, his real speech was probably a lot more vulgar, alternating Norman French, Welsh, and English, with a dash of Latin, and focused on loot and showing the French nobles just what a wimp their king was, or something like that. (It’s been a looooong time since I read Foissart’s Chronicles.)

      But Shakespeare wanted to make a point, and in doing so captured a LOT of human nature, and what it means to be a leader and inspirer of men. It moves past being pro-English propaganda into something a lot of people can claim for themselves or aspire to be. It’s amazing watching my students listen, sit up, and by the time he finishes, they’re ready to go attack France.

  2. I went through a period of watching/listening to assorted filmed Agincourt speeches. Agree this is the best. Even without the music it soars, although the music does help with the impact.

    • Yes. I think Branagh’s age (almost as young as Henry was) and sense of belief make it soar. Olivier’s good, others are good, but there’s a fire in Branagh’s version that the others don’t quite match.

  3. Nope … those arms and retinue screamed “HOOK ‘EM, ‘HORNS!” in the middle of Norman, OK, with two flats. Family Feud, turned up to 11, or more? Stand, fight, make the French pay cash.

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