24 October 2013

On the Eve of Saint Crispin's Day

Tomorrow, October 25, is the feast of Saints Crispin and Crispinian.

It is not otherwise notable or observed in the liturgical calendar anymore, but is remembered because it marks the anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt.

"All things are ready if our minds be so."

William Shakespeare, Henry V

Stand and deliver.

After the Battle - "A Royal Fellowship of Death"

Shakespeare does not include it in his historical drama, which after all was written for his English audiences and the Crown, but as I recall during the Battle of Agincourt King Henry V ordered the execution of a hundred or so French prisoners, because he feared their numbers would turn and in a rearguard action overwhelm his much smaller and highly vulnerable force.

This occurred after a successful raid by the French on the English supply vans, which were guarded by 'old men and boys.' Shakespeare portrays this as a dishonourable deed against the rules of war, but makes no mention of the expediency of killing prisoners in his play. Such is the chronicle of war.

If anything the Battle of Agincourt was fortuitous for the English, having everything to do with the choice of terrain and defensive position, the vagaries of the heavy rains and mud which seriously hurt the French cavalry, even to causing heavily armoured knights to be unhorsed and drown, and the superior range and power of the English longbow.

In a very real sense in their overconfident eagerness for victory, the French chose the wrong tactics for the wrong place at the worst time to try and halt the English army from retreating from France. They ill-advisedly went 'in for the kill' to settle the score decisively, and in turn were slaughtered in one of the bloodiest battles of the Hundred Years War.

The Henry IV-Henry V plays of Shakespeare were among my favorites both in high school and University. The comedic character of Falstaff in Henry IV is among Shakespeare's most memorable creations from the non tragic plays. Kenneth Branagh's version of Henry V is exceptionally well done, and among the most enjoyable.