St. Crispin’s Day Observed


25th October 2017
St. Crispin’s day observed

Saint Crispin’s Day falls on 25 October and is the feast day of the Christian saints Crispin and Crispinian (also known as Crispinus and Crispianus, though this spelling has fallen out of favour), twins who were martyred c. 286.’ Beheaded during the reign of Diocletian; the date of their execution is given as 25 October 285 or 286.

Most people who know of such a day are familiar with it through Shakespeare. ‘It is a day most famous for the battles that occurred on it, most notably the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. Because of the St. Crispin’s Day Speech in Shakespeare’s play Henry V, calling the soldiers who would fight on the day a “band of brothers”, other battles fought on Crispin’s day have been associated with Shakespeare’s words.’

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 remember’d;
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 accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

Henry V. Act IV Scene iii 18-67
Here is Kenneth Brannagh’s version of the speech.
and here is Laurence Olivier’s version (in which the speech is almost drowned out by the background music.)

Painting of Archers at The Battle of Agincourt

These lines appear to be the source for the phrase ‘band of brothers’. So should we associate St. Crispin’s day with brotherhood? Do we want to celebrate brotherhood, or is today’s world too ‘unisex’ to permit that? It is a concept that focuses on the relationships of male siblings. Beyond that, brotherhood is an icon of masculinity and the relationship between men, even if they are not related. In contemporary times, the concept of brotherhood has been transmogrified into Bromance – love between men that verges on romance and simulates brotherhood. It is a genre that is fascinating for today’s audience – of both sexes. The male name Crispin has long been a signifier of effeteness – used to characterise unmanliness and ineffectualness. It is a name associated, traditionally, with curly hair – a feature that, for some, might suggest effeminateness. One website went so far as to claim that the name Crispin denotes ‘People with this name have a deep inner desire to serve humanity and to give to others by sharing money, knowledge and experience, or creative and artistic ability. ‘ What the origins of that might be defines imagination. Might we redesignate St. Crispin as the patron of anti-sexism? A step too far for many people, I would surmise.

So, does St. Crispin’s Feast have any meaning or relevance for today’s world? Is it an emblem of leadership? Does the band of brothers idea suggest manliness and masculinity? Do we want to celebrate glory and brotherhood? How would today’s orators inspire people who are downtrodden and despairing?

Henry V’s St. Crispin’s day speech has been described as ‘…one of the best inspirational speeches in literature.’ But is the speech about misguided loyalty? Do the brothers of Agincourt give their lives and their blood for the sake of the King, for Henry, and his glory? Is this speech a moment of calculation and cruelty? They are about to give their lives to make Henry a great man – not themselves. The speech is an icon of great men and their ambitions to glory. So, Agincourt is about winning; winning for its own sake. Henry V is urging his soldiers to win the war – for him. History now views the battle as inconsequential. As writer Guy Patrick Cunningham put it: ‘Henry’s triumph at Agincourt brings no benefit to the English nation. The whole reason his force is so small is because most of his troops are needed back home to prevent a split among the English nobles from turning into a full-fledged rebellion — a split that Henry makes no effort to heal. ‘

We remember Agincourt on 25th October. ‘The Battle of Agincourt was a battle of the Hundred Years’ War that resulted in an English victory. The battle took place on 25 October 1415 in the County of Saint-Pol, Artois, some 40 km south of Calais.’ It can be recalled as the victory of the English over the French – a nation, that now, we count amongst our friends and allies. History has seen countless thousands of Frenchmen slaughtered by English soldiers; and many thousands of Englishmen killed by the French. History has also seen the English dying to free the French from tyranny. The culture of France is deeply embedded in the heritage of England. The 25th October could be a day on which we commemorate the mutability of history; the way in which international relations change dramatically over time. The day we think about how yesterday’s enemies becomes today’s friends. And vice-versa.

Painting of a Shore-maker

So what should be observe about or on St. Crispin’s day, if anything? In the third act of Die Meistersinger, Wagner has the shoemakers’ guild enter singing a song of praise to St. Crispin. For me, I choose to celebrate shoe-making. ‘Saints Crispin and Crispinian are the Christian patron saints of cobblers, curriers, tanners, and leather workers.’ My paternal ancestors were shoe-makers. For my part, I prefer to associate St. Crispin with footwear. Oh happy band of cobblers.