The St. Crispin’s Day speech is given by England’s King Henry V in Shakespeare’s play of the same name, Henry V. The king gives the rousing speech on the eve of the Battle of Agincourt in the English camp in northern France. The Hundred Years War battle took place on October, 25th, 1415, Saint Crispin’s Day. The English were greatly outnumbered by the French, 5,000 to 30,000, and morale was low amongst the men. Twenty-nine year old Henry V motivates his army – his ‘Band of Brothers‘ – by calling upon their valor and comradeship, that which binds soldiers together on the field of battle:
This day is called the Feast of Crispian:
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
will stand a tip-toe when the day is named,
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 remember’d.
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 today 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, by William Shakepeare, Act 4, Scene 3.
So how did the Battle of Agincourt play out in history? King Henry V succeeded in rallying his troops and his long bow archers carried them to a decisive victory against France that day. As a result, the French King Charles VI offers his daughter, Princess Catherine, to Henry V in marriage. France and England were finally at peace (at least for a time).