Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Agincourt 600

Today is the 600th anniversary of the battle of Agincourt.

Map of Henry's Route to Agincourt
 The English route to Agincourt
Each arrow represents a days travel


Jane Stemp Wickendon posted on the Medieval Religion discussion group King Henry V's pre-battle speech as re-written for him by William Shakeapeare almost two centuries later - still powerful and emotional stuff:

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 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.

John Dillon added as a more contemporary version Thomas Elmham's verse account of the battle (Liber metricus de Henrico V, vv. 485-580). As he said not exactly Shakespeare, of course. Herewith some selections:

CAPITULUM XXXVII. -De bello de Agincourt, in die Sanctorum Crispini et Crispiniani

Octobris mensis vicenus quintus habetur,
Anglos dans memores fervidus ille dies.
In feria sexta, Crispinus Crispiniano
Christi pila nuens nomine ferre potest.
Hostes in campo plures statuere cohortes,
Trusa quod his saevis arcubus ala foret.
Anterior fuerat Francorum turma pedestris,
In triplo superans Anglica rura viris.
Hinc equitum turmis acies sunt posteriores;
Sexaginta simul millia rure viri.
Ex Regis parte septem tunc millia vix sunt;
His unum bellum regia cura parat.

Henry arranges his troops and assigns the Duke of York to his station, then turns to the others about him:
Rex dixit reliquis, "Consortes, arma parate;
"Anglica jura quidem sunt referenda Deo;
"Edwardi Regis, Edwardi principis isto
"Jure notant memores praelia plura data.
"Cum paucis Anglis victoria multa notatur;
"Hoc nunquam potuit viribus esse suis.
"Anglia non planget me captum sive redemptum;
"Praesto paratus ero juris agone mori.
"Sancte Georgi! Sancte Georgi, miles! adesto;
"Anglis in jure, Sancta Maria, fave!
"Hac hora plures pro nobis corde precantur
"Anglorum justi : fraus tua, France!, ruet."

Near the end of Elmham's account we are told that some saw St. George on the field during the battle:

CAPITULUM XL. - Quod a quibusdam cernitur Sanctus Georgius in campo, armatus pro parte Anglorum.

Cernitur in campo sacer ille Georgius armis,
Anglorum parte, bella parare suis.
Protegit his Anglos victrix manus Altitonantis:
Non nobis, sed ei, gloria tota datur.


 King Henry V

Image: Wikimedia

Westminster Abbey is holding several events to commemorate the battle - including a special service on October 29th, the anniversary of the news of the King' s victory reached London, and day upon which he reached Calais - about which there are details at http://www.westminster-abbey.org/events/agincourt

I  have some more posts in mind about this anniversary, but for today I will add this comment that at Agincourt King Henry V and his band of brothers not only won a major and remarkable military victory but also, in that strange process which defines nations and communities, managed on that wet October day amidst the mud and blood, the pain and suffering, to touch the very soul of England. So we may well say " Cry God for Harry, England and St George"

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