St. Crispin's Day recalls Shakespeare's Henry V and the British king's stirring victory over the French at Agincourt. King Harry's rousing speech to his outnumbered troops on the eve of battle in the patriotic play contributed the phrases "We Band of Brothers" and "the happy few" to the language. Robert Kennedy loved the "band of brothers" idea, and Stendahl dedicated "The Charterhouse of Parma" to the happy few, presumably those sophisticates who enjoy civilization's best.
The historic Agincourt has long fascinated me; at times I have felt the mystical sense that I was present at the battle on Oct. 26, 1425. Henry's ill and starving soldiers defeated a numerically superior French force. Reports vary on how much the British were outnumbered; it could have been as much as 5 to 1. The French also had a big edge in the number of horses. Some of Henry's men suffered from dysentery; unlike the beautiful uniforms and armor worn in films of the play, they fought naked, with watery shit running down their legs.
The British long-bow archers evened the odds, and battlefield luck did the rest. Henry stationed his archers on the sides, and their arrows spooked the French horses, which attacked from high ground and crashed into each other on a muddy, recently plowed field. The British also created a fortress with sharpened stakes from trees. With the French entangled with their fallen horses, many of them crushed into the mud and drowning, the British ran up to slaughter them, swinging swords and axes.
Another intriguing aftermath of the battle is that Henry ordered the killing of French prisoners, a severe violation of chivalric rules of battle. The controversy has raged through the centuries as to how many French nobles were killed and whether Henry was justified. Shakespeare himself gives a propaganda-ist defense of Henry.
The French military elite were decimated on that day. The tragedy echoes into the future; the English stood with the French in World Wars I and II, when French losses recalled the ancient debacle.
You Tube videos of Henry's St. Crispin's Day speech abound; one of the best is by Kenneth Branagh, from his Henry V movie of a few years ago.