St. Crispen's Day Speech
  Shakespeare's HENRY V
C. 1599

Although Shakespeare penned this work nearly two hundred years after the Battle of Agincourt (1415), it remains the finest dramatic interpretation of what leadership meant to the men in the Middle Ages.

Prior to the Battle, Henry V had led his English footmen across Northwestern France, seizing Calais and other cities in an attempt to win back holds in France that had once been in English possession and to claim the French crown through the obscure but powerful Salig Law.

The French, aware of Henry's troops weaking condition because of their distance from England and the attacks of Dystentary that had plagued the dwindling band, moved between King Henry and Calais, the port he needed to reach in order to return to England. The troops followed Henry's band along the rivers, preventing their crossing and daring them to a battle they thought they could not win.

The English knights fought on foot after the manner devised by Edward III. Archers were to be used in support, the English and Welsh longbows having established their credentials both at Crecy (1347) and at Poiters (1356). But here the French seemed to have sufficient numbers to deal with even this threat, and they refused to allow Henry pass, angered by the English seizure of the cities.

Morale in the English line as they looked upon the overwhelming force of heavily armoured, highly skilled French knights must have been extremely low. King Henry, rising to the occasion, spoke words of encouragement that rallied the English troops and carried them to a victory. As a result of the victory the French Princess Catherine was betrothed to Henry V, and France and England were at peace for the remainder of Henry's short life. He perished of dysentery in 1422, but was survived by his son (Henry VI) and was buried at Westminster Abbey, close to the shrine of Edward the Confessor.

Although the speech below is a work of fiction, it is evocative of the spirit with which Henry--and all strong medieval kings--ruled through the strength of their convictions and by force of their personality.

--Brian R. Price
--January 30, 1998

St. Crispen's Day Speech
William Shakespeare, 1599
Electronic Version January, 1998
The Chivalry Bookshelf
The Knighthood, Tournaments & Chivalry Resource Library