Happy 603rd Agincourt Anniversary and St. Crispins’ Day! It’s once again time for my yearly medieval history lecture about why you should care as much about Henry V as I do.
Other notable events today:
- 164th anniversary of the Battle of Balaclava during the Crimean War which was immortalized by Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s poem ‘Charge of the Light Brigade.’ If you haven’t read the poem the basic takeaway is: there are somethings bigger than yourself.
- 154th anniversary of the Battle of Marais de Cygnes one of three battles fought in Kansas to end Price’s Raids, a series of Confederate offensives spurred by Major Gen. Sterling Price to re-establish Confederate control in the Mississippi Valley prior to the 1864 Presidental Election.
- 3rd Year Anniversary of the Misery Meet. For those who know, you know. For those who don’t just imagine 25km, trench foot, a false sense of security upon arriving at a bothy that wasn’t your bothy, and walking all the way around a sea loch with your bothy in sights.
But, anyway. I’m not going to bore you with the specifics of Agincourt… you can read the Wikipedia article for that. In fact, I’m not really even going to write a new post because basically this post doesn’t really change year to year. Don’t tell the Uni, but, I’m going to self-plagiarize some quotes still relevant stuff from I wrote in 2016. So please excuse 19-year-old Kennedy, but I still think she’s pretty clever and has a lot to say.
Today is St. Crispin’s day aka the 601st anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt.
But, Kennedy! That happened soooooo long ago!! Why should we care?!?!
Glad you asked.
I believe that part of the reason a lot of people find history boring is because they cannot place themselves in ‘the world’ in which is happened. It becomes disconnected, people lose interest, the actions of the past are forgotten. But, by creating a relationship between the past and the present, history becomes accessible and in a lot of ways, lives again. Keeping history alive requires people to continue this dialogue keeping it relevant and relatable.
Picture this: You’ve been walking for days. You’re tired. You’re hungry. You’re sick. You’re on the run from a group of powerful people who want you dead – a group that outnumbers you six to one. But amidst all off this – the guy in charge is trudging right along side you. He’s tired too. He’s starving too. He’s sick too. The people who want you dead want him dead ten times over. But, that doesn’t matter because you swore to each other to get to the end of this. Neither of you intend to break that promise.
Those are the circumstances that faced Henry’s army at the dawn of October 25, 1415.
His army numbered just under 6,000, with 4,000 being peasant bowmen. The other 2,000 were a mix of knights and men-at-arms. They had been on a frantic retreat for nearly two weeks, attempting to make their way back to the Channel. In a last ditch effort, they established camp at the top of a muddy hill. They braced themselves at the break of dawn, expecting the worse to come from the amassed group of heavily armoured French knights, numbering nearly 36,000, waiting below. Had Henry wanted, he could have slipped away in the night, retreated to England, and saved his own skin.
Instead, Henry stayed with his starving army, made up of peasant bowmen, because he had made them a promise. He doesn’t even take the night to rest. Disguised as one of them, he speaks to his troops earnestly and honestly wishing to hear their views of the upcoming battle.
Then at the break of dawn, he gave his infamous speech, later immortalized by Shakespeare, about loyalty and honesty. Addressing his men as ‘his band of brothers’ and making a vow to fight and if necessary die beside them. And he kept his promise. French eyewitness accounts write of Henry fighting in the front lines. Just to make sure you caught that, that’s the French praising the leadership and bravery of their enemy.
Against all odds, Henry won the day. He lost 112 men. The French casualties numbered over 12,000.
It’s not the medieval warfare that makes this story relatable but its spirit of loyalty and leadership. Against all odds, Henry refused to give up and in the end his faith in his men and their faith in him won the day.
For us today, the historical spirit of Agincourt lives on each moment we push ourselves just that bit farther. It’s relevant again each time we remain loyal to our friends treating them with respect and honesty. But, the most important lesson for Agincourt is how we should treat those we work with and who work for us with that same loyalty and honesty.
Some people at this point may wonder: Henry was king of England, what did he actually owe to a group of peasants?
A lot of people would probably say he owed them nothing. He’s their king, their boss. He can do what he wants. I would argue the opposite. He is their boss and that makes him even more accountable for his actions and his leadership. Good leaders lead by example – they are shoulder to shoulder with their people not hiding behind them. They have to be the one to accept the responsibility. If you expect respect, you first have to give your own.
You could say good leaders devote their lives to the protection of their followers. They make personal sacrifices for the good of those they represent. They do not, like a certain Republican presidential nominee [now President], disrespect based on religion, gender, or ethnicity, blatantly lie, or refuse to be held accountable for their actions.
Good leaders, good people, value every person no matter their rank or role in society.
Henry didn’t discriminate between the peasants and the nobility in his army. This is evidenced by how the English kept their casualty records. The 112 includes everyone from the lowest peasant bowmen to Henry’s uncle, the Duke of York. The French list of 12,000 only includes nobility, excluding the countless others without rank.
Henry handled his army with unprecedented social equity basing rank and prestige on personal achievement not patronage or social status.
To put this in a civilian perspective, as long you work hard, remain loyal and honest, no matter your social status you will receive equal treatment and respect.
My father stresses this sense of loyalty and honesty a lot. (He’s a US Marine and a General in the Air Force so no guesses as to why he made those two things so important.) He was actually the person who first showed me the St. Crispin’s Day speech.
My mother also lives by this same code of leadership. There have been dozen of times I’ve returned home late to find my mom still working. Even though she’s a vice president of a decent sized company, she always tells me the same thing, ‘If someone who works for me is working, so am I.’
So in that small way – that’s how I’ve kept the history of Agincourt alive and relevant. It’s not the original physical context. I’m not a medieval longbowmen. Hell, I’m not even English. But it’s not a stretch to say I’ve kept it in the original thematic context with some extra influence from my parents.
Dold, K. Y. 2016. ‘Agincourt 601’ Ad Caledonia. Available at: https://adcaledonia.com/2016/10/25/agincourt-601/ (accessed 24 October 2018).
I think 19-year-old Kennedy summed it all up pretty nicely, if at times going on a few side tangents.
This post was written prior to the 2016 Election and as we near the 2018 Election (in just 13 Days)… just think about how you promote leadership in your own life. I’ve learned a lot about leadership in my ‘short and naïve 21 years.’
And sure, 1415 wasn’t some social liberated wonderland. But, those themes of loyalty, honesty, and respect and the phrase ‘band of brothers’ translates pretty closely to ‘we the people.’ (And yes, I mean all the people… not just the people who look/act like you.)
Just think about these things when you’re out bopping about. What have you done to help those around you? Are you expecting the same from them as you expect from yourself? Are you setting a good example? There’s a reason Henry V is still talked about 603 years later.
But, when you do something for the right reasons you don’t expect praise. You do it because it’s the right thing to do.