According to Christian legend, Crispin and his brother Crispinian were Roman preachers who spent their days trying to convert the Gauls, and their nights making shoes. The Emperor at the time, Maximian, didn’t take kindly to Crispin and Crispinian’s proselytizing ways, and had them beheaded on 25 October 285 AD. The brothers’ feast day has since been bumped off the liturgical calendar due to skepticism about their actual existence, but their names live on thanks to Shakespeare (and a few historically informed specialty shoemakers).
In Act 4, scene 3 of Henry V, King Henry and his army are on the verge of battle with the French. The British are vastly outnumbered by the French army, and defeat looks inevitable. To rouse the flagging spirits of his weary troops, Henry delivers what is often referred to as the St. Crispin’s Day speech. He spurs his men on with promises of the glory they will share in, whether they win or lose, and the stories that will be told back home of the brave “band of brothers” who fought for England on St. Crispin’s Day:
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.
Many will be familiar with Kenneth Branagh’s rousing version of the St. Crispin’s Day speech, but here is a budding Shakespearean who could give Sir Ken a run for his money:
Ok, so he leaves out a few key lines, but what vim! What vigour!
There are many ways to celebrate St. Crispin’s Day. You could cobble some shoes, avoid angry Romans, or, maybe just pull out your copy of Henry V and channel your inner warrior king for a dramatic reading.
This has been Genie the intern, reporting for Harry, England, and St. George.