St. Crispin’s Day and “Bands of Brothers”

We have been thinking of the Battle of Trafalgar in recent days (by the way, I hope to post something more on this in the next week) in which Napoleon’s fantasy of invading Great Britain was scotched once and for all. One of the elements in the British victory was the sense of personal loyalty that Nelson’s men felt towards him and Nelson to them. In Nelson’s words, “I had the happiness to command a band of brothers.” The phrase “band of brothers” is drawn from William Shakespeare’s Henry V, a play from which Nelson frequently quoted. On this, see Adam Nicolson’s brilliant study, Men of Honour. Trafalgar and the Making of the English Hero (London: Harper Collins, 2005), 125-127. The phrase occurs in the speech of Henry V, as Shakespeare imagined it, on that day that he defeated the French at Agincourt in 1415.

“…Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by, From this day to the ending of the world, But we in it shall be remembered— 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 accurs’d they were not here, And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.” (Henry V, Act IV, Scene III, lines 58-68).

Reading George Grant’s blog— Grantian Florilegium—for today alerted me to the fact that today is St. Crispin’s Day, on which Henry V won his notable victory at Agincourt. Henry V did make a speech that day, though, of course Shakespeare’s words are not what he actually said. But there is no doubt that the speech is stirring stuff—the stuff on which young men feed mind and heart—and which Nelson knew could foster valour and heroism.

Now, if it be true that Nelson’s band of brothers were critical to his victory, how much more so is it in the Kingdom of the Lord Jesus. Did not Paul have such a band on his missionary travels? And the Cappadocian Fathers when they sought to beat back Arianism? And William Carey in India? Far more has been accomplished for the Kingdom of God by such “bands of brothers” than by isolated stellar figures!