I promise you won’t read about this anywhere else: Last Friday, Oct. 25, was St. Crispin’s Day. The Feast, named in honor of a third century martyred saint, would be obscure had it not been for the Battle of Agincourt, fought in 1415 on that date – which also happened to be a Friday that year. In one of history’s great upsets, King Henry V's outnumbered army whacked the French on their home turf partially because of their successful use of newfangled weapons called longbows.
In another example of that domino effect by which an historic event leads to another seemingly unrelated outcome, from that setting something would evolve out of New Orleans centuries later that would today have a positive economic impact throughout Northern Europe.
Here’s what happened:
Agincourt itself might have been forgotten as just another one of many European battles except that in approximately 1599 one of the most famous of all Englishmen, William Shakespeare (or whomever wrote under that name) wrote a play called “Henry V.” In the drama the warrior King "Harry" (as he was known to his pals) addresses his army the night before the battle. Shakespeare’s words become a moving monologue as Harry tells his troops that tomorrow, the day of the battle, is St. Crispin’s Day and that those who fight and survive will forever be remembered by that day. (In the 1989 movie, Kenneth Branagh, as Henry V, delivers a stirring version of the speech.)
This being Shakespeare there are many great lines in the speech but one that would reverberate in New Orleans comes near the end:
But we in it shall be remembered – We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; For he today that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile
Now the scene shifts to the New Orleans area where in 2001 historian Stephen Ambrose published a book about a U.S. Army unit known as “Easy Company,” a part of the 506th Airborne Division. The book traced the group from basic training through D-Day and across Northern Europe into Germany and Hitler’s Eagle's Nest. Borrowing from King Harry via Shakespeare, Ambrose called his book, Band of Brothers. The story was so compelling that HBO made it into a mini-series, itself a masterpiece.
This past summer I took a tour that went through Normandy and went into Holland, Luxembourg, Belgium and Germany – the places where the fighting was hard. During the tour, episodes of “Band of Brothers” were played on the bus’ TV system. Historic markers along the way referred to scenes from "Band of Brothers.” Tourists were snapping pictures of sites they were familiar with because of the book. Much has been written about the Allied invasion of Europe. Cornelius Ryan’s 1959 masterpiece The Longest Day, which was made into a popular movie in ’62, was the early most important effort. Now the bible is Band Of Brothers. Next year will be the 70th anniversary of D-Day and tourists will invade the beaches. For many, their inspiration will be a book from New Orleans with a title inspired by an ancient battle fought on St. Crispin’s Day.
Unrealized by many of those tourists is that Agincourt, the battle site, is not far from where they will be. It is near the Pas-De-Calais, famous because it is the shortest point across the English Channel and the spot where the Allies duped the Nazis into thinking they would land. Agincourt goes down in history as an unusual battle. It was originally studied for its weaponry; now it is remembered for its words.
BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT: Errol’s Laborde’s new book, Mardi Gras: Chronicles of the New Orleans Carnival (Pelican Publishing Company, 2013), is due to be released Oct. 31, 2013. It is now available for pre-order at Amazon.com.
WATCH "INFORMED SOURCES," FRIDAYS AT 7 P.M., REPEATED AT 11:30 P.M. WYES-TV, CH. 12.