Battle of Agincourt by Enguerrand de Monstrelet, early 15th century (public domain - Wikimedia Commons)
"But if it be a sin to covet honour,
I am the most offending soul alive." — William Shakespeare, 1599
My parents taught me to always do what's right, and that standing up for what's right wouldn't always be easy. In fact, doing what's right might be extremely difficult or awkward when surrounded by people—friends, colleagues, peers—who want to do the exact opposite.
To make a stand and make a choice that is based on principle and honor, particularly when it's unpopular, can leave you feeling like you're alone.
Leaders are constantly facing difficult choices. And today, St. Crispin's Day, it's relevant to explore why.
In the early 1400s, the English and French were in the middle of the 100 Years' War. Five generations of kings led these efforts, in a seemingly endless series of battles. On October 25, 1415, the Battle of Agincourt was waged in northern France. October 25 is (or was, until the Second Vatican Council) the feast of saints Crispin and Crispinian.
The English were outnumbered, having lost a number of their men to disease in the campaign throughout the year. King Henry V of England led his troops in hand-to-hand combat during the battle, while Charles VI of France did not lead his troops, as he suffered from psychotic illnesses and mental incapacity.
The English claimed victory that day, due in large part to their use of the longbow, which made up 80 percent of their army. It was a strategic victory, but it was also an important victory for the morale of the army.
William Shakespeare made use of this historic moment to pen what became one of the most famous speeches from his plays: the St. Crispin's Day speech from Henry V, where the title character addressed his troops.
In the first half of the speech, Henry acknowledges the long odds and declares that he only wishes to fight alongside men who are as committed as he—committed to honor rather than spoils:
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.
No, faith, my coz, wish not a man from England.
God's peace! I would not lose so great an honour
As one man more methinks would share from me
For the best hope I have. O, do not wish one more!
Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host,
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.
He goes on to inspire them with visions of honor and glory long past their lifetimes, promising fellowship and brotherhood for those who remain faithful to the cause.
This day is call'd the feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam'd,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say 'To-morrow is Saint Crispian.'
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say 'These wounds I had on Crispian's day.'
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he'll remember, with advantages,
What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words—
Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester—
Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb'red.
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 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.
And on this St. Crispin's Day, whether you're an employee who is struggling with an ethical dilemma—perhaps like the Hootsuite employee who was fired after speaking out about her company's government contract, or the whistleblower who outed Facebook's global political manipulation—or a CEO who is trying to weigh the need to serve shareholders over stakeholders, or a contender for the highest office in the land, consider those words above from Shakespeare through King Henry.
Will you be recalled as someone who just went along, taking the easy route or fleeing from your principles?
Or will you be remembered for standing for honor and loyalty, and motivating others?
Thanks, and I’ll see you on the internet.