Wednesday, October 25, 2006

October 25th, A Medieval Date Which Will Live in Infamy.

Bardiac was absolutely right. I may have forgotten to blog the anniversary of the Battle of Hastings, but I must not forget to blog this anniversary. Even if King Harold Godwineson isn't involved, and I kinda wub him. ( I have got to stop crushing on the very dead! Do they have pills for this?)And even if I'm unconscionably late doing it.

If I can trust the post-structuralists to give me a break on this construction, I give you -- in chronological order -- the stuff we're commemorating today:

The Death of Stephen of Blois, Last Norman King of England (1154)

Stephen was the son of William II, Rufus (A redhead and a hothead) and the Grandson of William the Bastard, aka "the Conqueror." After the 'hunting accident' (wink, wink) that killed William II, Stephen was brought into the household of his Uncle Henry I, Beauclerc and raised as a favorite among Henry's children. Henry, however, did not consider Stephen the heir to the British throne, and in fact demanded oaths of loyalty from his barons (including Stephen) in favor of his daughter Matilda (aka Maud -- British people talk funny) in 1127, and again when she produced a male heir in 1133.

Then Henry went and died while both Matilda and Stephen were in Normandy. Stephen enlisted the help of his brother Henry of Blois, the Bishop of Winchester, to get papal support for his ascension to the throne, and easily convinced the Norman barons that a man's claim to the throne was better than a woman's any day. (Because the kids these days, they don't consider a man's word an honorable contract. Cretins!) Plus, Stephen got back to London first. He was crowned King in London on 22 December, 1135.

Stephen was a big softy, and people knew it. Matilda and her followers came to British soil to fight for her rights, and those of her son. These battles went on for years, until eventually Stephen and Matilda signed an agreement whereby Stephen could remain king until his death, after which Henry of Anjou would rule. Stephen had no intention of honoring that contract, but his son up and died on him, and he didn't have another. So, the crown went to the Angevin brat by default anyway. (This is a very interesting story, unpardonably misrepresented through simplification here. I recommend you read up on it.)

The Death of Geoffrey Chaucer (1400)

A well-connected beaurocrat, diplomat and world travelling bean-counter, this guy also wrote a bit in his spare time. Most critics believe he showed some promise as a writer, and would have accomplished great things had that nasty mid-1380's Parliament not been determined to impoverish him. His last work, though unfinished, is still taught in many English literature programs even now. Imagine if he'd had the time he needed to finish it. Faith, Geoffrey we hardly knew ye! (In addition to being quite a promising little poet, Geoffrey was related by marriage to John of Gaunt. HAWT!)

The Battle of Agincourt (1415)

Yet another King Henry managed to defeat the French forces at Agincourt, and secured a marriage arrangement with Catherine of Valois,i.e., the King of France's daughter. Part of this marriage arrangement should have made Henry VI king of France on his grandfather's death, and ended the Hundred Year's War for good. But Henry V died while the boy was just a wee bairn, and you can't trust a contract with royalty nohow. So, more aggression, and Henry VI had to settle for the crown of Britain alone, poor thing.

Shakespeare reported Henry V's words on the field at Agincourt a few years later, and you'll be happy to know that old Henry was quite gifted with the blank verse.

I quote:
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.
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.

4 comments:

Chris said...

Do you know why Harold was killed at Hastings? Because instead of carrying a weapon, he carried some sort of big bird.

http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/images/bay01.jpg

By the way, wasn't Harold half viking?

Bardiac said...

Wow, I hadn't realized the Chaucer connection at all!

And of course, I forgot until I saw this today that I'd let the anniversary of Agincourt pass without so much as a nod.

I guess I should get my head out of committee work and back to fun stuff!

Dr. Virago said...

Three *very* important points:

1) Matilda rocks and I desperately want to name a child after her. Or perhaps a cat.

2) Chaucer, even the forward-looking writer that he was, was also a blogger, of course. :)

3) I wonder how many student papers the line "Shakespeare reported Henry V's words on the field at Agincourt a few years later, and you'll be happy to know that old Henry was quite gifted with the blank verse" will show up in one day.

HeoCwaeth said...

Chris,
I heard through the grapevine that the Bayeux Tapestry was hand-made by William the Bastard's mother, a biased interpreter of events and a known trollop.

And yeah, Harold was part of the Anglo-Danish aristocracy (papa married a series of scandinavian women to get the vikings off his ass. Didn't work. And anyway, we don't talk about that side of the family. )

Bardiac,
Committees are the devil, as I've learned this very semester when I decided it was time to 'get involved.'

Dr. V,
Matilda does rock, and I believe that's a fine name for a daughter or a cat, whichever comes first. I didn't reference Chaucer's blog because I didn't want to be the one to bring his death to his attention.

I hope and pray that that line turns up in one of my student's papers!