Untold lives blog

25 October 2015

St Crispin’s Day

The Battle of Agincourt was fought between the English and French armies 600 years ago on 25 October 1415, St Crispin’s Day.

And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.
(Shakespeare’s Henry V Act 4, Scene 3)

Plan of the Battle of Agincourt

Plan of the Battle of Agincourt from The Chronicles of E. de Monstrelet (London, 1840) BL flickr  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence


St Crispin is the patron saint of shoemakers, cobblers, and leatherworkers.  In the third century two brothers, Crispin and Crispinian, went from Rome to France where they preached Christianity and worked at night making shoes.  The Roman governor had them put to death and they were made saints having been martyrs for their faith.


St Crispin and St Crispinian
St Crispin and St Crispinian from William Hone, The Every-day Book (1825)  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence


Shoemakers traditionally celebrated St Crispin’s Day with a day off work and much merrymaking. Newspapers often published stories of shoemakers ‘on the drink’ as they kept St Crispin’s Day. An old rhyme ran:

The twenty-fifth of October,
More Snobs drunk than sober.

If it rained on 25 October, St Crispin was said to be helping shoemakers by sending weather that made people think of buying new shoes and galoshes.

William Hone tells the story of Emperor Charles V roaming incognito in Brussels when his boot needed mending.  He found a cobbler but it happened to be St Crispin’s Day.  The cobbler refused to leave the jollities to carry out the repair in spite of being offered a handsome tip by the Emperor: ‘“What, friend!” says the fellow, “do you know no better than to ask one of our craft to work on St. Crispin?  Was it Charles himself, I’d not do a stitch for him now; but if you’ll come and drink St. Crispin, do and welcome: we are as merry as the emperor can be.”’ Charles accepted the offer.  The cobbler guessed that Charles might be a courtier and drank a toast to the Emperor. Charles asked if he loved the Emperor: ‘“Love him!” says the son of Crispin; “ay, ay, I love his long-noseship well enough; but I should love him much better would he but tax us a little less”’. The next day, Charles summoned his host to court.  When the man realised whom he had entertained the previous day, he feared his joke about the Emperor’s long nose would cost him his life. However Charles thanked the cobbler for his hospitality and as a reward ordered that the cobblers of Flanders should bear arms of a boot with the Emperor’s crown upon it, and that the company of cobblers should henceforward take precedence over the company of shoemakers in processions.

The Emperor Charles V
The Emperor Charles V (1500-1558) from Cassell's Illustrated Universal History (London, 1893) BL flickr Public Domain Creative Commons Licence


So we wish you a Happy St Crispin's Day!

Ho! workers of the old time styled
The Gentle Craft of Leather!
Young brothers of the ancient guild,
Stand forth once more together!
Call out again your long array,
In the olden merry manner!
Once more, on gay St. Crispin's day,
Fling out your blazoned banner!

From 'The Shoemaker' by John Greenleaf Whittier


Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
William Hone, The Every-day Book (1825)
British Newspaper Archive


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