Observation of St. Crispin's Day has just passed, 25th October, it is actually the feast day of two Saints Twins in fact Crispin and Crispinian are the patron saints of cobblers, curriers and leather workers.
Henry the V and St. Crispin's Day Feast were intertwined forever by William Shakespeare in his play Henry V, and the St. Crispin's Day speech written for the character Henry and has become a cultural emblem of bravery against long odds (see Kenneth Branagh's rendition of the speech here). In short, it is hard to imagine a king and a sword that better represent the romantic martial history of medieval England.
A depiction of the Battle of Agincourt from the Vigiles du Roi Charles VII, 1415
Henry of Monmouth, Henry V, claimed the throne of England on March 21st, 1413, a day after the death of his father Henry IV. A sword attributed to him for many years was one of our first replica piece. This is one of our favorite swords, but also one that illustrates some of the pitfalls and challenges of reproducing historical swords.
During his brief reign from 1413-1422 King Henry invaded France, achieved a legendary victory at Agincourt, and occupied Normandy.
Antoine Leduc, Sylvie Leluc et Olivier Renaudeau (dir.), D'Azincourt à Marignan. Chevaliers et bombardes, 1415-1515, Paris, Gallimard / Musée de l'armée
The tale of this sword begins in 1951 when Ewart Oakeshott is allowed to clean the relic that had recently been found in an old chest in Westminster Abbey. Ewart gives his take on this in Records of the Medieval Sword, pages 172-173, and there is a new analysis forthcoming in May 2022 from the Royal Armouries Research Series entitled "The Funeral Achievements of Henry V at Westminster Abbey: The Arms and Armor of Death". This volume contains an article by Robert C. Woosnam-Savage entitled "'our bruised arms hung up for monuments: The Sword of King Henry V?", which we are excited to read upon its publication.
The controversy over whose sword this was is only part of the difficulty of reproducing the blade. When we first made our replica back in 1989-90, we relied on the measurements for the blade that were noted in Record of the Medieval Sword by Oakeshott. He had taken these during his cleaning of the sword. These measurements, though, where not entirely correct, which we learned when archiving his notes taken at the time he had the sword in his hands. This led to significant difficulty because the sword we made to his specifications in Records looked a bit different than the photos of the piece. For example, the cross in the photo appears wider and the blade appears narrower at the cross than the book indicated.
Since the description and the photos differed somewhat, and relying entirely on photos can be deceptive due to issues of perspective, we decided to produce the piece based on the published measurements at the time. We only learned later that these were in need of adjustment based on Ewart's handwritten notes that we curate as part of the Oakeshott Institute collection. Also, the sword looks really elegant, feels amazing in the hand, and cuts like a laser.
This is a piece that we have been thinking about redesigning for some years to more accurately reflect the original sword, but we think that this whole process is instructive and, actually, a part of the history of the sword. Whether or not we update this sword in the near future, we will probably also continue to make our version of the sword because it is so tied up with our friendship with Ewart Oakeshott, and because it is just such a good sword. Here is a video of the sword in action.
We hope your St. Crispin's Day was memorable and you conquered any challenges in fine order. Our Henry V sword is always an excellent tool for such things wether you are playing Henry or leading a charge.
Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be rememberèd;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers
Shakespeare, W., The Life of King Henry the Fifth, Act 4, Scene 3.
Nathan Clough, Ph.D. is Vice President of Arms and Armor and a member of the governing board of The Oakeshott Institute. He is a historical martial artist and a former university professor of cultural geography. He has given presentations on historical arms at events including Longpoint and Combatcon, and presented scholarly papers at, among others, The International Congress on Medieval Studies.
Craig Johnson is the Production Manager of Arms and Armor and Secretary of The Oakeshott Institute. He has taught and published on the history of arms, armor and western martial arts for over 30 years. He has lectured at several schools and Universities, WMAW, HEMAC, 4W, and ICMS at Kalamazoo. His experiences include iron smelting, jousting, theatrical combat instruction and choreography, historical research, European martial arts and crafting weapons and armor since 1985