Speechifying before battle in olden times

In many movies we see our Hero giving a speech to the troops to stir support, and ready them for battle. However it turns out that he’s talking to tens of thousands of troops, and with no speaker system in sight. How did the lowly troops hear or get inspired by the greatness of the general in command?

I saw a trailer for *Elizabeth *(2?) and she’s doing it there. I remember they did it in Braveheart (possibly more than once) Caesar in HBO’s *Rome *gave a few speeches that couldn’t have been heard by so many.
So two questions for the CS:

  1. What other movies have someone giving a speech to too many people to hear
    and more importantly
  2. Did this really happen?
    Was it retroactively written by the victors?
    Was it like a stump speech? Where he would give it a few hundred times leading up to battle?
    Did he give the speech to a hundred ‘officers’ and they would, in turn, retell it to their troops?
    Is this only a work of fiction, and never really happened?

Some of these wouldn’t work, when the end of the speech is the Hero charging the Enemy, but otherwise they could work.

Not a movie (initially), but:

Shakepeare, Henry V.

I don’t know how many of the 6000+ English troops would have heard him.

Elizabeth really did give a speech to rally the troops before the arrival of the Spanish Armada. There are different versions of what she said, which, I suppose leaves open the possibility that the substance of her words was lost and that improved versions were composed for history’s sake. But there doesn’t seem to be any dispute that she gave a speech. Both versions include some reference to the fact that she was a woman in what was traditionally a man’s role, which suggests that this was a central theme in whatever she actually said. The more popular version:

In less olden times, General Eisenhower published an Order of the Day to encourage the troops about to undertake the Normandy Invasion:

Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force!

You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hope and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other Fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.

Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is will trained, well equipped and battle-hardened. He will fight savagely.

But this is the year 1944! Much has happened since the Nazi triumphs of 1940-41. The United Nations have inflicted upon the Germans great defeats, in open battle, man-to-man. Our air offensive has seriously reduced their strength in the air and their capacity to wage war on the ground. Our Home Fronts have given us an overwhelming superiority in weapons and munitions of war, and placed at our disposal great reserves of trained fighting men. The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to Victory!

I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full Victory!

Good luck! And let us beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.

Also less olden but:

“Men, all this stuff you’ve heard about America not wanting to fight, wanting to stay out of the war, is a lot of horse dung. Americans traditionally love to fight. All real Americans love the sting of battle. When you were kids, you all admired the champion marble shooter, the fastest runner, big league ball players, the toughest boxers. Americans love a winner and will not tolerate a loser. Americans play to win all the time. I wouldn’t give a hoot in hell for a man who lost and laughed. That’s why Americans have never lost, and will never lose a war… because the very thought of losing is hateful to Americans.”
Alexander the Great gave a speech in Alexander (not that anyone heard it).

LOTR: Return of the King – Theoden gives a rousing speech to the Riders of Rohan, before they charge the forces besieging Minas Tirith. And he’s riding back and forth as he gives it (in the movie), so nobody gets to hear the whole thing.

**300 **ends with the one-eyed guy giving a speech with 30,000 Greeks at his back, 12 of whom get to hear his stirring words.

Here’s another good real life example (scroll down):


Hmph. Let’s try again:


The vast majority of the time, speeches to the assembled troops are pure fiction. As noted, thousands of troops, plus all the other people who might be around on horseback, or pulling cannons, or providing supplies, or whatever, make any but the smallest armies spread over vast areas and are hard to keep perfectly quiet. (If they’re all hiding and quiet to spring a surprise, a speech wouldn’t be much help either.)

If there are real exceptions, remember than orators in times before electronic assistance were renowned as much for their lungpower as their ability with words. There are many 19th century American politicians who had nicknames like “Old Leatherlungs” for their ability to be heard by crowds of thousands. Edward Everett, who spoke for two hours at Gettysburg before Lincoln, was known for such ability and most contemporary reports indicate that he had no trouble getting the entire crowd’s attention.

At best, I’d say that a speech to stir the troops was possible but rare.

You do realize that this is a work of fiction, right?

Well, the OP did mention Braveheart, which is scarcely less fictional than LotR.

Yes, but it was based on a real event. The OP asked for movies where this happened and how it compared to the real life event.

I withdraw my post.


Wow lots of good responses. Exapno Mapcase’s post really got to the heart of the matter of the 2nd question posted. I guess I was hoping for some cites of generals who did give stirring speeches to rally his troops, before the use of sound systems/printing press. I guess being able to shout is what it’s all about. Have we lost this ability or is it prevalent only in our sports coaches. (Who else shouts over long periods of time for a living?)

The Historical Reality of Ancient Battle Speeches.

I think long-winded speeches were exceptional. The rule was short but inspirational exhortations.

Pickett to his troops before their ill-fated charge at Gettysburg: “Up, Men, and to your posts! Don’t forget today that you are from Old Virginia!”

Daniel Morgan to his troops before the Revolutionary War battle of Cowpens: “Let me see which are most entitled to the credit of brave men, the boys of Carolina or those of Georgia!”

and later,

“My friends in arms, my dear boys, I request you to remember Saratoga, Monmouth, Paoli, and Brandywine, and this day play well your parts for honor and liberty!”

At the Battle of the Wilderness (Civil War):

And of course, there’s always, “They couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance.”

Before the battle of Trafalgar, Nelson used flag signals to communicate “England expects that every man will do his duty”. Not much of a speech, but then I imagine having to use flag signals lend themselves to brevity.


There’s no need to rally any but the frontline troops. They’re the ones risking the most. The first in, and almost certain to die. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if rallying the troops was a widespread practice. Advantage was gained by the more fierce attacker.