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Agincourt: Henry V and the Battle That Made England Hardcover – June 14, 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Barker, a British biographer (The Brontës) and accomplished medievalist, brings an excellent synergy of academic and literary skills to this study of the 1415 British campaign in France and the battle that was its climax, around which she elaborately reconstructs the conflict's antecedents. Henry V spent years preparing the ground: asserting initially shaky authority in England, exploiting domestic strife in France and isolating the disorganized kingdom from its traditional allies. During the campaign itself, a train of artillery manned by foreign gunners supplemented the men-at-arms and the longbowmen, who were the British army's real backbone. But the French were not the vainglorious incompetents of English legend and Shakespearean drama. Many in northern France made a brave effort, often putting aside personal and political differences to stand together at Agincourt, where they came closer to success than is generally realized. Barker shows that the battle hung by a thread: French numbers against English desperation, with courage a common virtue. She also illustrates how Agincourt was decisive—not only for its consequences in France. An English defeat would have meant chaos, perhaps civil war. Destiny on both sides of the Channel turned on the outcome of St. Crispin's Day. (June 14)
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The Battle of Agincourt of 1415 has endured in popular awareness on the strength of Shakespeare's Henry the Fifth. The historical Henry V bears scant resemblance to Falstaff's royal drinking buddy: in Barker's lushly detailed account, Henry V was a pious warrior, an able administrator, and an aggressive diplomat. Barker dwells extensively on Henry's rapid intensification, after ascending to the throne in 1413, of the Hundred Years' War, the English attempt to control the crown and territory of France. As a result, her emphasis on the organization of the campaign that culminated at Agincourt delivers a superb description of how a medieval military force was raised. Founded on feudal precepts of lord-and-vassal obligation, Henry's army and that of France were personalistic, a trait Barker turns to positive advantage in portraying the combatants. From longbow men to men-at-arms, Barker successfully individuates the Agincourt battle so that readers perceive actual people, not just a melee of thousands, engaging in the battle. With fluency and empathy, Barker delivers a superior performance that should capture avid history readers. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
Top customer reviews
Henry V (reigned 1413-1422) was the greatest warrior king in British history. His victory over his French enemies at Agincourt on Oct. 25, 1415
led to an overwhelming victory. High ransom paid for French hostages added to Henry's coffers; the fame of England's victory was celebrated
in minstrely, poems, songs and most famously in Shakespeare's history play Henry V. (Later made into a famous film by Laurence Olivier in 1944 as the British along with their allies were planning for the D-Day landings in France.
Barker is excellent in limning the characters of such renowned figures as Rauol de Gaucourt the gallant French soldier who defended the town of Harfleur until it was forced to surrender. He was later imprisoned in England. Henry V comes across as a pious, good king who could exert cruelty and diplomacy in equal measures in the governing of his kingdom (he considered himself to be king of both England and France),
The book details how a medieval army was paid, fed, quartered; taught the arts of war and chilvary and what weapons were utilized (the English archers won the battle as they slaughtered the French attacking them in a rainy, misty dawn across muddy fields). The English had about 6,000 troops but triumphed over the vast French forces facing them.
The French were divided by hatreds and factions being poorly led. The English troops were led by Henry a military genius and charismatic leader.
Juliet Barker has done a fine job making this 600 year battle come alive for the reader.
It is remarkable how challenging it was to organize and execute the strategy. One of the benefits of reading this is that it gave me a whole new appreciation for the complexity of midieval warfare. As other reviewers have pointed out the actual battle of Agincourt is recounted but the buildup and the campaign of Henry's army in France is really the primary focus of Barker's book. Since Shakespeare immortalized the events on the battlefield on St Crispin's Day this book provides a serious historical account of the political, social, economic and military background of the events leading to the field.