It's been nearly 600 years since King Henry V of England and his army took the muddy field at Agincourt, and defeated a larger French force in what is regarded by many as one of the more remarkable battles in Western history .....
Reading Juliet Barker's "Agincourt: Henry V and the Battle That Made England" leaves one with no less appreciation for what Henry and his men accomplished that day ..... but with a greater appreciation for the character of England's king, how that character prepared England for war with France, and how those preparations brought the English into a situation that, perhaps, was not as desperate as some romantic historians and playwrights would have us think.
Don't misunderstand me ..... the Battle of Agincourt defined King Henry V more than anything else in his life. But Barker's work made it clear to me that, had it not been for his untimely death, there might have been much, much more for which Henry was known to history.
And this IS a history book. Though, by her own admission, it lacks some of those features we normally associate with a traditional historical work, it is filled with a richness that comes from the details of the lives and loves, the achievements and the tragedies of the men and women of that day ..... "This is the reality behind those faceless, nameless, emotionally detached battle plans. We should never forget that the neat little blocks on the page represent people," Barker wrote in 2006. "That is why, I hope, my book breathes new life and humanity into the story of Agincourt."
And that was just fine with me ..... already being well-versed in the Battle of Agincourt, I did not need the maps covered with blocks and arrows illustrating the movement of armies. For me, the greatest value in Barker's book is not learning about the battle-that-made-the-man, but the man-that-made-the-battle ..... starting as a teenager and the heir to the crown, riding at the head of troops battling rebel forces in England, learning how to raise and fund armies, secure alliances, reform law and government, and practice politics and statecraft both in the court and on the battlefield.
As a king, he would take the lessons he learned in the classroom of England, and apply them to the world at-large, particularly in his relations with France.
For me, Henry V remains one of the great 'what if ...' questions of the Middle Ages. Barker's book leaves no doubt that there was much to this man, to the nation he forged, and to their growing role on the European stage. Unfortunately, we will never know ..... Henry was recognised by the French as the heir to the French throne, and married the daughter of France's King Charles. But he did not live to inherit the French throne. He grew sick and died in 1422, at the age of 34. In the next few years, nearly all of Henry's gains would be lost in a French resurgence led by a legendary figure of their own, Joan of Arc.
For those who think they don't have an interest in history, this book may prove an entertaining and enlightening read, nonetheless ..... I heartily recommend it.
NOTE: The book was provided for review purposes by the Online Marketing Department, Hachette Book Group USA.