Sunday, January 2, 2011
Agincourt. The King, The Campaign, The Battle. Juliet Barker. Abacus (2005)
A comprehensive and gripping account of the context and action at the iconic battle. Juliet Barker does a wonderful job of placing the major player firmly into their context so that the actions on both sides prior to the battle are clear. The battle itself is described with tremendous clarity. In particular Henry V emerges as a man with a mission, the overwhelming purpose of his actions is made clear, it gives force to his astonishing leadership.
As the son of a usurper, Henry V had a lifelong need to establish himself as the true and righteous King of England and England's French possessions. His father has not lived up to his promise and Henry was determined to do so. He had a superb strategic grasp of the administrative requirements of royalty and imposed his will on England, becoming the undisputed king in his own country. From there Henry felt that he had a god given mission to recover and maintain the English dominions in France and launched a long term campaign to do so. The invasion of France that culminated in the battle of Agincourt was the final phase of the campaign, it was waged with cunning diplomacy and thoughtful preparation first.
Henry went to very considerable lengths to prove the justice of his cause, he carefully pushed his case so that French allies would not join against him when he invaded. His preparations for the invasion were meticulous and careful, this was not a quick adventure, this was a national effort in a just and necessary military action. Henry was greatly and continuously assisted by the savage internal divisions with France, there was a long running and brutal conflict within the French elite that would bear disastrous results at the battle.
At the battle itself, the English, in spite of having a much smaller force that had been weakened by a horrific march through France, inflicted a murderous defeat on the French. While the crucial roles of geography, weather and the English archers are given due weight it is the difference in leadership between both sides that was the key factor. Henry marshaled his forces with fierce skill and personal courage, the French had no effective leadership and squandered their resources. This is a superb telling of an extraordinary event, a pleasure to read.