27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A new way of looking at an old subject
A common problem with history books that deal with a single theme is that you leave with the impression that their particular subject was the only thing in the world at the time. Nathaniel's Nutmeg? The Elizabethans obviously spent all their time obsessing about spice. Longitude? Down to the lowest peasant, everyone in the country must have been thinking that life...
Published on 19 Feb 2011 by davidT
20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars SAUSAGES WITH MUSTARD
Ian Mortimer is the author of several biographies, of his namesake Roger Mortimer (The Greatest Traitor), of Edward III, and Henry IV. Rejecting the advice of an older school of historians, in particular K.B. McFarlane, that all attempts at medieval biography were essentially fraudulent, he has put his profound knowledge of the primary and printed sources to good use...
Published on 17 May 2011 by Stephen Cooper
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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A new way of looking at an old subject,
This review is from: 1415: Henry V's Year of Glory (Paperback)A common problem with history books that deal with a single theme is that you leave with the impression that their particular subject was the only thing in the world at the time. Nathaniel's Nutmeg? The Elizabethans obviously spent all their time obsessing about spice. Longitude? Down to the lowest peasant, everyone in the country must have been thinking that life wouldn't be worth living unless he could crack the problem of navigation.
Of course, it's not like that at all; the vast majority of people have their own concerns completely divorced from these single topics. For example, three years into the English Civil War, a farmer at Marston Moor was advised to clear himself and his family out, as his farm was going to be the site of a battle between King and Parliament the next day. His surprised response : "What? Have those two fallen out, then?"
All of which is a long-winded way of welcoming this approach to history as a refreshing change. Instead of picking on say Agincourt, and detailing what the main people involved did, the author takes the entire year, day by day, and describes its events and their implications, up to and beyond the battle itself. He focuses of course mainly on Henry and his activities, but it takes in the broad sweep of European and Church politics at the same time.
This I found very useful. For instance, I'd heard of Jan Hus and knew he'd been burned as a heretic after being promised safe conduct to Constance. I also knew that there had been a time when there were three rival popes at the same time, but I'd never registered that these had happened in the same year as Agincourt. And this is important to bear in mind, as Henry certainly would have done - in an age when being slightly too early or too late in coming down on one side of a religious dispute could land you in big trouble, Henry must have kept a keen eye on what was transpiring, anxious to know who was likely to come out on top.
I had the feeling when reading the book that it was supposed to be a revisionist hatchet job, painting Henry as a cold-blooded schemer only out to increase his own power. So what? was my reaction. In 1415 we see one major plot unmasked, and throughout the year John Oldcastle was trying to raise a revolt in the north of the country. In an age when a failed football manager or chief executive is merely shown the door, which he exits pushing a wheelbarrow of money, it's easy to forget that the penalties for being a failed king in the 15th century were rather more serious. The century was book-ended by a couple of Richards who paid the ultimate price for taking their eye off the ball, and Henry himself could never rest easy. And as for constantly extending his realm - well, if you didn't do that, there would rapidly be someone pushing in the opposite direction, whether from Scotland, Ireland or France. So fair play to him for keeping his head above water and on his shoulders, really.
What the book doesn't do too well - and this is a necessary consequence of the structure - is to show the long term effect that the events of this year had. For instance, 130 years later Henry VIII was still fighting the French, on the back foot by now, and it was his daughter Mary who finally withdrew from Calais, after almost a century and a half of bloodshed. For what? Henry V's pride and ambition?
I wouldn't want all my history books to be written like this, but it certainly achieves its aim of giving an idea of the man in his context - even if the idea isn't necessarily the one the author wanted.
20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars SAUSAGES WITH MUSTARD,
This review is from: 1415: Henry V's Year of Glory (Paperback)Ian Mortimer is the author of several biographies, of his namesake Roger Mortimer (The Greatest Traitor), of Edward III, and Henry IV. Rejecting the advice of an older school of historians, in particular K.B. McFarlane, that all attempts at medieval biography were essentially fraudulent, he has put his profound knowledge of the primary and printed sources to good use. He is a fine historian and a master of the sources. His dedication to the wild idea that Edward II did not die in 1327, either by means of a red-hot poker or otherwise, should be regarded as an aberration.
At the heart of `1415' is a skilful and dramatic reconstruction of the Battle of Agincourt. Mortimer accepts Anne Curry's revised estimates of the numbers present, but makes the point that the English were still outnumbered, whatever figures one takes (and gives a convincing explanation as to why the chroniclers grossly overestimated the size of the French army). His narrative is as exciting as Juliet Barker's, though there is no `Fellas, let's go!' - Henry's supposed battle-cry. In its place, we have Sir Thomas Erpingham's `Now strike!' Mortimer also provides us with a convincing explanation for the devastating character of the English victory: the archers were able to pour down fire on their opponents at the rate of 1,000 arrows a second. It must have been somewhat like the Somme 500 years later, with the French taking the place of the British, though Henry had already crossed the Somme before arriving at Agincourt.
I liked the copious citation from original documents and there are many gripping passages: the Council of Constance and the condemnation of Jan Hus, the Southampton plot and the siege of Harfleur - as well as the battle - are vividly described. The author paints a convincing picture of the way in which religion was woven into the fabric of everyday life in the fifteenth century; but I found the portrayal of Henry himself (clearly stated in the Conclusion and in two articles in History Today and BBC History for October 2009) less satisfactory, though this is at the heart of the book.
Was Henry particularly cruel and callous, as Mortimer argues? By modern standards, undoubtedly. Many historians, and even sausage manufacturers, have noted the King's remark that `war without fire is like sausages (andouilles) without mustard.' The paradigm case cited in 1415 is the deliberate killing of the French prisoners at Agincourt, though Mortimer gives a convincing account of what actually happened. What was done was certainly inhumane, and a breach of the laws of war; but one could point to many examples, from other years in Henry's reign, of his rigid adherence to the law as then understood (including `the law of Deuteronomy') and of his attempts to protect the French population (provided that it was loyal to him). One is entitled to ask whether Henry's behaviour was not typical of the attitude of the soldier engaged in mortal combat, rather than illustrative of a trait of character. Oliver Cromwell, who also took Christianity very seriously, appears to have relished the way in which God had made his enemies `as stubble' to his sword.
Of course, it is right to be wary of Shakespeare's Henry V; but it would be surprising if the men who followed the real Henry had not taken pride in his victory. Perhaps Shakespeare was right in some respects, after all.
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he'll remember, with advantages
What feats he did that day.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The "real" Henry V as seen over one year,
This review is from: 1415: Henry V's Year of Glory (Paperback)If you have read a lot of serious history books about one of England's most famous kings the picture presented in this book may not come as any great surprise to you. If your view of Henry V was based on the hero presented by Shakespeare, which this book sets out to challenge, it may come as rather a shock.
The myth of Henry as a wild young man who became a patriotic hero as a brave, chivalrous and generous King is sunk so deeply into our national consciousness that one may do a double take at seeing it challenged. But Ian Mortimer argues that apart from his military success, it has very little basis in reality.
We think of government "spin" as a modern phenomenon, but the governments of certain Kings and Queens of former centuries were far more successful in controlling their contemporary and subsequent reputations than Peter Mandelson, Alistair Campbell, or Andy Coulson could dream of being. (The opinion that "history is written by the winners" has been around for a long time.)
Elizabeth I, who would probably have been remembered as one of the best English monarchs on her genuine merits, also had on her team arguably the most effective propagandists of any government in the history of these islands. Including the effective support of the most brilliant writer whom the English-speaking world has ever produced. Faced with threats within and without, Tudor spinners worked both to denigrate the previous Yorkist dynasty and also to build up patriotic heroes from the dynasties which preceded the Yorkists. Between Shakespeare and Tudor propagandists, a number of views have been immortalised which don't necessarily match reality.
You don't have to go all the way with the Richard III society, or to know much about the historical Macbeth, to recognise that Shakespeare's portraits of both Kings are a travesty, which in the former case was certainly based on Tudor propaganda.
This book convinced me that Shakespeare's "Henry V" (Link: Henry V : (Wordsworth Classics)) is as much an exaggeration of his merits as "Richard III (3rd)" and "Macbeth (Penguin Shakespeare)" are character assassinations.
Most of this book consists of a day by day account of what we know of Henry's actions from Christmas 1414 to Christmas 1415, the year in which the triumph of Henry V's armies was crowned by winning the battle of Agincourt and also the year when the church and secular rulers like Henry joined forces in a lethal crackdown on those who they saw as heretics. The picture of the King which emerges matches Shakespeare's immortal hero in one sense only - that he was an able and highly successful military commander.
Mortimer paints a picture of a King who knew he was not secure on the throne, and was determined to use whatever measures were necessary to hold on to power, no matter how ruthless - sending to the block not just those who really were plotting against him, but anyone whose loyalty seemed to Henry to be in the least equivocal.
Henry was determined to demonstrate that he had God's favour through military victory, and could be quite brutal to secure those victories. For example, this book discusses a nasty incident when Henry ordered the massacre of French prisoners during the battle of Agincourt. Mortimer does give both sides of this action, which would clearly be a war crime today and was controversial by the laws and customs of the 15th century as well. On other occasions Henry behaved with great brutality towards French civilians including women and children.
Perhaps worst of all to modern eyes, Mortimer makes a convincing case that Henry V was the kind of religious hardliner who is quick to kill in the name of God, regarding it not just as his God given right, but even duty, to massacre those who stood in his way. He justified acts of cruelty by claiming, and apparently believing, that he was God's instrument.
Religious faith can and often does inspire human beings to do good, but unfortunately sometimes the reverse can be true. The worst tyrants often believe that they are God's regent and entitled to impose savage penalties on those they see as his enemies. (I've never understood how any sane person can justify this in the name either the God who ordered them to "Love your enemies and pray for them that persecute you" and died on the cross to save sinners, or indeed of God referred to by his worshippers as "the Compassionate, the merciful" but even today some people do.)
In the ranks of religious tyrants, when one compares Henry V as depicted in these pages with Oliver Cromwell or Queen Mary Tudor, he appears to have been cut from the same cloth. Henry comes over in this book as a man who deserves to be remembered the way the English remember Bloody Mary and the Irish remember Cromwell.
I would imagine it will be impossible to shift Shakespeare's legend of the Hero of Agincourt from the popular imagination. But Mortimer makes a strong case for that he was a much more brutal and less romantic ruler. For any serious student of the period this book is certainly an effective counterweight to the legend.
33 of 42 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Henry V: The Cold Hearted English King,
Mortimer has always gone against orthodox beliefs. His reassertian of Edward II's death turned many academics heads upside down. His rethinkning of Henry V is surely needed. Henry wasn't who we all think he was; he was no charming hero of Agincourt. He was a man with a so called 'divine mission' from God to rid the people of France of their sins by punishing them by death. Therefore he was cruel and cold hearted. He didn't restart the war in France for England's own security; he restarted it to make sure that God favored the Lancastrian dynasty and therefore he, unlike Edward III, was a warmonger. The hero of Agincourt is shattered by revisionist history
Mortimer's book goes from Christmas 1414 to Christmas 1415. In this microbiography of 1415 and Henry V, Mortimer explores Henry's relations with everything. He also shows that all of Henry's good law achievements, the Statue of Truces for example, were down to his ambitions for war. The Truces were there so that the Duke of Brittany and the Duke of Burgundy did not come to the aid of the French during the campaign of 1415. He also examians the Council of Constance and its importance in English history. In the Council, Henry has England recognized as a nation state the way no other European country was viewed. But after all this, and in his execution of the prisoners after Agincourt, we all see that Henry V was not the great warrior king we all knew him to be. He was a cruel, ruthless, and arrogant, and his colossal ambition contriputed to the eventual failure of his great plan: the rule of France. In the end it was all those elements that destroyed Henry himself. But perhaps it is greater that the fictinal Henry is more remebered than the real one. The fictional one was a great hero, worthy of remebrace, and in him, the English find a sense of national and courageous hope
Mortimer is always a great writer and this is his greatest work yet. It reads like a thrill and the Battle of Agincourt is very well pictured in the book. The book gets five stars. I couldn't put it down and you won't be able to either.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Could Mortimer bash Henry any more if he tried?,
This review is from: 1415: Henry V's Year of Glory (Paperback)I read the first 320 odd pages of this novel for a University assignment; I suspected I would not like it, knowing that the author takes an incredibly critical view of Henry. In this sense I was not disappointed. Ian Mortimer might claim to have been taking a more `objective view' of the evidence, but I was not convinced. There really seemed to be a distinctly antagonistic I might even say hateful tone to this book. The author appeared to be consciously interpreting the evidence in such a way as to cast Henry in as negative a light as he possibly could, and to be intentionally vilifying him at every given opportunity.
Almost from the outset, Mortimer appeared to be trying to interpret events and actions on the part of King Henry in such a way as to highlight some supposed character flaw.
Yet some of his assertions seem to be entirely unconvincing, and really just absurd. How exactly does the supposed fact that the King did not sleep around and have mistresses from the time of his succession until his marriage reflect badly on him?
This is but the first in a number of issues with this book that I will highlight here.
Mortimer then states that Henry did not marry for love unlike his Grandfather John of Gaunt. John of Gaunt in fact married three times, and whilst his third marriage to his long term mistress Katherine Swynford was indeed for love, his second marriage was most likely for conveniene and material gain. So what Mortimer says is true but not the full picture of the whole truth - which may be seen as one of the major problems with this work. Mortimer will sometimes make a claim or assertion, but not mention certain information which has some bearing upon it, and may not wholly support his argument,.
In another places then asserts that Richard Earl of Cambridge (the father of Richard Duke of York) himself had `probably' been named as third in the line of succession by Richard II. There appears to be one fundamental flaw in this line of argument however- which is that if Cambridge was indeed illegitimate (as Mortimer suggests) he would almost certainly not have been permitted to succeed to the throne at all. Another omission, could it be deliberate?
Then there is one of the central tenets of the work- Mortimer's overriding argument that Henry was driven to make war with France by some exception brand of religious fanaticism which led him to believe he was fighting in the name of God. Yet it would appear that Henry's beliefs in the justice and rightness of his cause war, and even claims of divine support were not so very exceptional when compared with the work of the English King's contemporary Christine de Pisan.
I personally studied this subject at some length in my BA Dissertation, but it is enough to say that there seem to be enough parallels between Pisan's ideas on the subject and Henry's own to the latter were not unique or exceptional for the time. Pisan even went so far as to claim `wars waged in just cause are but the proper execution of justice' and that those who had a just cause could claim the support of God. By Mortimer's reasoning this would make her a `fanatic' too.
Secondly, and perhaps most problematic of all is the fact that Mortimer's whole notion of what constitutes religious `fanaticism' may arise from his modern attitudes by which he judges Henry. The idea of waging war `in the name of God' may be abhorrent to modern man, but it was not necessarily so to medieval people, or the Medieval aristocracy who would probably not have had very much trouble reconciling the waging of war with the Biblical commandment of `Thou shalt not kill' (or more correctly `thou shalt not murder'). That Mortimer raises such alleged `proofs' in favour of his argument suggests a scant regard for and even understanding of the common beliefs, values and ideals of the period. In essence it may be concluded that King Henry could only be judged as a savage religious fanatic if his actions are measured by modern standards, imposed upon, but alien to the time.
There are also the apparent contradictions In one passage he writes that Richard Earl of Cambridge "seems to have given very little thought to the fact that he would have to kill all three of Henry's brothers (as well as Henry himself) before he could eliminate their claim to the throne".
Yet he later asserts that the charge of plotting to kill the King made against The Earl of Cambridge, Sir Thomas Grey, and Henry Lord Scrope was `false' `trumped up' and an `inference based on the character of the plot' stating that for Edmund Mortimer to be crowned "Henry and all his brothers would have to be removed from the order of succession".
The wording of the latter sounds rather less murderous than Ian Mortimer's previous claim that the aforesaid Earl would "have to" kill four people.
Throughout the book, the author makes statements about what Henry and other figures were thinking, or how they felt about certain situations. This may be seen as a device to make these figures seem more reliable, but sometimes supposed thoughts and opinions attributed to historical figures seem to reflect the author's own take on the subject a little too closely.
Finally, and perhaps more objectionably is the way that the author does not seem to be above attacking other historians. In one place he accuses such a person of not being objective- apparently because their interpretation and view of Henry does not agree with his own.
Yet presenting speculation and personal opinion as fact, missing out things which do not fit into one's interpretation, and seeking to interpret the evidence in such a way as to make a person look bad does not constitute an 'objective' or very professional approach to history in my opinion.
Mortimer seems to do all of the above, so can his work really be regarded as objective? I hardly think so. Admittedly I have not finished it, but if what I have read of this book is anything to go by, I would say that, at best it presents an incredibly biased version of the events which took place in 1415 written by a person who makes no attempt to disguise his apparent disdain not only for Henry, but his apparent contempt for other historians' work which does not agree with his own.
If readers are seeking a more objective and complete view of Henry, I would suggest they read other works and not just this book, such as the following Henry V (Yale English Monarchs Series), Agincourt: A New History and Agincourt: The King, the Campaign, the Battle.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Perhaps Henry treated a little harshly?,
This review is from: 1415: Henry V's Year of Glory (Paperback)The problem one can have with revisionist history is new and exciting opinions on well trod ground will always be more sell-able than time's tested traditional views; and will thus be tempting to any writer publishing on the subject.
This isn't to say that Mortimer has gone completely for shock value here- there is much of merit in the pages- the 'year in the life of' layout is particularly satisfying and has clearly taken alot of effort to achieve. However, one can't help but feel the book may have been tainted by the opportunity to be slightly controversial here.
The real Henry V was no romantic hero of pure chivalric intention (and I don't think any historian would try to tell you so) but to suggest he was an utterly cruel, heartless chap intent of seeing the French burn for their sins when there has been no new evidence about his life brought up here is taking a very one sided look at the life of this enigmatic king. This is particularly rich coming from the author who suggested Edward III was a potentially perfect king on the back of similarly bloodthirsty expeditions with fairly similar intentions (infact, one may argue Henry even achieved in 10 years on the throne what Edward did in 50; though it doesn't effect his perception as a man- surly it has to be taken into account when judging him as who he was, a king)
I enjoyed the book- it is well worth the read- but I would have liked a more balanced look at what henry achieved and the person he needed to be to achieve it, even if it would lead possibly to a more familiar read.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Re-Examing England's Most Iconic King,
Writer historian Ian Mortimer has produced perhaps one of the most extensive studies on the year of the Battle of Agincourt in "1415: Henry V's Year of Glory". The famous historian continues his series of medieval biographies on political leaders with a fascinating example of good revisionist history and a fascinatingly interesting new method for studying an historical subject. Rather giving equal measure to the whole life of Henry V, instead he focuses his attention on the year that changed everything and cemented the icon of the great monarch in English culture. Mortimer gives an almost day-by-day analysis from 25 December 1414 to 25 December 1415. His findings and opinion on the great king are astonishing to say the least.
When he was interviewed for "BBC History Magazine" in 2009, Mortimer said before he began properly researching his subject, he like most medieval historian bought into the heroic image of Henry V. By the time he had finished he had this to say about the man in the book's concluding chapter:
"He strikes me as a deeply flawed individual, undetermined by his own pride and overwhelmed by his own authority. I find him less politically flexible and less tolerant than his father, Henry IV. I find him less cultured than Richard II; and I find him inferior to Edward III as an exponent of kingship in a number of respects - as a lawmaker, as a strategist and as a cultural leader."
Mortimer works hard to present objective history in his extensive unearthing of reliable evidence and is meticulous with his sources, but he is also unashamed in his judgment of the legendary king. From Henry's letters, his rulings, the writings of his contemporaries and the way he approached everything, Mortimer argues that Henry was more than a pious king; he was fundamentalist religious fanatic even by English medieval standards.
As to be expected, there is a prologue set before 25 December describing the crucial events that led up to Henry's decision to go to war with France and an epilogue summarizing what happened afterwards. Then the work really shows off its unique attention to detail and the level of expertise its author possesses. Ian Mortimer worked for a decade in several major research institutions including the Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts. This has given him accessibility to a tremendous amount of primary source evidence and information, combined with an intricate knowledge of his subject. However, Mortimer is not so anal as to not hark back to previous incidents and history when he does get stuck into the day-to-day analysis. His prose is detailed, educational and yet very entertaining. When he is not making the events come alive with the letters, documents, minutes and contemporary descriptions of the time, or his own colourful commentary, he is explaining why more mundane evidence like accounts are so revealing about an individual's intentions.
By using common sense and the evidence available Mortimer also does a good job at debunking several myths that have persisted about Agincourt, such as the numbers in the actual battle. He also brings in other momentous historical events that helped explain the religious/political climate at the time - as the Catholic Church pooled all its resources and authority to unify its organization once and for all. 1415 was the year when the four popes were changed back to one. It was also the year when certain "heretics" were tried and burnt at the state in a move that was supposed to quash the fundamental criticism levelled at the Church. These actions will create martyrs and lead to the creation of the Protestant Church.
In addition to the prologue, epilogue and the recording of nearly every day of the 12 month period, the 640 page book also contains four appendices, endnotes written in prose. The writing style is fluid and speaks with a well-earned authority. For the most part, Mortimer doesn't level any of his historical arguments and opinions against his scholarly colleagues properly until he arrives at his conclusion, which is divided into several sections explaining his own historical method and the issues he feels his investigation has prompted. The book also has two eight page full colour sets of colour photographs, reprints of artwork and wood carvings. The overall production of the hardback edition, published by Bodley Head, is of a very high quality.
There is enough evidence presented in Mortimer's book for readers to possibly reach less damning conclusions than the author. This is a bonus, as I feel this responsible historical writing. The style of writing is very fluid and professional, as to be expected by the writer, and deserves as much attention as possible for presenting a very strong argument for another view of one of England's most iconic heroes.
3.0 out of 5 stars 1415 -Henry V's Year of Glory,
5.0 out of 5 stars An outstanding and innovative work of history,
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This review is from: 1415: Henry V's Year of Glory (Paperback)This really is superb. Having read Mortimer's Fears of Henry IV I knew I was going to enjoy this, but its radical, chronological approach to its subject works really well. Mortimer successfully weaves together several con-current strands, with Henry's court, the schism in the Catholic Church and the convocation at Constance (complete with the trial of Jan Hus) and the machinations with the French nobility.
Not only is his work always well researched with lots of footnotes, he writes as well as any novelist.
One of my favourite works of history, so much more than a standard biography.
5.0 out of 5 stars The not so perfect King,
This review is from: 1415: Henry V's Year of Glory (Kindle Edition)A fascinating and original way of looking at the character of Henry V. Through viewing him, and his actions, in great detail over 12 months a surprising new portrait of him is revealed, and not quite the one history (and Shakespeare) would have us believe. Highly recommended.
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1415: Henry V's Year of Glory by Ian Mortimer (Paperback - 2 Sep 2010)