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32 of 33 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

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21 of 22 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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32 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A new way of looking at an old subject, 19 Feb 2011
By 
davidT "Omnivore" (Hildesheim, Germany) - See all my reviews
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.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars SAUSAGES WITH MUSTARD, 17 May 2011
By 
Stephen Cooper (South Yorkshire, England) - See all my reviews
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.

Stephen Cooper
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The "real" Henry V as seen over one year, 12 Sep 2010
By 
Marshall Lord (Whitehaven, UK) - See all my reviews
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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.
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3.0 out of 5 stars ... unusual and intriguing book on Henry V - a good appetiser or introductory book, 29 July 2014
By 
Susan Frances (Walton-on-Thames, England) - See all my reviews
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An unusual and intriguing book on Henry V - a good appetiser or introductory book, if it inspires readers to look at other biographies of this king.

I am grateful for Ian Mortimer's writing as he has made history so accessible and fascinating for ordinary people while being scholarly and true to historical sources at the same time. His book on Edward III and especially his excellent book on Henry IV have truly opened my eyes to medieval history in an inspiring and even life changing way. In his hands, the personalities and events really come alive and I am totally drawn in.

The negatives. I was a bit disappointed with one aspect of this book. In my view Ian Mortimer sometimes tends to judge Henry V in an anachronistic way. To be fair, perhaps this is a genuine attempt to look beyond the propaganda and the traditional tendency to put this king on a hero's pedestal. But at times, rather than providing a refreshing and new angle on our understanding of the man, he assesses Henry V on grounds that come across to me as just his personal judgement, or just a judgement based rather too much on contemporary thinking. I would have preferred him to consider a wider context before making these judgements, because he has shown the ability to do this so well in other books. Perhaps the task of wading through the source documents took so much time and energy that he only had time for a quick analysis, or perhaps it is just fashionable to revise conventional views of the past, I don't know.

The positives. What this book did do for me is simple. It got me curious about Henry V and resulted in me buying other books in order to understand something of this enigmatic man. I had tended to overlook him before because I am not primarily interested in battle history and I saw him as the famous warrior king - I'm afraid I heard the word 'Agincourt' and my ears closed and my eyes glazed over. Ian Mortimer's technique of analysing just a year of the king's life is an interesting one if you keep in mind that it gives a limited view of the man and the time. In Mortimer's hands the technique is very well done and reveals a surprising amount of insight and intriguing data (as usual Mortimer's committed scholarship, use of primary documents and sources, and lively and well crafted writing style brings the past truly alive). It's fair to say that it reveals aspects of the king's life and the times he lived in that that might not come out from a more conventional biography. These intriguing glimmers are like sunlit trails in a dense wood, they never quite lead you to the bright open clearing where you can stand back and see where you are - they just lead to other sunlit trails deeper in the wood - but you can enjoy the journey they take you on.

I am not against finding a new or revised view of Henry V than the image of him as England's best known warrior king and the great hero of Agincourt, but I hoped for a better argued case from such a fine writer and historian. In the end, I suspect Henry V's good qualities outweigh his flaws. For me, he remains a very enigmatic man and one I would love to know better.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Perhaps Henry treated a little harshly?, 26 Sep 2010
By 
Mr. C. K. Light (Buckinghamshire, UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
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.
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33 of 42 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Henry V: The Cold Hearted English King, 18 Oct 2009
'For God, Harry, England, and St. George' is the speech that Shakespeare gave his Henry V as he gave his legendary speech at the siege of Harfluer. The Henry of stage and screen took on impossible odds. The flamboyant, charming, and dashing warrior king was a great man. Unfortunatly, as Mortimer says 'in life there are no legends'. The Henry V we all know and love is not who the real king was

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.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Re-Examing England's Most Iconic King, 21 Aug 2010
By 
Mr. J. C. Clubb "byshee" - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
1415: Henry V's Year of Glory

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.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking and something of a rude shock, 22 April 2014
By 
J. Stupart (London UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: 1415: Henry V's Year of Glory (Paperback)
Having read most of Ian Mortimer's other works, I was thoroughly looking forward to his 1415 book on Henry V. However, I didn't find the person I expected to in it!

The novel approach was interesting and led to a number of inescapable conclusions, particularly in some of the causes of the Wars of the Roses and a debunking of some of the myths that have grown up around Henry.

But I wonder if the author came at this slightly prejudiced - no one, after all, could match up to his image of Edward III. But he doesn't seem to have taken the same hard headed approach to the latter. Perhaps he might re-appraise Henry otherwise: Edward started the Hundred Years War out of pride (not wanting to swear fealty to the son of a mere count). Edward murdered his brother in a fit of anger. But is lauded as "the father of the English nation".

Henry's achievements get largely rubbished. He's portrayed as virtually unsexual. But there's no consideration of the impact that the various family offshoots and illegitimate children of his father and forebears might have had on the thinking of Henry. This doesn't mean the author's conclusions are necessarily wrong, but...

Some of Henry's early experiences don't really get considered because of the focus on 1 year - for example his brush with death during the Peasants Revolt; getting an arrow in the face at Shrewsbury.

And yes, it's clear he planned for war all the time; but it's hard to also conclude that war happening in all but name anyway with the clashes on the Gascony borders. And one doesn't invade a foreign country without some planning! Besides - it's a classic move: unite a fractured country with foreign adventures. Which is exactly what Henry faced; as this volume shows, there was a plot against Henry on the very eve of the departure for Harfleur.

All in all, worth reading but 4 stars at most.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A First Rate Study, 8 April 2014
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G. Nottage (Spain) - See all my reviews
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Another excellent work by Mortimer, full of detail and scholarship and graced with pace and readability . He is a master of his craft and the medieval period; strongly recommended.
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4.0 out of 5 stars The flawed fanatic, 24 Mar 2014
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This review is from: 1415: Henry V's Year of Glory (Paperback)
This is a comprehensive and original book. Mortimer uses a diary format to analyse what was really going on in 1415. The most significant facts (as far as I'm concerned) were:

1 Henry was preparing to invade France- he was borrowing money in such a way that one can only conclude that he was gambling on success.Most of it was never paid back.
2 The Council of Constance was busy trying to eliminate three popes and exchange them for one.
In between we are told about the chaotic state of French politics and burning of 'heretics'(aka people who disagreed with orthodox church doctrine)
The reason I bought the book was to find out about the Cambridge Plot. It seems to have been a pretty half-baked affair and was
blown up by Henry into an assassination attempt to justify executing the plotters. I feel sorry for poor Scrope, who was probably just gathering information.
Henry comes over as an inspired soldier but a mediocre king. He left his country in debt and bequeathed it and France an unpleasant and bloody extension of the Hundred Years War. Henry was mean to his soldiers after the war and comes over as a fanatical religious hypocrite.
The writing is good, but I do dislike the expression 'sooner rather than later' used twice at least. What's wrong with 'soon'?
As for Agincourt- a great victory, but in a 'We won the World Cup in 1966' sense.Henry behaved very dishonorably at times-not keeping his word about ransoms and killing unarmed prisoners.
I appreciate that 'The past is another country', but even by the standards of the time Henry was an unpleasant and egotistical man.
Finally-this is an absorbing book well worth reading.
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1415: Henry V's Year of Glory
1415: Henry V's Year of Glory by Ian Mortimer (Paperback - 2 Sep 2010)
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