7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
This review is from: Agincourt: The King, the Campaign, the Battle (Paperback)
This is simply a superb book or history as it should be written for a wide audience. Unsurprisingly, it has attracted many reviews and about 80% of them rate this book a well-deserved five stars.
It has many qualities and I am quite sure that I am going to miss at least a few of them in the next few paragraphs.
One is that it is not only about the battle itself. Rather, it replaces it in the much wider context of a whole campaign conducted by a recently drown king who needed a victory to establish his somewhat controversial claim to the throne of England.
Another is that it helps to explain what is one of the most crushing and well known of all victories won largely against the odds (at least on paper), whith the English army being outnumbered more than 2 to 1, cornered and force to fight for its survival - a somewhat similar scenario as that of the battle of Crécy in 1346 but with an even more devasting outcome perhaps (for the French, of course).
A third is that this book is also in a way the introduction to the author's next book which tells the rest of the story - largely what happened after Azincourt - in her "English Kingdom of France" which is just as superb a read as this one.
A fourth quality is that this book almost reads like a novel despite being a high quality and highly researched piece of scholarship. I bought this book some 6 years ago and could not put it down when reading it. I picked it up again quite recently to write a review on it and ended up rereading it from cover to cover and still unable to put it down before I had finished it once again.
Then there is also a fifth quality: before reading this book for the first time, I thought I knew most of what I wanted and needed to know about Azincourt which is not exactly an unknown or forgotten episode in English or in French history - how wrong I was!
Then there is also what could be seen as "technicalities" - the rather stupendous rate of shooting of the highly trained and specialized English long bow archers allied with the high level of penetration of their arrows. The picture that this book draws is a rather overwhelming one: the well-armoured French Knights walking into what was, quite litterally, a storm of arrows that they had no way of avoiding.
Finally, there is also the author's intellectual honesty. This is not a piece of nationalistic spin. Despite Henry V doing everything that was possible to even the odds in his favor, the battle was no walk-over and was hard-fought with the English losing almost 20% of their forces, despite being the winners. Also, the author pulls no punches when showing and explaining the cruelty and horrors of Medieval Warfare as Henry burned his way across Normandy. Finally, she does not try to disguise the fact that the battle of Azincourt happened as the much smaller English army which was being harassed by the much larger French forces while trying to break away and reach the safety of Calais. The English army got caught and cornered, and therefore was obliged to fight a battle it had been trying to avoid. That it won hands down, despite heavy losses, is certainly due to Henry's generaliship and his unmatched archers, but it is also due to the flawed and divided French command who wasted a huge opportunity to "finish off" the smaller and exhausted English army.
And I could go on, and on, and on...
So, if only for all that, and possibly also for a few other elements that I have certainly forgotten to mention, this book is easily worth five stars (and would have deserved more if this had been possible).