Reviews for Agincourt : Henry V and the Battle That Made England

Book News Reviews
Barker is a medievalist and biographer, and this is a paperbound reprint of her 2005 book. The battle of Agincourt (October 1415), has long been acknowledged by historians and popular culture to be a defining moment in British history; for some, it also marks the downfall of chivalry and the ushering in of the Early Modern period. At Agincourt, Henry V, outnumbered deep in French territory, defeated the French under Charles VI, utilizing the longbow to great effect but also controversially killing all but the most important French prisoners to prevent a battle on two fronts. She examines the preparations, campaign, battle, and aftereffects from the point of view of the English, arguing that despite claims that the campaign at Agincourt contributed to strife that brought about the English War of the Roses, an outcome that included Henry V losing at Agincourt would have had devastating ramifications for England. This book is intended for general readers interested in late medieval history and warfare. Annotation ©2008 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (

Booklist Reviews 2006 May #2
The Battle of Agincourt of 1415 has endured in popular awareness on the strength of Shakespeare's Henry the Fifth. The historical Henry V bears scant resemblance to Falstaff's royal drinking buddy: in Barker's lushly detailed account, Henry V was a pious warrior, an able administrator, and an aggressive diplomat. Barker dwells extensively on Henry's rapid intensification, after ascending to the throne in 1413, of the Hundred Years' War, the English attempt to control the crown and territory of France. As a result, her emphasis on the organization of the campaign that culminated at Agincourt delivers a superb description of how a medieval military force was raised. Founded on feudal precepts of lord-and-vassal obligation, Henry's army and that of France were personalistic, a trait Barker turns to positive advantage in portraying the combatants. From longbow men to men-at-arms, Barker successfully individuates the Agincourt battle so that readers perceive actual people, not just a melee of thousands, engaging in the battle. With fluency and empathy, Barker delivers a superior performance that should capture avid history readers. ((Reviewed May 15, 2006)) Copyright 2006 Booklist Reviews.

Choice Reviews 2007 June
Despite being aimed at nonspecialists, this book provides a fresh, well-researched, judicious, and engaging account of the Agincourt campaign that will benefit students and scholars alike. Besides deftly narrating the central events of the campaign--the siege of Harfleur, march toward Calais, and battle of Agincourt itself--Barker successfully sets the campaign within the context of Lancastrian and Valois dynastic politics and the campaign's effects on the individuals involved, as well as on the future fortunes of both England and France. She digs beneath the surface of the main events, giving what amounts to an anatomy of late medieval warfare: its financing, provisioning, transport, personnel, and material. All this is done with scrupulous annotation and an eye to current historiographical debates. If any criticism can be made, it relates to the book's subtitle. It might better have read "Henry V, Kingship, and Chivalry," for Barker, in the best tradition of scholars like Gerald Harriss and (her former tutor) Maurice Keen, both explains the qualities and strategies that made Henry such an effective monarch, and convincingly argues for the continuing vitality of the chivalric ethos in the late Middle Ages. Barker's book is everything that good popular history should be. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels/libraries. Copyright 2007 American Library Association.

Kirkus Reviews 2006 May #1
Henry V leads the English to a stunning victory over a vastly superior French force at Agincourt in 1415.A favorite of military historians and well-known to acolytes of Shakespeare, the battle of Agincourt is remembered largely because of the odds overcome by an outmanned force of Englishmen. Historian Barker (Wordsworth: A Life, 2005) focuses on events leading up to the battle and how that battle defined Henry's rule and legacy. Following the death of his father, Henry moved swiftly to secure his throne and proceeded to launch a campaign to retake what he viewed as his rightful inheritance in France. An unstable French monarch and rival factions of French noblemen wary of joining forces only strengthened Henry's confidence. After capturing the city of Harfleur, Henry decided to move his troops, significantly weakened by dysentery, to the English stronghold of Calais. The French army, however, had other plans. While other sources, namely Curry's Agincourt: A New History (2005), argue for a smaller discrepancy, Barker gives the French a 6:1 advantage. The French, though, were led by vainglorious men with conflicting agendas. A soggy battlefield and questionable tactics essentially neutralized the French cavalry, allowing the cornered English to use their vaunted Welsh longbows to annihilate their enemy. Barker estimates French losses in the thousands while the English lost less than a quarter of their considerably smaller force. Though an impressive victory, its long-term ramifications were few, and Barker argues that perhaps its most significant effect was persuading the populace of Henry's divine right to rule. The author's only weakness is a tendency to justify Henry's few missteps and the failures of the French commanders in order to make the battle seem more epic and less luck or poor execution. Like a Welsh archer: hits the mark more often than not. Copyright Kirkus 2006 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.

Library Journal Reviews 2006 June #1

October 25, 1415, St. Crispin's Day. Several thousand exhausted and diseased English soldiers, along with many nobles and King Henry V himself, were desperately trying to get to the safety of Calais when they came up against a far greater number of French forces, who were well rested and well fed. Miraculously, the English not only won the ensuing battle of Agincourt but destroyed most of France's nobility, almost all of whom were in the French forces. Barker (Wordsworth: A Life ), a medievalist by training, here tackles one of the most significant battles of the Middle Ages. Beginning with Henry's training in the Welsh wars, Barker weaves a gripping narrative of the events that led to his invasion of France in August 1415, the long siege of Harfleur that followed, and the Battle of Agincourt and its aftermath. Along the way, she discusses controversies about the sizes of the respective armies and the effectiveness of the new longbow. Discarding the myths that have surrounded the battle, she gives a true feeling of the stress and exhaustion of this harrowing campaign, immortalized by Shakespeare. The truth of Agincourt is still being sought by scholars and is every bit as engrossing as the myth. Ann Curry's recent Agincourt: A New History concludes that the opposing forces were more evenly matched in numbers. Both Barker and Curry have written worthy volumes for any library. If a public library must choose only one, Barker's is the more accessible to general readers.--Robert Harbison, Western Kentucky Univ. Lib., Bowling Green

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 2006 April #3

Barker, a British biographer (The Brontës ) and accomplished medievalist, brings an excellent synergy of academic and literary skills to this study of the 1415 British campaign in France and the battle that was its climax, around which she elaborately reconstructs the conflict's antecedents. Henry V spent years preparing the ground: asserting initially shaky authority in England, exploiting domestic strife in France and isolating the disorganized kingdom from its traditional allies. During the campaign itself, a train of artillery manned by foreign gunners supplemented the men-at-arms and the longbowmen, who were the British army's real backbone. But the French were not the vainglorious incompetents of English legend and Shakespearean drama. Many in northern France made a brave effort, often putting aside personal and political differences to stand together at Agincourt, where they came closer to success than is generally realized. Barker shows that the battle hung by a thread: French numbers against English desperation, with courage a common virtue. She also illustrates how Agincourt was decisive--not only for its consequences in France. An English defeat would have meant chaos, perhaps civil war. Destiny on both sides of the Channel turned on the outcome of St. Crispin's Day. (June 14)

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