Monday, 29 May 2017

Agincourt: The King, The Campaign, The Battle - Juliet Barker

Title: Agincourt: The King, The Campaign, The Battle
Author: Juliet Barker
ISBN: 9-780-3-16726-48-1
Publisher: Little, Brown Publishing
Year: 2005
Pages: 460
Photos/Maps: 34/1

Agincourt, along with Crecy and Poitiers, is easily recognized and remembered as one of the greatest English victories over the French during the period now known as the 100 Years War. Against all odds, King Henry V and his ill, tired and heavily outnumbered army crushed the cream of the French nobility in a battle that forever established the myth and legend of the Longbowman. It was this weapon that proved to be the undoing of the French; however, there was more to the victory then simply a weapon and Barker has done a very commendable job at presenting the battle within the framework of the reign of King Henry and his campaign in France.

Her approach involved setting the broad stage and working her way towards the battle itself. This allows the reader to better appreciate the environment and conditions within which the campaign was launched and undertaken. It also helps explain the political context of the times and the rifts within the French leadership and nobility that served to undermine their ability to collectively respond to the English threat. She also underscores King Henry’s successful efforts to unify his Kingdom, thereby securing his base prior to departing for the mainland.

Barker’s detailed descriptions of Henry’s movements to France and his advance from Harfleur to Calais presents the reader with a superb analysis of the challenges of operations and the nature of siege warfare during this period. She also incorporates thorough accounts of the chivalric influence on the conduct of combatants (in terms of siege warfare, group and individual combat). These early Rules of Engagement are extremely enlightening in setting the context of medieval warfare and the influence of individual honour.

The author’s description of the battle itself is comprehensive in scope and meticulous in detail without losing its readability. Success or failure in any endeavor is a combination of luck, opportunity and skill and there is no doubt that, taken at face value, the Battle was France’s to lose. Unfortunately for the French, fragmented leadership, poor weather conditions, a lack of effective planning and hubris resulted in catastrophic failure when faced with the steady, focused leadership of Henry and his command team combined with a motivated army desperate to get to Calais. A lack of appreciation of the devastating effect of the bodkin arrow combined with the power of the longbow sealed the fate of the French Army. Barker incorporates detailed descriptions of the methods of construction of the longbows, various arrow types and the training and time needed to be considered an effective archer (10 aimed shots a minute was considered the minimum standard acceptable). In itself, these discussions are fascinating and speak to the nature of the logistics challenges of the period.

This book was an excellent read and is highly recommended. Barker’s style, research and breadth of narrative serve only to further underscore her achievement.

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