Continuing in my quest to read about important battles, I read Agincourt by Juliet Barker. It is a superb read with excellent background information and good descriptions of the Agincourt Campaign.
Barker essentially breaks her book into three parts: The Road to Agincourt, The Agincourt Campaign, and The Aftermath of the Battle. Obviously, the major section is the Agincourt Campaign itself. However, Barker spends a good deal of time on the first part. She covers the reasons for the Campaign – mainly that Henry V claimed the French throne. She does an excellent job in describing Henry and how his years prior to the crown shaped him into the king he was to become. In fact, her descriptions border on adoration.
I also like how Barker explains the raising and financing of the English Army that accompanied Henry on his quest. Henry deftly convinces merchants and even priests to give money for the Campaign. However, this fundraising came at a cost, Henry and many of his lords had to put up their treasure and lands as collateral for repayment of loans. Even some of the crown jewels were used as collateral.
Barker’s narration of the Campaign is easy to follow and leaves you with a basic understanding of the successes and failures of the English and the French. I think that her explanation of the siege of Harfleur is excellent. She explains how the relationship amongst the French affected the outcome of the siege – prior to, and during, the Campaign there is a power struggle for influence over the king between the Burgundians and the Armagnacs. This power struggle, among some other issues, prevented the French from mustering their entire military power and crushing the English outside of Harfleur.
However, as Barker aptly explains, events did not go easily for the English either. They lost a lot of men to dysentery around Harfleur – more than they lost in battle. This higher than expected loss of men caused Henry to alter his strategy and decide to head for safety in Calais. However, along the way, he was thwarted from a direct advance by French forces. As a result, he was forced to stray further and further from his direct route to Calais.
Barker’s account of the battle is engrossing. She explains why the French, with a three-to-one advantage, were unable to use that numerical superiority to overwhelm the English – a combination of poor terrain and lack of overall command. As a result, history records another great victory of the English over the hapless French.
Finally, I am impressed with Barker’s efforts to bring the Campaign down to the common man. She not only concentrates on the noblemen involved, but also the lower classes as well. For instance, she tries to document the names some of the men, other than noblemen, who died during the siege of Harfleur.
The only criticism I have with the book is Barker’s weak explanation on the effects of the battle. For all intents and purposes, the English did not benefit from the victory – unless you consider higher taxes and more deaths as a benefit – because in the end, Henry did not acquire the crown of France, the whole point of the Campaign.
In sum, Barker’s Agincourt is an easy read for the reader who knows very little about the Agincourt Campaign.