Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

How the English Tried and Failed to Seize France

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

How the English Tried and Failed to Seize France

Article excerpt

Byline: DAN JONES

CONQUEST: THE ENGLISH KINGDOM OF FRANCE by Juliet Barker (Little, Brown, [pounds sterling]20) ON 30 May 1431, Jehanne the Pucelle -- now better known as Joan of Arc -- was burned to death in Rouen. Her ashes were thrown into the Seine. Seven months later in Paris, the 10-year-old King Henry VI of England was crowned and consecrated King of France.

Undigested, these two events marked the nadir of French fortunes during the Hundred Years War. But they were not boon times for the English. The Old Market in Rouen stank as much of martyrdom as of Jehanne's sizzling flesh. Death extended her irritating legacy far beyond the scope of her earthly achievements. Meanwhile, Henry V's achievements in France raised the bar far beyond the realm of practical continuance.

Since in England the 15th century ended in protracted civil war between Lancaster and York, few people know that for 30 years there was an English Kingdom of France. It is a tale worth retelling, and in Juliet Barker's hands well told. Her thesis is a sane one and boils down to the old maxim "Be careful what you wish for".

Henry V, like Edward III before him, wished to be King of France. Through valour, leadership, tactical nous and good fortune, he nearly made it. In 1415 came victory at Agincourt, during which the cream of the French nobility was violently curdled. In 1417, Henry invaded France for a second time. He took advantage of factionalism during the madness of French king Charles VI, and by 1420 had forced the Treaty of Troyes. Under its terms he married Charles's daughter, disinherited the dauphin and installed himself as heir to the throne. The ancient crowns of Charlemagne and Arthur were finally to be united.

But in 1422 the 35-year-old Hal died, leaving an 11-month-old son, also called Henry, to take his place. …

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