Agincourt: Henry V and the Battle That Made England

By Fry, Don | The Virginia Quarterly Review, Fall 2006 | Go to article overview

Agincourt: Henry V and the Battle That Made England


Fry, Don, The Virginia Quarterly Review


HISTORY Agincourt: Henry V and the Battle that Made England, by Juliet Barker. Little, Brown, June 2006. $27.95

Henry the Fifth never recovered from Shakespeare, who cast him in the folkloristic role of the unlikely rapscallion prince who comes to the throne and redeems his nation from vicious aliens. Henry the Fifth is a great play, my favorite in fact, full of speeches tailormade for Laurence Olivier, great contrasts of the pompous and effete and incompetent French nobles with our ordinary British lads, plus Henry himself, the Lad of Lads. The whole plot turns on the underdog English, muddy and dispirited and grossly outnumbered, facing certain annihilation by seemingly all the knights of France. Henry wins, of course, and turns the play into a comedy as he charms Catherine, the enemy's daughter, into marriage. Written at the height of English chivalry, the play slights two things: logistics and chivalry.

Barker spends exactly one chapter (of eighteen) on the actual battle. She uses the first half of her biography establishing the character of Henry as he appoints himself a government full of competent and reliable administrators and commanders. She shows in depth what it took to equip an army and a navy, especially how to pay for it all. …

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