Sunday, May 24, 2009

Agincourt by Juliet Barker

Some light reading for a rainy day. Agincourt was the third major battle of the 100 years war where at Henry V of England inflicted the third crushing defeat upon the French. An English army of perhaps 7000 men slaughtered a vastly larger French army in hand to hand fighting. This all took place nearly 600 years ago (1415 to be precise).
The author read the surprising large amount of documentation that has come down to us. It's mostly English, the French revolution destroyed much of the French records. There are enlistment papers, army payrolls, bills to suppliers of arrows and ships and victuals. We have the names of the ordinary soldiers. The author remarks that most Englishmen bore ordinary names like Tom Dick and Harry whereas many French casualties bore names from Arthurian legend, Lancelot, Gawaine, Tristram.
Out of all this material the author spins a well documented, highly readable and fascinating look at the late middle ages.
Interestingly, Juliet Barker's account matches extremely closely with John Keegan's account of the same battle written back in 1976. Keegan, being a military historian (Juliet Barker is a general historian) concentrates on the issue of HOW the much smaller English army inflicted such a smashing defeat upon a vastly superior enemy. Mrs Barker instead offers a never ending stream of fascinating details, of costume, of finance, of recruiting practices, shipping, the taking and ransoming of prisoners, and the massive victory parade in London after the victory.
I enjoyed it.

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