Henry V leads the English to a stunning victory over a vastly superior French force at Agincourt in 1415.
A favorite of military historians and well-known to acolytes of Shakespeare, the battle of Agincourt is remembered largely because of the odds overcome by an outmanned force of Englishmen. Historian Barker (Wordsworth: A Life, 2005) focuses on events leading up to the battle and how that battle defined Henry’s rule and legacy. Following the death of his father, Henry moved swiftly to secure his throne and proceeded to launch a campaign to retake what he viewed as his rightful inheritance in France. An unstable French monarch and rival factions of French noblemen wary of joining forces only strengthened Henry’s confidence. After capturing the city of Harfleur, Henry decided to move his troops, significantly weakened by dysentery, to the English stronghold of Calais. The French army, however, had other plans. While other sources, namely Curry’s Agincourt: A New History (2005), argue for a smaller discrepancy, Barker gives the French a 6:1 advantage. The French, though, were led by vainglorious men with conflicting agendas. A soggy battlefield and questionable tactics essentially neutralized the French cavalry, allowing the cornered English to use their vaunted Welsh longbows to annihilate their enemy. Barker estimates French losses in the thousands while the English lost less than a quarter of their considerably smaller force. Though an impressive victory, its long-term ramifications were few, and Barker argues that perhaps its most significant effect was persuading the populace of Henry’s divine right to rule. The author’s only weakness is a tendency to justify Henry’s few missteps and the failures of the French commanders in order to make the battle seem more epic and less luck or poor execution.
Like a Welsh archer: hits the mark more often than not.