Henry V: The Life of the Warrior King & the Battle of Agincourt by Teresa Cole
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|Henry V: The Life of the Warrior King & the Battle of Agincourt by Teresa Cole|
|Reviewer: John Van der Kiste|
|Summary: A concise and very readable life and times of one of England's greatest warrior kings, immortalised by Shakespeare and evoked as a role model by Churchill during the Second World War.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 304||Date: April 2016|
|Publisher: Amberley Publishing|
Henry V is remembered as one of England's greatest warrior kings, not least as a result of his immortalisation in the play by Shakespeare (as well as by two film versions of the drama). Ironically he was one of several great-grandchildren of Edward III, and as he was considered relatively unimportant at the time of his birth, exactly when he arrived in the world was not recorded and two different dates have been given. It was the deposition of his father's childless cousin Richard II in 1399 which placed him directly in the line of succession.
Teresa Cole's biography of the 'child of small importance' tells the story of Henry of Monmouth, thus known after the town of his birth. Details of his early life are few and far between, and the first chapter is of necessity a brief account of his father Henry Bolingbroke's role in the troubled history of Richard's reign. Only once he became heir to the throne and underwent 'an education in warfare', to quote the title of the second chapter, does he come into greater focus. The fourteen years of Henry IV's rule were a troubled time of rebellions, conspiracies and assassination attempts. 'Young Prince Hal' joined his father's forces in the battle of Shrewsbury in 1403, and though the result was a royalist victory, he was severely wounded when an arrow struck him in the face, and only a skilled operation performed on him by the royal physician resulted in his full recovery, albeit with permanent scars.
As his father's health declined, he assumed more responsibility for the government. There were evidently political differences between King and heir, although as in so many cases throughout history, the stories of his wild youth seem to have been an exaggeration. Once he ascended the throne he proved a more liberal ruler than his successor, who would seemingly have put almost anybody to death on the merest suspicion of being his enemy. Henry V began his reign by restoring the heirs of those who had previously suffered thus, and by giving the body of King Richard an honourable interment in Westminster Abbey, partly to silence the rumours of his survival but also as atonement for what was considered an act of murder by his father. It was significant that when the young Earl of March, who had been nominated by Richard as his successor, was unwittingly implicated in a conspiracy to depose or even kill Henry and place him on the throne instead, he was pardoned and became a loyal servant of the King for the rest of his life.
The high point of Henry's reign – and therefore the book – is centred on his campaign in France, culminating in the victory at Agincourt and the treaty of Troyes. There is a detailed description of the battle and the negotiations with the French which followed. Henry had the dubious good fortune to die within a year or two of his finest achievements, though the disease which killed him was undiagnosed and it is simply recorded that he became emaciated, unable to eat or sleep properly, and was perhaps paying the penalty for years of hard campaigning. Two final chapters examine the legacy of the King who left unfinished business behind, and a Who's who with a summary of what happened after Agincourt, supplemented with several pages of maps and genealogical tables.
This is a fairly concise but very readable and lively biography, of a life and times. It concludes that he was indeed a national hero, and moreover an accessible one who was evoked as a role model by Churchill during the darkest days of the Second World War. There are more detailed and lengthy lives to be had, but Ms Cole has presented us with an admirable work.
For further reading, three works by Ian Mortimer are recommended. 1415: Henry V's Year of Glory places the year leading up to the peak of the King's military glory, while The Fears of Henry IV: The Life of England's Self-Made King is a full study of his father, and for social background, The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century sets the national scene for the era.
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You can read more book reviews or buy Henry V: The Life of the Warrior King & the Battle of Agincourt by Teresa Cole at Amazon.com.
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