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Book Review: Agincourt by Bernard Cornwell

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When I read Agincourt, I believed I was on the battlefield sickened by the bloodbath that took place during the brutal battle between the ill-matched armies of the English and the French.

The story of Agincourt is legendary. King Henry V leads his army into France to claim his the right as King of France. After a long battle at Harfleur that left his army bedraggled from bouts of dysentery he would not turn back to England as the win was not significant and would make him appear weak. He chose to press on to Calais, bringing his army to a recently plowed wheat field staring at the menacing French army directly in front of them.
Author’s Notes detail that researchers have ascertained the approximate numbers of the two armies with large disparity. Cornwell accepts the theory of 30,000 French and 6,000 English as the most likely. One can only imagine the fear and adrenaline coursing through the veins of the English archers who would strike first facing such perilous odds. The archers were positioned ahead of the English who were staged in two rear positions. Would this strategy prove effective? It is classic Cornwell who makes you feel every stomach churning emotion throughout his story.

Cornwell is an illustrator of text, his words painting the events that take place on Saint Crispen’s Day 1415 with lethal realism. Visualize a collaboration between the artist Goya, and the director for the movie Braveheart – where painting and movie overlap you will have the novel Agincourt. This book is not for the faint of heart but it could not be written any other way. It was a barbarous time with deadly weapons. The poleaxe was viciously successfully at claiming limbs and lives, and bows with arrows were accurate enough to sneak through a hole in a helmet or deadly enough to down a horse.

Henry V, immortalized by Shakespeare, is brilliantly conceived once again in the novel Agincourt, by Bernard Cornwell.  This David vs Goliath-themed battle from English history will ground you in your chair, and you'll not want an intermission. Highly recommended.

Bernard Cornwell
Harper Collins Publisher
HC, 451pages

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