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 Agincourt by Bernard Cornwell

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PostSubject: Agincourt by Bernard Cornwell   Mon Apr 19, 2010 1:20 pm

When released in Europe, the title was Azincourt, as this is the French spelling of the area where the famous battle took place. For US release it is titled Agincourt.

The battle that was made famous by Shakespeare in Henry V is told, in this third-person version, mostly through the eyes of an English archer named Nicholas Hook who, after striking a psychopathic priest who raped and ordered murdered a young female "heretic", is outlawed in his country. Eventually his exceptional archery skills are noticed and he is taken in by another English lord, and he is part of the army who, under King Henry V, lands in France so Henry can claim "his" French crown.

The first order of business is the siege of Harfleur. The city is much tougher to take than the English think, and the siege becomes protracted, and the English army is devastated by widespread dysentery. When Harfleur is eventually taken, the English army is nearly shattered and dispirited.

Instead of returning to England on ships at the nearby Normandy coastline, Henry orders the army to march toward Calais, mostly to show the French he won't be driven out that easily. Calais is an English-held city, and if they can get there then they will be safe. The French army, much more massive and healthy than the English army, allows them to go pretty much unimpeded. The French army finally confronts them at a field near the castle of Agincourt.

Anyone who has read Henry V or any historical accounts of this time knows what happens next. Through a combination of startling events, but mostly due to two things: 1. the English longbow, which the French do not have, and 2. an appalling lack of competent leadership in the French army, the decimated, outnumbered English army pulled a stunning victory over the steel juggernaut that was the French army.

It took a while for the novel to grab me, but toward the end I was pretty much into it. The violence is unrelenting and very graphic (there is a scene where captured English bowmen, especially hated by the French, have their fingers chopped off, their eyes gouged out, and are castrated). One does not feel much sympathy toward the main character until near the end, where he finds himself fighting for a young French woman he has rescued and fallen in love with. And it is clear that the author, a native Englishman, is very much rooting for the English and vilifies the French outrageously. Cornwell is still a decent enough writer, and if you are looking for a historical adventure then this isn't a bad read.

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PostSubject: Re: Agincourt by Bernard Cornwell   Tue Apr 20, 2010 2:40 pm

How close is it to the actual history? I mean, it seems to be largely fictionalized, but does the writer keep to the central dates and events?

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PostSubject: Re: Agincourt by Bernard Cornwell   Wed Apr 21, 2010 11:08 am

The events and dates themselves are pretty much adhered to with accuracy. In the afterward the author states that not much in the way of actual eyewitness commentary exists concerning the battle of Agincourt. One of the biggest divisive issues among scholars are the actual numbers of English vs. French troops there were at the battle. It is generally accepted that the French outnumbered the English by a considerable margin, but by exactly how much is not clear. For the sake of his story the author chose to go with the current ratio accepted by most historians (what that is now I can't remember). Many historical figures, including various French and English lords, along with, obviously, Henry V, which are dramatized in the novel actually existed and were at Agincourt. The English longbow, whose arrows could penetrate plate armor, and the terrible French leadership are also cited by historians as the key reasons as to why a theoretically superior French force was defeated so soundly by an English army that was far fewer and number and riddled with dysentery.

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PostSubject: Re: Agincourt by Bernard Cornwell   Wed Apr 21, 2010 11:25 am

Wow, sounds interesting.
I really wish I could read more these days, but a lot of the time I sit down and my mind is more or less exhausted when it comes to reading.
Anyway, I'm glad you liked it.
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