I started studying the details of Agincourt (or Azincourt to use the French spelling) as part of the background research for my latest novel. It didn’t surprise me to find that the experts are still debating how many men actually faced each other on St Crispin’s day, 1415, but I was interested to read some of the very early accounts of events leading up to the famous battle.
I was therefore unusually well informed when I decided to see what one of our best-selling historical fiction writers made if it. Bernard Cornwell’s experience shines through as he takes us through the dreadful siege of Harfleur through the eyes of an English longbow man Nicholas Hook. It is a clever device, as we struggle with our simple archer to understand the real motivation of King Henry the fifth.
The lives of the entire army are put at risk, not once but several times, with the only reward being a fairly hollow victory over the long suffering French. Henry comes across not as Shakespeare’s valiant hero but as a deeply flawed leader. As with most battles, luck, the weather and tactical mistakes played a big part in the English victory.
I liked the parallel narratives, that Cornwell has become deservedly recognised for. There are also notes at the end about his own research, which give an insight into his approach. Azincourt works on several levels. If you have ever wondered what it may have been like to be an English archer in 1415 France, this is a book you should read.