1415 by Ian Mortimer

1415 is famous as the year King Henry V took on the French at Agincourt and, against all the odds, beat them. Shakespeare made the event famous and King Henry V is an English hero. I haven’t read every book ever written about King Henry V but, according to Ian Mortimer, many authors support this attitude and have virtually idolized the king. Mortimer thinks there’s more (or less!) to the man than that and takes a close look King Henry’s ‘year of glory’ to prove his point.

1415 takes a day-by-day look at events of the year. Any event that affected England is brought in to the mix, showing that England had a role in European spiritual, as well as temporal, politics. English bishops helped with the deposing of the three conflicting popes, for example, ending the schism of the Catholic church. The arrangement of the book allows Mortimer to show how much effort went in to raising and equipping a medieval army, and how much it cost. I never really appreciated how many bows (thousands) and arrows (hundreds of thousands) were required.

The decision to base the book on a calendar allows Mortimer to consider events in depth, but I did find myself getting tired of the minutiae of the run-up to the event. However, things that are normally glossed over were brought out in detail and I now appreciate how much had to happen before King Henry and his army could set out for Harfleur, never mind fight the French army.

Is King Henry V a hero? Having read 1415, I’m not so sure. Women are hardly mentioned, because he wasn’t that bothered about them. He was unmarried in 1415 and his only interest in a wife was as a dynastic link with France. When a conspiracy against him was uncovered, he assumed that all the men involved were guilty of treason without inquiring into motives for their actions. The killing of a number of hostages/prisoners after the battle was inexcusable.

Ian Mortimer presents the facts of the year 1415 clearly and in great depth. He ends the book by giving his opinion of King Henry V and leaves the reader to form their own conclusion. I recommend that anybody interested in medieval history should  so.


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