In the play Henry V, William Shakespeare jumped quickly from the victory at Agincourt in 1415 to the marriage of Henry to the French princess Katherine of Valois in 1420. The bard decided to omit the fascinating narrative of how Henry V had reshaped English strategy in the Hundred Years War and thereby managed to conquer the northern half of France.
Even less well-known is the rest of the story, as Henry’s achievements were slowly overturned by Katherine’s brother, King Charles VII, who ultimately drove the English out of France and won the Hundred Years War.
Juliet Barker recounts this history in a gripping and colourful sequel to her study of Agincourt. Weaving together multiple narratives and personalities, she carefully traces the initial successes of the English in France under Henry, the short but dramatic career of Joan of Arc rallying the Valois army and supporters, and then the slow but inevitable collapse of the English cause as their French allies abandoned them and financial support for the war dried up.
Barker’s narrative draws upon an expert knowledge of the surviving sources, though she does tend to focus on accounts written by either the English or their allies, ignoring many contemporary Valois sources and the important work of some French historians.
Her account would have been enriched by more attention to the way that the French rallied behind Charles VII and the reforms that reshaped the Valois army, forging a weapon powerful enough to drive the English out of Normandy and Aquitaine.
Nevertheless, this is a fascinating introduction to a poorly understood period in English history.
Craig Taylor is a Senior Lecturer in Medieval History at the University of York