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Tuesday, December 22, 2015

“Henry V”, by Christopher Allmand

496 pages, University of California Press, ISBN-13: 978-0520082939

Henry V by Christopher Allmand follows the pattern of most of the other books in the “English Monarchs” series in having the first part a chronological narrative and the rest an analysis of different aspects of the reign; thus, the first 182 pages are Henry’s life, while the last 261 pages are analysis of the same. Henry had an amazing reign, taking it upon himself to assert what he thought were his rights and conquer France while simultaneously uniting the English nation behind him (no small feat, that, as his father, Henry IV, had usurped the throne from Richard II). His victory at Agincourt against huge odds, no matter what one thinks of the war itself, is one of the most famous in English history and a brilliant exercise in medieval military leadership.

With all that said, I had difficulty rating this book: as an historical, factual, and detailed record of the life and reign of Henry V, it is an excellent reference text – as an enjoyable read, however, forget it, for while Henry was one of the most charismatic leaders in the Middle Ages, Allmand’s narration is flat as a pancake. It’s obvious from the text that the author pored over every 15th Century document he could find…and he lists many of the facts from those documents in excruciating detail (for example, listing dozens of the more prominent citizens of the realm, how much each of them contributed in taxes, etc.). The author follows the same course on many other topics in order to paint a complete picture of Henry’s reign and to describe certain historical trends. But the excitement of the king’s exploits, for good or for ill, never gets across to the reader. The details are never woven into an engaging storyline which, if anything, the chronological part of the book should be. It is adequate, but Henry himself was never just adequate. The book is complete and informative, but it’s not an enjoyable read. The author is an excellent historian but not a great writer.

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