Agincourt 1415: Field of Blood by Barry Renfrew – Review
By Sandra Callard
England, August 1415, and Henry V has amassed an army of some fourteen thousand men to cross the Channel to France to challenge the right of the reigning King Charles Vl to the throne of France, and if necessary to wrench the crown from him.
The Battle of Agincourt, the greatest defeat the French ever suffered during the Hundred Years War, when around six-thousand Englishmen were victorious against a twenty-thousand strong French army, containing most of the youth and experience of their aristocracy.
Numbers of the armies vary alarmingly, but averages seem to come down in favour of a 3 to 1 ratio in favour of the French. More than ten thousand French died in the battle. The English losses were around one hundred, with only two royal aristocrats being killed. It was hailed as a miracle, and the huge difference between the losses on both sides, and in only a few hours, has never been exceeded.
“Assured and meticulously researched”
This latest book, Agincourt 1415: Field of Blood by Barry Renfrew, is vastly different from the usual and myriad historical fiction novels or factual historical books about the battle. It is a true and detailed story, but reads like fiction, although every one of the characters named in the book are actual recorded people, from Henry V down to the humble archers, priests and doctors.
Renfrew has used the existing documents of actual information about the battle and the people who took part in it, and fleshed them out with the likely conversations and actions that would ensue from these people who lived through this dramatic time, most of whom were in the thick of the battle and the aftermath. This approach is scholarly, assured and meticulously researched, and is extremely readable.
The form the book takes is an hour-by-hour account of the time from August 1415 when Henry and his army left England, to November 1415 when the battle was over and the remnants of the victorious English army were in English-held Calais boarding ships for home.
The narrative gains momentum beautifully, and shows the mind and emotions of each side with startling clarity. It is completely understandable to historical beginners, and gives clear information of the planning and strategy of medieval warfare in a down to earth and perceptive way.
“The sweep and pace of the narrative is exactly right”
As the time moves on the misfortunes which befall the English army are numerous and calamitous. The ‘bloody flux’, which we now call dysentery, decimated a huge swathe of Henry’s army. The French had removed any food from fields and stores, and the rain and cold was relentless. Henry eventually faced the French with a rag-tag army of sick, hungry and cold soldiers, and what happened then is enshrined in English military history.
We all know the outcome, but as Renfrew reaches the eve and morning of the battle I could feel the tension as I read. The sweep and pace of the narrative is exactly right, and I swear my heart beat quicker as the ragged army painstakingly went through their defence plans as the French approached.
This is a superb and vividly different take on one of the most famous battles in history, and it had me hooked from the start. I feel I know the people who made their mark at Agincourt those six hundred years ago, and I went through their agonies and their glories with them. It is a cracking good read whether you are historically minded or not, and I will watch out for more of Renfrew’s work.
‘Agincourt 1415: Field of Blood’ by Barry Renfrew is published by Pen & Sword, £7