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Michael Jones
Michael Jones re-assessed the actual battlefield location at Bosworth. His style is readably academic, with an easy flow that simplifies dealing with the complexities of period politicking (titles, landholdings and loyalties changing like jukebox records). He thinks practically and outside the box, anchors argument in common sense, selecting contemporary witness accounts or credible commentaries from those with timely access to relevant witnesses.

I was all Henry 5’d out after ‘O’ levels, until I read this book. That Henry’s outmatched, dysentery-decimated, starving expeditionary force culled the flower of French Chivalry amazed Europe. It wasn’t wholly miraculous, but it was a destruction-test of leadership cultures.

Henry’s campaign recruitment was unusually inclusive and the propaganda benefit still inspires. He reinstated his predecessor Edward’s ‘clemency-for-service’ conscription of poachers. In selecting lesser, provincial knights and matching skillset to role rather than seeking the best-born candidate, Henry bonded men to his cause and to his personal command. He imposed a strict code of discipline and carried it out impartially. (Sound familiar?) Henry had grasped the practicalities. Marrying instinct and intellect, he utilised morale as a tool to bolster and taunt, appropriated imagery, enlisting faith and physical psychology - passing shreds of his own, royally emblazoned garments down the line to common soldiery, emphasising shared purpose while also technically raising their status to taunt the French obsession with rank.

In contrast, ignoring a workable battle plan, the French nobility were squabbling for self-glorifying frontline places as late as initial contact, having sent personal support and common soldiery to the back (even back to the baggage train). Some, bored, returned to camp to await the advance, so were absent at the first charge, many had arrived ahead of their troops, leaving them to follow on. Once engaged, this entrenched courtly arrogance proved lethal – The Duke of Brabant set out before his forces, outrode his own escort, arrived halfway through the battle to charge un-helmeted to his quick death to no gain for his House or King. Cohesion of effort and communication disintegrated immediately. Disregarding past English victories over similar ground and the valour of desperation, the French took the situation and ragged English army at face value: a tragic example of style over substance.

And Jones unfolds the massive difference in approach upon which Henry wagered his survival. The French were locked into the urbane chivalry of the Courts of Love and the Tournament fields. Isolated by a culture obsessed with status, their failure to react to real events would astound in a comic-book. With everything to lose, and the ground itself being the perfect staging ground, Henry was employing the practical tactics and commonly-shared skills of the stag hunt. The English common soldier could instinctively and confidently revert to the requirements of each stage of the stag drive. Maintaining battlefield communication was simple, using the codified hunting calls that signalled each stage of the hunt’s progress. Easily taunted into unconcerted acts of bravado, the French literally charged into a killing ground as blindly as panicked deer. English battle losses were assessed at around 100 men, the French lost thousands.

The background and hunting theories are well laid out and easily proven before a real-time analysis of each stage of the day of Battle. Commentaries cited add dimension rather than simply prove Jones’s point. However……..basic information about the common English archer so jarred with what I understand that it became irritating. Perhaps an assumption of givens by the author – after all, his main theme is War of State and the clash of headologies. Tediously, three compact paragraphs could’ve covered it usefully, as a later clear shift of knowledge suggests an updated view. But with Agincourt being ‘the’ archer’s battle, my frustration was compounded and it detracted from the book. (That discussion’s best separately in comments, to not taint an otherwise good read for those focusing on different aspects of the subject.)

I read the paperback - 285 A5 pages. Easy to read text, index tab style side margins so you could quickly locate the chapter. Maps, timelines, useful appendices. I prefer traditional footnotes with source text page numbers to a compressed paragraph at the back as I hate flipping back and forth for a moment’s enlightenment.

ISBN 978-0-75355-546-0 if you are using your local library and digitally available on my Gen 3 Kindle.

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