new book on King Henry V

UK Release Date:  September 24, 2009

Henry V is regarded as the great English hero. Lionized in his own day for his victory at Agincourt, his piety and his rigorous application of justice, he was elevated by Shakespeare into a champion of English nationalism for all future generations. But what was he really like? Does he deserve to be thought of as 'the greatest man who ever ruled England?'. In this groundbreaking and ambitious book, Ian Mortimer portrays Henry in the pivotal year of his reign. Recording the dramatic events of 1415 on a day-by-day basis, he offers the fullest, most precise and least romanticized view we have of Henry and what he did. In addition, the king's story is told against the background of other important developments in Europe, in particular the struggle for power within the Catholic Church and official attempts to eradicate any deviant religious beliefs. In so doing the reader encounters unexpected and eye-opening explanations for why Henry tried to unify the kingdoms of England and France - and why he was prepared to burn men alive as heretics. The result is not only a fascinating reappraisal of Henry; it brings to the fore many unpalatable truths which biographers and military historians have largely ignored. While Henry retains the essential qualities of his greatness, his legend is stripped of its Shakespearean rhetoric and compassion. At the center of the book is the campaign which culminated in the battle of Agincourt: a slaughter ground designed not to advance England's interests directly but to demonstrate God's approval of Henry's royal authority on both sides of the Channel. 1415 was a year of religious persecution, personal suffering and one horrendous battle. This is the story of that year, as seen over the shoulder of its most cold-hearted, most ambitious and most celebrated hero.


  1. Hm. That actually sounds quite biased in itself. I think Mr. Mortimer has been reading Henry's propaganda and going the complete opposite way. Has Mortimer stepped outside of the medieval world here? Henry pitched his conquests to what the world wanted at the time and for that can be accounted a great king. That doesn't make him a wonderful person. Sympathetic and compassionate men don't make great kings, at least not in the Middle Ages. And in all honesty his conquest was probably about his right to the throne of France rather than demonstrating God's approval, which was just a handy way of justifying it afterwards. I'm not sure I'd like this, but I'll probably read it just to see how wrong it is.

    Sorry, Amy, too much medievalist in me here. ;)

  2. Meghan...don't apologize...I loved hearing your take on it. And I totally agree with your insights...soft kings don't make good kings (as we've seen with Henry III & Edward II).

    Fighting for greed disguised as fighting for God...there's a lot of examples of that throughout history. Maybe that's why I'm turned off of religion?! I don't understand how you can kill other people just for what they believe it or don't believe in and then says it's for the glory of God...not the God that I know.

  3. Hi Amy. I've given you an award! come and pick it up.

  4. There is just so much I don't know about English history! Fascinating conversation ladies.

  5. I agree .. great conversation here..

    Soft Kings wouldn't cut it back then. A healthy amount of fear and murder needed to be in the picture to last on the thrown..
    Henry VIII had many people killed to advance himself.

    It is all so very fascinating.. and I am glad it is HISTORY and not my NOW. :)

    Great thoughts everyone.


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