The Nuanced World of The Agincourt King 

With The Agincourt King, Mercedes Rochelle has achieved a triumph, creating a nuanced world for possibly the best known of English medieval kings and battles.  

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

The Agincourt King Cover

Rochelle frames the novel with Henry V’s decisive, implacable character as he crushes the Lollard uprising in early 1414. She establishes her English narrator, Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, whose admiration of his older brother allows us to understand Henry’s complexities. Through Humphrey, we see how Henry’s shame at his father’s usurpation of the throne fuels his actions. It underlies Henry’s unrelenting drive to outshine his great-grandfather King Edward III and to reconquer their lost French empire.  

Conflict, the Essence of the Tale

Henry overrides opposition, much of it from his own family. The Plantagenets are a notably conflictive family and Rochelle shows the conflicting personalities and goals of the brothers as Henry manoeuvres to gain English support and financing for the invasion of Normandy he is determined to instigate. Conflict—war–is Henry’s iron purpose. 

English Success from French Failure

Using an effective narrative approach, Rochelle provides us with two perspectives throughout the novel. The Agincourt story is not simply an English success. It is also a French failure.  France is mired in crisis. The king, Charles VI, is unable to rule much of the time. Two powerful families, the Burgundians and the Orleanists are at war with each other, and control of Paris shifts back and forth between them. Shortly before the story opens the original dauphin died, and the current dauphin has neither the training nor the temperament to lead. Besides the king is not willing to make him regent. Neither the Dauphin nor the King is powerful enough to rule in France not to keep the peace between the two warring factions. So, when the English invade in 1415, we see the French, in disarray and the ineffectual Dauphin unable to respond to the desperate pleas from the besieged city of Harfleur.  

King Henry V

Two Perspectives

This technique of taking us between the English and French camps and points of view humanizes the individuals on both sides of the epic clash that is inexorably approaching as Rochelle controls the pacing, building the tension. We see what happens in each camp, why each decision is made, how each step makes sense and feels inevitable.  We understand both sides as we watch French hubris lead to catastrophe. 

 The Battle of Agincourt

Rochelle brings the sights, smells, colours, and sounds of the world of the time to life. Thus, the battle of Agincourt when it happens is vivid–screaming arrows, groaning men crushed under dying horses, soldiers suffocating in the cloying mud as their comrades clamber over their fallen bodies, axes cleaving helmets in desperate hand to hand fights. Rochelle knows this battle and brings it terrifyingly alive.  

The Aftermath of Agincourt

But as with life, the novel does not end there. Both the French and the English must deal with the aftermath of Agincourt and Rochelle handles it deftly.  The victors and the defeated face problems and Harfleur still needs help. And Henry has won a battle not the war.  

Mercedes Rochelle, Author

Rochelle leaves us panting to discover what happens next. In The Agincourt King, she has created complex characters living in a vivid and nuanced world. Each person, each side has reasons for their actions and suffers their consequences.  

Henry V and the Battle of Agincourt are watchwords of English medieval history.  Kudos to Mercedes Rochelle who has succeeded magnificently in bringing a fresh perspective to this well-known story. 

The Agincourt King, Book 5 of Mercedes Rochelle’s stellar series The Plantagenet Legacy, continues the tradition of excellence that she has established.  I await eagerly the next, Henry, Scourge of Normandy

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