For thirty dramatic years, England ruled a great swath of France at the point of the sword—an all-but-forgotten episode in the Hundred Years’ War that Juliet Barker brings to vivid life in Conquest.
Following Agincourt, Henry V’s second invasion of France in 1417 launched a campaign that would place the crown of France on an English head. Buoyed by conquest, the English army seemed invincible. By the time of Henry’s premature death in 1422, nearly all of northern France lay in his hands and the Valois heir to the throne had been disinherited. Only the appearance of a visionary peasant girl who claimed divine guidance, Joan of Arc, was able to halt the English advance, but not for long. Just six months after her death, Henry’s young son was crowned in Paris as the first—and last—English king of France.
Henry VI’s kingdom endured for twenty years, but when he came of age he was not the leader his father had been. The dauphin whom Joan had crowned Charles VII would finally drive the English out of France. Barker recounts these stirring events—the epic battles and sieges, plots and betrayals—through a kaleidoscope of characters from John Talbot, the “English Achilles,” and John, duke of Bedford, regent of France, to brutal mercenaries, opportunistic freebooters, resourceful spies, and lovers torn apart by the conflict.
Barker weaves strands of contemporary evidence into a fluent account of a complex but fascinating era. There is a steady succession of treaties, marriages, murders, massacres, famines, sieges, battles and skirmishes, but Barker has an eye for the kind of detail that can illuminate the mindset of the long-dead.
The story of how Henry V swept all before him, how his relatives under the infant Henry VI bickered over his conquests, how Joan of Arc rallied the French and how Charles VII won his country back, makes for engrossing reading.
Juliet Barker takes the story to 1450 in her compelling Conquest: The English Kingdom of France…which tells how England threw away Henry’s legacy in a sorry tale of lost battles, political bickering and financial mismanagement. Plus ça change, indeed.
The story is worth telling and Barker tells it superbly well. Her judgments are shrewd. Her understanding of the complex politics of the period is impressive. She writes in a spare, elegant style… There was a need for a good history of the failed enterprises of the English. Juliet Barker’s book supplies it handsomely.
[A] lucid guide to this very complicated period… Barker’s narrative combines high drama and low humor. It could be argued that both the origin and end of the English Kingdom of France was a dynastic comedy of errors… Barker is both learned and lucid in bringing alive the characters, the struggle and the ultimate futility of it all.
This is a tale of warlords and ruthless killers…the ideals of chivalry were left in the mud at Agincourt and this book is inevitably darker in tone than its predecessor. Still, a baffling, tragic and wasteful episode has now been turned into military history of a high order. For England and Saint George!
Juliet Barker’s new book is a magnificently readable account of the last four decades of [the Hundred Years’ War]… I thought Agincourt was a superb book, but Conquest is even better. Once upon a time there was an English kingdom in France and Juliet Barker has brought it to extraordinary life.
Barker weaves together the threads of an extremely complicated story, involving infighting among English notables for positions in France, the major roles of Burgundians (creating essentially a French civil war) and Scots in the fighting, and the double-dealing of many French leaders. The continuous fighting caused enormous destruction and population loss, especially in Normandy, and very few participants gained honor in the struggle, although Charles VII comes across here as a more effective leader than how he is usually portrayed. Highly detailed with valuable information on the huge human and financial resources England invested during the war’s final decades, the book is nonetheless engaging and well written.
Barker delves deeply into the world of the mentally disturbed Henry VI of England, the indecisive French dauphin who would become Charles VII, and the saintly Maid of Orleans, Joan of Arc. She has produced a first-rate, fluid account of this little-understood period in European history.
England’s little-studied conquest of France during the Hundred Years War is absorbingly recounted by Barker… With her crisp storytelling and meticulous historical research, Barker vividly narrates a tale of political intrigue and military strategy that reveals power-hungry English kings and the fierce defense of France by one of its most famous heroines.
- 512 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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