1415: Henry V's Year of Glory, Paperback Book
4.5 out of 5 (3 ratings)


Henry V is regarded as the great English hero. Lionised 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 Ian Mortimer's groundbreaking book, he portrays Henry in the pivotal year of his reign.

Recording the dramatic events of 1415, he offers the fullest, most precise and least romanticised view we have of Henry and what he did.

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.

At the centre 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.


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 656 pages, Illustrations (chiefly col.), map
  • Publisher: Vintage Publishing
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: British & Irish history
  • ISBN: 9781845950972

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Review by

Henry V's Year of Glory is a fascinating read for two reasons: firstly Ian Mortimer employs a calender structure, using contemporary documents to illustrate what Henry was doing day by day in the fateful year of Agincourt. I haven't seen history presented this way before, and the details provide a real insight into the day to day operations of Henry and the Royal household. In particular one gets a sense of the central importance of religion in everyday affairs, and how victory showed that one was chosen by God. Trial by combat as a means of settling disputes now seems eminently sensible!Secondly Ian Mortimer's balanced assessment of Henry the man has caused me to rethink my traditional view of him as an infallible war leader,and see him instead as a severe, religious man driven by a sense of purpose, who without some good slices of luck, been seen as a failed King of England.

Review by

The author of this book, Ian Mortimer, is a once-in-a-generation historian. His approach to history is to see it almost as current events, rather than through the lens of later interpretation. The people he writes about are struggling with their problems in the same way that we, in our present, are struggling with ours; but they're set firmly in the context and attitudes of their own times.This book is a new departure in historical scholarship - a day-by-day account of the events of that year. Properly it should be devoured in a few sittings, in order to catch the sense of immediacy and of surging events (I didn't manage this!) Here it all is; pretty much everything you need to know about the year in question, nothing added and nothing taken away, as they say. There are entries for almost every day, visits by ambassadors, negotiations, preparations for war, the 'tremendous shock' of the Southampton conspiracy and its aftermath, and of course the Battle of Agincourt itself.By our standards, historical Henry does not come across as an attractive or admirable character. But by the standards of his time..? To read this book is to live 1415 almost as if in the present; it's mind-stretching stuff.

Review by

This is a blockbuster of a history book and one that is written with the general reader in mind. Mortimer continues his biographical series of England's late medieval kings, but with this instalment he tries something different. He takes a year in the life of Henry V and details the events of that year in chronological order in accordance with the calendar for that year and so we get an entry for most days and its length is dependent on the events of that day. Mortimer usually has an agenda for his biographies and this one is no different, as he sets out to debunk the myth that Henry V was "the greatest man that ever ruled England"Henry's year of glory culminated in the famous victory at Agincourt on October 25, before that there had been his successful siege of Harfleur, which began on August 17th and in mid July a plot had been hatched to overthrow Henry and put Edmund Mortimer on the throne. The first six months of the year had been almost wholly taken up with the preparations for the war in France and so Mortimer's chronological calendrical approach to his history could have resulted in reader fatigue long before he gets to Agincourt in October. Mortimer solves this problem by relating the story of the events at the Council of Constance that unfolded during the early part of the year. At the Council delegates of the Catholic church under the leadership of Sigismund (the Holy Roman Emperor) were attempting to unify the church by forcing the abdication of the three schismatic Popes. The Council were also bent on stamping out heresy and Jan Hus was eventually burnt at the stake, which some historians believe kick started the reformist movement. Henry V took no part in the Council although English delegates formed a powerful faction there, however because of Henry's extreme religiosity it could be argued that events there were significant to his life and times. Mortimer also relates the events surrounding the French monarchy, where Charles VI was largely incapacitated due to mental illness and the Dauphin (Kings eldest son) was caught between the warring Bergundians and the Armagnacs.So how does this book work? As an explanation I have taken a date taken at random, say 24 April 1415 where Mortimer tells us the following: he explains the significance of issues of Roll payments and then tells us what they were for that day; the Earl of Arundel who was his treasurer received an increase in salary of £300, gifts were made to Sir John Phelip who served with Henry in his Welsh campaign and would take a significant part in the French campaign, £60 was paid to Roger Selvayn for timber for the defence of Calais, Henry bought another ship the "St Nicholas of Guerande" for £500 from three Breton merchants and he paid Sir John Hall expenses for the upkeep of Mordach Earl of Fife; the heir to the Scottish throne imprisoned by Henry. These were all examples of Henry's preparations for his French campaign and his desire to secure stability in England while he was away. Mortimer argues that the Calendar structure makes a framework with which to see the past differently; everything is relevant and the reader is able (sometimes with Mortimer's help) to make their own observations of events. We can see Henry's relentless build up to a war that he was determined to wage. At the same time he was assuring his French cousins that he was working for peace between the two nations. Mortimer's structure also allows the reader to see just what Henry didn't do.The structure allows us to make our own observations on the character of Henry V and what comes across most forcefully is his intense religious belief, which he connected with his own kingship. In an age of God fearing men Henry took this to the extreme and in Mortimer's view, today, we would see him as a religious fundamentalist. There are plenty of examples of his piety in his day to day actions, but what is disturbing is his increasing belief in himself as the hand of God. I would appear that he truly believed he was God's instrument and that God had chosen him to lead the fight against the immoral and heretical French. He styled himself as an absolute monarch and ruled his princes, captains and knights by fear of death. Of course he came down hard on heretics and there was a marked increase in live burnings during the year. There are striking examples of his cruelty that Mortimer believes have been glossed over by some historians in their clamour to make Henry the ultimate warrior king. Henry had been celibate since his coronation and there is hardly a mention of women in the history, he was facially disfigured from previous battles and held himself proud and aloof from almost everybody, Mortimer comes to the conclusion that he was an obsessive man, obsessed by religion. justice and war.It is always dangerous to judge a medieval king by today's standards and on Henry's terms he was a successful King. He increased the power of the monarchy, he was largely successful in quelling revolts from the warring nobility, he achieved glory in his war in France, increasing England's prestige abroad, at home this success led to his popularity in England and his ability to raise more money for future campaigns. He set an example to all of his faith in the catholic church and what could be achieved, thereby. Today we might take a different view: he bankrupted the country to fight his wars, he mortgaged his own dynasty to his pride and desire to achieve glory, he did nothing to improve the lot of the common man and his determination to stamp out religious dissent looked backwards rather than forwards.Mortimer is a fine teller of History and the siege of Harfleur and the battle of Agincourt is told in exciting detail, as are most other events of the year. It is the less significant details that emerge that continued to delight me. The number of feast days throughout the year, which goes to show that life for some people in the late Middle Ages, was not always nasty brutish and short. The comfort provided by the many religious services and the money poured into the church to provide those services. There are details of the desperate conditions of soldiers on campaign; the problems of finding fresh drinking water and unpleasant facts like the need to bring large cauldrons, so that bodies of slain noblemen could be boiled so that their clean bones could be shipped back to England for burial.Mortimer provides an introduction to set the stage for his more detailed examination of the year 1415 and their is a fine long conclusion where he draws together many of the threads and provides arguments for and against the greatness of Henry V. He also attempts to explain the seeming inconsistences of some of Henry's actions and a fine section on Nature and Nurture gives pointers to his psychological make up. I am a fan of Ian Mortimer's histories and this book would appear to be a labour of love. It weighs in at nearly 650 pages, but nearly 100 pages are taken up with notes and references, a bibliography, index, appendices and maps. This is an excellent history book and a five star read.