The Battle of Agincourt. Sources and Interpretations
Warfare in History (Woodbridge: Boydell & Brewer, 2000), 490pp. $90.00/£50.00.
As history students develop into historians, they must learn to appreciate
historiographical analysis, and they must learn to work effectively with
original source material, both documentary and narrative, fragmentary,
conflicting, and difficult though the evidence it provides might be. At
least since Sir Nicholas Harris Nicolas published his History of the
Battle of Agincourt in 1827, the famous combat of St. Crispin’s Day has
offered exceptional opportunities for students and educators engaged in
this process. Battles, by definition, are dramatic events, characterized
by unity in time, space, and action. They easily arouse the curiosity and
hold the attention of modern readers, just as they did of contemporaries.
And of all medieval battles, Agincourt is probably the most richly documented.
Perusing Anne Curry’s outstanding new book, The Battle of Agincourt:
Sources and Interpretations, makes this very clear. Curry has assembled,
in translation, no fewer than twenty-six chroniclers’ accounts of
the campaign, amounting to 170 printed pages. But that is just the beginning.
She has also provided another fifty-odd pages of fiscal and administrative
accounts relating to the battle, such as service indentures, pay accounts,
letters written during the campaign, and the relatively recently-discovered
French battle plan drawn up a week or two prior to the engagement. All
of these texts are provided with ample and thoughtful introductions, so
that students can approach them with some degree of sophistication. Some
have never before appeared in print; many have not previously been translated
into English. Curry’s book thus offers students a far richer mine
than Nicolas’ older compilation, which itself was sufficient to sustain
John Keegan’s insightful treatment of the battle.
The collection of source material is so extensive,
and the translations are generally so clear and reliable, that in two articles
wrote on the campaign and battle of Agincourt,
I was able to refer readers to Curry’s
volume for the large majority of my footnotes. The one minor source I noticed
as missing from her book (the Scottish Liber pluscardensis) was much outweighed
by the inclusion of many materials I would likely have overlooked had she not
presented them, such as the allegorical poem Le pastorelet and the valuable
excerpt from a 1460 succession court case, which is the only source to tell
us how far behind the vanguard the main French division was stationed. There
were only perhaps three or four instances where I disagreed significantly with
her translations, out of dozens.
In addition, the book includes several sets of material
which can be used as a case-study in the evolution of the historical
traced through the reactions of contemporaries, the texts of
sixteenth-century historians, and Curry’s summary analyses of the writings of historians
of the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries. As the best volume
to date in Boydell’s Sources and Interpretations series, this book therefore
would be an excellent one to use in a historical methodologies course at the
undergraduate or graduate level. I recommend it heartily for the collections
of all college libraries, and all De Re Militari members.
Clifford J. Rogers
Page Added: April 2005