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Conquest: The English Kingdom of France,…

Conquest: The English Kingdom of France, 1417-1450 (2009)

by Juliet Barker

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194493,011 (3.92)13
"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."--Jacket.



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This book changed my perspective of the later half of the Hundred Years War utterly. Before reading this my knowledge of this era was limited, and my opinion was based heavily upon (it shames me to admit) American movies. To my knowledge, there are few books that cover this period in its entirety, and this is, in my opinion, the best.

John of Bedford, the brother of Henry V, and regent of France after his death, was, I believed a ruthless tyrant. In reality as this book reveals he was a Francophile who tried his utmost to protect and defend the people of Normandy in many way, such as by attempting to prevent the excesses as abuses of His Soldiers, even to the point of executing renegade English troops who killed civilians.
Both French and English writers of the time commended Bedford's fairness and strong sense of justice. The account of his loving and relationship with his wife, Anne of Burgundy, was touching and added another dimension to his character.

Alongside the endless round of battles and sieges was a balanced analysis of the actions and motivations of Commanders, and soldiers on both sides. It surprised me to discover that French soldiers killed English prisoners, or soldiers who had surrendered, as well as raping, pillaging and burning thier way through Norman towns, Killing many of thier own countrymen (and women) along the way.
Previously I had believed that only English troops behaved to shamefully, when, in reality both sides were as bad as each other, the only difference being that some English commanders did not approve of such misdeeds, and tried (sadly with little success) to prevent them.

For me, the most fascinating and informative part of the book was the section which recounted the career of Joan of Arc. The author's depiction of Joan, and analysis of her character and motivations present a stark contrast to the great heroine of legend. Here Joan is impetuous, reckless, and decidedly unchivalrous.
Despite her bravery, and undeniable skill as a commander of men, her recklessness often endagered both herself and her soldiers. Further, her liberation of Orleans was not, in fact a decisive point in the war. The French victory at Patay, in which she played no part, was far more important.
The account of Joan's trial, goes further in undermining traditional views. Joan's was a herecy trial, presided over by an inquisitor and only 8 English clerics, from a total of over 100. At such trials it was, apparently, standard policy for the accused to have nobody to defend them, and Joan was not initially sentenced to death, but life imprisonment, when she denounced her 'herecies'.

Admittedly, this book is not an easy read. The accounts of battles, sieges, and evaluation of tactics and stategy can be rather tedious, but if you can get past this, this work proves to be informative, fascinating, even enjoyable. Your effort will be well rewarded. ( )
1 vote Medievalgirl | Oct 4, 2016 |
My feelings about this book are mixed, and I wasn't entirely sure how to express them until I read annesadleir's review: "I think I would have preferred less about the endless sieges and minor battles, and more about the personalities involved."

This is a worthwhile book as background for Shakespeare's 1 Henry VI, and that's really why I read it. It's also worthwhile to get an English perspective of the end years of the Hundred Years War, especially since almost all histories are so strongly influenced by the hagiography of Jeanne d'Arc. For a more thorough background on 1,2,3 Henry VI, though, I suspect it might behoove me to get hold of Bertram Wolffe's Henry VI in the "Yale English Monarchs" series.

One big criticism. For a book that deals in military history as much as this one does, it should have more (and more detailed) maps. It would also have helped if Barker had included some kind of quickie biographical summaries of the enormous number of characters involved since many -- aside from Bedford, Fastolf, Talbot, and a few others (and of course La Pucelle and her dauphin) -- aren't as well known, and even Bedford, Fastolf, and Talbot may be known only to readers of Shakespeare.

For someone with a good background in this field, this book might rate 4**** or even 4½****, but I'm giving it 3½***. It's in no way comparable to Barker's The Brontës (but then, what is?) -- though in fairness to Barker, my knowledge of the Brontës is such that I wouldn't need any quickie biographical summaries and the like. ( )
1 vote CurrerBell | Oct 14, 2012 |
Not as good as her Agincourt book just because it's a less interesting story. I think I would have preferred less about the endless sieges and minor battles, and more about the personalities involved. But it's a good book, and it filled in some gaps in my knowledge. ( )
1 vote annesadleir | Dec 20, 2011 |
Juliet Barker's sequel to her outstanding book about Agincourt is, as she herself concedes in the preface, severely mis-titled: There never was an English Kingdom of France but a King of England who also claimed the crown of France (just like the Austrian actually German Emperor was also King of Bohemia and King of Hungary). Even after the loss of all continental territories, the English Kings held on to their nominal claim of being French Kings too, until the French Revolution made this job less enticing and rendered it intellectually absurd. The book is also not about the conquest (a feat achieved by Agincourt and its extinction of a generation of French leaders) but a military occupation of Northern France.

Given these constraints, Barker uses her gift with the pen to offer us a good account of a rather neglected aspect of the Hundred Years War, dividing the book into five parts. Part one takes us from Agincourt until the advent of Joan of Arc whose meteoric rise is the topic of part two. Part three to five deal with the anti-climatic aftermath until the leaders of both sides managed to accept the end of English territories in France. While Barker focuses on the English, in reality their actions were wholly dependent on the civil war that raged between the Armagnacs and Burgundians. When the French resolved their internal differences, the English stood on crumbling ground and their occupation crumbled fast. To fully understand the workings of the final phases of the Hundred Years War, a reader is well advised to consult further more French focused titles. ( )
2 vote jcbrunner | Nov 7, 2010 |
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