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Conquest: The English Kingdom of France, 1417-1450, by Juliet Barker

Cambridge, Ma.: Harvard University Press, 2012. Pp. xxii, 486. Illus., maps, tables, notes, biblio., index. $29.95. ISBN: 0674065603.

Despite spectacular victories such as Crecy or Agincourt, the English ultimately lost their attempt to gain the throne of France for their king in the Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453), but, as British biographer and medievalist Barker notes, they came close.

Conquest is an account of the three decaders during the first half of the fifteenth century during which there was a functioning “English” kingdom of France.  Baker’s account of this period reveals a surprisingly resilient, rather well-run realm which, arguably, fell largely because of the ineptitude of Henry VI of England, who was also King of France from 1422 until 1453.  In the course of telling this tale, Barker looks at Henry V’s remarkable achievement in defeating the French, marrying a princess, and becoming heir to the kingdom.  Barker also gives us some good looks at many of the principal actors in the struggle, from Henry V’s rather able brothers to the wily Charles VII of France, and many others.  There is a long, very interesting, and perhaps iconoclastic look at the role of Joan of Arc in the war (after all, the English still owned much of France for another couple of decades after they burned her), the long period of desultory warfare, punctuated by looks at the governance of the realm, and then, of course, a critical look at the collapse of the English dominion. 

Although perhaps blaming Henry VI is excessive (after all, he assumed the throne at about the age of eight months), Conquest is very good treatment of the final acts in the long struggle for the throne of France, a story largely overlooked in most English-language accounts, which focus on the tactical successes and pass lightly over the fact that the French won.

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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