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March 22, 2009

Azincourt

Bernard Cornwell's masterly recreation of the battle of Agincourt, including the campaign that led up to it is personalised by the focus on Nicholas Hook. Nick has been drawing a bow since he was seven years old, building strength and skill.

"Hook had learned the whispering release that let the string slip through his fingers, which hardened into leather pads. and as he drew and released, drew and released, year after year, the muscles of his back, his chest and his arms grew massive. This was one requirement, the huge muscles needed to draw the bow, while the other, which was harder to acquire, was to forget the eye.
When he first started as a boy, Hook would draw the cord to his cheek and sight down the arrow's length to aim, but that cheated the bow of its full power. If a bodkin was to shear through plate armour it needed all the power of the yew and that meant drawing the cord to the ear, and then the arrow slanted across the eye, and it had taken Hook years to learn how to think the arrow to the target. He could not explain it, but no archer could. He only knew that when he
drew the cord he looked at the target and the arrow flew there because he wanted it to, not because he had lined eye, arrow and target.
That was why the French had no archers other than a few huntsmen, because they had no men who had spent years learning to make a length of yew and a cord of hemp become part of
themselves." ....... from page 134

War in 1415 is brutal and bloody so this book is not for the squeamish. Cornwell's gift for re-telling famous battles and military campaigns evidenced in his works on Wellington (the Sharpe Series) and the American Civil War (the Starbuck Chronicles) is in full flight here. 6,000 Englishmen (including a few Welshmen) beat a French army of 30,000 helped by the weather and the English longbow.

Interestingly, as an aside in his historical note at the end of the book, Cornwell theorises that as the French had threatened to cut off two fingers from the archers' hands to prevent them drawing the bow, that the English made rude gestures with those fingers at the French after they won the battle. Thus the origin of the infamous two fingered salute!

I love Cornwell's masterly evocation of the few men and women he focuses on to tell the story, his commmand of the details of daily life & military training and of course his strong, though flawed, heroes. Visit the author's website for more info on his works http://www.bernardcornwell.net/

Wendy

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