Henry V (1992)

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Henry V

By Christopher Allmand (1936-22)

Professor, University of Liverpool, Retired

Series Editor: J.J. Scarisbrick

Christopher Allmand provided his little touch of Harry in 1992 by Methuen and California in hardback. Yale republished the hardback and paperback in 1997, and reissued the paperback with a new cover in 2011. Curiously, Eyre and Spottiswoode published a biography of Henry V by Harold F Hutchinson in 1967, in the fourth year of their new English Monarchs series, but did not include the book in the series itself, probably because it was a popular history title, one of several by that author. Henry V had to wait twenty five years before his moment in the series. It was worth the wait. Professor Allmand’s book takes up the challenge of accounting for a king so well known in fiction as well as fact that even the non-historical reader would know something of him. Our bending author hath pursued the story and in his introduction raises the problem of pulling the focus away from Henry’s military exploits and to see also his administrative talents. Thus, as Allmand points out, “...more than half this book is concerned with emphasising the significant contribution to, and achievement in government”. Too often biographers of this king see the warrior and not the administrator. In this book we see all sides of Henry V.

The book is both a horizontal history of Henry and a vertical. The first forty percent of the book is a chronological narrative of Henry’s life as a prince, then king and warrior, describing his military campaigns and successes in France. This is where most other biographies of Henry V end. What takes this biography beyond the commonplace is the remaining sixty percent of the text in which Allmand examines the other aspects of Henry as king in chapters looking at Normandy; the Army and Navy; Sigismund and the Council of Constance; Papal relations; Lollardy; Order; The Family; Government; Parliament; Finance; Crown, Unity and Nationhood. These chapters specifically address Henry as king rather than warrior, and the flavour of his government and personality. Allmand is even-handed about his subject. While others may praise Henry for his achievements. He  always questions the implications and legacy of Henry’s military ambitions. What is curious about the reputation of Henry V is that his aims are much the same as Richard I who in the 20th Century was more often regarded less favourably than in earlier times because of his military campaigns. Henry V has been more fortunate though sharing much the same ambitions and program yet receiving more favourable accounts in the histories of the period.

In his introduction to the Yale printing, the author says that no new scholarship has emerged to make him change any of his opinions expressed in the book, and that a small amount of new material has been added to he text. Observations made by fellow scholars of the first edition of the book are summarised and discussed in the introduction.

In The English Historical Review, Volume 108, No. 428 (July 1993), G.L. Harris (Magdalen College, University of Oxford) wrote that "Allmand seeks to de-mythologize, not debunk; indeed, by setting Henry's rule in the context of contemporary ideals of kingship and the practice of government, to explain and assess what made it distinctive. This is a measured and hard-headed evaluation of a great ruler”. Harris reports that Allmand finds the lasting legacy of Henry is the defining of English national identity, expressed by the use of the English language.

J. D. Boulton (University of Notre Dame, Indiana, USA) praised the book in The American Historical Review, Volume 99, No. 3 (June, 1994) saying it is “...to be welcomed, both as the most thorough account of Henry's reign to appear since W. T. Waugh and J. H. Wylie's three-volume The Reign of Henry V (1929), and as an original contribution to the subject by a distinguished historian with a particular expertise in the background history.” Boulton is another reader who suggests that the real strength of the book is in the final segment where the author examines different aspects of Henry’s reign. He finds the scholarly “apparatus” exemplary.

The University of California hardback has minor errors in two places. The list of series titles on the rear of the dust jacket names only ten of the twelve books to that point, lacking James I and Henry VI. Somebody at UC didn’t check their details before printing. James I was never reissued in either Britain or the USA after its publication in 1967 and lay forgotten, while Henry VI wasn't issued by an American publisher until Yale's paperback in 2001 yet both books definitely were part of the series. Following from this error is another - the Library of Congress Catalogue in Publication details on the verso gives a series note for English Monarchs and dutifully lists Henry V as the tenth book rather than the twelfth. An error compounded by a piece of sloppiness at the publisher. Your website compiler does not possess the British-printed Methuen copy of Henry V so this cannot be checked for that iteration and the online catalogue provided by the British Library is silent on the number. Probably the British Methuen version does not mention a number at all. Another blunder by the Library of Congress is a note that this biography was originally published in London by the Historical Association as a twenty-eight page pamphlet in 1968. That item was a completely different booklet with the same name by the same author. Neither the British Library nor the Library of Congress can manage to catalogue a series title properly, but that’s a whinge for another forum.

Professor Allmand’s area of expertise is Lancastrian England, the late middle ages and the Hundred Years‘ War. Cambridge published his study on this conflict in 1988. Additionally he edited the seventh and final volume  of The New Cambridge Medieval History (1998).

‘Henry V’ proved to be the twelfth and final book in the series published by Methuen and The University of California Press. The next new book, ‘Richard II’, would follow five years later and was published by Yale in 1997. At some time after 1992 Methuen handed over the series to Yale but the date is unknown. If you have not read the history of the series in the Publishers page linked above go there now to read about the reasons for and timing of this change of publisher.

ISBN data

Methuen Hardback - 9780413532800

UC Hardback - 9780520082939

Yale Hardback -  978-0300073690

Yale Paperback - 9780300073706

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Link to the book's website at Yale

Methuen/UC 1992 Hardback

Book Number: 12

Yale 1997

Hardback and Paperback

Yale 2011 Paperback & 2014 Kindle (UK & USA)

Cover: Portrait held by the National Portrait Gallery, London.