Book Corner: Interview with Michael Jones

Myself and Michael Jones at the Harrogate History Festival, October 2015

Today it is a pleasure to welcome historian and broadcaster Michael Jones to the blog.

Hi Mike, thank you so much for agreeing to an interview for my blog History…the Interesting Bits. The last time we chatted was at the Harrogate History Festival a couple of years ago. I seem to remember asking you to convince me that Henry IV and Henry V were worth reading up on. I must say, your own arguments and your book 24 Hours at Agincourt certainly piqued my interest; all 3 of Henry IV’s sisters will appear in my book. And your latest book is a biography of Edward III’s eldest son, The Black Prince. I don’t need any convincing with him, he’s a fascinating character and I am really enjoyed reading your book.

And so, without further ado, to the interview. I hope the questions are not too onerous for you.

What do you love most about history?

 Well, firstly, hello Sharon and thank you for your blog and website, and your enthusiasm for all things medieval. And good luck with your own book!

As a child, I loved history for its portrayal of men and women in challenging circumstances. I was fascinated by how they were – sometimes at least – able to triumph against all the odds. Now, as a historian, it is still those personal stories I am most drawn to. I wanted to write a biography of Margaret Beaufort, the mother of Henry VII (The King’s Mother) because she showed such courage and resourcefulness in adversity – and it was through this that I got to know Philippa Gregory, first advising her on her book The Red Queen, and then writing with her and David Baldwin The Women of the Cousins’ War. And in my most recent work, The Black Prince – a biography of Edward of Woodstock (the oldest son of Edward III and foremost military commander of his age) – I have enjoyed depicting the Prince’s charisma as a leader, the way he forged a remarkable esprit de corps amongst his fellow fighters.

What is your favourite period of history – and why?

I write on a number of subjects – ranging from the late middle ages to World War Two – and, as a tour guide, lead military and cultural tours covering many historical eras. But the reason I focus on the late middle ages is because of the quality of teaching I received at Bristol University (as an undergraduate and postgraduate), particularly from Charles Ross and James Sherborne. They shaped my abilities as a historian and I remain grateful to them to this day. And the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries are tumultuous yet vivid times, marred by plague and warfare yet possessing an acute sensibility to beauty and the uplifting power of ritual and display.

Which historical personality fascinates you the most – and why?

Tomb of the Black Prince, Canterbury Cathedral

People are so interesting – and history is full of fascinating characters. In the middle ages we have so many choices. I immediately think of the Black Prince and Joan of Kent and Richard III and Anne Neville. In these instances, to learn about these remarkable men I believe we also need to get to know the women who helped shape their views and guided their counsel.

You have written books on the battles of Agincourt and Bosworth, what is it about medieval warfare that fascinates you? 

Well, I have also written books on World War Two’s battle of Stalingrad and siege of Leningrad – and these events remain, for me, incredibly moving.

However, Agincourt and Bosworth are indeed fascinating: clashes that shaped our history and where the key turnaround happened very quickly, within hours, even minutes – and I will always be interested in them. When I wrote 24 Hours at Agincourt I was particularly struck by the headlong dash of Anthony, duke of Brabant (the younger brother of the duke of Burgundy). In his rush towards the battlefield – desperate to join the French army – he rode day and night, leaving behind most of his retinue and all of his armour. When he finally arrived at Agincourt he was accompanied by only a dozen men – and he was killed within minutes. Some applauded his chivalric idealism; others marvelled at his crass stupidity. And writing The Black Prince gave me the chance to bring to life three more extraordinary battles – Crécy, Poitiers and Nájera – so I am grateful for that as well.

How did you get involved in the ‘Looking for Richard’ project with Philippa Langley?

I got to know Philippa through the publication of my book Bosworth 1485 – Psychology of a Battle, which offered a different way of seeing Richard III – a mirror opposite of the picture presented by Shakespeare. Instead of removing Richard from the story of his family, the house of York, I placed him at the heart of it. Philippa had been writing a screenplay about the king, but had become stuck and was on the point of giving up. After we met, she rewrote the screenplay with my interpretation underpinning it, and then set out to visit the places that were significant in his life. We had said to each other that the only counter to the power of Shakespeare’s play would be to actually find the king’s physical remains. And that journey took Philippa to a social services car park in Leicester in the summer of 2004. Later, when Richard’s remains had indeed been uncovered, under the very spot where she had had her intuitive feeling, we wrote a book about it, The King’s Grave: the Search for Richard III.

Michael Jones

The Black Prince is a controversial figure these days – what made you want to write his biography?

I admire the Black Prince and feel that modern scholarship has sometimes become overly critical of him, losing sight of the ideals that governed his life and won the respect of his contemporaries. While there is a place for such criticism, I wanted to write a sympathetic biography – putting the man back into the context of his times.

If you could talk to any person from history, who would it be and what would you ask them?

That has to be Richard III on the fate of the Princes in the Tower.

If you had a time machine, what specific event would you like to go back and witness – and why?

It would be the final stages of the battle of Poitiers, where the Black Prince turned the tables on a numerically superior foe and captured the French king, Jean II, by mounting up and charging straight at his opponent. It cannot be equalled for sheer drama.

What is your next project?

I am working on a book about the beginning of World War Two – and will then return to the late middle ages and write an account of the last stages of the Hundred Years War.

I owe huge ‘thank you’ to Michael Jones for taking the time to do this fabulous interview.

I can highly recommend Michael Jones latest book, The Black Prince, which is out now and is available from Amazon.

Michael Jones is a fellow of the Royal Historical Society and member of the British Commission for Military History. He works as a writer, battlefield tour guide and media presenter. He is the author of Bosworth 1485: Psychology of a Battle, 24 Hours at Agincourt and co-author, with Philippa Gregory and David Baldwin, of The Women of the Cousins’ War; and, with Philippa Langley, of The King’s Grave: The Search for Richard III. He lives in South London.

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Photos from Harrogate and the Black Prince’s tomb in Canterbury Cathedral ©2015 Sharon Bennett Connolly. Photo of Michael Jones with thanks to Michael Jones.

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My book, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK and worldwide from Book Depository. It is also available on Kindle in both the UK and USA and will be available in Hardback from Amazon US from 1 May 2018.

Sharons book cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

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©2017 Sharon Bennett Connolly

 

Book Corner: 24 Hours at Agincourt by Michael Jones

24 hrsAgincourt was an astonishing clash of arms, a pivotal moment in the Hundred Years War and the history of warfare in general.

In August 1415, King Henry V claimed the throne of France and landed an army in Normandy. Two months later, outside the small village of Agincourt in Picardy, he was preparing for certain defeat. On 25 October his exhausted, starving and ailing troops faced a far larger French army, whose soldiers were fresh for combat and determined to destroy their opponents. But what was to take place in the following 24 hours, it seemed only the miraculous intervention of God could explain.

Interlacing eyewitness accounts, background chronicle and documentary sources with a new interpretation of the battle’s onset, acclaimed military historian Michael Jones takes the reader into the heart of this extraordinary feat of arms. He brings the longbowmen and knights to life, portrays the dilemmas of the commanders and shows the brutal reality on the ground, as archers seized swords, daggers and even mallets to beat their opponents, and heavily armoured men-at-arms sank into knee-deep mud in a bloody fight that astounded the courts of Europe.

Last October, at the Harrogate History Festival, I watched a panel entitled ‘600 Years of Beating the French’. Although it concentrated on the Battle of Waterloo – which was commemorating its 200th anniversary – there was one lone voice talking about Agincourt.

I have to admit, I’ve never really read much about Agincourt  until last year. I wrote a blog post to commemorate the battle’s 600th anniversary and it piqued my interest. I managed to corner the ‘lone voice’ in the book shop afterwards and told him I had little love for the Lancastrian king and didn’t understand the reverence held for him and his victory at Agincourt.

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Myself and Michael Jones

I asked Dr Jones what was so special about Agincourt and Henry V in particular. Michael Jones was passionate and intensely knowledgeable on the subject and, luckily, was more than happy to try to persuade me of the merits of Henry V.

As a result of the conversation I bought his book (which he very kindly signed), which turned out to be a fascinating read.

24 Hours at Agincourt: 25th October 1415 provides a detailed analysis of the battle, focussing on the immediate pre-battle preparations and on the action itself. The book covers all aspects of the campaign – and of campaigning in the early 15th century in general.

24 Hours at Agincourt is a full and frank account of Henry V’s 1415 campaign. Dr Jones analyses not only the leadership but also the propaganda, business transactions, the men themselves and even the religious undertones of the day. He discusses the requirements for a successful military campaign, such as good supply lines,  leadership and reconnaissance and analyses the effects of what happens when one or more of these goes wrong.

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Morning of the Battle of Agincourt

Michael Jones leads us through the story of Agincourt, from the launch of the campaign in England, through the Siege of Harfleur and the march to Agincourt to the battle itself and the aftermath. He discusses at length the value and quality of both the English and French commanders, and of their decisions of the day, analysing their weapons and tactics – and their overall effectiveness.

Henry’s own battle experience at Shrewsbury in 1405 demonstrated to him the terrible effectiveness of the English longbow, and it is likely that on the Agincourt campaign he wished to forge these bowmen into a formidable fighting force…

The book draws heavily on the primary sources from both sides of the battle. Dr Jones carefully evaluates these sources, analysing them for bias and discussing their proximity to the action. He also uses the examples of earlier battles of the Hundred Years’ War and the wars against Scotland to demonstrate and discuss the development of battle strategies.

The book offers a new interpretation of the battle which attempts to explain some of the confusion and ambiguity in the contemporary sources, providing new insights into the planning and prosecution of the battle. Dr Jones gives credit to Henry V’s impressive group of captains, his ‘Band of Brothers’, discussing the abilities of each and their contributions to the campaign and the battle itself.

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Agincourt

A major strength of the book is that Michael Jones looks at the battle from both sides, analysing the French contribution to its outcome as thoroughly as he does the English. The French tactics are explained and discussed, as are the strength and qualities of France’s allies, and the divisions among the commanders.

24 Hours at Agincourt is a lively, descriptive book which demonstrates Dr Jones’ passion and enthusiasm for his subject. The narrative is engaging and entertaining. Michael Jones is passionate about Henry V and the significance of his victory at Agincourt, and this shines through when talking to him and in his writing. He convincingly argues of Henry V’s qualities as a general and also rehabilitates Edward Duke of York as a key figure at the centre of the battle’s history. He explains how it was these two men, working together, who were pivotal to the success of the campaign.

I have to admit, for anyone interested in knowing more about Agincourt,  I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Dr Jones’ writing style is so easy and engaging – it was an absolute pleasure to read. I have a new-found admiration for Henry V – even if I still don’t like his father.

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My book, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK and worldwide from Book Depository. It is also available on Kindle in both the UK and USA and will be available in Hardback from Amazon US from 1 May 2018.

Be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.

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Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia; except Michael Jones and myself, ©SharonBennettConnolly2015

©2016 Sharon Bennett Connolly

 

The Harrogate History Festival – Indulging the History Geek

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The New Blood Panel of debut authors

Last year I went to my first ever History Festival; the Harrogate History Festival, hosted by the Historical Writer’s Association. It was amazing – a chance to indulge my inner history geek with fellow history geeks.

Last year I had a chat with Elizabeth Chadwick in the lunch queue, and got my photo taken with the greatest writer of historical fiction, ever – Bernard Cornwell.

So, of course, this year – I went back!

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Meeting Neil Oliver at the book signing.

And, dare I say it was even better than last year? The 2014 Festival was heavily in favour of historical fiction, whereas 2015 was more balanced between non-fiction and fiction. The Festival is a combination of highlighting the work of established writers, and shining the spotlight on the newcomers, with an award for this year’s Crown for Debut Historical Fiction going to Ben Ferguson .

The event is a combination of interviews, panel discussions and easy-to-listen-to lectures, all followed by a question and answer session with the audience.

The Harrogate History Festival is a roll-call of wonderful writers and historians; Manda Scott, Michael Morpurgo, Neil Oliver, Ken Follet, Melvin Bragg, Princess Michael of Kent, Kate Mosse, Imogen Robertson, David Ebsworth, Toby Clements and Edwin Thomas to name just a few.

Every session was followed by an opportunity to meet the authors, take photos and get your books signed.

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My Era’s Better Than Yours

The event is incredibly well organised, and yet very friendly and informal. Panelists and attendees mingle together in the restaurant, the bar the book shop – and everywhere else!

The discussions on offered catered to all historical  tastes, from the Greeks to the Second World War and everything in between, from fiction focussed on women, to a history of perfume.

There was so much to choose from.

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Meeting Michael Jones

My favourite panel discussion had to be My Era’s Better Than Yours where 4 historical writers argued the case for which period of history is best. Janina Ramirez was very passionate about the Vikings; while Ben Kane’s promotion of the Romans, of course, mentioned the aqueducts and roads; and SJ Parris enthused about the Elizabethan’s birth of modern espionage.

The winner, after an audience clap-o-meter vote, was the Ancient Greeks, with Edwin Thomas having the easy role of promoting the greatest civilisation ever (I’m not biased).

Tracy Borman gave a wonderful lecture  on the Real Wolf Hall, giving a wonderful insight into the real Thomas Cromwell and comparing him to how he was portrayed in Hilary Mantel’s novel.

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Interviewing novelist Derek Birks

I had a lovely conversation with historian Michael Jones, who tried to persuade me of the virtues of Henry V; discussing with him the similarities with Edward IV, Henry V’s military successes and his relationships with his nobles. Michael was even kind enough to sign my copy of his book – I got the last one on the shelf.

I even got to do my first ever piece of journalism; interviewing Wars of the Roses novelist Derek Birks for The Review Blog with fellow Review admin Jayne Smith – I’ll let you know when it is published.

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My Festival Hoard

From a wonderful presentation by Michael Morpurgo – who managed to keep children and adults entertained for an hour with stories of how he gets his inspiration for his wonderful books – to the wonderfully jingoistic 600 Years of Beating the French; the talks were fascinating, educating and enthralling.

Everyone who attended got a ‘goody bag’ which included an advance copy of Alison Weir’s Katherine  of Aragon: the True Queen.

And, of course, the bookshop was a ‘go to’ place for writers and book-lovers alike.

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My book, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK and worldwide from Book Depository. It is also available on Kindle in both the UK and USA and will be available in Hardback from Amazon US from 1 May 2018.

You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.

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©2015 Sharon Bennett Connolly