Ian Mortimer's decision to tell this story in diary format, giving us an almost day-by-day account, would not have suited every historical study, but in this instance was a stroke of genius. The danger would have been an excess of extraneous detail, but Mortimer's instinct is superb and what we get instead is the mythical hero-king – immortalised by the Laurence Olivier film – rendered suddenly human and close.
Mortimer shows Henry as a king who will intervene to save the life of a bishop's servant, and a warrior who doesn't spare prisoners; as a man who presided over an almost exclusively male court, and whose real passion was for religion. ("All leaders who go to war in the name of God are either zealous or hypocrites... Henry was both.")
Once his incursion into France begins, after plots against him and the burning of religious martyrs, the diary really comes into its own, giving us a daily roll call of dead knights and increasing expenses. The immediacy of the format makes Henry real and flawed; a disturbed but compelling individual.Reuse content