Originally posted on Goodreads.com.
“Chivarly dead? Perhaps not! Perhaps it is the last battle to purify it. To rid it of hypocrisies ere this new age you speak of overtakes us.”—Earl of Warwick to King Henry V
In Good King Harry, Denise Giardina explores the life of Prince Hal/Henry V in the 14th and 15th centuries. Told in first person, the book covers Hal’s childhood, including his rejection by his father and his time at King Richard II’s court, his adolescent years campaigning in Wales against Owen Glyndwr, and his eventual ascension to the throne and retaking of English lands in France, ending the book with his death.
Throughout the story, Giardina explores the themes of courtliness and chivalry that characterized politics and war at the time, and how and why Harry would largely depart from both. She also shows the growing conflict between the Lollard movement and the English Catholic Church which would, a century later, become the Protestant Reformation. Generally following the historical timeline, though with definite nods to Shakespeare’s dramatizing of it (dividing sections with quotes from Shakespeare, including truncated version of some of King Henry’s great speeches), Giardina presents a compelling and sympathetic perspective on the conflicts and complexities of King Henry. Her Harry must maintain a balance between the courtliness of Richard II and the populism of Henry IV, as well as manage the transition out of the age of romantic chivalry while striving to maintain its best traits.
This account is a compelling and captivating piece of historical fiction, and I would imagine it would be as enjoyable for readers who are not familiar with Shakespeare’s Hal as it was for this one who is.