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De Re Militari | Book Reviews

David Grummitt

The Calais Garrison. War and Military Service in England, 1436-1558

Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell & Brewer, 2008. 217 pp. $95.00. ISBN-13: 9781843833987.

David Grummitt has filled an enormous gap in our understanding of how English armed force was configured (and thus strategy formulated) by remedying the marginalization of the Calais garrison. This book also helps bridge “late medieval” with “Tudor” and thus reveals continuities in English history that were not so apparent when fields were demarcated by dynasty. Finally, drawing upon the skills he has developed as a Senior Research Fellow at the History of Parliament Trust, Grummitt has mined English archives and ferreted out a wealth of oft-overlooked evidence, particularly from the National Archives at Kew.

The Calais Garrison begins with a Lancastrian military action, the siege of 1436, and ends with another operational account, the loss of Calais under a subsequent dynasty, in 1558. The chapters interspersed between these poles address institutional themes (garrison organization and logistics), the nature of weaponry and fortifications at Calais (referenced to the military revolution), and the place of chivalry in the changing environments of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. As the title announces, military service is a central focus, and Grummitt treats the captains, soldiers and crews in chapter four, reprising the theme of military service (and a great deal more) in the concluding chapter. The author demonstrates that the establishment at Calais shared the characteristics of early modern state formation, and was “the centre of a well-developed . . . national military-fiscal system” (192). The loss of Calais was not inevitable, indeed the collapse owed more to the fortunes of war than to any structural or institutional flaws.

A salient feature of this book is the strong evidential base upon which it rests.  Though Grummitt appears not to have consulted continental archives for this work, he points out that the survival of archival materials for the Calais garrison is “unique” and “unparalleled,” making Calais perhaps the best choice for a case study of English military establishments in this period. His trawl through the Exchequer and Chancery classes of documents in the National Archives is particularly impressive. In addition to exploiting declared accounts (E 351), the author gleans much material from the Exchequer miscellaneous accounts (the “Accounts Various” in E 101) and less explored categories such as E 404. Similarly he knows his way around Chancery manuscripts. The range of National Archives sources is nicely complimented by Grummitt’s mastery of the British Library’s collections, which are haphazardly arranged compared to those of the National Archives. Further, he takes full advantage of four superb private letter collections, those of the Pastons, Stonors, Celys and Lisles, all of which are rich sources for study of Calais. The survival of these sources enables Grummitt to reconstruct the life of the garrison even though the Exchequer records extant within Calais were lost or destroyed in 1558.

The Calais Garrison contributes to the military revolution debate by showing how the garrison and Pale served as conduits through which continental military innovation could be assimilated. The chronological breadth of the study encompasses the improvements in artillery circa 1420 to 1450 as well as the proliferation of arquebuses and the trace-italienne in the early 1500s.  Citing victuallers’ accounts and similar documents, Grummitt shows that Calais’ garrison kept abreast of technological innovations. Military obsolescence was most certainly not the cause of the loss of Calais in 1558. The new evidence trotted out by the author reinforces the work of James Raymond and others who have argued that English warfare kept pace with military developments on the Continent. Indeed, this book sheds light on the mechanics of how England “plugged in”, via the advantage of a long-standing bridgehead in France that can be described as “ England’s premier military establishment in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries” (139). Calais is a piece of the puzzle that has been overlooked, and certainly a case can be made that possession of the garrison provided a window on Continental Europe not unlike, say, St. Petersburg for Russia in a later period.

The only objection one might make is how the author characterizes his interpretation in relation to recent works in the field. In the opinion of the reviewer, Dr. Grummitt somewhat misrepresents the historiography in order to set up a straw man. The opening chapter reads as if his response to the “Are there other books in this field?” query on a press’s book proposal form was lifted wholesale and inserted in the introduction. In order to sell a book proposal to a Press, an author can be forgiven for lamenting the inferior scholarship that has preceded his appearance on the scene. However, early Tudor warfare is not as despised as Dr. Grummitt asserts.  The field may have been somewhat less documented back in the days when the author sat for his “A levels”, but not so today. Henry VII’s promotion of artillery and firearms has been justly recognized as has Henry VIII’s introduction of declared accounts (for the expressed purpose of managing military expenditure) and Bluff King Hal’s Herculean logistical triumphs. To describe early Tudor military history as a maligned field is simply untrue, certainly since the mid-1990s. Nor is it terribly accurate to claim that historians of Elizabethan and early Stuart military history fail to appreciate the groundwork laid by the early Tudors (take for instance the published accounts of the Ordnance Office or the shire militias). Similarly the author’s assertion that “few” historians have considered English evidence in the military revolution debate is demonstrably false. All this special pleading is as unnecessary as it is skewed because Dr. Grummitt’s book is so well researched (and well-argued) that it will be widely recognized no matter how many lesser prophets clutter the foreground.

On the other hand, the author’s labors may not yet have been fully appreciated (and his achievement in getting this book published).  Not enough hymns of praise have been sung of the editors and researchers at the History of Parliament Trust. British history in general (and not the least military history) has been advanced mightily by the work done there, where the grueling production schedules make working on your own scholarship well nigh impossible. Yet, articles and monographs have been authored by that band in Woburn Square. To have kept up that pace and still proffered such an insightful work to Boydell and Brewer is a first-rate achievement. Considering his at least ten refereed articles, a large corpus of scholarship for the databases of the History of Parliament Trust, an excellent co-authored tome with Oxford University Press, and now The Calais Garrison, Grummitt’s scholarship could be considered prolific.

Mark Charles Fissel

The Augusta Arsenal, Augusta GA <>

Page Added: September 2009