The Hundred Years War: A Wider Focus
The stated purpose of this volume is to examine issues which have been regarded as peripheral to the "mainstream" study of the Hundred Years War. A sceptical observer might question how far it achieves this end. It would be hard to argue that subjects like the Battle of Agincourt or Joan of Arc have lacked attention in recent years while few historians of the conflict have failed to note the Najera campaign and its disastrous long term consequences for the English position in France. In its weighting towards the 14th century periods of the conflict the book reflects the conventional wisdom of Anglophone historiography all too faithfully. It remains to be seen whether the promised second volume addresses these issues. Nor is there much of a guiding editorial hand in evidence; the introduction is mostly taken up with a rather basic and dated overview history on the Hundred Years War whose relevance to a book which (if only on price grounds) is unlikely to fall into the hands of non-specialists is unclear. The various essays in the book therefore largely stand and fall on their own merits.
Before turning to these, however, there are some serious issues over its physical presentation. Though handsomely produced and well illustrated, many of the maps seem to have been prepared for purposes only tenuously linked to the essays which they illustrate (e.g., the map of medieval Toulouse (295) relates to the distribution of the food trades in the city, not an issue evoked in the essay; the map of northern Italy (210) contains shadings with no obvious relationship to the activities of the White Company) or are garbled in some way (e.g. the map of the Battle of Najera (74) labels some commanders in almost unrecognisable ways). The texts of the essays are riddled with misprints and typographical errors ;dates suffer particularly badly in this regard. Sometimes the errors are obvious, at others the reader is left perplexed ( e.g the description of military operations (109) which only makes geographical sense if one assumes that one of the references to Orihuela is wrong and should read "Valencia", the bizarre reference to a coronation of "Charles V" as Holy Roman Emperor at Rheims in 1364 supposedly attended by King John of France (232)- the monarch whose death had given rise to the coronation of Charles V as King of France in Rheims at that date). These errors really ought to have been picked up in the editorial and production process.
Five of the essays (those in the section entitled "The Spanish Connection" and one in the "Urban Reactions" section) do have a distinct geographical and chronological focus on the Iberian peninsula in the third quarter of the 14th century. This was a period of violence and instability, marked by war between the crowns of Castile and Aragon ("The War of the Two Pedros") and internal strife within these two polities which attracted intervention from outsiders. No doubt the choice of Spanish subjects was intended to refute the comment attributed to a Hispanist that "There was no Hundred Years War in Spain", though by concentrating solely on the one period when armies from north of the Pyrenees intervened in Spanish affairs to the exclusion of other Spanish involvement in the conflict it could be seen as justifying it.
Andrew Villalon embarks on a close reading of the chronicle evidence to reconstruct the wars leading up to the Anglo-Gascon victory at Najera (perhaps surprisingly he deals with the sequel which saw this admittedly pyrrhic triumph reversed within two years in much less detail). He manages to wrest a largely coherent account of the campaigning and the battle from some fairly intractable sources though some points of uncertainty remain. Perhaps because no chronicler took Pedro I's part, the Castilian monarch and any supporters he was able to muster are almost invisible in the campaign. The impression which one therefore gains is that the victorious army was an almost entirely Anglo-Gascon affair. The disappearing Castilians raise issues about aspects of the Black Prince's generalship. Though clearly a fine battlefield commander, his manoeuvring of his forces during the preceding campaign was often fumbling and hesitant. While this might be understandable as he was operating in unfamiliar terrain, it becomes harder to comprehend if he had Pedro and his supporters to provide him with advice on local conditions. What was the relationship between the Prince and his allies? Was the alliance going sour even before its battlefield victory? Sadly none of the chronicles Villalon has worked with give any leads on this question.
Maria Teresa Ferrer i Maillol examines the fate of Southern Valencia in the War of the Two Pedros. Largely a secondary theatre of operations, the region nevertheless saw much low-level ravaging and insecurity as Castilian forces and their Moorish allies harried the land. It also suffered from the political insecurity brought about by a bewildering succession of changes of allegiance by members of the ruling elites. The burdens on the civic administrations in the region were heavy, complicated by a growing professionalisation on the part of the civic militias whose members became increasingly vocal in seeking regular royal pay. The difficulties encountered by Pedro IV/Pere III of Aragon/Catalonia in paying his armies are covered in two related essays. Donald Kagay examines the role of the Parliament of Monzon (which brought together representatives of all the monarch's dominions on an ad hoc basis in 1362/3) as a war financier. The king cannot have been particularly satisfied with the results. Taxes were voted with extreme reluctance and the Parliament sought to exert a substantial degree of control over both the tax gathering process and the operational employment of the men funded by these revenues- while squabbling noisily over every detail of the process. None of this saved the king from having to go deeper and deeper into debt in order to keep his armies in the field. While the Monzon experiment was to have long term consequences in the administration of state revenues, these lay in the institutions created by the Parliament to manage its business between sessions rather than in tax administration per se. The king was still reduced to shifts and expedients to fund his armies. Manuel Sanchez Martinez recounts one of these in the shape of an attempt in 1368 to institutionalise the obligation of all Catalan subjects to serve the king in person during a military emergency and turn it into a form of taxation levied to support a limited number of trained and reliable soldiers. While the Barcelona sources he works with suggest that the city managed to fulfil its obligations with a reasonable amount of success (one wonders how many of the crossbowmen recruited to wear the colours of Barcelona were for all practical purposes professionals since many were not city residents), things did not go so well elsewhere in Catalonia. Nevertheless this experiment can be seen as another step towards the regularisation of war taxation in the Catalan/Aragonese realm.
The final Spanish contribution by Clara Estow recounts the skilful diplomatic and military manoeuvrings of Muhammed V of Granada which enabled his kingdom to survive in a hostile environment and he himself to come back from deposition in 1359 for a second reign from 1362 until 1391. The essay focuses very much on the 1350's and 60's and it would have been interesting to know more about how he adapted to the rather different conditions of the 1370's and 80's. On might also query Estow's suggestion that Granadan support for Pedro of Castile in the War of The Two Pedros was of a token nature given the regular presence of Moorish troops on the Castilian side noted by Ferrer i Maillol and the very real fear that capture in a Castilian raid might result in being sold into slavery in North Africa- an area of Christian/Muslim interaction in the later Middle Ages which has attracted little previous attention.
Two further essays examine the wider geographical effects of the War. In one of the most interesting contributions William Caferro examines the relatively short career of the White Company in Italy (in his view the White Company proper went out of existence after its defeat at San Mariano in the summer of 1365 even if individual Englishmen like Sir John Hawkwood had much longer careers in Italy). Caferro usefully revises certain myths; the Company does not seem to have been particularly based on archers and may indeed have had to recruit Hungarian mounted bowmen to get an adequate proportion of missile weapons into its ranks. While innovative in certain ways it did not revolutionise Italian warfare and owed its reputation as much to a high degree of perceived discipline and cohesion as to outstanding battlefield performance. Its specialism was storming minor fortresses and it operated effectively at night. When internal cohesion broke down it rapidly became vulnerable. Sergio Boffa examines the role of the Duchy of Brabant and the delicate balancing act which its rulers had to engage in between England, France and the Empire during the 14th century. In part Boffa wishes to rebut criticisms of John III of Brabant for "deserting" the English alliance he adopted in the 1330's and the perceived inconsistency of Brabantine policy thereafter. He makes a reasonable case for the dukes, but at the expense of suggesting that they were fundamentally weak rulers with a limited ability to manage the competing interests of the urban communities in the duchy.
In addition to Sanchez Martinez's piece, two essays cover urban issues. Peter Konieczny examines the London contribution to the English war effort in the 1337-60 period. This involved the provision of men and ships as well as the more familiar role of London merchants as war financiers (though perhaps surprisingly he does not examine the role of London merchants and artisans in military procurement). Peter Solon examines the role of the city of Toulouse as a military actor over a very long period stretching well into the 16th century. He sees the city as having been largely successful in its objectives- it was never directly subject to English attack after 1355 and managed to retain control of its own increasingly elaborate defences throughout, never being subject to a royal garrison. The city possessed a militia but this was surprisingly rarely mobilised for service beyond the walls. Solon takes a rather more positive view than many commentators of the post-1444 attempts to create a quasi professional infantry force drawn from the urban communities (the so-called franc archiers) which to a considerable degree supplanted the militia for the later period. Indeed one criticism of Solon's valuable overview might be that this is a view of Toulouse through the eyes of its elites rather than the mass of its inhabitants, let alone the inhabitants of its rural surroundings.
Two essays look at the position of women in war. James Gilbert gives a very generalised overview of the role of women over the whole span of the war. The invocation of that somewhat overused figure Rosie the Riveter adds little to his analysis (especially as he quite explicitly excludes the indispensable and all too often overlooked female component in every medieval army, the group marginalised under the pejorative term "camp followers", from his analysis) and his evidence base is slender. He also rather underestimates the effectiveness of peasant resistance to military marauders. Nevertheless he does make some useful points about the "total" nature of medieval warfare, especially in siege situations where the entire urban population could quite legitimately be seen as having a military role- though surprisingly he does not refer to the legend that the gun shot which resulted in the death of the Earl of Salisbury at Orleans in 1429 was touched off by a woman.
Jane Marie Pinzino manages to find a new angle on Joan of Arc. She argues that Joan was operating within a specifically "Armagnac" variant of the "Just War" theological tradition which legitimised action by divinely inspired individuals acting in defence of the realm of France and that this ideology was significantly more effective in mobilising support than the "official" line wrapped up in the minutiae of the Salic law. Pinzino makes an interesting case, though there are problems with it which go beyond the anachronistic use of "Armagnac" to refer to 14th century writers. As she admits, Joan herself made no explicit appeal to the theology of the Just War at any point in her career. With one exception, all the proponents of her "Armagnac" tradition are members of the same literary and social elite as expounded the "official" position, which was itself not slow to assert the uniquely high and divinely blessed nature of the French monarchy and by extension its subjects. On a formal level it is hard to see what made the "Armagnac" variant of Just War theology special other than a growing wish to qualify the restrictions on fighting other Christians inherent in the doctrine out of existence by presenting the French as God's Chosen People whose enemies were by definition in rebellion against God. Pinzino's claim to have identified a religiously-based precursor of modern nationalism certainly merits further examination, though her claim that this in some way represented a step towards the control of violence seems shaky in the extreme.
The final section contains three essays, one each on strategy, military technology and fighting techniques. Clifford Rogers is in typically pugnacious form in arguing that Henry V set out from Harfleur with the specific intention of fighting a major battle. He makes a plausible but not an overwhelming case and is obliged to explain away some awkward statements in contemporary sources which suggest a rather different set of calculations on Henry's part. In the end a good deal of Rogers' argument stands or falls on how far one shares his views of the campaign strategies of Edward III and the Black Prince as he regularly stresses analogies between Henry's approach and that of his predecessors. Not everyone will be convinced- and even if one completely accepts Rogers' view of what Henry was about it remains unclear why his French opponents, who had their own body of past experience to draw on, obliged him by giving battle.
Kelly DeVries examines a series of failed sieges undertaken by the Burgundian armies to argue that gunpowder weapons rewrote the rules of siege warfare rather less than has sometimes been suggested. This is a fair point and an important one; a determined defence could make much even of poor quality defences and the hitting power of early artillery was variable in the extreme. It is however worth noting that, for instance, the siege of Calais in 1436 collapsed because of the fragile structure of a besieging army drawn from mutually hostile Flemish cities. The Burgundian army had a tendency to look impressive on parchment but its battlefield performance was patchy; one might even wonder if the famously high expenditure of the Dukes of Burgundy on artillery which has usually earned them high marks from military historians might have been an early attempt to solve military shortcomings though investment in high technology.
Finally John Clements, a specialist in medieval martial arts, provides an overview of the corpus of late medieval instructional literature on how to fight effectively. In the process he debunks a series of myths to show that medieval sword fighting was not just a crude slashing match with weapons which were no more than glorified clubs but a genuinely skilled activity. Presumably the written material (largely from Italian and German sources; it is intriguing to find that no French manuals exist, which may help to explain why this material appears to be so little known) codified generations of oral teaching by professional masters of arms. This essay perhaps comes closest to opening up new perspectives on the military history of the 14th and 15th centuries by casting a fresh eye on how the military elites of the era were taught the basic skills of their trade. It also opens up new perspectives for research. For instance what market were the books designed to reach? Might the process of writing down skills which had traditionally been imparted orally suggest a new and wider market for sword fighting skills?
It is a truism that sets of collected essays rarely produce books which amount to more than the sum of their parts. Despite the merits of the individual contributions, this publication conforms to that stereotype.