Diana Dunn (ed.), War and Society in
Medieval and Early Modern Britain (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press,
ISBN: 0 85323 885 5
This collection of nine essays resulted from a colloquium held in April
1999 at Chester College, in association with the University of Liverpool.
The collection broadly addresses the theme of how war has an impact upon
society and government, and more narrowly focuses upon three episodes of civil
war in England: that of Stephen's reign, the so-called Wars of the Roses, and
the civil war of the seventeenth century. That
is to say, the collection looks at twelfth-century, fifteenth-century, and
seventeenth-century episodes of civil war, and thus it is unlikely that all
readers will find all essays of equal interest, given the world of
specialization in which historians live. All
sorts of themes emerge from the essays: the military, social, and economic
impact of civil war; how a civil war could impinge upon relations with
neighboring states and communities; or the value system of warriors.
Each essay is supported by endnotes, and there is an index for the
volume. Diana Dunn, in addition to
providing one of the essays, has written the introduction to the volume, wherein
we find the one 'howler' of the volume, that being Henry Percy, known as Hotspur,
fighting in France in 1415 (p. 8), when Hotspur was in fact killed fighting at
Shrewsbury in 1403.
All of the essays are works of solid scholarship, and merit careful
attention, but the collection as a whole hangs together only tenuously. Because of the disparate nature of the collection, it seems
most useful here simply to suggest the nature of each essay.
The two essays which open the collection do not even fit the civil war
framework. Christopher Allmand's
"The Reporting of War in the Middle Ages" begins with the truism that
war was an ongoing theme in medieval written culture, and examines how accounts
of war changed over time by looking primarily at chronicles, especially from the
twelfth century to the end of the medieval period.
Allmand asks, and can even sometimes answer, questions such as: Who were
the writers, and what prepared them to write of war, and for whom did the
writers write? Why were writing
projects undertaken? To justify
actions, to glorify individuals or armies, to make a record for posterity, or
for some other reason or reasons? Allmand
finds an increasing sophistication developing over time in the nature of
reporting about war, from mere notice that men fought and died to more fully
written narratives about campaigns and wars.
From the will of God as an explanation for the course of events, Allmand
describes in the fourteenth century the emerging curiosity among writers for
discovering various human factors for why events unfolded as they did. He also notes the transition that was becoming apparent in
the fifteenth century from notices of the chivalric deeds of individuals or the
achievements of leaders to an appreciation by writers of the function of armies
as entities, for example in the Gesta
Henrici Quinti. Allmand also
touched on the subject of diplomacy as a part of war. The essay very effectively brought into clear focus the
subject of how medieval writers treated the waging of war, an issue of literary
culture which has long been one of those fuzzy realities for students of war.
Philip Morgan's essay, "The Naming of Battlefields in the Middle
Ages," should stimulate much further research.
Morgan's thesis is that the naming of battlefields was a negotiated
effort to establish control over the memory of a military event.
The determination of a name was not a simple process. The physical and cultural landscapes could be factors.
Bannockburn, for example, came slowly to be called after the stream or
burn which flowed through the area where the battle of 1314 was fought.
A toponymic might be adopted from an adjacent place, as with the Battle
of Agincourt in 1415. A battle
might come to have an iconic or descriptive name, as with the Battle of the
Standard of 1138, which was never called by the name of Northallerton in
Yorkshire, just two miles from the battle site.
Morgan offers numerous examples as he comes to the suggestion of a
three-step process that applied to naming battlefields:
(1) that there existed no name at all until the battle was recognized as
a significant historical event; (2) that then assorted usages produced a
negotiation over various possible names; and (3) that an official name finally
came to dominate.
Three essays are set chronologically in the reign of King Stephen.
Paul Dalton, in "Civil War and Ecclesiastical Peace in the Reign of
King Stephen," argues that the efforts of churchmen to bring peace were
more extensive than hitherto noticed by historians, admitting at the same time
that those efforts have certainly not been ignored by historians.
Dalton treats of such subjects as the invocation of celestial power by
means of saints and relics to bring peace, the circulation of stories of
defensive and punitive miracles, the introduction into England of the ideas
similar to those of the Peace of God movement, the establishment of refuges for
those caught up in warfare, and the holding of courts or providing of venues for
settling disputes, absolving wrongdoers, and making reparations.
In "Earls and Earldoms during King Stephen's Reign," Graeme
White revisits the topic of the creation of earls and earldoms in Stephen's
reign. White sees the outbreak of
civil war in 1139 as marking a change in Stephen's thinking.
Before 1139, granting an earldom was a fairly inexpensive and honorific
method of reinforcing the loyalty of key barons.
After 1139, White argues, Stephen came to expect greater military and
administrative service from his earls. White
does not look for any single reason for the increasing number of earls and
earldoms in Stephen's reign. Of
course, the Empress Matilda made creations of her own after 1139, and White
thinks Stephen came to regret his policy of creating earls beyond the seven he
inherited from his uncle Henry I because the earls too often began to enhance
their powers independent of the crown. White
sees earldoms under Henry I as being primarily honorific, while some earls were
actually aspiring to the political and financial advantages their positions
opened up to them: dreams of autonomy were beginning to dance in the heads of
the earls. Then, as White see it,
after the upheavals of 1141 both Stephen and Matilda reduced their reliance upon
the regional military and administrative support of their earls, and the number
of earls gradually diminished. Matthew
Bennett takes a more benevolent view of the use of mercenaries than has been
customary among historians in "The Impact of 'Foreign' Troops in the Civil
Wars of King Stephen's Reign." Bennett
notes that Flemish mercenaries were used by both sides, and observes that Welsh
and Scottish soldiers were considered outsiders in England.
After a useful, brief survey of the eighteen years of warfare during
Stephen's reign, Bennett deals in turn with the Flemings, Welsh, and Scots who
were employed as soldiers. Bennett's
thesis is that the evil reputation of mercenaries in the wars of Stephen's reign
has been exaggerated, although some military customs accepted by the 'foreign'
troops likely seemed severe by the standards of military behavior accepted by
the English. Bennett suggests that
mercenaries were very practical for a war where there was much besieging and
defending of castles. Being mounted
as a rule, mercenaries were mobile. Being
paid, they could be kept in service as long as their wages were forthcoming.
Two essays in the collection are set in the fifteenth century.
Events growing out of the Battle of Patay of 18 June 1429 are the story
told by Hugh Collins in "Sir John Fastolf, John Lord Talbot and the Dispute
over Patay: Ambition and Chivalry in the Fifteenth Century."
Fastolf had been a knight of the Garter since 1426, and Talbot since
1424. In the English defeat at
Patay Fastolf escaped from the field with many of his troops, while Talbot was
captured and released only after four years and the payment of a heavy ransom.
Fastolf was briefly suspended from the Order of the Garter, but was
restored after an inquiry had been made into the circumstances of the field of
Patay. Many contemporary writers
thought Fastolf's withdrawal from the field at Patay inappropriate for a Garter
knight, while some writers were neutral in their accounts, and yet others
commented on Fastolf's wisdom for withdrawing and saving his men.
These two men, by their actions and by the reactions of others to what
they did, shed light on the value system of the chivalric class of the day. Fastolf was a very able but cautious commander.
Talbot was more dashing and daring.
The French got to Patay before the English ambush could be set, and in
the defeat the two commanders reacted differently.
The two had clashed over military matters before Patay, but Patay left
Talbot with a grudge against Fastolf. At
Patay, the two commanders demonstrated different views of what it meant to be a
Garter knight. A quarrel between
the two knights persisted until 1442 when a tribunal of Garter knights, almost
certainly initiated by Fastolf to clear his reputation of the stain cultivated
by Talbot, convened to discuss Fastolf's actions at Patay.
The tribunal found for Fastolf. Diana
Dunn diverts our attention from knights at war to "The Queen at War: The
Role of Margaret of Anjou in the Wars of the Roses." Dunn opens with Shakespeare's presentation of Margaret of
Anjou as an evil, sadistic, martial queen, and moves to a discussion of the
accepted role for a queen in Margaret's time.
The accepted role did not include playing a part in politics.
Margaret went beyond the accepted queenly role of peacemaker,
intercessor, and giver of counsel, and was very slow about providing the
required royal heir. Dunn presents
the dilemma of Margaret. Here was
the wife of an ineffective king faced with preserving the inheritance of her
son. Margaret does not seem ever to
have been present on a field of battle in the clashes that began in the 1450s,
but she earned an evil and unwomanly reputation, Dunn argues, largely as a
scapegoat for the deterioration and failure of Henry VI's kingship.
If the king was above blame, as contemporary instincts desired, then his
wife could be blamed. Margaret became, like Eleanor of Provence (queen of Henry
III), Isabella of France (queen of Edward II), and Isabeau of Bavaria (queen of
Charles VI of France), another queenly victim of the ineffectiveness of her
The two concluding essays in the collection are set in the seventeenth century. In "Caricaturing Cymru: Images of the Welsh in the London Press 1642-46," Mark Stoyle informs his readers that shortly before the outbreak of civil war in 1642 an anti-Welsh propaganda campaign was begun in London by parliamentarians who anticipated that the Welsh people would support the Crown in the impending struggle. When Welsh troops joined the royal army in the summer of 1642, Roundhead pamphleteering against the Welsh increased in intensity. No group supporting King Charles I suffered such attacks from London presses in the first year of the civil war as did the Welsh. Most of the pamphleteers wrote anonymously, but the impression is that they were well-educated Englishmen aiming their views at a popular audience. Not only were the Welsh denigrated in many ways by their opponents, but they were also presented as a potential enemy to be feared, as a people who hated the English as foreign oppressors and who wanted to gain independence from English governance. Peter Gaunt shifts from propaganda to battle in "'One of the Goodliest and Strongest Places that I Ever Looked Upon': Montgomery and the Civil War." Gaunt notes that set-piece battles were the exception in the English civil war of the seventeenth century. In fact, he suggests, there was no typical sort of military engagement. Yet, the nature of the conflict in and around the Anglo-Welsh border town of Montgomery in 1644 is offered as being broadly representative of the fighting of the civil war. Montgomery was sited on one of the best routes between England and mid-Wales, even protected by an Iron Age hill fort in the remote past. The Romans had built a fortification in the locality, as had the Normans. The strategic significance of the area had thus long been obvious, and it was the thirteenth-century Montgomery with its castle and other defences that became the site of probably the battle of greatest magnitude fought in Wales during the seventeenth-century civil war. A parliamentary force entered Montgomery with apparently little difficulty in early September 1644. Montgomery Castle was the residence of the mildly royalist Edward, Lord Herbert of Chirbury, who had refused to allow the castle to be used as a royalist stronghold, perhaps hoping to avoid the damage of conflict, and the castle was taken over with ease by parliamentarians. A parliamentary garrison was installed under the command of Sir Thomas Myddleton, and soon royalist forces in the region coalesed under the command of Sir Michael Ernley. Other contingents under other commanders, representing both sides, made their way toward Montgomery, and the climax came with a battle lasting about an hour outside Montgomery on 18 September. It was a resolute parliament victory. The dead among parliamentarians numbered about forty, with some five hundred royalists killed and three times that number captured. The battle had no great and decisive impact on the course of the civil war, but was one more step toward the ultimate victory of the parliamentary forces. At the same time, the local residents suffered greatly, both materially and emotionally, from having two armies operating in and around Montgomery, whatever their political sympathies might have been. Furthermore, Montgomery Castle was demolished on parliamentary order in 1649, and the medieval military landscape of Montgomery was permanently changed.
A. Compton Reeves
Emeritus, Ohio University