So since last week’s update I have started actually looking at the sources for the Pontvallain campaign. First up is the Anonimalle chronicle – an English chronicle written at the Abbey of St. Mary in York, which covers most of the fourteenth century and is best known for its account of the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381. It’s written in Anglo-Norman, so this week I transcribed a page of it and started translating it into English. The section that I was started with gave details of numbers of soldiers in Knolles’s army – suggesting that the army consisted of 2,000 men-at-arms (gentz darmes) and 6,000 archers (darchiers) – Jonathan Sumption thinks this can’t be right if you compare it with some of the other figures, so here the chronicler must have been mistaken.
Luckily I did GCSE French so I can just about read most of the text and get the gist of it. For the rest I have been reliant on an excellent resource called the Anglo-Norman Dictionary. More resources on how to use it can be found at the Anglo-Norman Online Hub. Fantastic to have this and easy to use as well – it provides examples of usages and variants of spellings of each word.
I have a feeling I might be using it a lot over the next few weeks!
st by Juliet Barker about the English Kingdom of France at the end of the Hundred Years War – I’m thinking GRR Martin might have based a lot of his history of Westeros on these events – terrible intrigue mired with chivalry, assassination, massacres and mystical inspiration!
Also playing Crusader Kings 2 – not sure how I missed this before – shines a light on the convoluted personal politics of the Middle Ages like no other game I have played – the combat system is rubbish (just sums!) Will probably blog about this a bit more sometime.
So this week since the last post I have been concentrating on research rather than writing. I decided that I need to commit to getting the sequel to By the Sword’s Edge out at some point soon – and the only way to do that is to firm up some research on the Pontvallain campaign of 1370, which is the stories setting.
And the other major part of the research programme has been to look up some of the primary sources for the campaign so I can get to grips with some more of the detail. I have used Jonathan Sumption’s Divided Houses as a starting point to get primary source references. Again I’ll probably post a list of these and their availability at some point as well.
That’ it. Will probably post more infrequent – perhaps a couple of times a week.
Divided Houses is the third volume in Jonathan Sumption’s epic history of the Hundred Years War – the war that everyone knows didn’t really last a hundred years – more like 117. However, one could argue that with the various truces and peace efforts that’s not quite the case. Divided Houses at first glance looks like it might cover one of the less glamorous periods of the war – there’s no headline English victory to write about – no Crecy, Poitiers, or Agincourt. Despite this, or perhaps because of this lack of a landmark battle distracting from the rest of the narrative, what is recounted is completely compelling. The period from 1369 to 1399 was a period of conflict and strife not just between the main two participants – France and England, but also internally in both countries as well. This was the period of the decline of Edward III, the Peasant’s revolt, and the deposition of Richard II in England. While in France power politics amongst the King’s relatives and generals and a bout of madness that lasted most of Charles VI’s reign add to the intrigue.
The narrative is also compelling because it really shows how unrealistic the war with France was for England – they just couldn’t afford it. But even France, who at last got their taxation together and built up some massive armies and fleets to invade England, saw those plans crumble to dust in the face of political uncertainty and bad weather.
There are also the sideshows of the war in Spain and Portugal, where the feudal ambitions of John of Gaunt failed and the Portuguese won their landmark battle of nationhood – Aljubarrota. But for me one of the most interesting sections is on the situation in Gascony, where because of the war a state of chaos reigned. Knights and nobles indulged in what can only be described as gangster-like activities – forcing towns to pay them protection money – or patis – or suffer the consequences. Local counts and dukes used the very same robber barons to form armies to fight various causes – whether in the national wars between France and England, or to supposedly put an end to the problem of outlawry.
Sumption tells his story of these years with an admirable combination of narrative skill while never skimping on interesting detail and exhaustive research. Divided Houses is an essential history of one of the more overlooked periods of the Hundred Years War.
Some of my fiction related to the Hundred Years War
This is one of my favourite periods of history. In fact I have several stories written during the the 1370s. These are:
I think this is a new title! It’s not always easy to tell after all – for instance there seems to be another title by Nigel Saul The Age of Chivalry, but this is only 144 pages, so I am guessing is something quite different? But then again there is also For Honour and Fame by the same author – see the related articles at the end of this post.
There is a wealth of information on Amazon.com about the book, including lots of glowing reviews. I have read Nigel’s book on Richard II and remember very much enjoying, so I am sure that this and anything else he might have published on Chivalry will be good too!
Nigel Saul takes a relatively benign view of medieval noblemen. He rejects the once-fashionable notion that war was all about money and land, and that chivalry was just tinsel. And, although he sees a steep decline in standards in the last medieval century, he thinks that chivalric values did have a real influence in civilizing the conduct of war. Whether one agrees with this or not, his is a view that commands respect. He is a historian with a rare gift for seeing the human lives behind the rather formulaic and impersonal sources of medieval history, and he has written widely about aristocratic culture…Saul can make the most unpromising material speak to us with a directness that can surprise even those who are already familiar with it. This is a rich book that does ample justice to its complex theme. –Jonathan Sumption (Sunday Times 20110626)
The author of this sparkling book that “puts chivalry centre-stage” explains its substantial contribution to the development of Western civilization through links to the practice of treating prisoners of war with compassion, to the growth of individualism and even to the modern cult of celebrity. –Christopher Silvester (Daily Express 20110711)
Splendid…Saul has drawn heavily on what he calls this “rich repertory of contemporary witness” to illuminate the relationship between chivalry and the political, military, social and artistic currents of the time. The result is a wide-ranging examination of how the ethos of chivalry defined and shaped knightly culture…As this book so ably demonstrates, [chivalry] influenced every aspect of knightly life: without it, the Middle Ages would have been not only duller and darker, but even more brutal. –Juliet Barker (Mail on Sunday 20110722)
An entirely original project, and in [Saul’s] hands it proves illuminating…[A] brilliant book. The skill and scholarship with which he has done so fully justify his claim at its opening that chivalry was a major factor throughout the narrative history of medieval England from before the time of Richard I to the aftermath of that of Edward III. Chivalry has often been neglected by historians in that story; Nigel Saul’s vivid and exciting study should make sure that it can never again be left out of the account. –Maurice Keen (Literary Review )
The era of chivalry was the idealized fantasy that grew out of the military superiority of the armed horseman, and which lasted roughly between the invention of the stirrup and the invention of gunpowder. Nigel Saul is just the right person to tell the story as experienced in England…One of the strengths of his new book is its attention to the visual and the material. The knights of England had property and wealth, and they flaunted them. Chivalry was not only a code of behavior but a style honed both on the battlefield and in impressive residences…Interest in chivalry was revived in the Victorian cult of things medieval, aesthetic as well as moral in scope. It inspired such initiatives as the Marquess of Queensberry’s rules and the codification of laws of war, which Saul links to the later formulation of the Geneva convention. Yet lampoons of chivalry are equally powerful, as epitomized by John Tenniel’s drawings of ungainly knights on horseback that illustrated Through the Looking Glass. That unyielding parody has given us the chivalry of Monty Python and Spamelot, and recently a new Camelot too. Nigel Saul’s clear-sighted history makes these survivals all the more apparent, and all the more puzzling. –Miri Rubin (The Guardian )
Product Description Popular views of medieval chivalry—knights in shining armor, fair ladies, banners fluttering from battlements—were inherited from the nineteenth-century Romantics. This is the first book to explore chivalry’s place within a wider history of medieval England, from the Norman Conquest to the aftermath of Henry VII’s triumph at Bosworth in the Wars of the Roses.
Saul invites us to view the world of castles and cathedrals, tournaments and round tables, with fresh eyes. Chivalry in Medieval England charts the introduction of chivalry by the Normans, the rise of the knightly class as a social elite, the fusion of chivalry with kingship in the fourteenth century, and the influence of chivalry on literature, religion, and architecture. Richard the Lionheart and the Crusades, the Black Death and the Battle of Crecy, the Magna Carta and the cult of King Arthur—all emerge from the mists of time and legend in this vivid, authoritative account.
Here’s some more details from the publisher’s website.
Divided Houses is a tale of contrasting fortunes. In the last decade of his reign Edward III, a senile, pathetic symbol of England’s past conquests, was condemned to see them overrun by the armies of his enemies. When he died, in 1377, he was succeeded by a vulnerable child, who was destined to grow into a neurotic and unstable adult presiding over a divided nation.
Meanwhile France entered upon one of the most glittering periods of her medieval history, years of power and ceremony, astonishing artistic creativity and famous warriors making their reputations as far afield as Naples, Hungary and North Africa.
Contemporaries in both countries believed that they were living through memorable times: times of great wickedness and great achievement, of collective mediocrity but intense personal heroism, of extremes of wealth and poverty, fortune and failure. At a distance of six centuries, as Jonathan Sumption skilfully and meticulously shows, it is possible to agree with all of these judgments.