Sunday, May 07, 2006

More Than Agincourt: Resources




Though the Hundred Years War was long ago, there is considerable interest among historians today. The best part is that the current crop of historians are not simply rehashing the work of previous generations. I'll share a few valuable print resources and then pass on some useful web resources too.

For a general history one can always grab a standby, such as Desmond Seward's venerable The Hundred Years War: England in France 1337-1453 or A.H. Burne's two volumes, The Crecy War and The Agincourt War. However, the best work extent is by Jonathan Sumption's two books The Hundred Years Fire I: Trial by Battle and The Hundred Years War II: Trial by Fire. These books do an excellent job of helping the reader understand the social and economic factors faced by both nations while trying to prosecute the war. Sumption also focuses considerably more on the war in Guienne, a much overlooked theater in previous writing on the war. The only disappointment is that volume II only takes us to 1361. More is coming. Sumption draws on a greater range of sources than previous general histories have, and thus we understand the conflict better from both French and English perspectives.

There are lots of battle histories, biographies, and books on weapons and armor. However Arms, Armies and Fortifications in the Hundred Years War, edited by Anne Curry and Michael Hughes is a superb collection of essays that focuses on a wide range of military topics. Originally published in 1994, the essay topics run a wide range from battle tactics, army composition and the employment of artillery. Scholarly and dense, these are not for the faint of heart. However the contributors broaden and deepen our knowledge of battle in the Hundred Years War.

Two excellent battle histories are must reads for this period. Both put a new spin on old battle reports. First, Anne Curry's 2005 book, Agincourt: A New History challenges old assumptions about the battle. Chief among these is that the English were horribly outnumbered. She puts the French with a numerical advantage, but drawing on English pay records, the English were probably only outmanned by 1.5 to 1. Curry also rexamines the deployment and role of the archers. Finally Curry asserts that the French were not dunderheaded fools that marched blindly into mud, stakes and an arrow storm. She recounts at least three steps the French took to deal with the archers and the threat they posed. An excellent read.

The other battle book I highly recommend is Crecy, 1345, edited by Andrew Ayton and Michael Preston. This collection of essays challenges most of what we've accepted about this pivotal battle of the European history. Among the most important assertions the contributors make include:

1. Edward III wanted to bring the French to battle, and did so on ground of his choosing.
2. The nature of what is presumed to be the battlefield is in conflict with description in the sources. The traditional French approach is, in fact, not passable. The French entered the valley and into a slaughter pen.

The book follows with an incredibly interesting essay on English organization, particularly the possible nature of English mixed arrays of archers and men at arms.

Finally, it is impossible to close without mentioning a couple of old chestnuts. First, Barbara Tuchman's A Distant Mirror remains a wonderful recounting of the 14th century in Europe, particularly in France. Tuchman explores all of the larger issues that help give context and meaning to the Hundred Years War. Though it is now dated, John Keegan's brilliant description of Agincourt at the soldier's level in The Face of Battle is one of magnets that drew me into my HYW obsession.

There are also a couple of noteworth web sources that are definitely worth the reader's while. First, take a look at De Re Militari at http://www.deremilitari.org/ This is the scholarly organization of medieval military history. Their website is full of valuable information and useful links. Ian Croxall's excellent Warflag website http://www.warflag.com/ and its accompanying yahoogroup have a number of useful flags to download and print out. Another great source for flags is the Danish Miniature Wargamers page, http://www.krigsspil.dk./ Though the site is mostly in Danish (surprise) follow the downloads link and you'll have access to their excellent work.

Next: Figures

1 comment:

Peter Konieczny said...

Thanks for the plug on De Re Militari. We are about to set up on our site a pair of articles on the battle of Crecy (actually chapters from two different books). A link to the pdf is already available on our own blog.