Wednesday, July 9, 2008

By Sword And Fire - Sean McGlynn

By Sword And Fire
Sean McGlynn
Weidenfeld & Nicolson
Copyright: 2008
ISBN: 9780297846789

The product description:
For all the talk of chivalry, medieval warfare routinely involved acts that we would consider war crimes. Lands laid waste, civilians slaughtered, prisoners massacred: this was standard fare justified by tradition and practical military necessity. This popular treatment of a grisly subject examines the battles of Acre and Agincourt, sieges like BĂ©ziers, Lincoln, Jerusalem, and Limoges, as well as the infamous chevauchĂ©es of the Hundred Years War that devastated great swathes of France. Learn how these events formed the origin of accepted “rules of war”; codes of conduct that are today being enforced in the International Court of Justice in The Hague. This is an all-encompassing portrait of war in the Middle Ages that combines vivid narrative with explanation and analysis.
By Sword and Fire is certainly a different take on medieval history than many of the books I've read. Instead of chronicling the events, beliefs etc quite briefly as a lot of the general history books do, this book looks at medieval warfare, the attitudes of the time towards it and atrocities that occurred during wars. It's not exactly for the faint of heart. However, it's not overly graphic either.

Sean starts out by examining recorded cases of punishment for various crimes and the attitudes of the people towards criminals, then looks at the place of the King in all of this. It's only after he's set the stage with these relatively everyday occurrences that the book delves into soldiers behaviors.

Within the book, the author has chosen to examine specific examples of several different types of warfare: open battle, sieges and then whole campaigns, using a number of examples for each. The examples range from the campaign termed The Harrying of the North after the battle of 1066 to sieges during the Crusades.

All of the examples are well documented from chronicles of the time, generally including chronicles from both sides of the dispute so there is little bias, then the author looks at the statements made in the chronicle, such as death figures and explains how they have been interpreted over the centuries.

This book has more or less disproved the chivalric ideal of the Arthurian Romance and medieval movie.

I do recommend By Sword And Fire for anyone who is interested in medieval history.

Other medieval history books I've reviewed:
Pilgrimages - John Ure
The Worlds Of Medieval Europe - Clifford R. Backman
Reading The Middle Ages - Barbara Rosenwein
The Crusades - A Very Short Introduction - Christopher Tyerman
Life In A Medieval Village - Francis And Joseph Gies
1215: The Year Of The Magna Carta - Danny Danziger and John Gillingham

Edited in 2013 to add the product description. The rest of the review is unchanged.

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