The history of war in later medieval Europe continues to generate important studies. So it should, given the centrality of war to the self-perception of the ruling elites, its importance in the activity of contemporary states and its dire effects on those regions where it was at its most intense. These two books exemplify two of the different approaches taken by scholars to investigate military activity. One analyses a set of military institutions in their social context over a long span of time and the other a set of events and the deeper structures and attitudes which they reveal. Though widely researched, each rests primarily on a single unusually rich body of archives—one, the accounts kept by towns in the Low Countries, the other the records of military expenditure and supporting documents kept by the English Exchequer. Laura Crombie, in the first of these books under review, paints on the larger canvas of the two, producing the most wide-ranging study available in any language of the shooting guilds characteristic of later medieval northern France and the Low Countries. Though her detailed research is on Flanders—a good choice, given not only the richness of the urban records she uses, but also the density of guilds in the county and the fact that they are the earliest documented in the whole region—she makes comparisons throughout with guilds in other provinces. Playing on the different strengths of the archives for different towns and villages, she succeeds in relating the guilds to a series of themes in social and political life. The guilds clearly had a real military role, providing expert manpower for the defence of urban walls or the elimination of armed threats in the immediate vicinity of the towns and populating contingents provided by the towns to the armies of successive counts. Yet they were not the same as the town militias, which mobilised the wider population, or the paramilitary policing bodies such as the White Hoods of Ghent or the Red Hoods of Bruges. While they probably originated in the thirteenth century and are first visible competing with one another in the early fourteenth, they soon cultivated suitably august and martial foundation myths, tying themselves to the crusades or even the Merovingian kings. Their membership can best be studied in detail at Bruges. Entrance fees, entrance oaths, municipal supervision and a requirement for skill in arms set significant economic, reputational, moral and martial bars on entry, but in practice even the shooting members (never mind the women and children who were also enrolled but did not shoot) came from a wide cross-section of urban society. Patricians and court noblemen shot alongside aldermen and craftsmen, though the more luxurious trades tended to be better represented than the humbler, and there were even some labourers. While brotherhood was stressed within each guild, with much communal drinking and some mixing of social ranks in the seating plans at guild feasts, there was a hierarchy between guilds, older guilds outranking those ‘younger’, or more recently founded, and crossbowmen a cut above archers. Guilds functioned as religious confraternities, often dedicated to St George or St Sebastian. They filled their chapels in various parish churches with works of art as well as the prizes of silverware won in inter-town shooting contests, had commemorative masses said for departed brethren and sponsored charitable works, including a hospital at Ghent. Town councils were proud of their guilds, granting them prime sites for their shooting grounds, sponsoring their travel to compete in other towns and giving them a role in civic processions. Noblemen too were drawn to them, some joining several big city guilds, others sponsoring guilds in the small towns and villages on their estates. Successive counts granted charters and privileges to guilds and deigned to take part in their shooting contests. At their grandest these were spectacular events: Ghent in 1498, where Philip the Fair himself shot (a scene immortalised in a printed chronicle of 1531), is the instance analysed in fullest detail. Invitations were extended across the Low Countries and into France and guild teams competed to make the most sensational entry, bringing decorated wagons or barges with musicians and jesters, plays and tableaux-vivants, and sometimes advertising their town’s manufacturing muscle by wearing its signature luxury cloth. These contests, Crombie argues persuasively, served to bind together the urban networks of the Low Countries, between the great towns, along the big rivers and the trade routes, and among the satellite towns and villages of each great town. They seem to have been especially important in restoring relationships after war and rebellion, for example in the wake of the Ghent War of 1453, and they were at one point, admittedly in the more classically minded sixteenth century, compared to the Olympic Games. Nicholas Gribit’s book is more of a miniature, focusing on one extended campaign, but is none the less instructive. Henry of Lancaster’s expedition to Aquitaine was the first successful English land campaign of the Hundred Years War, paving the way for Crécy and Poitiers, and, with the help of newly identified sources and fresh perspectives, Gribit is able to take our understanding of it well beyond that established by Kenneth Fowler in his standard biography of the earl. He sets the expedition in the context of the war and of Henry’s career, but his main focus is on Henry’s army and the way it was raised, funded and deployed. Henry of Lancaster’s ‘super-retinue’, it is shown, was a forerunner of those raised after 1369 by such lords as his son-in-law John of Gaunt. It was assembled using both commissions of array and sub-contracts, enabling him to draw in large bodies of infantry from Wales and Lancashire and to draw on the recruitment networks of experienced knights and bannerets for men at arms and mounted archers. The connections he drew on to recruit match those revealed by other fine-grained studies of bastard feudal power and its relationship to the English military machine as it took shape under the first three Edwards. Members of his household, indentured retainers and men from families who had served successive earls of Lancaster combined to form ‘a settled team of warriors’—so much so that three-quarters of the bannerets with him in 1345 had served with him before and more than a third of the knights had been with him in Scotland nine years earlier. Links of kinship, inter-marriage and local neighbourhood bound many in the retinue to one another as well as to the earl. Some had started their military careers as long ago as 1301, some served for as long as fifty-one years, but there was a clear centre of gravity in a military community forged in the wars of the 1330s who saw out Edward III’s great adventure until the treaty of Brétigny. What the English records can shed less light on is the composition of the Gascon half of Lancaster’s force, though there is again some interesting evidence on the continuity of service by Gascon lords. The remarkable financial records also enable a reconstruction of the challenges involved in paying an English army from English revenues to serve on the far side of the Bay of Biscay, challenges by and large well met by a system that was ‘flexible, professional and well-oiled’, one in which the captains’ attorneys and pay-clerks were as vital as the heroes on horseback. The planning that made sure the army had enough wood to build fifty temporary bridges as it manœuvred through Aquitaine played no small part in the success of the earl’s campaigns. But that should not lead us to underestimate his tactical and strategic skill, as chapters on the campaigning of 1345 and 1346 show. Lancaster moved fast, concentrated and divided his forces with skill, prosecuted sieges vigorously, played to the strengths of English archery, mounted surprise attacks and saw how to dominate large areas of territory by overrunning numerous small strongholds. He was, as the newly discovered Saint-Omer chronicle puts it, ‘so successful in war’, and he knew how to enjoy the rewards, spending the profits of his plunder and prisoners on his splendid London Savoy Palace. No book is perfect. Whether anyone should have spotted the occasional jarring errors in these volumes—Calais recaptured by the French five years earlier than it actually was, in one, significant numbers of spelling mistakes in languages other than English (including thirteen in one article title), in the other—we should perhaps leave to those who speculate on the existence, and the loss, of a golden age of academic publishing. In other respects Boydell and Brewer are to be congratulated on continuing to produce handsome academic books on medieval history and on encouraging young scholars to produce fluently written, cogently argued texts to fill them. © Oxford University Press 2018. All rights reserved. This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)
The English Historical Review – Oxford University Press
Published: Jun 5, 2018
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