The term routiers or ‘gens de route’ referred to disbanded soldiers who continued to wage war illicitly for their own benefit. They formed the great companies after the peace of Brétigny (1360) and were given the evocative name of écorcheurs following the peace of Arras (1435). The (modern) concept of a mercenary is used to designate ‘professional’ soldiers who lent their service to a political power and fought in their name. Both routiers and mercenaries shared the same purpose, which was to amass wealth through the proceeds of war. Very little took place that distinguished mercenaries from the regular soldiers of the time—who were equally hired on a contractual basis, received wages and, for the most part, placed equal hopes in reaping the greatest possible profits from (legitimate) ransoms and booty. The difference highlighted in this volume is the ‘foreignness’ of the mercenaries who fought for a cause which was not that of their natural lord. Nevertheless, the line of demarcation between these categories (mercenaries, routiers and regular soldiers) was thin and easily crossed, as Kenneth Fowler has previously demonstrated. Blurring further the boundaries, Werner Paravicini suggests in this volume that even an outright mercenary could also nourish higher chivalric ideals in taking the cross. As we can see, the task set for the eminent scholars gathered at the castle of Berbiguières—to better capture the figures of routiers and mercenaries in the Hundred Years War—was no mean feat. It is a challenge that they took up very seriously and, indeed, very competently too, paying a fitting tribute to their host, Lord Sumption, to whom this volume of conference proceedings is dedicated. The collection is edited by Guilhem Pépin, Françoise Bériac-Lainé and Frédéric Boutoulle, and the majority of the contributions adopt biographical or prosopographical approaches to individuals or groups of routiers and mercenaries involved in a specific conflict or period of time. Gascon and Breton routiers are given the lion’s share. These two ‘nations’, which were heavily involved in the first phase of the Hundred Years War (1337–60), formed a pool of soldiers readily available to sovereigns and great feudatories to fight their wars, which, at times, they used as a legal umbrella to pursue their own interests. Guilhem Pépin identifies the French Massif Central as the area of predilection of the groups of Gascon routiers he identified from lists previously drawn by Kenneth Fowler and Germain Butaud. However, in this volume, one also finds both Gascon and Breton routiers fighting as mercenaries, in Provence (Germain Butaud), Bar (Michael Jones), and Italy (Christophe Masson). Some general features emerge beyond the diversity of individual destinies. First, the social origins of the routiers (and mercenaries) were relatively modest and these individuals had little opportunity for social mobility (Kelly DeVries). Armand Jamme unravels the case of an exception in the person of Bernard de la Sale who managed to enter the circle of the political elites of his time. Secondly, politics, rather than any socio-economic consideration, seemed to have carried more weight in the fates of the routiers—even more so in the case of the fifteenth-century écorcheurs (Kelly DeVries, Loïc Cazaux and Valérie Toureille). Thirdly, returning to my earlier point, the shift from routiers to mercenaries or regular soldiers seems to have been remarkably easy, as if the illicit nature of their activities as warlords had a very limited impact on their status in the eyes of the authorities, with the exception of the infamous trial and condemnation of Mérigot Marchès. Philippe Contamine reveals how the authorities preferred to negotiate the evacuation or neutralisation of the routiers in the wake of the peace of Leulighen (1389). After the peace of Tours (1444), some captains of the écorcheurs enjoyed the opportunity to reintegrate into the service of Charles VII, such as Antoine de Chabannes (Loïc Cazaux), while others, such as Robert de Sarrebrück, were pushed aside (Valérie Toureille). The contributors, as a rule, treat with care the exhausted and unanalytical narrative of the crude violence of the routiers conveyed in chronicles and administrative records. In fact, two chapters deconstruct discourses on military violence in order to unveil their political instrumentalisation (Justine Firnhaber-Baker and Pierre Prétou), while Nicolas Savy proposes an original study of the tactics of the routiers, highlighting their mastery of the attack by surprise. Four chapters more specifically focus on the figure of the mercenary and his service to royal or princely hosts, namely those of Philip VI (Françoise Bériac-Lainé), John the Fearless (Bertrand Schnerb), the dukes of Anjou (Christophe Masson) and the English kings (Anne Curry). Other ‘nations’ feature more prominently in these contributions, including the Savoyards, the Germans and the Italians. Only a few among them qualify as ‘true’ mercenaries, whose natural lords had no political connection with their foreign employer (Françoise Bériac-Lainé). Furthering this point, Bertrand Schnerb observes that the geography of recruitment correlated with the configuration of the diplomatic alliances of the duke of Burgundy. These four studies also offer valuable insights into the methods of recruitment of mercenaries (Françoise Bériac-Lainé, Christophe Masson and Bertrand Schnerb) and the potential difficulties posed by the integration of these foreign elements in royal hosts and garrisons. In particular, problems of trust, allegiance and language are strikingly revealed by different sets of measures that the English authorities took as circumstances changed in France in the first half of the fifteenth century (Anne Curry). The introduction by Jean-Philippe Genet aptly fixes the broader political framework, but the reader is left to wonder about the rationale for the organisation of the volume, which does not clearly emerge. An attempt appears to have been made to separate the routiers from the mercenaries, but this is problematic. An index would have been useful too: it would, for instance, have helped the reader better to appreciate the geographical distribution of the activities of specific ‘nations’ of routiers and mercenaries. These shortcomings are somewhat compensated for by Françoise Bériac-Lainé, who skilfully brings together the themes covered by the sixteen chapters in a solid conclusion. Taken as a whole, this volume makes a significant contribution to the historiography on routiers and mercenaries, feeding the discussion with a vast array of new material, offering fresh perspectives on the topic and paving the way for more comprehensive studies. © 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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