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Michael Parker

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PostPosted: Sat 13 Oct, 2012 5:52 pm    Post subject: books/articles about medieval ethics in warfare         Reply with quote

Hi everyone, relating to my John Hawkwood thesis thread, I was wondering if anybody has read or reviewed "By Sword and Fire: Cruelty and Atrocity in Medieval Warfare" (Cassell Military Paperbacks) by Sean McGlynn. This guy is a lecturer in history for the Open University and the University of Plymouth at Strode College and contributes to the BBC history magazine, and also wrote a book called "Blood Cries Afar: The Forgotten Invasion of England, 1216". This first book sounds interesting being potentially valuable for my thesis, and some of the user reviews on websites were positive and detailed, but I haven't been able to find any review by a military history or medieval history publication and that makes me unsure whether to buy it. I am hoping that it is of a good enough academic standard that I could cite it as a source or learn from the examples it contains but I don't know. Has anybody got information about this book's quality?

Besides this, are there other books that include good sources and interpretations of medieval military ethics that would be useful for me to read?

In fact, maybe a better question would be: is there another website or forum besides myArmoury where it would be more appropriate to ask people to recondite medieval history books or articles, so that I'm not bugging people about non arms and armor related stuff in the forum?

"This is a sharp medicine, but it is a physician for all diseases and miseries."
-Sir Walter Raleigh, upon being allowed to see the ax that would behead him, 29 October 1618
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Ruel A. Macaraeg

Joined: 25 Aug 2003

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PostPosted: Sat 13 Oct, 2012 8:34 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I've read this book, and while it's meant for a lay audience I think it's both good on its own and as a corrective to all the popular books that glorify European chivalry. There are citations, and though I haven't vetted them myself my instincts all say this is a work of quality -- it reads as real academic works do. I recommend it.

One passage at the beginning is worth mention, which I use to introduce my own notes on Anglo-French knights of the early Hundred Years War:
* McGlynn 2008 p xi
"The myth of chivalry has proven persistent. The allure of Chaucer's 'verray, parf[a]it gentil knyght' remains irresistible for its image of a powerful warrior devoted to the ideals of bravery, honour, loyalty and self-sacrifice, all in the service not just of his lord or lady, but also for his role as protector of the weak, the elderly, the young and the defenceless. That Chaucer could describe his knight in such terms appears initially to military historians as a contradiction in terms: a gentle knight was not much use on the battlefield. Chaucer was writing in the second half of the fourteenth century, at a time when the ravages of the Hundred Years War and violent peasant uprisings had racked England and France with breathtaking brutality .... Chaucer, with his high connections and travels across Europe, was well aware of these brutalities. . His 'parfait, gentil knyght' was a call to an idealized version of knighthood, prompted by the horrors of endemic warfare and social unrest.
"Chaucer was following in the tradition of a long line of medieval writers who sought to mitigate the excesses of war in the Middle Ages through an appeal to the nobler instincts of knights. This literary genre ... explores medieval writers' attempts at reform in calling for a return to the true values of chivalry. However, at the same time, other writers were calmly accepting -- or, indeed, were encouraging -- the waging of war against non-combatants as the most practical way to achieve victory, even going so far as to justify these measures as being in accordance with chivalric values."

Note: There was a review of this book in Renaissance Magazine about two years ago, but that publication is not scholarly.
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Timo Nieminen

Location: Brisbane, Australia
Joined: 08 May 2009
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PostPosted: Sun 14 Oct, 2012 2:19 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

From your thread title, I was going to suggest the very book you're asking about! I haven't read it.

There's a review in History, Volume 94, Issue 314, pages 230231, April 2009. (Haven't read the review myself.)

You might also like to read:

R. Cox, Asymmetric warfare and military conduct in the Middle Ages, Journal of Medieval History, Volume 38, Issue 1, 2012, pages 100-125

W. Urban, Teutonic Knights, which discusses the use of atrocity in the Northern Crusades.

"In addition to being efficient, all pole arms were quite nice to look at." - Cherney Berg, A hideous history of weapons, Collier 1963.
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Mark T

PostPosted: Mon 15 Oct, 2012 4:52 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote


You may want to check out Chivalry and violence in medieval Europe, Richard W. Kaeuper, 2001.

Chief Librarian/Curator, Isaac Leibowitz Librarmoury

Schallern sind sehr sexy!
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Michael Parker

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PostPosted: Mon 15 Oct, 2012 7:15 pm    Post subject: Tentative Works Cited         Reply with quote

I'm working on a tentative bibliography here. Along with good ones like Caferro and Keen I've included more controversial works that I potentially disagree with, such as Chaucer's Knight by Terry Jones and The Devil's Broker by Frances Stonor Saunders because I'm interested in the reasons that historians come to different conclusions. Here is my working bibliography which includes works that I have as well as ones that I don't:

Caferro, William. John Hawkwood: An English Mercenary in Fourteenth-Century Italy. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 2006. Print.

Fowler, Kenneth. Medieval Mercenaries, Volume I: The Great Companies. Vol. I. Oxford: Blackwell, 2001. Print. Medieval Mercenaries.

France, John. Mercenaries and Paid Men: The Mercenary Identity in the Middle Ages : Proceedings of a Conference Held at University of Wales, Swansea, 7th-9th July 2005. Leiden: Brill, 2008. Print.

Jean, Le Bel. The True Chronicles of Jean Le Bel, 1290-1360. Trans. Nigel Bryant. Woodbridge (Suffolk): Boydell, 2011. Print.

Jones, Terry. Chaucer's Knight: The Portrait of a Medieval Mercenary. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1980. Print.

Kaeuper, Richard W. Chivalry and Violence in Medieval Europe. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1999. Print.

Keen, Maurice. The Laws of War in the Late Middle Ages,. London: Routledge & K. Paul, 1965. Print.

Mallett, Michael Edward. Mercenaries and Their Masters; Warfare in Renaissance Italy. Totowa, NJ: Rowman and Littlefield, 1974. Print.

McGlynn, Sean. By Sword and Fire: Cruelty and Atrocity in Medieval Warfare. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2008. Print.

Saunders, Frances Stonor. The Devil's Broker: Seeking Gold, God, and Glory in Fourteenth-century Italy. New York, NY:
Fourth Estate, 2004. Print.

Tuchman, Barbara Wertheim. A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century. New York: Knopf, 1978. Print.

Tuck, Anthony. "Why Men Fought in the 100 Years War." History Today 33.4 (1983): n. pag. History
Today. Web. 15 Oct. 2012. <>.

Wright, Nicholas. Knights and Peasants: The Hundred Years War in the French Countryside. Woodbridge, Suffolk, UK: Boydell, 1998. Print.

"This is a sharp medicine, but it is a physician for all diseases and miseries."
-Sir Walter Raleigh, upon being allowed to see the ax that would behead him, 29 October 1618
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Elnathan Barnett

Location: The vicinity of Asheville, NC
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PostPosted: Tue 16 Oct, 2012 4:10 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

You might also find this one helpful:

Gillingham, John. "War and Chivalry in the History of William the Marshal." In Anglo-Norman Warfare: Studies in Late Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Norman Military Organization and Warfare, ed. Matthew Strickland, 251-63. Rochester, NY: The Boydell Press, 1992.

There is also this, from the de re militari website:

Strickland, Matthew J., Killing or Clemency? Ransom, Chivalry and Changing Attitudes to Defeated Opponents in Britain and Northern France, 7-12th centuries from Krieg im Mittelalter (2001)

In addition, among my own very humble contributions to history writing is a MA thesis on the connection between blood feuding and warfare in Anglo-Saxon England,600-800, which dealt in part with the ethics of warfare. That seems pretty far out of your time period, though.

Therfor he seide to hem, But now he that hath a sachel, take also and a scrippe; and he that
hath noon, selle his coote, and bigge a swerd.
- Luke 22:36, John Wycliffe's translation AD 1384
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