Hundred Years War: Part Two

The Hundred Years War seems like one of those historic events that always gets mentioned in passing. I suppose that shouldn't be a surprise, either you mention it in passing or you suggest your listeners get very comfortable and pack a lunch because it's going to be a long, long talk. Still, you'd think a few French or English historian would have summoned up the interest and courage to tackle this subject for the popular reading public in the last 60 years since the last major book on the subject. The only two I know of are Barbara Tuchman's A Distant Mirror and the projected 3 volume study by Jonathan Sumption.

I freely admit to trying and failing on three separate occasions to read A Distant Mirror. I always start out strong, utterly determined and, at least the first time, looking forward to another journey with Ms. Tuchman. Her The Proud Tower is one of my favorite books of popular history with The Guns of August easily in the top 20. So why can't I get much past the Truce of Calais with her? Maybe it's Enguerrand de Coucy's fault. (He is the real life vehicle she chose to tell her story.) Maybe it's her devotion to recreating battles. Maybe it's the fact that ol' Enguerrand hightails it to the Middle East midway through the book. Maybe I'm just not up to what is essentially a pretty depressing tale - Enguerrand is called the "last of the de Coucys" from the start. Whatever the problem, I haven't been able to finish it yet.

Sumption's first book on the war, Trial By Battle, is a larger commitment than Tuchman's single volume by about 150 pages and he's just getting cranked. Volume 2, Trial By Fire, is another 700 pages and Volume 3 is still to come. He is also committed to recreating battles in fine detail yet I found Trial By Battle far more readable. Odd when you consider that his books are not exactly popular history. Not that this is a quick read. It is simply well worth the effort.

Today I started Trial By Fire and already Sumption is proving this too will be worth the effort. Consider this quote: "War is without symmetry, while France was defeated, England was not victorious." Few lines have summed up the sheer futility of a war, and perhaps war in general. I'm eager to see how Sumption will handle whatever recapping of the previous volume's are necessary, that will be a test of whether this volume can stand alone. I'm also eager to just dive in and let Sumption take me back to this turbulent time.

Meanwhile I haven't given up on The Winds of War. I'm not sure what's possessed me to tackle two books about war at the same time. I'm really not that bloodthirsty, nor do I have a great tolerance for battle scenes. After this I'm going to need a few mystery novels.

No comments: