Medieval Warfare: England’s Army in the Wars of the Middle Ages
by Peter Reid, Running Press, 2007, $27.95.
Though Medieval Warfare only addresses warfare in and among England, Scotland and France from 1314 to 1485, it remains a sizable book. The first four chapters address general topics of army logistics, naval operations and the medieval state, while the remaining 17 offer narrative history. The author covers such major actions as Bannockburn, Calais, Crécy, Agincourt and Towton, along with the principal political themes, particularly for England and Scotland. Descriptions are often detail-laden and dramatic. The maps are excellent, especially the 11 battle illustrations. Appendices include a glossary of military terminology, bibliography, endnotes, an index and “Short Biographies of Prominent Names.”
Countering these useful features are some problems: The text is mostly narrative history based on the author’s reading of document collections and modern histories, but there is a lack of critical and historiographical analysis. The result is a nice romp through and good illustration of the complexities of medieval warfare that does little to advance the field.
Another difficulty is the book’s patriotic tone. Despite his claim to objectivity (by way of his English and Scottish blood and property owned in Gascony), Reid clearly interprets events from an English perspective. Telling is his comment in the postscript, “These [English ships] were needed to protect our coasts and our trade.” This perspective colors his view of military history, given his central and somewhat deterministic argument that “England’s armies set the standard for the period, and whenever possible their organization and tactics were followed by those of her enemies.” These are highly debatable points that obscure the complexities of Anglo-French warfare and overgeneralize the cultural and economic interchange between England and its neighbors.
Few historians of medieval warfare will accept Reid’s conclusions in the absence of documentary and scholarly analysis. That aside, those interested in the military and political character of England and its neighbors in the late Middle Ages may find his book profitable.
Originally published in the December 2008 issue of Military History. To subscribe, click here.