The Black Prince and King Jean II of France: Generalship in the Hundred Years War, by Peter Hoskins, Pen & Sword Military, Barnsley, U.K., and Havertown, Pa., 2020, $34.95
Author Peter Hoskins is a Royal Air Force veteran and reputable scholar with three previous books about the Hundred Years’ War. His latest work is a mix of monographic study and narrative account divided into three parts, examining the lives of rival generals Black Prince Edward and Jean II, their command principles and their military campaigns between 1346 and ’67. The linchpin of his narrative is the 1356 Battle of Poitiers, the only direct encounter between the English prince and the French king. The impressive victory of the former, whose tactical brilliance with only 6,000 men enabled him to prevail against a force nearly twice as large, enshrined him as a legendary commander and relegated the latter to the ash heap of French royal history.
Edward of Woodstock (1330–76)—known as the “Black Prince” likely due to the color of his armor—was the eldest son and heir to Edward III, one of England’s most gifted royal military commanders. The prince apprenticed under his father’s tutelage in such notable battles as Crécy (1346) and Winchelsea (1350), while his father, son of the French Princess Isabella (portrayed beautifully but inaccurately by Sophie Marceau in the 1995 film Braveheart), pressed his dynastic claims to France by initiating the Hundred Years’ War. Jean II (1319–64) was known as “the Good” for his courage, though he was notoriously bad-tempered and among the least regarded of French kings due to his defeat at Poitiers.
Hoskins cites both Sun-tzu and modern British army doctrine to argue that good leadership is a mix of example, persuasion and compulsion, “easy to recognize but much harder to define.” Edward and Jean each drew inspiration from 5th century Roman military theorist Vegetius, whose teachings promoted the infliction of destruction and famine as a means of goading an enemy into a risky battle. The English refined this doctrine under the Black Prince, an adept, practical commander, both when conducting devastating raids and in such full-scale battles as Poitiers and, later, Nájera in Spain. By contrast, Jean failed repeatedly due to poor planning, rash decisions and lack of control over his forces.
Supporting this compelling study of medieval generalship are endnotes, a bibliography, an index, a useful appendix regarding the location of the Poitiers battlefield, excellent maps and nearly two dozen color images.
—William John Shepherd
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