Nicolle — European Medieval Tactics (2) (Fields)

David Nicolle

European Medieval Tactics (2): New Infantry, New Weapons 1260-1500

Elite189 (Osprey, 2012) 64pp $18.95 978-1-84908-739-1


OS9189-2David Nicolle’s book European Medieval Tactics (2): New Infantry, New Weapons 1260-1500 is from Osprey Publishing in the United Kingdom.  Some additional illustration work was provided by Adam Hook. Generally Osprey books are targeted at the enthusiast for the field of military history. This particular volume is a second part of the two-part series on European Medieval Tactics. A book attempting to describe the tactics of two and a half centuries of the medieval period was an incredibly ambitious project, and one that was carried out here with mixed results.

The first thing noticed when the book was opened was the pictures. It was rare to find a page without one.  For someone not comfortable with the more erudite examples of academic writing this would undoubtedly be a comforting sight. This comforting sight can be somewhat treacherous, however, as the pictures often do not support the discussion on the page which they appear.  For instance pages 8-9 have three pictures of some types of armor from the fourteenth century. The text on the pages does not discuss armor and why these pictures are placed here is not explained.  A better job is done on the inserts having to do with particular battles. These typically break down a battle with events marked with a capital letter, and depict to whole battle with either a map of the battlefield or a painting by Adam Hook. While Hook’s paintings are very attractive the battles explained by maps seem somewhat more effective (6-7).

Something to be praised is that the book does not get bogged down in the Hundred Years War, which could easily dominate the discussion. Nicolle manages to include other regions which receive less popular attention such as Italy, Spain and Hungary.  For a book which is targeted at hobbyists from the English-speaking world this is quite unexpected and gives it a great authority as the survey it claimed to be. Yet the information managed to be conveyed in those sections was no more in depth than any other section of the book.  The overall weakness is that the complete text of the book–with the sidebar texts–is only fifty-eight pages. The discussion is therefore quite brief and has to spend most of its time naming what developments happened in different regions at different times and very little time describing how they came to be. Tactics are somewhat evolutionary and the text with its focus naming aspects of the period’s development the evolution of the period is absent. It also lack footnotes that would make it easier to follow up on a topic that catches the eye of the reader. The weakness of footnotes could be balanced by the easy to read bibliography, but like the pictures earlier, this can be somewhat misleading since the author only has thirty-three sources listed, none of them primary.  They do however come from languages other English, and the date of the listed sources does include more recent works.

For certain readers, these problems may not be as serious. The work was short and easy to understand. The pictures did not always sync perfectly with the text around them but they did display artifacts which could be helpful to someone reading for enjoyment.  While the state of the footnotes and bibliography may not inspire confidence from experienced academics, there appears nothing untoward.  It was just not a book which can be used to advance research on any of the topics it discussed. What it can be used for is to give an audience with no background on the subject a baseline of understanding. To go deeper than the most basic information, a reader would need another book.

As a standalone book, and even with its partner, European Medieval Tactics is short.  Its inserts and pictures drew attention but ultimately their support of the project is less than ideal.  It included regions which do not often receive much attention in the popular setting and gave a Pan-European perspective. Yet the text with its brevity might not even satisfy the modern hobbyist. It was so broad it did not stop to examine in detail many of topics which might appeal to the enthusiast.  A reader who has looked at other books on medieval military history will find nothing new or surprising. They might find some interesting case studies with the inserts, along with some very capable paintings. For a novice reader with little knowledge of the field, this book could be useful. However, supplementing it with other works would provide a better more complete picture of European medieval tactics. Perhaps the biggest reason to purchase this book was its highly approachable text, which while being sparse is sure not to overwhelm a reader unfamiliar with the subject.


Devin Fields

Texas Tech University (fieldsdevina@gmail.com)

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