Michael Livingston and Kelly DeVries, eds, The Battle of Crécy: A Casebook (Smith)

Michael Livingston and Kelly DeVries, eds.

The Battle of Crécy: A Casebook

(Liverpool University Press, 2015) 524 + xiv pp. £75 / $120 (hardcover), £25 / $39.95 (paperback)

Crecy Casebook

Nothing quite encapsulates for us the seemingly pervasive wars of the later Middle Ages as well as large battles. Foremost among these in the English-speaking world are the great battles of the Hundred Years War: Crécy (1346), Poitiers (1356), and Agincourt (1415). The first of these, Crécy, in which Edward III, king of England, won a great victory over the French, has received considerable attention over the years, in both dedicated investigations and also as case studies for understanding the early phase of the war as a whole.[1] These investigations, however, heavily rely on Anglo-French sources, which are often conveniently edited and translated. Indeed, one would not think to look for reliable sources from elsewhere in Europe, as there seems little reason to think that they could contribute much that is trustworthy or not derived from information already found in well-known English or French sources. The Battle of Crécy: A Casebook, edited by Michael Livingston and Kelly DeVries, seeks to resolve this issue and thereby provide a better understanding of Crécy. It provides relevant extracts from eighty-one fourteenth-century written sources, in both original language and English translation, as well as several new essays on important aspects of the campaign and battle. This Casebook, the third in a series published by Liverpool University Press, succeeds admirably in its objectives and provides an excellent resource for both students and scholars alike.

The primary source collection takes up nearly the first four-fifths of this large volume. These sources are limited to those written in the fourteenth century, and then only those that contribute something new to the subject. Accordingly, sources with only short entries (e.g. those that simply give the date and results of the battle) and those from the fifteenth century and later are silently omitted. The extracts included are mostly limited to the battle, its immediate preliminaries, and its results shortly before the beginning of the siege of Calais, with the earlier and later portions left out. However, the sections that cover other aspects of the campaign, with particularly important details that help us to understand Edward III’s objectives and to determine the site of the battle, are also included, such as in the so-called ‘Kitchen Journal’ (20–23).

Each source is presented with both its original language text, new facing-page translations, a solid introduction, and thorough notes. Whenever possible the original texts are taken from the best editions. The only exception that I observed was for the Anonymous of Canterbury’s Chronicle (198–99), but the differences between Tait’s 1914 edition (which is used here) and Scott-Stokes’ and Given-Wilson’s 2008 Oxford Medieval Texts edition are negligible for the narrative concerned.[2] In many cases the Casebook includes texts that have rarely been considered in Anglo-American or French scholarship (e.g. German and Italian sources), and many that have never before been edited, such as William Dene’s important Rochester History (134–37).[3] Many will find these particularly invaluable. Translations are largely done by the volume’s editors to allow for a degree of consistency. They are superb and maintain the meaning and feeling of the original language texts. Most of the Latin and Middle English sources’ notes and translations are by Livingston, while most of the sources in other vernaculars are done by DeVries.[4] Other experts are used for fifteen of the other texts in the collection. For example, Godfried Croenen, co-editor of the excellent Online Froissart, provides newly edited texts of the ‘Amiens’, ‘Abridged’, and ‘B/C’ versions of Jean Froissart’s Chroniques (252–77, 276–97, 306–37). The introductions and supplementary notes help the reader to understand this wide array of complicated texts, especially considering that earlier editions pay little attention to allusive passages that are so common but often overlooked. Overall, this makes for a vibrant and solid collection of source material that will surely be used for years to come.

A number of essays by Livingston, DeVries, and others are included at the end of the volume that analyse different aspects of Crécy. These cover such subjects as the location of the battle, Bohemian participation, the Genoese crossbowmen, tactics (including a new analytical narrative of the battle by DeVries), Froissart’s ‘herce’, Italian perspectives, determining casualties, and a concluding essay on the battle’s place in the popular imagination through to the present day. These essays are very interesting and provide new insights that are greatly aided by the additional sources included in the first section of this volume. I was particularly interested in Livingston’s compelling essay that argues for re-situating the battlefield away from its traditional location to the south through an innovative approach that utilizes textual sources, local place-names, and also Edward III’s rate of march (415–38). Livingston’s later essay on the dead at Crécy (485–88) was very revealing, too, as one has no reason to suspect that casualty lists, ostensibly from widely circulated documents that should be accurate, could be incorrect at times (or most of the time, as Livingston points out). It would have been helpful here to present a large table of the casualties listed in all the sources, so that each of their inaccuracies could be clearly illustrated. As a whole, this collection of essays helpfully moves us forward from those presented in the collection edited by Ayton and Bart.

Only a few issues stand out in this Casebook. A few terms are sometimes inconsistently translated, even within the same source. For example, in the Chronicon Estense Livingston translates the Latin miles varyingly as ‘cavalry’ or ‘knight’ and pedes as both ‘foot-soldier’ and ‘infantry’, depending on the context (84–87). Although this translation for functional meaning helps the reader to better understand what is going on, it also adds an additional layer of detail and technicality (with considerable implications of discipline and organisation) that writers did not necessarily intend. This should not present much of a problem to those who can comfortably read the original language and will (or should!) routinely cross-check these particular words, but it might accidentally misinform some. However, there is no easy way around the vague meanings of some words in medieval texts.[5]

It is a monumental task to fully come to grips with so many sources, provide authoritative introductions, and perform nuanced analyses, especially considering most of these (sixty-six) are done by Livingston and DeVries themselves. Therein lies a major problem inherent to collections like this: how does one (or two in this case) assemble a comprehensive list of texts written before 1346–1400 that discuss the battle of Crécy? The obvious places to turn would be earlier works on the battle supplemented by the standard works on historical writing.[6] However, these do not provide a comprehensive list (or discussion) of sources to investigate, neither alone nor together. There is no authority on historical or political works in the period, especially those written in Latin, like there are for texts written in Anglo-Norman and Middle English.[7] Therefore, it should come as no surprise that a few sources with longer narratives of the battle are missing from this Casebook. From my own area of interest (the rhetoric of English historical and political writing, c. 1327–77) I noticed the following unedited sources with narratives on the battle missing from this collection: Anglo-Norman Brut continuation, 1307–77, Anglo-Norman Brut continuation, 1327–47, Northern Latin ‘Brut’, Brutus–1347, St Albans ‘A’ continuation of Ranulf Higden’s Polychronicon, 1343–77 (its Crécy campaign narrative is about three times as long as the standard ‘A’ continuation included in the Casebook), and the Long Kirkstall Abbey Chronicle, Vortigern–1360 (although, due to little work having been done on these sources, their dating is not entirely certain). It would have also been nice to have a short list of omitted sources (due to either being dated later or having derivative/brief narratives), as this would clearly show how nearly every historical narrative of the period thought the event important enough to mention. Only one of these is included: the so-called ‘Brief Chronicle’ (198–99), which is associated with the Eulogium Historiarum. Some connections between the texts included in the collection were not noted in their apparatuses: the Lanercost Chronicle (86–89) and the Anonimalle Chronicle (248–51) share a now lost common source for parts of their 1346 narratives with each other as well as the unedited Northern Latin ‘Brut’ (as mentioned above, this text is not included in the collection), and Crécy in the Middle English Prose Brut Common Version, 1333–77 (224–25) is simply a translation from the Latin narrative of John of Reading’s Chronicle (212–13).[8]

While minor in light of the other great work done in the Casebook, there are some features that I would have liked to see more of. Although done on occasion in the notes, it would have been useful to include a more comprehensive investigation of how certain details or narrative tropes were copied and became more or less standard in some traditions. It is clear that Edward III wanted to promote a particular vision of his campaign and victory over Philippe VI at Crécy, and it is important to consider how this was successful (or not) in certain spheres of historical writing (e.g. contrasting northern versus southern English chroniclers might have yielded interesting results). One wonders such questions as: why did some sources include certain details in their descriptions of the battle? how can we accept some of these as more reliable than others? how and why were certain untrue details repeatedly copied? can we take reliable details from one text and disregard others that disagree with our general notion of how the battle was fought? if the German and Italian writers cared enough about the battle to compose detailed narratives, why are many of these details, many of which are accepted as reliable, not found in most English or French sources? Although these issues are sometimes implicitly considered in notes or the essays, it would have been very helpful to have a solid and comprehensive analysis to aid in unpacking the intent and meaning of these sources. This would surely also have implications for understanding what actually happened at Crécy.

However, these issues and the occasional omitted source to not detract from the arguments of Livingston and DeVries on the location, conduct, or results of this major battle. The volume is already mammoth and I imagine that many of the above-mentioned concerns were not resolved at length due to the burgeoning space issues. This Casebook will surely reinvigorate the field and encourage people to look at Crécy in a new light. Although this cannot be the final word on the subject, it equips us to get closer to understanding the conduct and, indeed, the meaning of battles and war in a period of persistent conflict.

Trevor Russell Smith
University of Leeds

[1] See for example Andrew Ayton and Philip Preston Bart, eds, The Battle of Crécy, 1346 (Woodbridge: Boydell, 2005), pp. 287–350; Clifford J. Rogers, War, Cruel and Sharp: English Strategy under Edward III, 1327–1360 (Woodbridge: Boydell, 2000), pp. 217–85.

[2] Johannis de Reading et Anonymi Cantuariensis, ed. by James Tait (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1914), pp. 191–92; Anonymous of Canterbury, Chronicle, 1346–1365, ed. and trans. by Charity Scott-Stokes and Chris Given-Wilson (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2008), pp. 8–13. The use of Tait’s earlier edition was due to copyright issues, not negligence.

[3] Only two major extracts from the text concerning war have been published in the past, the first on the 1340 siege of Tournai and the second on David II’s 1346 invasion of England: Clifford J. Rogers, ‘An Unknown News Bulletin from the Siege of Tournai in 1340’, War in History, 5 (1998), 358–66; Clifford J. Rogers and Mark C. Buck, ‘The Scottish Invasion of 1346’, Northern History, 34 (1998), 51–82 (76–79). Mark Buck has been preparing an edition for Oxford Medieval Texts since at least 2000.

[4] The exceptions being Livingston for the Anglo-Norman Cleopatra Itenerary (22–27), Edward III’s letter to Thomas Lucy (54–59), William Northburgh’s letter (58–63), and Chandos Herald’s La vie du Prince Noir (232–41), as well as Tilemann Elhen’s Limburger Chronik in German (250–51), and DeVries for Gilles li Muisit’s Major Chronicle in Latin (126–31).

[5] On this important issue, see Michael Prestwich, Armies and Warfare in the Middle Ages: The English Experience (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996), pp. 12–18; John Hosler, John of Salisbury: Military Authority of the Twelfth-Century Renaissance (Leiden: Brill, 2013), pp. 12–22.

[6] For England and France (somewhat) these are John Taylor, English Historical Literature in the Fourteenth Century (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987); Antonia Gransden, Historical Writing in England II: c. 1307 to the Early Sixteenth Century (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1982); Chronicon: Medieval Narrative Sources, ed. by János M. Bak and Ivan Jurković (Turnhout: Brepols, 2013); and the occasionally updated Encyclopedia of the Medieval Chronicle, ed. by Graeme Dunphy (Leiden: Brill, 2012–14).

[7] Ruth J. Dean and Maureen B. M. Boulton, Anglo-Norman Literature: A Guide to Texts and Manuscripts (London: Anglo-Norman Text Society, 1999); A Manual of the Writings in Middle English, ed. by Burke J. Severs, Albert E. Hartung, and Peter G. Beidler, 11 vols (New Haven: Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1967–2005).

[8] On Lanercost and Anonimalle, see The Anonimalle Chronicle, 1333 to 1381: From a MS Written at St. Mary’s Abbey, York, ed. by V. H. Galbraith, rev. edn (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1970), pp. xxiv–xxx; H. S. Offler, ‘A Note on the Northern Franciscan Chronicle’, Nottingham Medieval Studies, 28 (1984), 45–59. On John of Reading and the Brut see Reading et Cantuariensis, ed. by Tait, pp. 47–52.

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