Nicholas A. Gribit
(Boydell, 2016) 373 pp. $99.99
For most students of the Hundred Years’ War, thoughts of campaigns and battles leads to pondering about Crècy, Agincourt, or perhaps Poitiers. Yet this book-length treatment of the far lesser known expedition of Henry of Lancaster to Aquitaine in 1345-1346 rewards those readers who are willing to investigate more obscure material with an account that is a compelling narrative of England’s first victories on foreign soil and also manages to delve deep into prosopographical material to ponder such matters as the cohesion of the English force and the social standing and regional origin of the forces of the successful English army. In this work, Gribit shows an intense focus on research, much of which he generously shares with the reader, and the result is one that will make many readers look for more of his books on the Hundred Years’ War or other topics in the future as a result of the excellence of this volume.
In its structure and form, the author makes it clear that he is writing a work that examines the relationship between war & society, and not just elite society in England, but also Welsh and English commoners, as well as natives of Aquitaine and others as well. Henry’s army brought these various groups together, and they enjoyed the spoils of victory at Bergerac and Auberoche. They also managed to overcome an immense numerical disparity the following year thanks in no small part to the tactical and strategic ineptitude of the French Duke of Normandy, whose failures here prefigured his more famous failure at Poitiers ten years later (where he ended up a prisoner of war and whose crippling ransom was a heavy burden on the French citizenry). Gribit has clearly done his research, in that he is able to place the narrow and little-known topic of choice into a larger and much more familiar context within our understanding of the Hundred Years’ War.
This volume, though, is not a narrative history but is instead organized in a thematic fashion. After some introductory notes that give abbreviations within the text and comment on the money and names, the author opens with four chapters on the recruitment and payment of soldiers in his army, with chapters on the troop types in Lancaster’s army, recruitment and composition, as well as fiscal administration. The resulting focus on logistics provides a way to see Lancaster’s achievement in recruiting such a large force under the leadership of talented and capable subordinate commanders, many of whom were well-regarded independent military leaders in their own right. The next two chapters spend about forty pages giving the narrative of the first campaign with its twin victories at Bergerac and Auberoche in 1345 as well as victory in a brutal chevauchèe to and from Poitiers and in a campaign of sieges in 1346 that helped to set up the later English victory at Crècy. The last three chapters of the book examine the formation and structure of Lancaster’s retinue in 1345, the cohesion and stability of that force through ties of vertical loyalty to Lancaster and his bannerets as well as through horizontal ties of kinship and affinity to other soldiers, and the professionalism of the English force through an examination of careers and patterns of service. Those readers who read the appendices will be rewarded with more intriguing and worthwhile information, like a transcription and translation of one of the indenture agreements of Lancaster for the campaign of 1345-1346 as well as a lengthy and detailed prosopographical catalog of the men in Lancaster’s retinue, including biographical sketches of their lives where such details are known and a citation as to where these men appear in various source material.
Readers who have a great interest in more obscure aspects of the Hundred Years’ War, and how England gained its early dominance in the conflict, would do well to examine this book as it demonstrates the multifaceted talents of Henry of Lancaster as a military commander and also show the importance of military professionalism in providing England’s forces with a key advantage. The author also demonstrates in this book that self-interest was also a major force that helped to cement the loyalty of the English forces to each other and to their commander. As Lancaster was able to provide opportunities for his soldiers to gain a great deal of wealth, the glory and honor of victorious campaigning, as well as opportunities for social advancement, it should come as little surprise that the author finds evidence that Lancaster’s troops showed a large degree of loyalty to him and that even many soldiers who had served with several commanders previously were willing to serve loyally with Lancaster after this immensely successful campaign. It is also of interest that the author finds many of Lancaster’s men rising in social rank and consequence as a result of their service to Lancaster, who appears to have valued and rewarded loyalty and whose closeness with the Plantagenet royal house can be amply backed up by the available textual evidence.
To be sure, this book is not for every reader. Those who prefer their histories to be more focused on narrative stories may not appreciate the author’s deep and detailed look into matters of logistics and research methodology or the author’s joy in discussing obscure French chronicles and detailing the careers of obscure Gascon knights or Welsh archers. That said, those who enjoy reading the works of contemporary historians like Bernard Bachrach will find much to appreciate here. This book was clearly a labor of love, and the work of someone who is skilled in handling and gaining a great deal of insight from often scanty records in multiple languages and a variety of locations. Besides text and chronicles, the author also shows tables and maps that demonstrate patterns of service and of connection between the soldiers of Lancaster’s regimes that would escape less thorough researchers and historians. For those readers who are up for the challenge, this is a book that rewards the reader with insight concerning the importance of sound leadership and also the value of professionalism in leading to military success in campaigns, with lessons that are easily applicable to other campaigns in the Hundred Years’ War and other areas of study within military history for the wise researcher.