Peter Hoskins with Richard Barber
(Pen & Sword, 2017) 207 pp. £14.99
Although this book is not technically labeled as part of a series, it can be considered as the third book by the author in a series dealing with touring the famous battlefields and campaign sites for the Hundred Years’ War. The previous two books the author has written: In the Steps of the Black Prince, The Road to Poitiers 1355-1356 and Agincourt 1415: A Tourist’s Guide To The Campaign are about the same subject and both also feature a strong interest in providing readers with the ability to see the lay of the land for themselves and examine the ground on which men marched, fought, and died. The author gives a co-writing credit to Richard Barber largely on account of having used to many of the historian’s books as a factual basis for the author’s tourist guide. Readers who are particularly interested in traveling through the French countryside in search of insight about the Hundred Years’ War are not only likely to find this book of considerable interest but they are also well advised to examine the author’s previous work if they find the present volume to be of value.
The author has a clear goal in mind as to his ideal audience for this book. He writes in English about one of the most glorious battles in English history to an audience of tourists who wish to follow in the footsteps of Edward III and his victorious army from their landing in Normandy to the successful conclusion of their march in Calais, which was conquered after a lengthy siege immortalized by Rodan in sculpture and well-remembered by students of medieval military history to this day. His audience is made up, moreover, not only of people who are planning on driving but also those who are cycling or walking along the route. With this audience in mind the author gives discussions about the various road conditions in detail along the march route of Edward’s army including discussions of how to avoid traffic and how to deal with the logistics of travel in France, even to the point where the author provides assistance on road signs and what they mean for the historical tourist.
The contents of this book consist of some advice for tourists and then a historical introduction of the course of the Hundred Years’ War before the author divides the course of Edward’s march across Normandy, to the Paris suburbs, and then to Calais into six tours before providing suggestions for further reading for those interested in more historical works about the Crècy campaign. Each of the first five tours is supposed to take about a day by car and longer by bike or foot, and the last of the tours is supposed to take about half a day for the site of the battle of Crècy itself. The rest of the tours cover from St. Vaast-la-Hougue to Caen, Caen to Elbeuf, Elfbeuf to Poissy, Poissy to Abbeville, and Abbeville to Calais via Crècy-en-Ponthieu. Each of the tours is divided more or less equally in terms of the area one has to cover, as an in-depth look at the medieval history of the various towns and sites involved can take some time to examine no matter which method of transportation one takes, and each tour also discusses both the English march and its conduct as well as the French response to English moves.
Among the more striking aspects of this book, asides from its excellent maps and photographs, is the way that it pays attention to the logistical demands of the march of Edward III and the logistical demands of the tourist trying to follow his path through France. The author notes that it is hard in many areas to find food and that sleeping arrangements can be tough, but a lot of assistance is provided in finding habitation rooms and knowing what to ask to make sure that one is properly fed in the course of one’s traveling. The author even notes when a town is not particularly exciting, pointing out about St. Lo, for example, that “surprisingly for a town with a population of more than 20,000, finding somewhere open in St. Lo on a Sunday morning [is] very difficult. I was told later that the town was considered a ‘dead’ town by local French residents (84).” The author is clearly someone who writes from his own experience in seeking to guide tourists, and given the dangerous or unmarked roads that a tourist would have to follow to get the feel of Edward’s march, it is probably for the best that this book exists to give tourists some help in what would otherwise be a very difficult task, especially if they did not know French well.
Among the more poignant aspects of this book is the way that it discusses how the churches and city walls and residential structures from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries in the parts of France where Edward III marched with his victorious but hungry army have often suffered from later wars, especially from damage during World War II. Many of the cities that Edward III marched through like Caen were places of severe fighting during 1944, and so the tourist in search of a mental picture of the field of battle and of marching during 1346 has to deal with the fact that other wars have made it more difficult to see the remains of the past that managed to survive Edward’s own devastating march. Hopefully those who read and appreciate this book will understand the ironies of seeking to find undamaged and intact memorials and remains of a battle in a place that has long been fought over between various nations seeking to secure their hold over Normandy and the rest of Northern France. Readers who have an interest in the Hundred Years’ War and wish to see the sights of that war will find much to appreciate in this book and many reasons to thank the author for the hard work of having provided a way for people to tour the road to Crècy and Calais via such varied means as the author shows here.