Desperta Ferro Antigua y Medieval n.º32: La Guerra de los Cien Años (Albright)

Desperta Ferro Antigua y Medieval n.º32: La Guerra de los Cien Años (I)

(Desperta Ferro Ediciones, 2016) 7€


For understandable reasons, the Hundred Years’ War is a particularly noteworthy subject within English and French language historiography concerning the late Middle Ages.  However, it is not always understood that this war was important for other areas outside of its main combatants, and this popular magazine demonstrates the importance of the Hundred Years’ War in the context of Spanish historiography.  Although the articles in this magazine are largely translations of English or French-language writings, Spain did have a notable role in the conflict in at least two ways.  This particular issue, the first in a series on the war, shows the relevance of family connections to the dispute over the crown of France, and includes Navarre, a region of Spain.  Additionally, during a period of truce between France and England there was a major battle in Najera where the French and English fought on behalf of different claimants to the throne of Castille.  It is unclear how many issues are planned to cover this war as a whole, but it would appear that at least three or four would be necessary to cover the whole topic, and maybe more, based on the contents of this magazine itself.

As a popular magazine of military history published in Spain, this is a great deal different than most materials one would find on the Hundred Years’ War.  For one, the magazine is written in Spanish, making it accessible only to those who read Spanish.  Additionally, the content of a magazine of 70 pages is somewhat limited given the need of the magazine publisher to make money.  There are, as one might expect, pages of advertisements for miniatures, historical games, and other offerings by the publisher as well as a case for historical collectibles.  There is also a section for book reviews, showing that the intended readership of this book is at least bilingual if not trilingual as there are book reviews of English and French books included among the contents here about subjects in Ancient and Medieval history.  The magazine also includes a teaser of the next issue by giving a discussion of the importance of the memory of Alexander in the classical and postclassical tradition as an inspiration for military leaders.  In addition, there is a brief editorial at the beginning of the magazine that summarizes the material for the reader, including discussion on various social crises that influenced the start of the war.  For example, concerning the social context of the period, the editor writes:  “Los campesinos comenzaron a roturar terrenos marginales, cuyo rendimiento era muy pobre.  Mucha gente y pocas tierras (3),” pointing out the fact that overpopulation in Western Europe during the early 14th century led many country folk to bring marginal lands into cultivation where crop yields were poorer.  Even with the space constraints of being a magazine, the material seeks to place the Hundred Years’ War in a larger context.

The great majority of the contents of this magazine, though, are in its articles and these articles are written at a high level of scholarship. Within this issue there are articles on the remote origins of the conflict, the somewhat slow beginning of the war, the question of military technology of the English longbow as opposed to the crossbow, the Battle of Crecy, knightly and aristocratic ideals, the war on the sea, and the siege of Calais, with which this volume ends. Throughout the volume there are detailed drawings of ships and weapons, a large variety of excellent maps that give the internal borders of France and surrounding areas as well as the campaigns and individual battles like Crecy, Sluys, and the siege of Calais. The scholarship of the articles is at a high level, as the articles are written by professors of medieval history at universities in England, France, and the United States, including such names as Kelly DeVries and David Nicolle. The writers include primary sources like Foissart and the De Re Militari and also a substantial amount of solid secondary sources on the early phases of the war. Readers who are interested in the articles and their contents are therefore pointed to other sources that would give the reader longer and more detailed information on the contents included.

Overall, I was surprised by the quality of this magazine. As someone who is familiar with the level of popular historical magazines concerning subjects of American history (particularly the Civil War), I thought that this particular volume would be on the same light and was pleased to find that the translations were good and that the scholarship was at a university level. This magazine is aimed at well-educated general audiences interested in medieval and ancient military history. The materials included here provide a nuanced interpretation of history that includes warfare on land and on sea, and that not only includes battle studies but also seeks to provide some insight into the relationship between war and society and the experience of war for combatants and civilians. This is likely the sort of magazine that would encourage a deeper appreciation of the study of warfare as being important in shaping societies and even civilizations, and this magazine appears to have been written and organized in a very thoughtful way. To be sure, much of the text is demanding, and those who read this magazine would need to have a solid working grasp of Spanish, but for those who wish to appreciate Spanish-language popular history on the Hundred Years’ War and many other subjects, this magazine offers a good source that can help demonstrate how scholarly research is mediated to the general population in shorter articles that summarize the insights and conclusions of contemporary scholars. Students of the Hundred Years’ War will find much to enjoy and appreciate in this magazine, as long as they can understand Spanish well enough. Hopefully future volumes of this magazine that deal with areas of the conflict in Spain itself will include some noteworthy Spanish-language historiography on Najera and the dynastic conflicts of late 14th century Spain, areas which increase the scope of the Hundred Years’ War far beyond the areas that are usually considered.

Nathan Albright
Norwich University

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