Reviewed by Jim
Like many people, I first read about the Hundred Years War in Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century (which I got totally by accident because I mixed the title up with A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America which I was supposed to read for a college class), a hefty tome that takes you through all the four horsemen of the apocalypse as they ride across 14th century Europe.
That is what caught my attention about Gordon Corrigan’s A Great and Glorious Adventure: A History of the Hundred Years War and the Birth of Renaissance England: it just looks at the war, and does so in a concise and easy to follow manner. This is good because the Hundred Years War is complicated. You would expect that from a war that lasted throughout three generations and went through multiple rulers. Corrigan does an excellent job of breaking down who all the players are, and explains how the King of England could reasonably claim to be the rightful ruler of France (the nominal cause of the war). The descriptions of how wars were fought in the 14th century are equally good. He takes you through all the different types of soldiers from knights down to Welsh daggermen, and goes through what they did and how much they were paid. Battles are painstakingly analyzed but with an eye towards the lives of the participants. Corrigan also manages to pull in interesting facts. For example, he notes that Edward III bought 300,000 arrows for use by his 10,000 archers in his first campaign in France; he then notes how many geese it would have taken to fletch those arrows, which is great for putting into perspective the economic cost of the war. There are also maps and illustrations.
The frustrating aspect of this book (which is not the author’s fault) is that in many cases Corrigan does not know what happened and is forced to speculate. For example, the battle of Cracey; one of the seminal battles of the war, no one knows exactly where it happened. He makes an educated guess based on descriptions from the time period. This speculative nature can be a little frustrating, but it is something that any scholar of the Hundred Years War has to deal with.