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Monday, June 26, 2017

“Medieval Warfare: A History”, edited by Maurice Keen


352 pages, Oxford University Press, ISBN-13: 978-0198206392

In Medieval Warfare: A History, Maurice Keen, a fellow in Medieval History at Balliol College, Oxford, has edited a superb compilation of essays from a worthy collection of a dozen scholars from British and Irish Colleges (with one contributor from West Point) that illustrates how the Medieval period was a singular epoch in military history – an age profoundly influenced by martial ideals, whose very structure of society was organized for war, and whose leaders were by necessity warriors. This collection spans nearly a millennium of warfare in the European theatre and environs, including Vikings, Crusades, French and English wars, and the wars of Charlemagne, an examination of over seven hundred years of European conflict. The book is divided into two broad categories: The Phases of Medieval Warfare and The Arts of Warfare; the first section explores the experience of war chronologically, with essays on the Viking age, on the wars and expansion of the eleventh and twelfth centuries, on the Crusades, and on the great Hundred Years War between England and France, while the second section traces developments in the art of warfare: fortification and siege craft, the role of armored cavalrymen, the use of mercenary forces, the birth of gunpowder artillery, and the new skills in navigation and shipbuilding. Keen's analysis is insightful and essays work well at illuminating their subject, yet each essay has its own integrity. As Keen writes in the preface: “Warfare was a formative influence on the civilization and the social structures of the European middle ages. Its history in that period is in consequence of high significance alike for those who are interested in the middle ages for themselves and for their legacy, and for those whose interest is in war and its place in the story of human development”. There are many theories on how far war has affected the development of human history, one of the strongest being that warfare is the primary driving force behind social change, political change and technological change. Keen pulls together in the last few paragraphs the themes of many of the essays, pointing the direction toward modern warfare. The contributors are obviously researchers and historians of the highest caliber, but sometimes their writing skills made it difficult to render all that was there to be gleaned. Still, the depth and breadth of the information makes this book worth the effort.

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