Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Review of Will a Frenchman Fight? ed. Steven Muhlberger Deeds of Arms, 4.

I'm grateful for this positive review but I wish the reviewer had said more about the main theme of the book, the often conflicting demands of military effectiveness and individual honor in the minds of men at arms of the time.
Muhlberger, Steven, ed. and trans. Will a Frenchman Fight?. Deeds of Arms, 4. Wheaton, IL: Freelance Academy Press, 2015. Pp. viii, 102. $24.95. ISBN: 978-1-937439-17-0.

Reviewed by Katherine Hodges-Kluck
University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Will a Frenchman Fight? is Steven Muhlberger's third contribution to the Deeds of Arms Series. This sourcebook focuses on the great chevauchée, or raid, led by Thomas of Woodstock, first earl of Buckingham, through French territory in 1380-81. The book opens with an 18-page introduction, followed by selections of Froissart's Chroniques and Cabaret d'Orville's 1429 Chronicle of the Good Duke. As Muhlberger explains, Cabaret received his information from the French knight Jean de Châteaumorand, who recollected the events of his youth. Together, therefore, these chronicles provide two contemporary perspectives on the raid. The book concludes with a short bibliography for further reading.
The 1380-81 chevauchée was a response to duke of Brittany Jean de Montfort's call for aid after he was exiled for opposing the French king's attempts to exert royal jurisdiction over the ducal succession in Brittany. Will a Frenchman Fight? does an excellent job of highlighting the precarious situation which de Montfort faced. Out of favor with Charles V of France and charged with treason, the duke turned to the English for assistance, only to be thwarted by his own lords who refused to accept foreign support against their fellow countrymen. The introduction and primary sources in Will a Frenchman Fight? highlight these overlapping and frequently conflicting layers of leadership and allegiances, which in turn shaped France's military response to the rebellious de Montfort and his would-be English allies.
Muhlberger's introduction begins by outlining some of the major events of the four decades leading up to Buckingham's raid, including the Black Death, the English victory at Poitiers, the capture of the French king Jean II, and the Jacquerie rebellion. Muhlberger effectively demonstrates the economic pressures that shaped Edward III's and Parliament's military decisions on the one hand, and Charles V's struggles to "re-establish royal authority" in France on the other (5). The rest of the introduction then breaks down the sequence of events for the chevauchée and discusses the varied motivations of the French and English soldiers involved in it. The author assumes some basic knowledge of the first phase of the Hundred Years War, and the major players involved. It is not until midway through the introduction, for instance, that the reader learns that Buckingham is the "son of the King of England" (13), and only in the color plate of Buckingham's coat of arms in the middle of the book that the reader finds the earl's full name and titles.
The primary source section of the book presents the events of the chevauchée in chronological order, following the English on their march through enemy territory, their largely unsuccessful attempts to engage their enemy in battle during the winter months, and finally their retreat back to the coast. The primary texts have been thoughtfully selected to highlight the nuances of the complicated political, as well as tactical, situations posed by the English presence in France. As the book's title suggests, the sources shed light on "a variety of different kinds of combat and different motives for fighting" (3). In particular, they depict the tensions between 1) open pitched battles like those of Crécy and Poitiers, which favored the English; 2) the pragmatic but unpopular scorched-earth tactics employed by both the French and the English armies at the expense of the French populace; and 3) the desire of individual knights and squires on both sides of the conflict to demonstrate chivalric honor through individual combat.
The sources are divided into eight sections, throughout which chapter numbers and titles from the original texts are included as subheadings. Six of the sections are drawn from Froissart, while the remaining two (which are relatively short by comparison) are from Cabaret's chronicle. In the first section, titled "Buckingham's Campaign Begins," Froissart describes the exchange of ambassadors between Brittany and England, and Edward III's subsequent plans for an armed expedition into France. The chronicler discusses the deployment of troops, the effects of international alliances on events, and the capture of prisoners of war. The next section, "The Confrontation at Troyes," describes the skirmishes between French and English forces outside that city. The third section, "The Deeds of Arms at Toury and Marchenoir," follows the English army's travels into Brittany and the reception that the English received in various towns along the way, a reception that ranged from lukewarm to outright hostile. This section also includes Froissart's account of the death of Charles V. In "Buckingham in Brittany," Froissart shows the complicated political situation facing Jean de Montfort. He also describes the siege of Nantes and the coronation of the child king, Charles VI. The next passage, "The Siege of Nantes," is drawn from Cabaret's chronicle. It describes how the French defenders of the city used a variety of tactics to drive back and defeat the English besiegers. The next two selections, both titled "The Deeds of Arms at Vannes," give first Froissart's and then Cabaret's descriptions of individual combats between some of the knights and squires of the two armies. The final section, "Nicholas Clifford and Jean Boucinel," turns again to Froissart's text, outlining the peace concluded between Jean de Monfort and Charles VI, the English retreat out of Brittany, and an individual chivalric combat between Clifford and Boucinel.
While English translations of portions of Froissart's Chroniques have long been available, Cabaret's chronicle is less familiar to English readers, and this book makes a welcome contribution by including passages from it (though one wishes they were longer). Muhlberger's translations are clear and appealing to readers of all levels. This book should be a popular one for use in college classrooms, as it is accessible, attractive, affordable, and offers many topics of potential discussion.
The weaknesses of the book are largely structural. There is no index, and although Muhlberger defines specialized terms such as a outrance within the text (17), a glossary of such terms, as well as of important names, would make the book more user-friendly. Moreover, the two maps that the book reproduces (France at the Treaty of Brétigny in 1360 and at the death of Charles V in 1380), while in full color, are antiquated--one dates to 1877--and rather difficult to read. The book would benefit from a map that clearly plotted the route taken by the English army during the raid and the locations of important cities and skirmishes specifically mentioned in the text. It would also be useful to have in-text references to the images in the color plates at the center of the book.
Ultimately, this source reader presents a detailed view into an exciting yet lesser-known episode of the Hundred Years' War. Rather than placing attention on the famous battles like Crécy, Poitiers, and Agincourt, Will a Frenchman Fight? shows the more common side of war: one marked by short skirmishes, inconclusive raids, prolonged sieges, individual desire for honor, bad weather and disease, and the vicissitudes of fortune and politics.

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