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A Distant Mirror The Calamitous 14th Century

READ A Distant Mirror The Calamitous 14th Century

And a dark time of ferocity and spiritual agony a world plunged into a chaos of war fear and the Plague Barbara Tuchman an. My grandmother had this book on her shelf for years and I read it as a kid and loved it Of course I knew the King Arthur legends and pretended to be a knight in shining armour like any other young boy but reading about the insanity of this period the rage of the Black Death that killed 30 60% of the population of Europe the grappling for power by the French and English competitors the epic battlesit was a mind blower and still is I visited many of the sites since living here in Paris that Tuchman mentions in her book and loved having the context to understand why they were standingor not An incredibly vibrant and realistic view of this critical and bloody century in EuropeBy the way I have been up to see the castle of Chaucy which is the epicenter of this book and unfortunately there is precious little to see the chateau was demolished during the World Wars of the 20th C

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Atomizes the century revealing both the great rhythms of history and the grain and texture of domestic life as it was live. The Four Horsemen had their way in the fourteenth century Tuchman portrays a brutal decadent European society terrorized and demoralized by the plague war violence and deprivation She focuses on France England and the Italian city states from 1350 to 1400 The religious leaders were hypocritical and profane; the aristocracy was arrogant and venal Kings nobles popes and prelates accumulated fantastic wealth at the expense of everyone else for whom it was the worst of times The century marked the decline of the Roman Catholic Church’s power the feudal system and the myth of the chivalrous knightThe plague killed 13rd of the people of Europe between 1347 and 1350 Thereafter outbreaks recurred regularly Those afflicted died agonizing deaths although many succumbed uickly People became unhinged with most believing God was punishing them Many scapegoats were targeted Jews were rounded up and executed or driven off to Eastern Europe Stories of Jews poisoning wells and killing Christian children for their blood blood libel became firmly established Christians lost faith in the Church as priests too hid in fear or charged exorbitant fees to perform last rites If God had caused the plague or at least didn’t seem to care what was the point of the Church Its vast wealth was resented deeply by many Pope Clement VI had even started the selling of indulgences When the plague subsided in 1350 fear was replaced by gloom A pessimism ensued which would last into the next centuryThe fight between secular kings and the Papacy was a key conflict of the 14th century Money and power were at stake In 1303 King Philip IV of France in conjunction with the anti papist Italian army captured Pope Boniface VIII who not surprisingly soon was dead Philip felt the many Church fees collected in France were rightfully his The Pope said Philip was subject to him The Pope lost The next Pope Clement V set up shop in Avignon and worked hand in glove with Philip Popes ruled from Avignon from 1307 to 1377 with ever increasing domination by the French kings which was deeply resented outside of France Pope Gregory XI returned the papacy to Rome greatly surprising his benefactor Charles V of France Gregory shortly thereafter died The cardinals in Rome elected Urban VI who they believed they could easily control to stay in Rome Soon they realized he was crazy They declared it a mistake and elected Clement VII But Urban wouldn’t uit and soon Clement found it advisable to relocate in Avignon Now there were two Popes one in Rome and one in Avignon with the Christian world split in its support of the two Thus began the Papal Schism which lasted until 1417 dividing the Christian world With two Popes issuing orders selling indulgences and church offices and with people blessed by one condemned by the other the legitimacy of the Church was greatly diminished The Church would never regain its pre fourteenth century power and prestige The seeds for the reformation were being sown In England in the 1370’s and 80’s John Wycliffe began openly criticizing the great wealth and ostentation of the Church and formed a following known as the Lollards who carried his message on after he died Wycliffe translated the bible into Middle English believing the faithful should approach God directly bypassing the priests His movement foreshadowed the English break with the Church 150 years later War between England and France was another key conflict of the fourteenth century A desire to invade England was one reason Philip needed the church money But the English King Edward III attacked first Edward claimed to be the rightful French King but his real goal was to add mainland provinces to his domain Thus in 1340 began the Hundred Years’ War The war started badly for the French led by Philip VI with a humiliating defeat at Crecy in 1346 Overconfident French knights charged mindlessly into English infantry whose archers wielded the very effective English longbow The English longbow with the power to drive heavy arrows accurately came of age at the beginning of the fourteenth century Much faster to reload than the French crossbow the longbow proved a decisive advantage particularly as deployed by the far organized and disciplined English army The war continued with another humiliating French defeat This time Edward III's son Edward Prince of Wales faced the French King Jean II at Poitiers in 1356 Again believing in chivalry Jean used his knights to lead the charge just as Philip VI had done at Crecy with the same result Jean II was captured and his forces fell apart and scattered The Prince of Wales took Jean back to England along with other captured nobles and the enormous booty he had seized Jean and the prisoners were held for ransom France entered anarchy In 1357 the merchant class tried but failed to impose its will on the Dauphin Jean II’s son with a violent end Then in 1358 a peasant group the Jacuerie led a revolt and after even carnage and looting they were brutally put down by the nobles More pillaging killing raping and hostage taking ensued from mercenary Free Companies made up of former soldiers mostly Englishmen who did not want to give up their way of life when the military campaigns ended Armies of the time lived off the land so these men were used to taking anything and everything they wanted Brigands from all over Europe joined them and they spread terror all over France Italy England and adjacent territories The free Companies were for hire and employed extensively in the Papal wars in Italy With the Papacy removed to Avignon Rome fell into decay An effective Papal force could not be managed from so far away Similarly the English could not hold onto the mainland territories they had won by managing them from England Their conuered subjects began identifying as French in response to the brutal treatment of their English overlords The Papacy’s location in France exacerbated the English anger against the French It also diminished the legitimacy of the Church in England In the years after Charles V death in 1380 France was struck by yet another series of violent revolts led by the merchant class and supported by the peasants sick of high taxes and declining incomes while the rich got richer The heir Charles VI was only twelve The Dukes were in charge and taxed everybody and everything to finance wars to expand their territories A similar story took place in England where Richard II only 13 in 1380 was likewise guided by the recently departed Edward III’s relatives They similarly taxed commoners to the hilt to raise money to acuire new fiefdoms A huge peasant’s revolt ensued making it all the way to London Both in France and England the revolts were put down brutally Throughout the fourteenth century peasants in both France and England were being transformed from serfs to tenant farmers This transformation from the feudal system enabled the lords to sueeze the peasants mercilessly by charging rents for everything while no longer bearing any responsibility for the peasants’ wellbeing Another example of the folly of the knight’s search for glory is the Barbary Crusade in 1391 Five thousand mostly French with some English knights encased in their head to toe plate armor attacked the Berber stronghold of Mahdia in Tunisia The Berbers held fast behind their walls while sending out harassing parties that avoided direct combat Eventually the knights tired of the suffocating heat gave up and went home Of course it was the commoners through heavy taxation who as always paid for this ill conceived effort At least the knights might have learned their limits in Mahdia but they were soon to repeat This time they were decimated at the hands of the Turks at Nicopolis in 1396 Knights from around Europe took part in this Crusade again driven by vainglory While the losses were heavy on both sides arrogance and overconfidence led to the defeat of the crusaders Once again the heavy fourteenth century plate armor constricted than it helped against a disciplined mobile opponent Although both sides executed prisoners without compunction the Turks saved important nobles as was the practice for ransom They returned home in humiliation an appropriate end to their mythical prowess and a disastrous centuryThe lessons of the fourteenth century were not lost on the monk Honore Bonet In his book written in 1387 The Tree of Battles he asked “Whether this world can by nature be without conflict and at peace” answering “No it can by no means be so” The 14th century’s toll of countless wars rampaging mercenaries ruthless governance and mindless preoccupation with glory and indulgence of those in power left France and England in serious decline The killing dislocation and destruction combined with recurring plague epidemics reduced the population of Europe to half its 1347 count by the end of the century The tradition of chivalry of the knights was shown to be hollow the knights themselves to be petty the Church to be a charade and its leaders self serving The Middle Ages were coming to an end as its religious and feudal traditions were undermined Somehow miraculously in the next century the Renaissance was able to spring from this morass Tuchman’s account of the period is very detailed and a bit daunting to follow One must take in score after score of kings nobles popes prelates and others and their complex relationships as well as Middle Ages political geography Tuchman chronicles much than major events She carefully crafts pictures of the everyday lives of those at every level of society These portraits are well done and provide a fascinating look into a time far removed from our own So despite the unsettling bleakness of the fourteenth century reading Tuchman’s book is well worth the effort I could see how the excesses of the fourteenth century set the stage for dramatic changes to follow A Distant Mirror also provides a sobering frame of reference for the events in our own recent history Chocolat just as Philip VI had done at Crecy with the same result Jean II was captured and his forces fell apart and scattered The Prince of Wales took Jean back to England along with other captured nobles and the enormous booty he had seized Jean and the prisoners were held for ransom France entered anarchy In 1357 the merchant class tried but failed to impose its will on the Dauphin Jean II’s son with a violent end Then in 1358 a peasant group the Jacuerie led a revolt and after even carnage and looting they were brutally put down by the nobles More pillaging killing raping and hostage taking ensued from mercenary Free Companies made up of former soldiers mostly Englishmen who did not want to give up their way of life when the military campaigns ended Armies of the time lived off the land so these men were used to taking anything and everything they wanted Brigands from all over Europe Nestlé Desserts les 200 meilleures recettes joined them and they spread terror all over France Italy England and adjacent territories The free Companies were for hire and employed extensively in the Papal wars in Italy With the Papacy removed to Avignon Rome fell into decay An effective Papal force could not be managed from so far away Similarly the English could not hold onto the mainland territories they had won by managing them from England Their conuered subjects began identifying as French in response to the brutal treatment of their English overlords The Papacy’s location in France exacerbated the English anger against the French It also diminished the legitimacy of the Church in England In the years after Charles V death in 1380 France was struck by yet another series of violent revolts led by the merchant class and supported by the peasants sick of high taxes and declining incomes while the rich got richer The heir Charles VI was only twelve The Dukes were in charge and taxed everybody and everything to finance wars to expand their territories A similar story took place in England where Richard II only 13 in 1380 was likewise guided by the recently departed Edward III’s relatives They similarly taxed commoners to the hilt to raise money to acuire new fiefdoms A huge peasant’s revolt ensued making it all the way to London Both in France and England the revolts were put down brutally Throughout the fourteenth century peasants in both France and England were being transformed from serfs to tenant farmers This transformation from the feudal system enabled the lords to sueeze the peasants mercilessly by charging rents for everything while no longer bearing any responsibility for the peasants’ wellbeing Another example of the folly of the knight’s search for glory is the Barbary Crusade in 1391 Five thousand mostly French with some English knights encased in their head to toe plate armor attacked the Berber stronghold of Mahdia in Tunisia The Berbers held fast behind their walls while sending out harassing parties that avoided direct combat Eventually the knights tired of the suffocating heat gave up and went home Of course it was the commoners through heavy taxation who as always paid for this ill conceived effort At least the knights might have learned their limits in Mahdia but they were soon to repeat This time they were decimated at the hands of the Turks at Nicopolis in 1396 Knights from around Europe took part in this Crusade again driven by vainglory While the losses were heavy on both sides arrogance and overconfidence led to the defeat of the crusaders Once again the heavy fourteenth century plate armor constricted than it helped against a disciplined mobile opponent Although both sides executed prisoners without compunction the Turks saved important nobles as was the practice for ransom They returned home in humiliation an appropriate end to their mythical prowess and a disastrous centuryThe lessons of the fourteenth century were not lost on the monk Honore Bonet In his book written in 1387 The Tree of Battles he asked “Whether this world can by nature be without conflict and at peace” answering “No it can by no means be so” The 14th century’s toll of countless wars rampaging mercenaries ruthless governance and mindless preoccupation with glory and indulgence of those in power left France and England in serious decline The killing dislocation and destruction combined with recurring plague epidemics reduced the population of Europe to half its 1347 count by the end of the century The tradition of chivalry of the knights was shown to be hollow the knights themselves to be petty the Church to be a charade and its leaders self serving The Middle Ages were coming to an end as its religious and feudal traditions were undermined Somehow miraculously in the next century the Renaissance was able to spring from this morass Tuchman’s account of the period is very detailed and a bit daunting to follow One must take in score after score of kings nobles popes prelates and others and their complex relationships as well as Middle Ages political geography Tuchman chronicles much than major events She carefully crafts pictures of the everyday lives of those at every level of society These portraits are well done and provide a fascinating look into a time far removed from our own So despite the unsettling bleakness of the fourteenth century reading Tuchman’s book is well worth the effort I could see how the excesses of the fourteenth century set the stage for dramatic changes to follow A Distant Mirror also provides a sobering frame of reference for the events in our own recent history

Barbara W. Tuchman å 1 REVIEW

The 14th century gives us back two contradictory images a glittering time of crusades and castles cathedrals and chivalry. What an extraordinary read it is when one book is as action packed as thirty riveting novels And if it also contains rich and erudite disuisitions and is narrated in a language as clear and flowing as water from a spring then the volume must be given a preferential place in one’s libraryI am not too keen of including uotes in my reviews But given the amount of material that marshals in front of one’s eyes as colorful as overwhelming pageants and breathtaking jousts and as dense as the tightly woven wefts and warps of a tapestry there is no way I could attempt to give a glimpse with my own words of what Barbara Tuchman has achieved with this bookBut before I present the uote I would like to draw attention to how shrewd Tuchman has been in the choice of her subject As she explains in her early pages she set herself to follow one particular character as he lived during a period in history when the actors were on the count of hundreds and thereby keep one's focus and walk through the maze and the turmoil without getting lostEnguerrand de Coucy VII was a member of the French nobility at a time when ‘French’ could also mean ‘English’ Enguerrand in fact acted as both French and English as he had acuired double allegiance to his own King and to the King and father of his wife And this he did when the two Kingdoms were at war; a war that would last for over one hundred years Opportunely Enguerrrand is well documented by one of the most striking chroniclers of the time Jean Froissart As nothing had been written about him in English before Tuchman she had found a gold vein for her research and pen to exploitHere stops my explanation It is time now for the uote This passage is better than an the Index to offer a glimpse to that Distant Mirror that Tuchman has approached to us for our close examination Since he Enguerrad de Coucy had first marched at fifteen against the English and at eighteen hunted down the Jacuerie the range of Coucy’s experience had extended over an extraordinary variety of combat diplomacy government and social and political relationships As son in law of Edward III holding double allegiance to two kings at war his position had been uniue He had seen war as captain or one of the to command in eleven campaigns—in Piedmont Lombardy Switzerland Normandy Languedoc Tuscany northern France Flanders Guelders Tunisia Genoa; he had commanded mercenaries and fought as ally or antagonist of the Count of Savoy Gregory XI Hawkwood the Visconti the Hapsburgs the Swiss Navarrese Gascons English Berbers the Republic of Florence and nobles of Genoa As diplomat he had negotiated with Pope Clement VII the Duke of Brittany the Count of Flanders the ueen of Aragon with the English at peace parleys and the rebels of Paris He had had one temperamental and extravagant wife eight years his senior and a second approximately thirty years his junior He had served as adviser and agent of the two royal Dukes Anjou and Orléans as Lieutenant–General of Picardy and later of Guienne as member of the Royal Council as Grand Bouteiller of France and had wtice been the preferred choice for a Constable He had known and dealt with every kind of character from the ultra wicked Charles of Navarre to the ultra saintly Pierre de Luxemburg If to the above adventures narrated ever so smoothly one is to add the excellent studies of various chapters of Material Life in late Medieval Europe that help us to shorten the Distance of the Mirror and make reflections become what is reflected then one can begin to imagine the sheer pleasure that this book offers to whoever decides to open up its pages and read itAs it is often claimed Tuchman may not be a historian of the academic breed but in this account she has demonstrated her excellent narrative abilities that many historians and novelists would just love to command as well as sheBrilliant