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The Hundred Years War: Trial by Battle (The Middle Ages Series, Volume 1)

13 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0812216554
ISBN-10: 0812216555
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Editorial Reviews


"A superb narrative history."—Military History

"A rich book, filled with detail and incident, yet never losing a sense of the overall sweep of events."—Times Literary Supplement

"In a balanced and seamless presentation, the origins and first decade of the Hundred Years' War unfold before the reader."—American Historical Review

"Without any doubt, this book immediately takes its place as the best available account of this phase of the war. . . . It is compulsively readable, in part the consequence of a lucid style and apt choice of detail, but mainly the result of a masterly overall grasp, acute judgment, fresh insight, and a compelling sense of immediacy that fully justifies the author's preference for a predominantly narrative approach. Throughout, there is a sense of a luminous intelligence working on the material."—History

"This will become a standard account of the War."—Choice

About the Author

A former history fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford, Jonathan Sumption is the author of The Hundred Years War, Volume 2: Trial by Fire, The Hundred Years War, Volume 3: Divided Houses, and The Hundred Years War, Volume 4: Cursed Kings, all available from the University of Pennsylvania Press.

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Product Details

  • Series: The Middle Ages Series (Book 1)
  • Paperback: 672 pages
  • Publisher: University of Pennsylvania Press (September 29, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812216555
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812216554
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.4 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #94,181 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

39 of 41 people found the following review helpful By Rodney J. Szasz on May 7, 2002
Format: Paperback
Sumption's history of this sordid and bloody conflict will be the defining opus of this era. In this first volume of 600 pages he covers intimately all aspects of the war's first 10 years. He is mostly skilled at both the economic and diplomatic machinations of the conflict, emphasising how armies were fielded and then supported.
His scope is grand and he covers events as far away as Scotland, Flanders, Britany, and the Popes involvement from the Avignon palaces.
His strategic interpretation is superb, without equal. He has an ability to get into the head of participants and show their ultimate motivation in fighting. Why particular courses were decided upon are also fittingly reviewed; why a campaign in Flanders? Why get involved in Britany? How did England ultimately expand and prevail in Aquitaine when their foothold was so tenuous? Why were the French completely unable to exploint a fundamental postion of strength by working with their internal lines of communication? All of these questions are answered in good detail.
There are no real weaknesses in this work but there are a few things that readers should be prepared for:
1) Sumption is not writing a biography of any of the characters and although we understand a lot of their emotions in the heat of dimplomacy and battle, we hear little about the individual idiosyncracies of both Edward III and Philip VI. We learn almost nothing about their respective sons in this volume, which is amazing considering the future role they played.
2) Although this is a story of battle and slaughter, we are largely spared the details of the minutea of battle, who fought whom, the real intricacies of the weapons involved and the fate of those who were turned to bones.
Read more ›
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Rathko on July 29, 2005
Format: Paperback
Trial By Battle is a magnificent achievement. Though daunting to look at, the 600+ page narrative sweeps by with the excitement and suspense of a great novel. Sumption fails to give any real background details (the marriage of a king will be mentioned in passing without so much as a clue as to his wife's name!). We learn nothing of castle construction, arms and armour, architecture, geography, or anything else of the spectacle of life in 14th century Europe. But the step-by-step analysis of the intricacies of medieval politics more than compensates, throwing the reader headlong into the meeting rooms of the royal courts. The narrative, for all its complexity, never ceases to be anything but fascinating. The reader is able to see all the seemingly small and random details, the mistakes and misunderstandings and mistimings, and how they build to create a situation in which all out war is the only option.

Trial by Battle isn't simply the best book I've read about The 100 Years War, but the best I've read about the challenges faced by the medieval politician, and the strategic maneuvering required to achieve an acceptable outcome. Brilliant.
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Wendell on September 7, 2000
Format: Paperback
Reading about the Middle Ages is like treading upstream sometimes. Its so easy to get bogged down and lose your path and eventually your interest. A lot of times reading history is exactly like that.
This book is very good at keeping the story of this period on its path and is extremely, even remarkably, readable. I actually managed to get wrapped up in the story (which I've read many times already) the way one does with good novels. The author is obviously very familiar with the primary sources but he quotes from them with care and only when his point is well-made. Otherwise he tells the story in clear, simple language - amazing for any of us who study or write history! And he has a fine sense of when the chroniclers were playing to their audience's prejudices and when they probably were right on point. Its difficult to read about the early period of the wars between England and France without getting mired in the problems the various powers faced -- and continued to toil over every year -- like constant bankruptcy, local rebellion, personality disorders and prejudices, and so forth. The author gives you these things -- the Middle Ages would not be the Middle Ages without them -- but in the right doses to make the fuller picture clear, not lose it in the haze.
I have not yet read the sequel but I'm confident it is as well written. I would recommend these volumes to anyone interested in the Middle Ages period in Europe.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Douglas E. Libert on April 22, 2008
Format: Paperback
This is the first book(part 1) of the authors' lengthy study of the hundred Years and covers from the beginnings of the war to a little after Crecy.He starts by comparing the 2 kingdoms of France and England,with France appearing to be 5 or 6 times more populated than England and France with alot more financial resources.French allies are also formidable with the Italian kingdoms including Genoa which had a powerful navy and well equipped army.True,Genoa was a "piracy type" kingdom but with really deep pockets.England at this time had vitually no navy of any consequence and relied on private contracts and war loans for transport.Privateers seemed like the English naval mainstay although Edward III had a few ships which he owned.The author spends alot of time on the English wool industry and its threats of economic embargo to get its way in continental politics. Other books I've read on this "King Cotton" type bullying downplay the English wool industry and point out that the Netherlands areas had previously sought out other alternatives to English wool.With the economies of France and England so unevenly matched how could the English midget overcome the French giant other than a cheap groin shot.As the author points out however,the main English way of financing their war was by "sneaky" taxes that people don't generally notice.The French rulers used fluctuating coin valuations with some taxation.So the author concluded that while the French were more wealthy,the English ruling class were better able to get their hands on the "hard cash"which gave them a big advantage.The "jokers in the deck" that could overcome the odds were the alliances and here is where the author spends time on diplomacy and counter lawsuits of both English and French interests.Read more ›
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