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!Free E-pub ⚖ A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century ☸ The Th Century Gives Us Back Two Contradictory Images A Glittering Time Of Crusades And Castles, Cathedrals And Chivalry, And A Dark Time Of Ferocity And Spiritual Agony, A World Plunged Into A Chaos Of War, Fear And The Plague Barbara Tuchman Anatomizes The Century, Revealing Both The Great Rhythms Of History And The Grain And Texture Of Domestic Life As It Was Lived 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 Europe.By 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. A Distant Mirrorr by Barbara W Tuchman is, on one level, a seven hundred page encyclopedia of the 14th century s political, military, religious, social, cultural and economic history Since Ms Tuchman is a first rate writer, on still another level, the book is a compelling, personalized account of individual men and women living through these turbulent, disastrous times, especially one Enguerrand de Coucy V11 1340 1397 , a high ranking noble, heralded as the most experienced and skillful of all the knights of France The focus on Lord Coucy is supremely appropriate since this nobleman repeatedly pops up as a prime player in many of the century s key events.The 14th century witnessed ongoing devastation, including the little ice age, the hundred years war, the papal schism, the peasant s revolt and, most dramatically, the black death of 1348 1350, which depopulated Europe by as much as half Ms Tuchman s book covers it all in twenty seven chapters, chapter with such headings as Decapitated France The Bourgeois Rising and the Jacquerie, The Papal Schism, The Worms of the Earth Against the Lions and Dance Macabre.Many pages are filled with the color and morbidity of the times By way of example, here is one memorable happening where the French Queen gave a masquerade to celebrate the wedding of a twice widowed lady in waiting six young noblemen, including the King who recently recovered from a bout of madness, disguised themselves as wood savages and entered the masked ball making lewd gestures and howling like wolves as they paraded and capered in the middle of the revelers When one of the noble spectators came too close with his torch, a spark fell and a few moments later the wood savages, with the exception of the King, were engulfed in flames Afterwards, the French populace was horrified by this ghastly tragedy, a perverse playing on the edge of madness and death nearly killing their King.And here is what the author has to say about the young man who concocted the wood savage idea, The deviser of the affair cruelest and most insolent of men, was one Huguet de Guisay, favored in the royal circle for his outrageous schemes He was a man of wicked life who corrupted and schooled youth in debaucheries, and held commoners and the poor in hatred and contempt He called them dogs, and with blows of sword and whip took pleasure in forcing them to imitate barking If a servant displeased him, he would force the man to lie on the ground and, standing on his back, would kick him with spurs, crying, Bark, dog in response to his cries of pain All of the chapters are chock full with such sadistic and violent sketches.Speaking of the populate, there is plenty of detail on the habits and round of daily life of the common people And, of course, there is a plethora of detail on the lives of the upper classes Here is a snippet of one description In the evening minstrels played with lutes and harps, reed pipes, bagpipes, trumpets, kettle drums, and cymbals In the blossoming of secular music as an art in the 14th century, as many as thirty six different instruments had come into use If no concert or performance was scheduled after the evening meal, the company entertained each other with song and conversation, tales of the day s hunting, graceful questions on the conventions of live, and verbal games As in any age, it makes forcomfortable living being at the top rather than at the bottom of the social scale And all those musical instruments speak volumes about how the 14th century was a world away from the plainchant of the early middle ages In a way, the 14th century musical avant garde fit in well with the fashions of the times extravagant headdresses, multicolored, bejeweled jackets and long pointed shoes For those who had the florins, overindulgence was all the rage.Ms Tuchman offers ongoing commentary for example, regarding military engagement, she cites how the 14th century nobility was too wedded to the idea of glory and riding horses on the battlefield to be effective against the new technology of the long bow and foot soldiers with pikes And here is a general, overarching comment about the age, The times were not static Loss of confidence in the guarantors of order opened the way to demands for change, and miseria gave force to the impulse The oppressed were no longer enduring but rebelling, although, like the bourgeois who tried to compel reform, they were inadequate, unready, and unequipped for the task Indeed, reading about 14th century economic upheaval one is reminded of Karl Marx s scathing observations four hundred years later.On a personal note, my primary interests are literature and philosophy I usually do not read history However, if I were to recommend one history book, this is the book Why Because Ms Tuchman s work is not only extremely well written and covers many aspects of the period s art, music, literature, religion and mysticism, but the turbulent, transitional 14th century does truly mirror our modern world Quite a time to be alive. I was a little worried at the start that 600 pages of 14th century history might be, shall we say,a bit too much There is no denying the book is long and very detailed and at times it was a struggle, but every time I was about to give up after yet another pointless battle Tuchman would come up with a telling detail or surprising insight Example the invention of chimneys in the 14th century made separate bedrooms possible and introduced notions of privacy that had never before been possible in Northern Europe and so she wove her web again, catching me for another hundred pages There are so many wonderful reviews of this book on Goodreads that I ll just highlight a few things that struck me as I was reading this masterpiece.The Black DeathAbout only thing I knew about the 14th century when I started this book was that this was when the bubonic plague spread across Europe from Asia and I only knew this because I ve read Connie Willis superb Doomsday Book in which a time traveling historian gets stuck in 1348.One of the surprises for me was that the plague died down and recurredthan once throughout the terrible century The Black Death returned for the fourth time in 1388 90 Earlier recurrences had affected chiefly children who had not acquired immunity, but in the fourth round a new adult generation fell under the swift contagion By this time Europe s population was reduced to between 40 and 50 percent of what it had been when the century opened If you want to know what happened during the plague and why, and what it meant read A Distant Mirror If you want to know what it felt like read the Doomsday Book Better yet, read them both.The Hundred Years WarCould there be anythinghorrifying than the Black Death Well, yes, actually Chapter 6 tells the story of the start of the war between France and England that would last for a hundred years There werethan a few idiots, but no heroes, no chivalrous knights, just ugly opportunists laying waste to their own countryside, killing for no reason, looting, and burning towns to the ground.In fact, death in every form famine, war, disease stalked the 14th century and death personified as a pale horseman or as a hawk like old hag, was a recurrent image in the art and literature of the era.Mercenary BandsEngland and France were not always fighting So what was an unemployed knight to do Left unemployed by the truce the mercenary companies reverted to plundering the people they lately liberated One truce with England was immediately followed by six weeks of plunder Forty villages were robbed and wrecked, inhabitants killed or raped, monasteries and convents burned to the ground One French nobleman, the Sire de Coucy who plays a central role in the book, tried to rein them in, hanging culprits daily, but against men habituated to lawless force punishment failed to bring the violence under control Charles V who succeeded to the throne of France in 1364 developed a fairly effective strategy for dealing with the mercenaries, the tarde venus pack them off to fight stillforeign wars Repeated spasms of the Hundred Years War, a war in Italy, thenPapal wars, then war against the Berbers, and finally a last bloody Crusade would provide employment and plunder for these rapacious bands and for some a fitting end Knights in ArmorThis aspect of medieval times fascinated me as a child at New York s Metropolitan Museum of Art my favorite exhibit was the knights on their great chargers.But by the 14th century the international code of chivalry was breaking down and the armor and horses were proving surprisingly vulnerable to such innovations as the long bow Not to mention the fact that many of the knights were far from chivalrous New strategies were called for Slowly, novel approaches towards war were developed For the aborted 1348 French invasion of England, the French packed a vast prefab camp with numbered panels For belligerent purposes, the 14th century, like the 20th, commanded a technologysophisticated than the mental and moral capacity that guided its use There were a handful of sensible strategists and innovators It was in truth the non chivalric qualities of two hard headed characters, Du Guescline and Charles V, that brought France back from ruin But old ways and old knights die hard The final Crusade against the Turks at the end of the 14th century was on balance a catastrophe The crusaders of 1396 started out with a strategic purpose in the expulsion of the Turks from Europe, but their minds were on something else The young menborn since the Black Death and Poitiers and the nadir of French fortunes, harked back to the pursuit of those strange bewitchment, honor and glory They thought only of being in the vanguard, to the exclusion of tactical plan and common sense Pageantry and the Arts Not all was grim For some, the century was a time of plenty a time when the arts were reborn and new secular themes were suddenly and surprisingly in vogue Ostentation and pageantrywas traditionally the habit of princes But now in the second half of the 14th century it went to extremes as if to defy the increased uncertainty of life Conspicuous consumption became a frenzied excess, a gilded shroud over the Black Death and lost battles, a desperate desire to show oneself fortunate in a time of advancing misfortune Charles V s three brothers were all compulsively acquisitiveEach put his own interests above the kingdom s each was given to conspicuous consumptionand each was to produce unsurpassed works of art The Apocalypse series of tapestries for Anjou the Tres Riches Heures and Belles Heures illuminated for Berry and the statues of the Well of Moses and the Mourners for Burgundy Men and women hawked and hunted and carried a favorite falcon, hooded, on the wrist wherever they went, indoors or out to church, to the assizes, to meals On occasion huge pastries were served from which live birds were released to be caught by hawks unleashed in the banquet hall In the evening minstrels played with lutes and harps, reed pipes, bagpipes, trumpets, kettle drums, and cymbals Poetry, story telling and drama were all wildly popular Literature, written for the first time in the vernacular by masters from Dante to Chaucer, flowered all was ready for the great leap to print in the next century.The Papal Schism and Religious ReformationThe 14th century was a time of innovative and sometimes bizarre religious practices, prompted in part by the horrors of plague and wars but also by the Papal schism Of all the strange evils and adversities of the 14th century the effect of the Papal schism on the public mind was among the most damaging When each Pope excommunicated the followers of the other, who could be sure of salvation Every Christian found himself under penalty of damnation by one or the other Pope, with no way of being sure that the sacraments of their priest were valid or a sacrilege Mystical sects thrived some of them seriously weird On thepractical front some, including a notable number of women, banded together to form communities lay religious orders like the Beguines that provided not only spiritual solace and a chance to do good but also a not inconsiderable degree of protection and autonomy Left without solace, without guidance, it must have seemed to far too many ordinary people that there was nowhere sacred to turn Scientific knowledge was growing, but could not dispel the sense of a malign influence upon the times As the century entered its last quarter, the reality and power of demons and witches became a common belief.Women turned to sorcery for the some of the same reasons they turned to mysticism In Paris in 1390 a woman whose lover had jilted her was tried for taking revenge by employing the magical powers of another woman to render him impotent Both were burned at the stake Among the clergy there were those who became obsessed with witchcraft, demonology and heresy fueling the fires of the Inquisition Yet at the same time a novel view of religion was emerging a vision that empowered the individual s search for God and meaning The Bible was translated into the vernacular for the first time Wyclif and others were challenging the power of the clerics The Protestant Reformation of the 16th century was a natural consequence of default by the Church in the 14th and the desperate searching of those who felt abandoned by both divine and earthly powers.Peasant and Middle Class UprisingsCharles V of France succeeded for a time in his war aims against England, but at the cost of a ravaged and exhausted country Punishing taxes and mercenary bands oppressed the ordinary peasants and the growing middle class The stage was set for rebellion Tuchman always knows how to give a nuanced view In the chapter entitled The Worms of the Earth Against the Lions I was just about to cheer wholeheartedly for the weavers of Ghent until I read of the way they in turn oppressed the lower class fullers and my sympathy was with commoners of Anjou demanding tax relief until In a frenzy of triumph and unspent wrath, the people rushed to rob and assault the Jews, the one section of society upon whom the poor could safely vent their aggression By the late 1380s defeats in battle, widespread economic malaise, and disenchantment with government had seized Europe Both England and France were ruled by minors and prey to factions, but the seeds of effective rebellion and reform would lie dormant for many decadesOrdinary LifeTuchman s ability to paint vivid pictures of a far away time and place is astonishing Often, I felt that, like Connie Willis time traveler, I had suddenly arrived, transported through the distant mirror.In a dangerous world night was not a time to be abroad Even in Paris in the 14th century, At sundown the curfew bell rang for closing time, work ceased, shops were shuttered, silence succeeded bustle At eight o clock, when the Angelus bell signaled bedtime, the city was in darkness Only the crossroads were lit by flickering candle or lamp placed in a niche holding a stature of Notre Dame or the patron saint of the quarter There were also fascinating bits of social history like these In everyday life women of noble as well as non noble class found equality of function, if not of status, thrust on them by circumstances Peasant women could hold tenancies and in that capacity rendered the same kinds of service for their holdings as men In the guilds, women had monopolies of certain trades.The chatelaine of a castleoften than not had to manage alone when her husband was away Although marriage was a sacrament, divorce was frequent and, given the right strings to pull, easily obtained lawyers are said to make and unmake matrimony to money and a man might get rid of his wife by giving the judge a fur coat.marriage litigation filled the courts of the Middle Ages Who knew Certainly not me But above all Tuchman s gifts are her sweeping vision and the poetry of her writing through which we glimpse the wheel of time and human fortunes slowly turning Yet change as always was taking place.Monarchy, centralized government, the national state gained in strengthSeaborne enterprise liberated by the compass was reaching toward the voyages of discovery that were to burst the confines of Europe.Times were to grow worse over the next fifty odd years until at some imperceptible moment, by some mysterious chemistry, energies were refreshed, ideas broke out of the mold of the Middle Ages into new realms, and humanity found itself redirected Four and a half stars, with a half star off because all the battles and political machinations really were a bore, at least for me Content rating, PG for all the death, destruction, blood and disease. I m not quite sure how I came to read this strange and unwieldy book It just kept popping up in my sights For a while now, I ve had a boyish fascination with the Middle Ages, intensified by a couple of years spent studying Old English in grad school, and nursed along since then with occasional books about the Black Death, the Crusades, castle building, and whatever else seemed interesting to me Most of what I ve read has been deeply thought provoking, on the one hand, if somewhat tiresome to read, on the other Norman Cantor, at his best, is an exception, but even he grows drowsily academic There are few great writers among medievalists, I ve discovered Steven Runciman, the British historian of the Crusades, is one But Barbara Tuchman, the author of this book, is in a league entirely of her own.Maybe that s because she wasn t a traditional medievalist Tuchman was an amateur historian, unaffiliated with any academic institution She was a writer, first and foremost, who produced gigantic, painstakingly crafted books on a wide variety of subjects Her history of the events leading up to World War I, The Guns of August, earned her the first of two Pulitzer Prizes Just added to my to read list From the moment I started in on this hefty 600 pager, I was enthralled by the voice of the consummate stylist guiding me along Perhaps that s a naive thing to say about a historical account, and perhaps it s the sort of thing that leads to a flawed understanding of historical events Eloquence isn t everything, and plenty of important books have been the work of rough hands But it s not so much Tuchman s command of language that draws you in as her infectious enchantment with her subject the period of Western European history beginning with the Black Death of 1348 and ending with the fall of the Byzantine Empire in the early 1400s, all as seen through the life of a single French nobleman People of the Middle Ages existed under mental, moral, and physical circumstances so different from our own as to constitute almost a foreign civilization, Tuchman writes And indeed the reflection of humanity you see in this distant mirror is almost unrecognizable, but all thefascinating for that.Today, as I finished off the last hundred pages, I found myself reading long passages aloud, the way you do when you read Gabriel Garcia Marquez for the first time, or some other uncannily good novelist Unlike some authors of ambitiously long and complicated books, Tuchman doesn t peter out near the end and leave the reader feeling cheated Her culminating chapters are some of her best, and it doesn t even matter that the people and events she s describing are so old and of so little relevance to your daily life that you will probably never hear them mentioned again, not even on Jeopardy What matters is that she makes them all alive again,alive than they ve been for 600 years. My interest in medieval times is not incredibly strong it is, in fact, relegated mostly to the hope of someday going to a Medieval Times restaurant I ve read Ken Follett s two Kingsbridge novels, and I ve been to a few Renaissance Fairs in my time and eatenthan my share of child sized turkey legs , but beyond that, I ve never cared much about the Middle Ages I read Barbara Tuchman s A Distant Mirror The Calamitous 14th Century not for its subject matter, but because Tuchman wrote it The winner of two Pulitzer Prizes and a National Book Award, Tuchman was one of the great author historians of her time, or any time Her name on the cover demands attention While A Distant Mirror didn t turn me into an expert in making barley bread or choosing the right kind of alligator for your castle moat, it was nevertheless an utterly fascinating read Tuchman s focus on the 14th Century began with an interest in the Black Death of 1348 1350, which she states killed an estimated one third of the people living between India and Iceland As she explains in the Forward, Tuchman initially wanted to study the effects of such a disaster on society In researching the answer to that question, her interest grew to include the entirety of the 1300s, a violent, tormented, bewildered, suffering and disintegrating age Certainly there was no shortage of turmoil and strife There was the aforementioned Black Death the bubonic plague that caused pus and blood filled buboes inflamed lymph nodes to appear on the groin, neck, and armpit Millions of people died in this, one of the deadliest pandemics in human history There was constant war between England and France, part of the so called Hundred Years War, which ravaged the countryside and depleted tax bases There was a Papal Schism, with three men simultaneously claiming that tall white hat And to cap things off, in 1396, the Ottomans put a decisive end to the Crusade of Nicopolis To get an idea of the eventfulness of the 14th Century, let s take a brief look at the Battle of Poitiers in 1356 It pitted the English forces under Edward, the Black Prince, and the French under King John The English won, and further, captured King John, decapitating the French monarchy In John s absence, the bourgeois rose in France, and the Third Estate attempted to establish constitutional control Meanwhile, mercenary free companies scoured the land, plundering and burning It s all the bad parts of Westeros, except there are no dragons coming to the rescue Conversely, I suppose, there were no dragons to make things worse All this takes place in just two chapters out of 27 Tuchman presents her material with a mixture of thematic sections and chronological sections Parts of the book are pure overview, touching on what it was like to live during the 14th Century She describes the lives of peasants and knights and lords she describes their faith their clothing their jobs their sexual practices apparently the chastity belt rests on only the faintest factual support The writing is brilliant Descriptive, alive, witty, and engaging Take, for instance, her portrait of the peasant What was this peasant who supported the three estates on his back, this bent Atlas of the medieval world Snub nosed and rough in belted tunic and long hose, he can be seen in carved stone medallions and illuminated pages representing the twelve months, sowing from a canvas seed bag around his neck, scything hay bare legged in summer s heat in loose blouse and straw hat, trampling grapes in a wooden vat, shearing sheep held between his knees, herding swine in the forest, tramping through the snow in hood and sheepskin mantle with a load of firewood on his back, warming himself before a fire in a low hut in February Alongside him in the fields the peasant woman binds sheaves wearing a skirt caught up at the belt to free her legs and a cloth head covering instead of a hat.Or try this description of the food at a sumptuous wedding The meats and fish, all gilded, paired suckling pigs with crabs, hares with pike, a whole calf with trout, quails and partridges withtrout, ducks and herons with carp, beef and capons with sturgeon, veal and capons with carp in lemon sauce, beef pies and cheese with eel pies, meat aspic with fish aspic, meat galantines with lamprey, and among the remaining courses, roasted kid, venison, peacocks with cabbage, French beans and pickled ox tongue, junkets and cheese, cherries and other fruit.I think I hear George R.R Martin s tummy grumbling The overview sections were my favorite, because I minterested in the essence of the 14th Century than in the timeline That said, her chronological sections are just as engaging, displaying her rare gift for giving life to people who lived hundreds of years ago In order to anchor her narrative, Tuchman chose a central figure to follow This man is Enguerrand de Coucy VII He is like Sean Patrick Flanery in The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, showing up and playing a role in a remarkable number of landmark 14th Century events Tuchman took pains in choosing him, because she wanted N ot a king or queen, because everything about such persons is ipso facto exceptional, and besides, they are overused nor a commoner, because commoners lives in most cases did not take in the wide range that I wanted nor a cleric or saint, because they are outside the limits of my comprehension nor a woman, because any medieval woman whose life was adequately documented would be atypical.The knock on Tuchman is that she is not a medievalist That is, she has not devoted her life to getting someone to pay her think about Ye Olden Days She has been criticized, for among other things, using secondary sources and relying on poor translations Though I respect the hell out of dogged, elbow patched professors digging through dusty primary sources, I can t help but believe that most of this criticism is a mark of Tuchman s commercial success Medievalists tend to take themselves rather seriously, so it s fairly easy to ignore their sniffing and their dry monographs If I m going to have surgery, yes, I want a trained surgeon to do the cutting But writing about medieval times is not surgery I feel quite comfortable having a polished writer and historian if not an expert guide me through the subject Tuchman wrote this book as the title implies to compare the catastrophes of the 20th Century with those of the 14th Her book is an elegant way of saying that in times like these, it s helpful to remember there have always been times like these And despite the many sorrows of the 14th Century, Tuchman is keen to remind us at several points in her story that for most people, life went on as usual A Distant Mirror is thoroughly engaging and consistently excellent reading It creates its own energy that is, is got me revved about a subject I never really cared about Tuchman was a special writer, with that magical ability to make the past feel like the present Critics have called her out on her anachronisms, but I don t think it s anachronistic to recognize that even though these people are distant, they were still human, and in that way, closer to us than we realize. 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 knight.The plague killed 1 3rd of the people of Europe between 1347 and 1350 Thereafter, outbreaks recurred regularly Those afflicted died agonizing deaths although many succumbed quickly 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 century.The 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 quit 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 farorganized 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 Jacquerie, led a revolt and after evencarnage 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 conquered 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 acquire 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 squeeze 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 constrictedthan 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 century.The 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 muchthan 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. I have been recommended this book by many of my good reads friends, and so I ve read it My friend Eric s review says simply, Normally, I have always enjoyed Barbara Tuchman s books, but this one, while very interesting, I felt I had to struggle a bit.This is a very uncharacteristic review by Eric I think Eric is one of the most thoughtful and best reviewers on this site His reviews generally give valuable insights into a book and unfortunately far too often have me adding books to my to read list that I really will probably never get around to reading but if I ever do read any of them I will read purely due to Eric s recommendations.Then there is Wendy, another friend here, whose opinion I also respect, value and seek out and who has introduced me to many excellent books She told me she had read this one three times now, if that isn t high praise it is hard to know what is.Then there is Richard who although enjoyed this said that it didn t feel as historically relevant to him as Tuckman s WW1 books.So, what to do I tried to read this one ignoring the advice of friends and plunged in And my reactions are as mixed as those of my friends I ve ended up having to agree with virtually all of them.Like Eric, I find it hard to explain just what my problem with this book is Really, this should be a book I rave about I didn t know very much about the 14th Century before I read this although I did know enough to know that it was one of those cusp centuries where things that had stayed pretty much the same for a very long time were about to come up against innovations that would make their continuing virtually impossible In many ways this is the doormat century that welcomes in the modern world This is very much the last century of the Middle Ages in which to mix my metaphors appallingly the birth cries of the modern world are virtually drowned out by the death rattle of the old one This is the century in which Europe is first confronted with the plague the black death It is also the century in which that most lethal of inventions the long bow makes its entrance and makes the entire notion of knights and the type of warfare they preferred obsolete overnight at least, it would have if people knew what was good for them which, of course, they generally don t It was a century in which the undisputed power and unity of the church and the strict boundaries between royalty and peasants was beginning to be usurped by the rising merchant and capitalist classes It was a century in which peasants revolted shaking the existing order to its core.This book is called A Distant Mirror and in some ways that is the problem I had with this book A mirror reflects an image of the viewer back onto themselves but this mirror was placed so far away that it was hard to make out any of the images in a way that felt satisfying As I was reading this one I found myself wondering why I was quite so dissatisfied with it At first I thought it was because this book lacked a central thesis her March of Folly, for example, has just such a thesis and it bridges with ease stories from diverse centuries, giving a dreadful perspective on self destructive foolishness that is all to human So, for a long time I thought this one lacked something like that a central idea to drive the book forward But I ve read other histories that don t have such a thesis and haven t felt it necessary Then I thought perhaps there was just too much focus on wars during the century but even so, her other books focus solely on wars and I had no problem with them Maybe Richard is right and the concerns of the 14th Century just seem too far away, too long ago But then, I ve read quite a few books on Ancient Greece and Rome and have never felt they are receding too far into the distance although, admittedly, there is a sense in which Classical Societies do seem closer to us than those in the Middle Ages.The most interesting bits of this book were when she gives a glimpse into the odd lives of people and how they viewed their world I ve known since I was a child that there were differences between the Eastern European and Western European calendars but I had no idea that for a long time the year started at Easter Think about that for a second and you will understand how hard it would be to know what year you are talking about Easter isn t a fixed date so using that to beginning the year is a deeply strange thing to do.Then there were discussions on religious life Look, if you are going to have trouble with the idea of people putting their lips to pus filled sores, then you are going to find this part of the book challenging This was a time when one in three and perhaps even as many as two in three children did not make it out of childhood It was a time when people were dying in droves even without the endless and senseless wars being waged to hurry them along to their graves The Turks decapitating the French soldiers in front of their masters towards the end of this book their masters being spared as they could be used to provide ransom is a disturbing image of the first order In fact, it is the stuff of nightmares, to be quite frank.The treatment of Jews throughout this century is also something that is designed to induce nightmares As a case in point I had heard of the flagellants before, those fun guys who would whip themselves until they were a bleeding mess as their way to seek God s forgiveness and thereby stop the plague Now, as a way of stopping plague this is probably not the most obvious or the most effective treatment, and I guess we all know without reading this book that it actually helped to spread the disease But what I didn t know was that after their little parades where people would come over to them and either drink or use their blood as some odd form of protection or treatment they would then generally head around to the local Jewish quarter and kill as many people as they could get their hands on In fact, killing Jews seems to have been the century s recreation of choice.Favourite line in the book Probably the young man who was very religious who chastised his brother by telling him off for laughing as the Bible doesn t record Jesus every laughing but does say, Jesus wept The increasingly bizarre machinations involving the split in the Catholic Church and the damage this did to both the church and society at large makes for fascinating reading in that it confirms yet again that people are often the last people you can rely on to act in any way that might be in accordance with their own best interests.Like I said, there are lots of things to love about this book and I should have loved it muchthan I did, I really should have, and really wanted to but there was something missing that I just can t put my finger on and which just kept me at arm s length. A vivid and detailed look into a lost world The major players are The Black Death, The Hundred Years War, the sick, uproarious joke of chivalric valor, The Papal Schism, ruinous taxation, serfdom, petty feudal institutions, the utter absence of reason, murderous vengeance, horrendous peculation, brigandry, subjection of women, endless cruelty of mankind, crusade against the infidel, and so on A GR friend said that he was disappointed in this book because it did not offer the narrow focus and sleek thematic underpinnings of Tuchman s The March of Folly I see his point It should be noted, however, that Folly is a very different kind of book Folly is a deft study of the almost systematic loss of rational method leaders experience once they are dazzled by the trappings of ultimate power A Distant Mirror brings before the reader an almost encyclopedic survey of the late Middle Ages Reading it is like being in thrall to an endless film loop of natural disasters, pitiless murders, and roadside accidents Tuchman brings order to this concatenation of relentless self woundings so that try as we might we cannot look away If there is only one book you read on the Middle Ages it might be this one It is not for the squeamish or those afraid of the dark It is not a light beach or inflight read Highly recommended. Tuchman s books are always interesting, but usually they havethan one can absorb For this reason, reading them is always a bit of a struggle OK, I am merely speaking for myself I am going to try to keep this review short, maybe a reaction to having just completed Tuchman s extensive opus Not every detail need be explained A Distant Mirror covers thoroughly every single aspect of medieval life It covers in detail the battles of the Hundred Years War What is the Hundred Years War The Hundred Years War was a series of conflicts waged from 1337 to 1453 pitting the House of Plantagenet, rulers of the Kingdom of England, against the House of Valois for control of the Kingdom of France Each side drew many allies into the war..Historians commonly divide the war into three phases separated by truces 1 the Edwardian Era War 1337 1360 2 the Caroline War 1369 1389 and 3 the Lancastrian War 1415 1453.Contemporary conflicts in neighbouring areas, which were directly related to this conflict, included the War of the Breton Succession 1341 1364 , the Castilian Civil War 1366 1369 , the War of the Two Peters 1356 1375 in Aragon, and the 1383 85 Crisis in Portugal Later historians invented the term Hundred Years War as a periodization to encompass all of these events, thus constructing the longest military conflict in history.That is taken directly from Wiki Pay attention to the sentence I have underlined This is a book where the majority of pages are concerned with war and battles Tuchman has chosen to follow one man of nobility through his lifetime, Enguerrand de Coucy VII 1340 1397 He is from Picardy, France, and is married to the daughter of the Kind of England He is a perfect character to follow since he is thus connected to both the French and English nobility, the two warring nations He took part in many of the decisive battles The book follows what he DOES Little attempt is made to understand the psychology of the man That is not the point of the book You observe his actions Who does he marry What battles did he fight in Where did he live How did he die Through him we study medieval life and the Hundred Years War After his death Tuchman quickly summarizes the end of the Hundred Years War So while the Edwardian Era War and the Caroline War are depicted in complete detail as well as related battles with the Bretons, battles in Italy, in Spain, in Belgium and finally in Bulgaria contemporary country names used , only a quick summary of the Lancastrian War is given Enguerrand dies in 1397 at the Battle of Nicopolis in Bulgaria This explains why the Lancastrian War is summarized, in the epilog.Approximately the first fourth of the book establishes the setting Enguerrand was born in 1340 The world he was born into, that is the earlier years of the 14th Century prior to his birth are studied They provide a general overview of how people behaved and thought during the medieval era, while the remainder of the book coversclosely the battles I preferred the first part of the book The Black Death, the Schism of the Church, clothing, foods, mysticism, chivalry and how motherhood was perceived it s all here and it is all interesting, but there is too much to grasp given the abundance of details I listened to the audiobook narrated by Nadia May This was excellent, but I do NOT recommend the audiobook There are so many names of places and people it is hard to keep everything straight You need maps and genealogical charts which a paper book can easily provide I learned a lot It is an excellent book, but in terms of my personal enjoyment I can only say I liked it I don t love books describing battles.