The Hundred Years War: A Military History by Alfred H. Burne

I found this in 2 volumes on Audible.  There are few offerings on Audible for this particular set of campaigns, so anyone interested in this really needs to know up front what they’re getting into.

The first thing to note is that there are different kinds of historical accounts, and these serve different functions. This account is NOT a political history. It’s a military history. That means that, just as the synopsis says, the causes of the war are briefly touched upon, but the bulk of this narrative deals with troop movements, battles, and the overall progress of the armies involved. For the armchair war gamer, this book will be the type that gets people to pull out the old maps and push around plastic markers.

For those not familiar with the time period, please understand that this work isn’t targeted for those seeking to learn the basics, and it was never meant to be. In other words, you will not find here an understanding of who these people are and why they’re doing any of what they do. This book is targeted for those who are already interested in (and thus have a solid idea of) the biographies and politics of the age and want to dig deeper into the campaigns themselves. Personally, I’d recommend starting with overview histories of Medieval England and France so as to learn who the key players are and to get a sense of the politics. Start broad so you can see how each era molds the next, then start narrowing the focus to this era. Get to know the likes of Edward III, the Black Prince, John of Gaunt, Philip the Fair, Henry V, Charles VI and VII, and Joan of Arc. From there, move to a working knowledge of armor, of castle sieges, and of swords, longbows, and cannon, as these things will inform your understanding of what these troops were dealing with. And then if you decide you absolutely love the idea of a military history, this is the book for you. Most general history enthusiasts never get to this point. It’s not a mark against the historian or the audience, it’s simply a measure of the specialization involved. Some might take a book such as this as an opportunity to test their personal limits.

If you ARE in this target audience, you might want to know that some details within are compared to battles and movements through the same areas in World War I, and there are even parallels to the American Civil War, so if you know something about those campaigns, even better.

It should also be noted that this is not entirely a fair and balanced account of the war. This is a more British-centric account, by a British historian, for a British audience, using mostly British resources. And while that might also be a big negative for some, it’s folly to assume every history has to be a balanced account. There are considerably fewer Muslim-centric accounts of the Crusades available in English, for example, than there are Crusader-oriented accounts by the very nature of the historians. Understanding the strengths and interests of the historian helps to better understand the history being provided. General audiences will have a harder time wrapping their heads around this, but this is common, especially for military histories. It’s also important to note that the French forces were largely pounded, especially under Edward III’s campaigns, so their records are simply harder to find. That we have anything at all is of value.

That said, records from Henry V’s road to Agincourt to the end of the war are more readily available, and the accounts are more balanced as a result.

Other reviewers have commented on the quality of the narration. I’m predisposed to enjoying Charlton Griffin’s work, though admittedly most of what I’ve heard him narrate up to this point is more literary. For example, he did an amazing job with Milton’s Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained, but you won’t find such poetry here. Griffin is clearly aware of it too. He brings some level of drama to this account, but the account doesn’t lend itself to melodrama. It’s dry and scholarly reading for a niche audience, as you might expect an historian to deliver. Griffin does his best to kick it up a notch, and to my mind he does so admirably. As to his pronunciation of French… I don’t know French, so I can’t tell how close to the mark he is. I only know that most British speakers have peculiar but consistent ways they mangle the French language as a cultural prerogative that goes all the way back to 1066, and this is probably in keeping with it. All things considered, it sounded good to my ears, but as I say, I don’t speak French. My advice is to listen to the sample and judge accordingly.

Having understood up front what to expect, and being interested enough to give it a go anyway, I think my only real gripe is that this title is broken into two parts. For the life of me, I can’t imagine why, especially since the physical book is a single volume. If I can get the entirety of the Bible or the original Sherlock Holmes canon spanning dozens of hours for only one credit, why can’t I get 20 hours of military audio for the same? Also, it’d be nice if there were maybe some PDF material that gave us some workable military maps. Still, for what it is, I’m rather pleased with it. I’d still love to get some better political overviews of this era on Audible though. Thankfully they still print paper books help to fill in those gaps.

One other minor point of disconnect for me is the historian’s lack of practical understanding of armor, which is only natural. Admittedly, I have a bit a bit of insider info here, as I do historical sword combat for fun. But I can speak from experience when I say that you truly have no real understanding of just how mobile a properly armored knight in full kit can be until you yourself have armored up and learned to fight in it. It defies all logic how well it moves if it’s put together by people who know what they’re doing. So if a man with no formal training can learn to move in it in a couple of months, then it stands to reason that people who lived and died by it would similarly adapt out of necessity. As I say, it’s a minor point as reconstructing the Western martial arts of the time is a relatively new thing, and not yet part of the common historical tool belt.

4 stars

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