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A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century

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Enguerrand in fact acted as both French and English as he had acquired double allegiance: to his own King and to the King and father of his wife. 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. 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. 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.

I was a little worried at the start that 600 pages of 14th century history might be, shall we say, a bit too much. She won the Pulitzer Prize in 1963 for The Guns of August and in 1972 for Stilwell and the American Experience in China, 1911-45 .This time Edward III's son, Edward Prince of Wales, faced the French King Jean II at Poitiers in 1356. 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.

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 standing.The disease (advanced by the Yersinia pestis bacteria) spread faster than fire across Europe from 1347, with victims displaying surprising symptoms that only confused and bewildered those who wanted to ascertain the cause and progress of the mysterious disease. Full of information and telling an amazing tale about the massive changes that take place over the course of a century. They provide a general overview of how people behaved and thought during the medieval era, while the remainder of the book covers more closely the battles. The Berbers held fast behind their walls while sending out harassing parties that avoided direct combat.

The Dukes were in charge and taxed everybody and everything to finance wars to expand their territories. 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. To get an idea of the eventfulness of the 14th Century, let’s take a brief look at the Battle of Poitiers in 1356. Since he (Enguerrad de Coucy) had first marched at fifteen against the English, and at eighteen hunted down the Jacquerie, the range of Coucy’s experience had extended over an extraordinary variety of combat, diplomacy, government, and social and political relationships. Slightly Foxed brings back forgotten voices through its Slightly Foxed and Plain Foxed Editions, a series of beautifully produced little pocket hardback reissues of classic memoirs, all of them absorbing and highly individual.This needn’t be a problem, however, as even with no other sources on the period you can think about and evaluate Tuchman’s main arguments and overall narrative just with the information in the book. 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.

But before I present the quote, I would like to draw attention to how shrewd Tuchman has been in the choice of her subject. This gives her plenty of confidence to pick and choose the most fascinating aspects of the 14 th century, and she slides with ease and grace into the most illustrious periods in that century, making her narrative engaging and exciting to read. That said, her chronological sections are just as engaging, displaying her rare gift for giving life to people who lived hundreds of years ago. Christians lost faith in the Church as priests too hid in fear or charged exorbitant fees to perform last rites. The main title, A Distant Mirror, conveys Tuchman's thesis that the death and suffering of the 14th century reflect those of the 20th century, particularly the horrors of World War I.Though I’m a bit wary that Tuchman is not a historian… I love books about Medieval times by Jacques le Goff, I’d argue that to date there was no better historian of Middle Ages than him – and Annales school of history, i. 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. She has been criticized, for among other things, using secondary sources and relying on poor translations. A wonderful, beautiful book painting a brilliant and detailed picture of France and Europe in the disastrous 14th century.

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