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Marc and Susan Osborne
4.0 out of 5 starsStill a great introduction to the Hundred Years’ War
Reviewed in the United States on February 13, 2019
Desmond Seward’s book is a short account of the Hundred Years’ War. It was written in the 70s, and its style is from that era. It emphasizes the kings and major players and battles, but it isn’t strong on the social and technological developments of the time, which significantly influenced the course of the war. And it tells the war as a story; it’s not in any way meant to be a scholarly work. Mr. Seward does emphasize the financial realities of the conflict, describing in some detail the fortunes made by English invaders through the plunder of France, an aspect of the war at odds with chivalrous images of the period. And Mr. Seward is a good writer. He has a succinct, readable style and brings a touch of drama to the tale. Overall, the book is a good introduction to the war. You’ll finish the book knowing “who, what, where, and when.” As for “why,” you might need another book for that.
Seward's _The Hundred Year's War_ is showing its age (it was first published in 1978), but for an introduction into one of the most influential conflicts in European history, it still holds up well. The complex political relationships between the houses of Plantagenet and Valois are reasonably clearly explained, and his disucssion on the competing claims to the French throne is outstanding for both its clarity and berevity.
No holds are barred in his assessment of the various rulers (from Edward II to Henry VI of England, and Philip VI to Charles VII of France). While a previous reviewer thought that Seward demonstrated a pro-English bias, I could find none; certainly the French suffered from both an appalling lack of leadership through most of the war, but the terror, plundering and economic havoc wrought on the French countryside is not excused, either. The details of the major battles (Crecy, Poitiers, Agincourt, Verneuil, Formigny, Castillion) is also quite good: the battle maps and disposition of troops are clear, and the wider strategic signficance of the battles is clearly detailed.
I give it a mediocre review for two reasons: first, the maps of English possessions in France are clustered together at the end of the book. It would have been much more helpful to have these maps included in the text itself as the area under control of one king or the other was (or was about to be) discussed. Second, while Seward repeatedly points out the net economic benefit the war had for England, the perplexing inconsistency of the financial troubles of the English crown was not clearly explained.
For a book its size (it is a little over 250 pages in length), the amount of detail and depth is commendable, particularly given the importance of the conflict to the creation of the modern nations of France and England (and, by extension, Great Britain). An interesting read for military historians, Shakespeare fans (I now have a much deeper understanding of his histories), or those interested in the early-modern period or late middle ages.
4.0 out of 5 starsGood Introduction to the Hundred Years War
Reviewed in the United States on August 5, 2020
Well written summary of the Hundred Years War in a rather short book. Such an extensive conflict would surely require many books to be discussed in detail, but the author makes a good job at summarizing the main events, and going to the details only when needed. The story is easy to follow, and it looks well researched.
As a non-English and non-French reader, the book seems a little biased in favor of the English position, or at least seemed to have been written for an English audience, but it's too subtle to criticize the book for it.
One thing that made the reading less fun at times was the use of some sentences or sayings in either French or old English, which in most cases felt like a lacuna in the text if you don't understand those languages. A footnote with a modern English translation would have been helpful.
3.0 out of 5 starsInformative, but you'd better know where every town in France is
Reviewed in the United States on March 30, 2021
I'm about 100 pages into the book and am learning a lot, for sure. But Seward bogs down his own writing by presuming you know where every city, port, town and hamlet are in France and the Low Countries.
For example, Edward III lays seige to Tournai. Where the heck is Tournai? Seward describes the siege but never gives a hint where Tournai is. He could just as easily have said "Tournai, in Hainalt." He does this again and again, and for someone who really wants to know what happened and where, but doesn't have a master's degree in French geography, this habit by Seward becomes really frustrating. You'd better have a bookmark in the map pages.
5.0 out of 5 starsThe Best Book on the 100 Years War Available
Reviewed in the United States on November 19, 2012
I've read multiple books about the 100 years war. Some are more detailed, most are much longer, but none are as engaging as Seward's account. Most history books are by their nature, rather dry. Seward seamlessly weaves history and story telling into one riveting book. He focuses on core figures of importance, and they become like characters in a fiction novel; heroes you root for and villains you despise. All the while he maintains accuracy and depth in his telling of this world-shaping war. What Seward achieves is a concise explanation of the war, it's famous and hair-raising battles and the political forces at work behind the conflict. He manages a comprehensive account of the war without getting into dry tangents. He portrays the famous "Black Prince" and his epic victory at Poitiers and never gets off topic by delineating the minutia most readers don't care about. E.g. he doesn't spend hundreds of pages delineating the kinds of crops grown in France and how that affected the socio-economic growth of an incipient nation.
Essentially, it's informative, fun and to the point.
4.0 out of 5 starsGood overview of the Hundred Years War...
Reviewed in the United States on October 8, 2012
This is a very well done overview of the 100 years war. One strong point is the way the author lays out the reasons for the war and the complex political struggle for the French throne.
It is somewhat biased in favour of the English side - the author refers sometimes to the French as the 'enemy' and gives some surprising support/defence for the burning of Joan of Arc. But that does not take away from the important contribution that this makes to an understanding of the period. It's not a light read - but it's not too heavy-footed either.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on February 28, 2013
Gave me a thorough knowledge in layman's terms of causes of war, relevant chronology and the ways in which the 2 countries transformed as a result of the events of the war without over-intellectualising!