Friday, 18 April 2014

Medieval Warfare - Bob Carruthers

The information presented was written by Chris Buckham; however, it was published in Medieval Warfare Magazine. Therefore, the material is reproduced here by the author with the permission of the magazine. If you would like to republish this information or refer to excerpts please contact: Dirk van Gorp (  Website for the Magazine is:‎

Title: Medieval Warfare
Author: Edited and Introduced by Bob Carruthers
ISBN: 978-1-78159-224-3
Pages: 224
Photographs: 43 b/w sketches

Carruthers has undertaken, with his book Medieval Warfare, to bring the work of 19th century Scottish historian and author James Grant to a new audience. The author provides an introductory chapter and then limits his involvement to editing Grant’s work for a more modern reading culture (while still retaining the flavor of the original work). Thus it is that a number of medieval encounters of limited renown, such as Halidon Hill, Najera and Roverai, are once again brought to light alongside a number of better known encounters such as Agincourt, Bannockburn and Hastings.

Each of the seventeen battles reviewed is outlined and discussed in such a manner that the reader is provided an adequate explanation of the background to the conflict and how the engagement unfolded. Each chapter represents an individual battle and each may be read independently without having to refer to earlier parts. This makes for a book that may easily be picked after a period on the shelf and restarted from where one left off.

Along with a discussion of how the battle unfolded, Grant (the original author) provides images of the weapons from the period and explanations of how they were used in combat. He also discusses tactics and planning methods that commanders exercised. These tactics extended to both land and sea borne battles. Thus, for example, the reader is introduced to the use of unslaked lime being thrown from English to French ships during the Battle of Dover in order to blind and burn their adversaries as the English boarded the French ships. Additionally, he also provides fascinating insights into the methods and requirements for the levies that made up the medieval armies. A typical English (non-noble) soldier was expected to be an expert with the long bow and be able to fire at least twelve times a minute with no misses at 250 yards. Grant also incorporates the politics of the period as part of the explanation behind the instigation of hostilities. This can be rather confusing given the convoluted alliances and titles of the medieval period; notwithstanding the fact that strife was just as likely to be instigated both internally within a household as externally between ‘countries’.

The language used by Grant in describing the engagements does come across as somewhat dated; however, this is to be expected as it is essentially his original articles from the mid 1800’s with minor editorial adjustments. Nevertheless, they remain easily read and followed. Additionally, given the time frame between when Grant wrote his pieces and modern analysis of the battles, new information has come to light that has had a significant impact on what we understand took place. Therefore, items such as numbers of combatants involved and the character of individuals (such as King John) while accurate given the information available in the 19th century are somewhat skewed by 21st century evaluations.

I was somewhat less than impressed with the style of the introduction provided by Mr Carruthers. Specifically, I found it to be grammatically awkward in many places and that there exists a series of typographical errors. It struck me as being hastily and casually drafted. Conversely, the information provided by Carruthers as part of his introduction was beneficial as he provides an educational (albeit truncated) synopsis of siege warfare, fortifications, army organization and recruiting from the period.

The book is not long and it covers a significant period of time. Therefore, the degree of depth and analysis of the combats reviewed is relatively short and superficial. Nevertheless, it does achieve a number of successes in that it brings to light a number of key conflicts through which may be traced the development of weapons and tactics throughout the medieval period. Additionally, by introducing the reader to the conflicts, it serves to act as an engaging doorway to stimulate further study into the periods, especially into those battles that have not had the public exposure of Agincourt or Hastings. Overall, I would say that it is a worthwhile and interesting read but not a critical addition to one’s library.


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