Nicolle, David. Medieval Warfare Source Book. Vol. 1: Warfare in Western Christendom.

London: Arms and Armour Press, 1995.

I’ve worked my way through several volumes in this publisher’s “Source Book” series — disappeared into them for days at a time, actually — and this one is well up to the superior quality I’ve found in the others. Each book takes an “everything you want to know” approach and is largely successful for any reader without a Ph.D. in the subject under discussion.

Nicolle, an acute scholar and talented writer, begins with the obvious chronological approach, with sections on the “barbarian” invasions (and I’m pleased that he puts that word in quotes), the early medieval period (up to c.1100), the “high middle ages” (1100-1275), and the late medieval period (to 1400, which is reckoned to be the beginning of the Renaissance). Then, like the other volumes in this series, he includes a section of brief biographies of the most important military figures of the time (Alfred the Great, Attila, and Edward the Black Prince, but also Sir John Hawkwood and Othon de Grandson), and a detailed discussion of the sources available for the period. Then there’s a section of Miscellanea — how booty was distributed, how prisoners were treated, heraldry and insignia, medical and commissary operations, arms manufacture, and so on. Each of these sections is made up of several dozen brief discussions and essays, both topical or geographical, and the whole thing is very heavily illustrated. This approach means you can dip in almost anywhere and browse (and lose track of time), or you can consult the very thorough index in search of a specific topic, from the system of contract and indenture to river transport. As before, I can recommend this volume very highly. (Volume 2, by the way, covers the Byzantines, Persians, Turks, Mongols, and China during the same time span, as well as detailed coverage of the Crusades and the Reconquista.)

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