Richard Barber begins his lengthy exploration of the Company of the Garter--that it was founded as a Company, rather than a Chivalric Order, is one of the central arguments of the book--with a thorough survey of the sources. He begins his critique with what he refers to as the "dramatic and picturesque." The dramatic and picturesque included perhaps the source best known to a popular as well as a scholarly audience: Jean Froissart. But Barber turns first to Froissart's exemplar, the aristocratic Liège canon Jean Le Bel. Le Bel receives high praise for his eyewitness knowledge as well as his efforts to separate rumor from fact, even while still writing what Barber describes as a literary account of the wars of Edward III. Froissart, although of humbler stock than Le Bel, aspired to record the great deeds of arms of his day. Although not writing about contemporary events, he did seek out oral accounts from men who had been present at these great events, and worked as a brilliant journalist, if not always a journalist concerned with checking his facts. Still, Barber concludes that "if we read him first and foremost for the mindset of the princes and magnates of the period, he is invaluable" (13). Jean Bernier, provost of Hainault, receives passing mention, as does Gilles li Muisis, canon of Tournai, whom Barber describes as the "antidote to Froissart." Jean de Venette, prior of the Carmelite house in Paris, is well-connected to the lay world, and like li Muisis chose to record the disastrous events of his time from the French point of view.
The French chroniclers are then contrasted to their English counterparts, Thomas Gray and Chandos Herald, both of whom has first-hand experience of the wars of Edward III, the former in Scotland and the latter in France. Barber also examines the work of the Spaniard Pedro Lopez de Ayala, who fought on the losing side at Najera, but then wrote an account of the campaign employing methods similar to those of Le Bel and Froissart. Adam Murimuth, Robert of Avesbury, and Geoffrey le Baker are also considered and Barber rounds out his historiographical survey with a comparison of the traditions of history writing that developed in St. Albans and St. Denis and in London and Paris. Attention is also given to official newsletters, semi-official communiques such as The Acts of War of Edward III, and personal correspondence, limited as it is. Finally, Barber is intrigued by the anonymous Roman chronicle account of the battle of Crécy recently brought to light by Maurizio Campanelli.
The first section of the book is devoted to "the rise of English power." Barber begins by drawing a personal portrait of the young Edward III, and places particular emphasis on his early tournaments, especially noting the intriguing Arthurian "society of Craddok" that the king seems to have created in 1328. He also points to Edward's collegiality, a trait his father had never learned. Edward's early campaigns in Scotland and on the continent are covered, and Barber makes an interesting observation when he notes that France may have been familiar linguistically and culturally to Edward and his commanders, but was entirely alien to the English common soldier. As Barber builds towards the Crécy campaign, he discusses the many tournaments of the first half of the 1340s, including Edward's announced intent to create a new Round Table at Windsor in January 1344, but he stresses that Edward III's Arthur was the Arthur of the chronicles, of Geoffrey of Monmouth, not the Arthur of the romances.
The logistics of the Crécy campaign are covered in considerable detail, and Barber subscribes to Clifford Rogers' thesis that Edward was "seeking battle' from the outset. For the battle of Crécy itself, Barber relies heavily on the account of Giovanni Villani, supplemented by the anonymous Roman chronicle mentioned earlier. His controversial reconstruction of the battle formation is provided at the end of the book in a separate appendix. Barber focuses on the death of King John of Bohemia, arguing that it was the funeral of the king--a moment of tragedy amidst triumph--that defined the foundation of the Garter, which he describes as "a religious confraternity dedicated to remembering the departed and to honouring Edward and his family" (244).
The second part of the book focuses on the Company of the Garter. The re-establishment of the royal chapels of St. Stephen at Westminster and St. Edward at Windsor in August 1348 was a crucial step in the development of the Garter. St. Stephen's may be seen in terms of the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris, as a dynastic chapel where prayers were to be said for past, present and future members of the Plantagenet dynasty. Kingship was depicted here as a divine calling. At Windsor Castle, symbolic of the king's military power, the College of St. George was dedicated to the Virgin, St. Edward and St. George. It was here that the king would commemorate his great victories in France. After a brief discussion of the increasing prominence of St. George in England, Barber goes on to consider the Garter badge and its motto, which he argues should be translated as "Shamed be he who thinks ill on it," seeing it as a direct reference to the English victory at Crécy, where Edward had shamed the French. The blue and gold of the garter are French, and it is really not a garter at all, but rather a miniature knight's belt, the cingulum militare. Despite slightly earlier references to a "societate Garteri," the first annual assembly took place on St. George's Day, 23 April 1349. Barber is doubtful of the tradition of jousts at Windsor, with surviving evidence confirming only two, in 1349 and 1358. Indeed, rejecting Juliet Vale, Ian Mortimer, and others, he concludes that the "the tournament element of the Garter is probably a mirage" (283). Following a consideration of the physical features of the chapel and its probable decoration, Barber turns to a close examination of the "company of the knights of Saint George de la gartiere," beginning with a detailed reading of the earliest surviving version of the statutes, as well as the list of founders in le Baker's chronicle, arriving at a list of thirty-seven knights (including the twenty-four founders aside from the king and prince), to whom he refers as the "companions to 1360." All but two of these (Jean de Grailly, captal de Buch, and Thomas, son of Robert Ufford, earl of Suffolk) had been present at the siege of Calais. Examining their credentials, Barber concludes that "the original companions of the Garter had been chosen because of their military prowess, and their successors were expected to be the elite commanders of the future" (306). He goes on to trace family networks among the Garter knights, as well as the religion and religious foundations associated with companions of the Garter.
In the relatively short part 3 ("The World of the Garter Companions"), Barber seeks to set the Company of the Garter in the broader context of contemporary orders of chivalry. Along with the earlier crusading orders, he discusses the Order of St. Catherine, The Congregation of the Virgin and St. George, the Company or Society of Knights of Our Lady of the Noble House of St. Ouen, and The Order of the Sash. He follows this with an examination of manuals of knighthood by Ramon Llull and Geoffroy de Charny and the development of the Court of Chivalry in England.
The final section of the book, part 4 ("A Question of Honor"), deals with the involvement of the Garter knights in the chevauchée conducted by the Black Prince in 1355 and the ensuing Poitiers campaign, in part to answer questions about the command structure of the medieval army. Barber argues that at least part of the explanation for the success of the Black Prince at Poitiers is to be credited "to the spirit of teamwork reflected in Edward III's creation of the Company of the Garter" (440). Moving forward to the Reims campaign and the subsequent treaty of Brétigny, Barber turns to the aftermath of the great campaigns of Edward III in an examination of the career of one of the Garter knights, Eustace d'Auberchicourt, now in the service of Charles of Navarre. This is followed by an account of the Black Prince's Najéra campaign.
With the death of the Black Prince and Edward III, and the resurgence of the French, the existence of the Company of the Garter was threatened. In October 1377 Enguerrand de Coucy, earl of Bedford and lord of Coucy, son-in-law of Edward III, resigned from the "company and order of the Garter" as war had been resumed and he felt obligated to serve "his natural and sovereign lord the king of France" (465). And yet the Order of the Garter did survive, not just the renewed hostilities with France, but also the deposition of an English king, Richard II, to be reconstituted by the Lancastrian kings.
The book concludes with a series of appendices. The first proposes a revised understanding of the battle formation of the English army at Crécy; and the second is an examination of the identity of Sauchet d'Auberchicourt, long the most mysterious of the knights of the Garter; the third appendix provides biographical material for the Companions of the Garter elected before 1361; the fourth appendix provides a chronological list of the tournaments of Edward III; and the fifth and final appendix provides an English translation of the earliest known Latin text of the Statutes of the Garter (Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Ashmole 1128).
Richard Barber has produced a big book that addresses big questions. While many of the issues surrounding the foundation and function of the Company of the Garter will remain controversial, Barber is to be congratulated for assembling so much of the evidence to address these issues in a single place. Edward III and the Triumph of England is certain to inspire further work on this fascinating subject.