19.12.08 Curry and Gazeau (eds.), La guerre en Normandie

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Frederik Buylaert

The Medieval Review 19.12.08

Curry, Anne, and Véronique Gazeau, eds. La guerre en Normandie (XIe-XVe siècle). Colloque international de Cerisy. Caen, France: Université de Caen Normandie, 2018. pp. 359. ISBN: 978-2-84133-889-4 (paperback).

Reviewed by:
Frederik Buylaert
Ghent University
frederik.buylaert@ugent.be

This book contains the proceedings of a conference held at Cerisy in October 2015 to commemorate the battle of Azincourt (25 October 1415), which heralded the occupation of large parts of France by the English Crown up to the mid-fifteenth century. While "Lancastrian France" was not limited to Normandy, the exclusive focus on this principality is certainly warranted. Even before the sixteenth-century boom of the Atlantic economy, Normandy was one of the wealthiest parts of France, providing up to a quarter of the royal tailles. Politically speaking, the principality was both important and exceptional, as it combined a persistent tradition of autonomy and strong regional identities with a close proximity to Paris and London as the capitals of the burgeoning English and French Crowns. Control over the principality would move back and forth, as Normandy first belonged to the Plantagenet empire before being conquered by the Capet dynasty in 1202-1204. In the Hundred Years' War (1337-1453), then, this tug-of-war was repeated until the Valois monarchy secured the principality again in 1449-1450.

As Jonathan Dewald has pointed out, Normandy's complex history is an important case-study for the intersections among state building, the formation of regional identities and elites, and economic change. [1] Much of the empirical research that underpinned Joseph Strayer's seminal work on France as a nascent "modern state," for example, pertained to thirteenth-century Normandy, and the first four of the eighteen contributions to this volume continue that rich scholarly tradition. The contribution of Matthew Bennett provides a concise analysis of key factors in successful attempts to conquer Normandy in the twelfth and early thirteenth centuries, while Daniel Power develops an incisive discussion of the Capetian conquest of 1202-1204. Xavier Hélary uses muster rolls from 1272 to probe the bonds between the French Crown and the local nobility and fiefholders, and, last but not least, Elisabeth Lalou provides a brief, well-informed discussion of how the French Crown organized and funded several maritime campaigns in the late thirteenth century. Taken together, these contributions confirm once more that warfare is an effective lens to probe the interactions between state and society.

The remaining fourteen contributions all focus on Normandy in the Hundred Years' War, and just as with the first four contributions, the aim is usually fairly modest. Some contributions restrict themselves to highlighting specific sources that may be useful for more ambitious research projects. Aleksandr Lobanov and Ekaterina Nosova, for example, use their linguistic and heuristic skills to develop a survey of all sources on Lancastrian Normandy that currently reside in St. Petersburg, whereas Daniel Jacquet, Vincent Deluz and Delphine Dejonghe bring into focus the textual and archaeological evidence that is available to reassess deeply entrenched assumptions about the longbow as a crucial factor in English military successes. In a similar vein, Godfried Croenen shares his latest results in his ongoing analysis of the incredibly complex process of reécriture that shaped Froissart's famous chronicles, while Philippe Contamine discusses the authorship and composition of the somewhat understudied chronicleRecouvrement de Normandie (1450).

Other scholars do not focus so much on specific sources, but on case-studies of prominent actors or episodes. So Valérie Toureille provides a critical overview and interpretation of the French reconquest of the town of Dieppe in 1443, which was an important stepping stone for further reconquest of English-occupied territories, and David Flasson effectively revisits the defense of the Mont Saint-Michel, by showing that continued French control over this strategically and ideologically important site was not the heroic feat of an isolated defenders, but the result of sustained support by the Valois kings. The contributions of Anne Curry and Bertrand Schnerb, then, focus on specific dimensions of war as a social project, as they focus respectively on the social and geographical background of the warbands and their commanders that the French Crown deployed against the English in the 1410s, and on the attempts of Henry V to impose military discipline among his troops so as to secure the goodwill of the local population.

These contributions are all well-researched, and another plus is that the collaborators are usually successful in navigating the complex historiography. The military history of the Hundred Years' War has long suffered from the tendency in nineteenth- and twentieth-century historiography to read this complex engagement through the lens of emerging nation-states so that French- and English-language scholarship often co-existed in splendid isolation. In that regard, it is uplifting to note that the British and French historians are usually well aware of the relevant scholarship in other languages, even if there is still a substantial margin for improvement. The otherwise fine French-language contribution of Quentin Auvray on the colorful fourteenth-century Norman nobleman Godefroy d'Harcourt, for example, would have greatly benefited from the recent English-language monograph on French seigneurial wars. [2]

Because of the specific focus of the book and the relatively narrow setup of the individual research projects, the contributions are usually only of particular interest to specialists of the Hundred Years' War or of Norman history. Within those two fields, this volume is a welcome addition to the scholarship, not least because the volume is carefully edited and indexed, and properly framed with historiographical essays by Anne Curry and François Neveux.

One contribution, however, is potentially interesting to historians who are working on other episodes in French history than the English occupation of Normandy, that is, the contribution of Neil Murphy and Graeme Small on the political aftermath of the Valois reconquest of Lancastrian Normandy. Proceeding from a comparative analysis of Caen and Rouen, the two authors develop a nuanced but revisionist assessment of the supposedly harmonious interactions between French towns and the Crown in the fifteenth and early sixteenth century. While the classic interpretation of Bernard Chevalier should not be discarded, Murphy and Small argue effectively that new research is necessary that pays more attention to the agency of towns as political actors. The questions raised in this essay are of great interest to any political historian of pre-modern France.

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Notes:

1. Jonathan Dewald, The Formation of a Provincial Nobility. The Magistrates of the Parlement of Rouen, 1499-1610 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980), 7.

2. Justine Firnhaber-Baker, Violence and the State in Medieval Languedoc (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014).

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