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22.01.05 Hosler/Isaac (eds.), Military Cultures and Martial Enterprises in the Middle Ages

22.01.05 Hosler/Isaac (eds.), Military Cultures and Martial Enterprises in the Middle Ages

Richard Abels, recently retired from the History department of the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, forged a career remarkable for its depth of scholarship, its breadth of interests, and the kindness of its practitioner. Professor Abels published scholarly monographs on kingship, lordship, and military culture in pre-1066 England as well as his Æthelred the Unready for a broader audience. He edited (with his longtime friend and intellectual sparring partner Bernie Bachrach) a festschrift in memory of C. Warren Hollister, and he wrote the introduction to a revised translation of the truly marvelous French epic poem Raoul de Cambrai. He published more than thirty articles, chapters, and introductions in journals and edited collections. He served as the President of the Charles Homer Haskins Society, spent a year at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, and (since 2012) is the namesake of the Abels-Johnson prize for the best undergraduate paper coming out of the Longwood Medieval Conference. In all facets of an academic career, Richard Abels has excelled.

An excellent scholar deserves an excellent festschrift; editors John Hosler and Steven Isaac have succeeded in producing a volume that both honors Abels and advances our understanding of many of the themes present in his own work. The book contains thirteen chapters plus an introduction written by Isaac. The articles are arranged in a roughly chronological fashion which, while effective, could have benefited from some thematic organization to bring out complementary themes and tie-ins to Abels’ scholarly interests.

Isaac introduces both the contents of the book and the character of the man at its heart. While both aspects are handled deftly, it is in the discussion of Abels himself that the reader grasps what he has meant to the field and to his colleagues. Isaac begins with a very personal and very endearing memory of meeting Abels at a conference and realizing that “footnotes are human beings” (2). Isaac moves on to give an excellent overview of Abels’ publications, his abilities with prose (a too-often neglected art in academic writing!), and his caring and affectionate demeanor--he comments that Abels could disagree with someone and still remain a collaborator and close friend. My own recollection of meeting Abels for the first time was one of a friendly, but pointed, argument he had with Bernie Bachrach after a session at the Haskins conference in 2001. Their debate spilled out of the seminar room, continued into and out of the restroom and carried on down the hall out of sight; it was quite an introduction to scholarly discourse! Isaac engages with Abels’ approach to scholarship, focusing on his desire to see historical developments with a lean towards complementarity, rather than binary contrasts, and his ease with sources (and even statistics!). There is a palpable sense of joy and humor throughout, which is both fitting for the subject and a pleasure to read.

Isaac also discusses Abels’ role as an educator at Annapolis. Teaching at Annapolis, Abels sought to introduce his largely STEM-focused midshipmen to the past in an accessible way. Showing future officers in the United States Navy how history could shape their understanding of the world is a service to both education and citizenship. Isaac also shows how Abels was an early adopter of making scholarly materials available online--a vital resource for scholars and students not located at research universities. That, again, speaks to Abels’ sense of service and pastoral care.

The collection begins, appropriately enough given their history of collaboration and disagreement, with an article by Bernie Bachrach entitled “Charlemagne’s Invasion of Spain in 778: The Anatomy of a Strategic Failure and its Impact.” Bachrach aims to assess why Charlemagne’s campaign of 778 failed and why it mattered. Bachrach continues his longstanding contention in favor of attributing to Charlemagne an overarching strategic vision and logistical prowess. He further argues that Charlemagne’s 778 campaign informed his later ones, including the installation of Christian fideles in captured strongholds (40).

David Bachrach follows his father’s article with a reexamination of military intelligence and strategic planning under the Ottonian kings of Germany. He demonstrates how medieval commanders and rulers utilized military intelligence to inform their operations and strategies, and he successfully pushes back against the pejorative idea that they were simplistic and lacked strategic vision. He shows how strategic intelligence gathering and long-term planning were both important in the military campaigns of the Ottonians.

The book continues with Ryan Lavelle’s article “Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens: Defeated Warriors, Masculinity, and Mistaken Identity in Western Europe, 679-1141.” In this he is taking on a theme from Abels’ own work--a focus on the less-commonly studied aspects of medieval warfare. The article is wide-ranging in its scope and vibrantly written. Lavelle finds wonderfully evocative examples of cowardice and mistaken identity in a wide swath of European warfare. However, the article does suffer from a loss of focus and probably should have concentrated on the phenomenon of mistaken identity.

Kelly DeVries examines the figure of Count Baldwin V of Flanders (d. 1067) and his impact on eleventh-century northern Europe. DeVries argues that Baldwin was a crucial figure in eleventh-century politics, but is often ignored by modern historians. DeVries gives an overview of Baldwin’s career, demonstrating his importance to events in France, England, and Germany. He discusses in great detail Baldwin’s role in the conquest of England, then finishes with his regency of France from 1060-1067 (though he had given Flanders to his sons in 1063). Overall, DeVries shows that Baldwin deserves scholarly attention and consideration.

The next five articles all consider how medieval chroniclers and authors depicted warfare and its effects. Stephen Morillo kicks it off with an article entitled “Kings and Fortuna: The Meaning of Brémule.” By examining how contemporaries depicted the battle of Brémule (fought between the forces of Henry I of England and Louis VI of France in 1119), Morillo shows how contemporary authors such as Orderic Vitalis were able to use the battle to advance their own ideas of morality and rightful combat. Jennifer Paxton pushes the analysis forward in time by considering how the historians writing during the “Anarchy” in England (1139-1153) reimagined the battle of Hastings and the Norman conquest of 1066. She demonstrates how monastic chroniclers of the mid to late twelfth century could “advance a particular view both of the Conquest and of more recent events” (132). John France follows with an article that seeks to use Gilbert of Mons’ Chronicle of Hainaut as a source for twelfth-century military history. He shows that Gilbert’s depiction of warfare reflected the ideals of those he depicted--“He praised valor and was indifferent to the human consequences of the destructive warfare he records” (154).

David Crouch offers a chapter that contextualizes the English chronicler Roger of Howden through his relationship with his home church. Crouch gives a very good overview of the context of the church of Howden and its lordship, including its relationship with Bishop Hugh de Puiset of Durham. He shows how that relationship affected Roger’s treatment of Hugh in his historical writing. Crouch finishes with a fascinating look at Roger’s actual house and the (somewhat speculative) contents of his library. Throughout, Crouch successfully contradicts R. W. Southern’s depiction of Roger as a “dour Yorkshire parson” and instead shows him to be a vigorous and lively traveler and observer.

John Hosler, co-editor of the volume, continues the look at Roger of Howden, this time in connection with his fellow commentators of the third crusade--Richard de Templo and the poet Ambroise. By comparing them to modern embedded combat journalists, Hosler seeks to examine their interpersonal relationships and to use their physical locations as a way to get at their recording and transmission of information on medieval warfare. Hosler does a wonderful job tracing stories and details in their various texts to show how they most likely could have come by the information and what that can, possibly, tell us about their interactions with one another during the Acre campaign. While speculative to a point, Hosler’s arguments are both insightful and compelling.

John Gillingham’s chapter “The Treatment of Male and Female Prisoners of War during the Third Crusade” contrasts how prisoners of war were treated by each side of the crusade. He also considers what social and ideological messages were sent by that treatment. More specifically, he reexamines the infamous slaughter of the Acre garrison by the army of English king Richard I. Gillingham argues that, far from being a senseless act of religious violence, Richard ordered the massacre due to an inability to neither guard the prisoners nor effectively transport them away from the combat zone.

Richard W. Kaeuper offers a chapter examining crusading and chivalry through the use of sermon exempla. As he has done throughout his career, Kaeuper argues that the line between “real” chronicles and sermon exempla is a “semi-permeable membrane” and that the sermon exempla serve as cultural markers that can tell us the values and anxieties of medieval civilization (212). Kaeuper argues that crusading and chivalric exploits, far from being in opposition, overlapped--feats of knightly prowess earned spiritual rewards alongside temporal honor. Crusading was not distinct and apart from chivalric violence; instead, it was at the top of the spectrum of meritorious fighting.

Clifford Rogers examines frontier warfare during the Hundred Years War through the St. Omer Chronicle. The chronicle is distinct in that it discusses small-scale engagements, which were common in the war, but are ignored elsewhere in favor of major battles and sieges. Rogers argues that the author was likely a knight who understood the nitty-gritty details of warfare and campaigning. His likely background lends an authenticity to the writing, including in his consideration of fear in battle as well as the clever deceptions used by commanders.

Finally, Carroll Gillmor’s chapter considers the practicalities of training medieval warhorses. Gillmor gives an excellent and compelling overview of the technical maneuvers used by horsemen in medieval combat and argues against the idea that medieval knights used similar techniques to modern equestrians (including the so-called “rollback turns”). Gillmor cautions us against relying on modern equestrian training and practice and reinforces the importance of maintaining a nuts-and-bolts practicality to understand the reality of medieval warfare.

Ultimately, this festschrift more than succeeds in honoring Richard Abels, as well as helping us better to understand the period and topics that he has devoted his life to illuminating. The contributions are unique, but ultimately bound together by the threads of Abels’ own career--a vigorous reexamination of accepted narratives grounded in a mastery of the sources and a willingness to think outside of the box.