It's almost as if the nine years that have passed since the publication ofTrial by Battle
, the first volume of Jonathan Sumption's ongoing history of the Hundred Years War, never happened, so seamlessly does Trial By Fire
continue the narrative.
Trial by Fire documents the continuing relentless domination of France by Edward III from the fall of Calais in 1347 to his decision in 1369 to add the French coat of arms to those of England on his seals in celebration of his apparent triumph. Along the way we see the French reduced to a squabbling rabble after the Battle of Poitiers in 1356 which resulted in revolutions in Paris and the countryside. Sumption is too shrewd an observer to tell such a one-sided history and he is at pains to point out that however impressive the English victories may have seemed, the scale of them was largely illusory and short-lived.
Whatever the perception of the Hundred Years War as an epic conflict between two nation states, the reality was far more complicated. Both the English and the French camps were made up of a series of uneasy and shifting alliances. So who actually won never became clear--at least not until long after the swords had been sheathed. For instance, after King John II had been captured at Poitiers, the French were forced into a humiliating treaty which handed over much of France to King Edward. But John conveniently, or inconveniently, depending which way you look at it, died shortly after and his successor Charles V decided there were good reasons to no longer recognise the agreement. Seen like this, Edward's decision to add the French coat of arms to the English looks more like an empty gesture than an expression of all-conquering might.
As with the first volume, Sumption writes with engaging simplicity, making sense of the apparently pointless and bringing together a cast of thousands into a homogenous digestible whole. -- John Crace
Hundred Years War Vol 2: Trial by Fire is the second volume of Jonathan Sumption's hugely acclaimed history of the Hundred Years War, covering the middle years of the fourteenth century, including the French defeat at Poitiers and the capture of the king.