4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 2 July 2010
This is a well written account of some examples of the butchery man is capable of. I have long studied military History,so the content wasn't surprising to me.I read these newer texts mainly for fresh takes on the Histories i learned long ago. This book gives excellent insight into the thoughts and reasoning of men in the middle ages, examples must be made of traitors and the disloyal, the more brutal the execution , the better the deterrent was the thinking. In this modern era it is the same, except nowdays we are not talking nearly so savagely,people are dismissed or publicly humiliated through the press etc, but the principles are still the same. The book is not for the squeamish,it is quite graphic in descriptions of atrocities, but it makes compelling reading for the newcomer to this subject. A good book at a reasonable price.By Sword And Fire: Cruelty And Atrocity In Medieval Warfare: The Savage Reality of Medieval Warfare (Cassell Military Paperbacks)
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on 2 September 2011
Based on the reviews of other customers I expected this book to be full of horrifying stories. That was not the case. This book gives good insight in the logic of warfare why sometimes it is prudent to apply atrocity, while in other cases it might be better not to do so. For readers that are new in medieval warfare it may look very grimm sometimes but for those who have already red a lot about that topic it will be less shocking and will give you valuable new insights.
19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on 17 February 2010
By Sword and Fire is a fine book. A history of war in a period that was surrounded by it. The Crusades, Wars of Independence in Scotland, the Hundred Years War-the list could go on. There were stories of hardship: the fall of Chateu Galliard in 1204 for example, or the Siege of Calais in 1347. Or battles like Bouvines in 1214, Striling in 1297, Poitiers in 1356. A great book.
Sean did his homework for this book. He balance evidence with good storytelling. The very eccence of this book was that is was a story of how the ordinary people could get in the way of a looting army that could destroy their homes and livelyhoods. A book on how war was waged to achieve a final goal. Anyone who got in the way was free range. This was a spetacular book of war, famine, sword, and fire.
I loved this book and the way it was written. It was a good story of how war will destroy more than it creates. A wonderful book.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 28 April 2014
I've always been interested in the medieval era, I used to have trouble understanding why they did what they did. But despite being rather cruel, what they did usually served a purpose and was rarely seen as an atrocity in those days. The wellknown and much respected Richard I killing a whole garisson of prisoners would be a fine example.
But that did not stop him from becoming one of the most famous kings of Europe, because such atrocities were not considered crimes in his day. He won his battles, according to medieval chronicles(and people) it meant that he had 'just cause'.
This book will give you a good, sometimes graphic explanation of why atrocities took place and why these were accepted as ligitimate actions. Those interested in the subject will also enjoy the first chapter which deals with crime and punishment in civilian life. The book is wellwritten and easily draws you into that world.
I will sound cruel now but it really is enjoyable to read.
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
This has been waiting for me to get to it for a while; now seemed a good time to dive into it. Having read a very large amount of history from a number of periods and countries, I'm not really surprised by what may be classed as "cruelty and atrocity" in medieval warfare - it happened, there's no doubt - and for whatever reasons. But it's interesting to see it incorporated as a theme into a historical non-fiction book. This book is particularly important due to the wide geographical and chronological scope in which the theme is explored. Having said that, the focus is on England, France and the Crusades - there is no in-depth exploration of the theme in the context of Italy or Sicily, Scandinavia, the Iberian states or other European areas.
To balance out the other side of the story i.e. why would knights who portray themselves as perfect examples of chivalry appear to commit such acts - I suggest reading around chivalry and its role in the middle ages - perhaps The Knight and Chivalry by Richard Barber would be a good start - and even some specific reading around histories of the Knights Templar, Knights Hospitaler and the Teutonic Knights. It's important to understand that while chivalry (and its concomitent rights and responsibilities, codes and literature) may have played little to no part in actual warfare, it was still, and for many valid reasons, a very important part of medieval culture, and remained relevant to large sections of society.
It's also important to realise that savagery, cruelty, atrocity, whatever you want to call it, was not absent from political or religious life outside warfare in medieval times (or any other time, for that matter). Being burnt to death for being a `heretic' or a `witch', being boiled to death for poisoning someone, or being hanged, drawn and quartered as a traitor - are these more or less `barbaric' fates than those dealt or suffered in medieval warfare? The entirety of medieval culture needs to be explored in order to be able to pass a balanced judgment on the `normality' or otherwise of the methods used in warfare.
These are not criticisms of the book; merely reminders that these things need to be studied not in isolation, but in conjunction with other aspects of medieval life in order to be able to go some way to understanding the `mentalité' of the people who lived in those times. A good read; recommended for anyone interested in Medieval European history.
22 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on 7 February 2010
This is indeed a seminal and engaging work which had me gripped all the way through as another reviewer has commented. I was left very much with the impression that the atrocities committed in more recent conflicts are little different from those committed in elder times, and often for the same reasons (loot, peer pressure, ethnic hatred etc). War seems to carry on from one era to the next in a "business as usual" fashion (business being the operative word - warfare and money seem always to have been close bedpartners!) As for chivalry, the romantic ideal of "Knights in Shining Armour" fighting for the common good and to protect the weak, all in the name of God, is well and truly shattered in this book - returning home laden with plundered wealth was likely just as much on the mind of a Crusader taking part in a massacre as it would have been on the mind of a Viking raider of earlier times doing pretty much the same thing. "There's nothing new under the sun" is a sentiment expressed by another reviewer, and one I'd certainly concur with - I was very much left with that feeling once I'd finished reading this. The excellent notes and bibliography at the back provide plenty of info for further research and my wishlist here on amazon is now somewhat longer!
I used to read horror fiction by the likes of Stephen King, thinking that such titles contained the absolute endword in terror, conjured purely from the more fantastical reaches of the human imagination and therefor safely and easily shrugged off once one closes the book and switches off the bedside lamp. Since I've begun to read non-fiction historical works such as this though, the horrors contained therein are not so easily cast from the mind. Real people such as you or I experienced the things described in these pages, and some of them are so beyond anything I've encountered even in the most gruesome of fictional tales that many passages have stayed with me many days after reading them. Other works on the subject of war such as Goldberg's "Hitler's Willing Executioners" and Babchenko's "One Soldier's War in Chechnya" had a similar effect on me - leaving a kind of psychological reeling sensation that causes the events read about to resurface frequently long after the book has been put down. This is certainly a one not easily forgotten anyway, and deserves to be on the shelf of any who want to understand more about the darker side of human nature.
30 of 36 people found the following review helpful
on 2 August 2008
For any body who wants to learn about the times of our medieval past - how we treated one another, wars, the cruelty and atrocities it brought - then I suggest you look no further than Sean McGlynn's By Sword And Fire: The savage reality of the so-called `Age of Chivalry."
The book starts off with a quoting from a passage "Looking back at the Spanish Civil War" by one of our great literary geniuses George Orwell. This sets the mood.
How did we treat our fellow man in bygone days, what was the punishment this uncivilised society metered out? This is discussed in Chapter 1 Violence, covering crime and punishment and entertainment, which Sean McGlynn says "was also very often violent. Sometimes, like today, it was the offshoot of a sporting event." He then describes many atrocities in the name of "friendly" sports.... such as nailing a cat to a post so contestants could "headbutt it to death" or chasing a pig through the market place with clubs. This sets the tone for more "serious" brutality to come.
The book looks at warfare, how the Church played its part - most of the time violently and with vengeance in its heart. He looks at the Kings who ruled with an iron fist... and some lesser and more feeble Kings just trying to impress so that they can play their part for posterity. He also covers the Crusades against the Muslims, the unclean and unwashed (at least that is how the Christian Churches and its warriors saw it). Sean McGlynn takes us on a journey through European medieval ethnic cleansing and onto the Middle East (some things just don't change). How the aristocracy fought each other for favours or just to get the upper hand (and the brutal punishments they received when failing): kings, religious missionaries, and noble men evoking the name of God to rile up their supporters so that they can carry out their barbaric and sickening onslaughts for power and prestige. We also learn that Machiavellian thinking was in full swing long before Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli actually wrote his notorious The Prince in 1513 (published after his death in 1532; five years later). It seems there is never anything new under the sun.
We are taken through the famous and less famous battles: Verden (782), Waterford, Hattin, Acre, Agincourt, Towton and through to Tewkesbury in 1471. Famous sieges; Jerusalem in 1099, Chateau Gaillard, Beziers and through to Limoges in 1370 and Rouen 1418/19. Campaigns that made their mark in history: William the Conqueror's Harrying of the North 1069-70, King David's Scottish invasion in 1138, King John's Winter Campaign (1215-16) until we finally hit The Black Prince's Grand Chevauchee in 1355. What all these famous battles, sieges and campaigns have in common are their brutality and how they achieved their ends. Sean McGlynn gives a detailed and minute blow by blow description of the battles, tortures, bloodshed and atrocities; you can almost smell the stench all these centuries later, as he brings back the bloody ambience to our present day. On all these subjects he draws his own unique conclusions.
Sean McGlynn leaves no stone unturned in his quest to paint a realistic picture of our savage and uncivilised past. As we reflect his words we see how a world we thought we had left far behind wasn't really left behind at all, but is still here with us in our so-called enlightened times: Hitler's devastation of Europe and the Jewish holocaust, Stalin's purges which went into their millions, Mao's cultural revolution, Bosnia's ethnic cleansing, Rwanda's genocide and much more. Societies change and improve, technology develops but man is still as aggressive as the first days he walked this Earth, still lusting after bloodshed and power. This is a book for the layman, as well as the more advanced academic, to read. It is said to understand the present and to learn what the future will hold we must look back into our murky past and this book does just that. It certainly has enlightened me.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 31 January 2013
A lot of good information and interesting ideas but the parts didn't hang together as a whole for me. The chapter themes seemed a little artificial and I found the chapters of varying quality. The good ones read well but there were certainly a couple where it was all spread a little thin and repeated things from earlier. Good footnotes and references. I would recommend it for the specialists and enthusiasts but not for the casual reader.
4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
McGlynn is convincing when he claims that contemporary medieval desciptions of wartime atrocities were fairly accurate rather than being grossly exaggerated. Similarly persuasive are his theories that such acts were carried out for strategic and political reasons rather than simply because people were less civilised at the time. In fact he is at pains to point out how quickly modern man reverts to performing similar barbarities in the same circumstances. He also describes said savageries - and many others seemingly completely unrelated to warfare at all - in graphic detail; possibly too graphic frankly. I'm not sure that he is right to claim that much of what he writes had been forgotten or overlooked by historians - I certainly already knew much of it and I'm as lay a reader as one could imagine - but the stories bear repeating and he tells them well.
2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 23 May 2011
It's quite an interesting book and the central thesis of the book - that medieval atrocities and what we would now term "war crimes" were committed more often than not in the cold blooded pursuit of a military imperative rather than in adreline fuelled killing frenzy - is well defended.
On the other hand, I wasn't particularly aware that this thesis was contested or debated. And, as the author admits, you can obviously find counter-examples where massacres occured because the troops got a bit trigger-happy.
So while I find this an interesting book for the wealth of details and the variety of situations it allows one to cover in a short while, I thought that it was also getting a bit repetitive in hammering his thesis.
A well deserved 4 star.