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4.1 out of 5 stars
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4.1 out of 5 stars
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on 3 May 2017
Well written fascinating account of life in the 1300's, obvoiusly the subject is Hawkwood, but there is so much more to this book that gives insight to life in Europe in the middle ages - thank god I didn't live then - marauding lawless bands of mercinaries raping and pillaging without remorse, filthy vile clergy, bishops, cardinals and popes from hell, plague and famine
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on 21 March 2015
excellent book on Hawkwood.
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on 16 March 2010
The big problem with this book is there is virtually no extant writings by Sir John Hawkwood. This means that virtually all this book uses sources by other contemporaries or the author fills in the gaps with extremely well written background explanation. But the bold name on the book is "Hawkwood" not "What was Italy like in the late 14th Century?".

Had it been called that I would have given the book 5 out of 5 because it is a very well written and a hugely lively and entertaining account of the war, religion, death and disease of pre-Renaissance Italy. It's like seeing a James Bond film and discovering he's only in it for 40% of the movie, no matter how great the other 60% is you can't help but feel a bit cheated. Great chunks of chapters do not talk about Hawkwood and at times he is only mentioned in passing.

So this is a lively account of how foreign mercenaries in many ways created the political situation that was to last for the next 400 years in Italy. It has great stories about Papal corruption and interstate feuding but sadly the star of the show is all too often missing from the story.

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VINE VOICEon 12 November 2004
This is an absolutely blinding historical book. Reading through its hard to believe that this is actually something that happened, that a man like Hawkwood ever existed.
I can firstly recommend the book for the writing. The author clearly has no axe to grind, beyond an accurate retelling of renaissance life. This is successful thanks to what seems like meticulous reserach and presentation of incidental detail. Opinion is marked as opinion, fact is backed up by quote and reference. Any history student should be able to read this without getting annoyed.
Then, theres the story....Hawkwood was an utterly amoral man living in an astonishing time which he was able to milk for enormous wealth. A poor soldier from medieval Britain, he eventually walked amongst popes and princes. At their behest, he carried out acts of brutality beyond imagination. And yet, he was still a human being and he appears on the page not as a monster but as a man of his times, still a complex character with motivations and emotions.
I really can't recommend this book enough- this is a fantastic piece of storytelling and although often grim reading, a humane and intelligent work of history.
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on 3 August 2005
This is a really enjoyable overview of Italy in the 14th century - it is a land riven with disorder, political intrigue and warfare - a situation much exploited by the many mercenaries who flock to earn a living ( albeit a dishonest one! ). The author uses the life of John Hawkwood as the backdrop to the many alliances and conflicts that raged at the time. I have to say that overall you don't necessarily learn a huge amount about Hawkwood and by the end of the book he is still a bit of an enigma - I am guessing that is due to limited sources being available.
However the author's style is very readable and descriptive and I would recommend this to anyone interested in medieval history.
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on 24 June 2007
This is a well-researched, well-written book, and one that provides a good overview of the complexity of late 14th century Italian politics and medieval life more generally.

I disagree that it's 'too scholarly'. I do, however, share the concerns expressed above that, for a book 300+ pages, you don't learn as much as you'd like about Hawkwood himself (the more recent book by Caferro disproves the suggestion that there is a scarcity of material). Consequently, you do get the impression that this military genius spends a lot of time losing battles, rather than winning them. Hence 4 rather than 5 stars. But the diversions and detours ('padding' would be too harsh) are fascinating.

I have two minor quibbles: one that Stonor Saunders has a preoccupation about medieval sexlives (there surely aren't too many books about medieval mercenaries that has index entries for 'masturbation' and 'lesbianism'); and that, secondly, while at pains to highlight the Essex men around Hawkwood (p166), she misses out John Coe, who served with Hawkwood between 1386 and 1394: not only was Coe was from a neighbouring Essex parish to Hawkwood's Sible Heddingham, but he was partly responsible for the two later chantries dedicated to Hawkwood at Sible and Castle Heddingham

But this should not detract from what is an ejoyable and intelligent book.

[updated: 2009]
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on 10 December 2012
This is a fascinating study of a man unfamiliar to most and a not especially well-known period in history. The book is well-researched and written in an approachable,engaging style, and its author wears her undoubted erudition lightly. It is well worth reading; excellent value.
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VINE VOICEon 8 January 2014
Sir John Hawkwood was indeed a diabolical Englishman, but then so were an awful lot of other people, including the warring Popes and the Crusaders. A colourful story of colourful times - 14th century Europe was not a comfortable place to be and you had to be pretty tough to survive. Hawkwood was undoubtedly tough, probably ruthless but emphatically a leader of men. It's not a novel but it almost could be and if you like tales of mediaeval knights and so forth you will enjoy this well-written book.
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on 5 January 2012
This book provides a panoramic overview of Italy, and to a lesser extent France, in the fourteenth centuary. There are chapters on Avignon, Florence, Catherine of Siena, the Duke of Clarence, various Viscontis, numerous Popes.... Occasionally this chap Hawkwood gets a mention. He sounds interesting. I'd like to read a book about him some day.
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on 13 November 2014
This is quite a rollicking read that tells us more about the (extremely interesting) 14th century than about Hawkwood himself, although the main facts are all well presented in accessible, narrative style. There are a few typos that reverse the author's meaning - "yielding" for "wielding" in relation to a wife's control of her home, and the word "not" omitted from a crucial sentence etc. In addition to all the treachery and slaughter of the 13th and, mostly, 14th centuries, so well described by the author, they did nevertheless produce Dante, St Francis, Boccaccio, Petrarch, in addition to Chaucer. Note that this work doesn't pretend to be a work of original research, despite its extensive bibliography - it draws almost entirely on secondary sources, some of them seriously out of date, and translations of a very few contemporary chronicles. Altogether a highly enjoyable and informative page-turner.
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