The bitter conflict between England and France we call The Hundred Years War, and lasting 116 years between 1337 and 1453, was fought over claims by the English kings to the French throne. By the end of this titanic struggle, it can fairly be said that the Middle Ages had come to an end. By the mid-15th century, in the place of feudal monarchies that had depended on the support of their vassals at the outbreak of the war, we find the genesis of the modern nation state with a stable, centralized government backed by a standing professional army, paid for by taxation. Volume One briefly traces the causes of the conflict and then plunges straight ahead into the military preparations and initial clashes, mainly naval. Under what many consider the leadership of England's greatest sovereign, Edward III, Calais is seized as a port-of-entry for English arms and supplies. With Calais secure in his rear, Edward marches into the interior of France and comes to grips with Philip's army at Crécy in 1346, an epoch changing calamity for France. After numerous sieges, marches and smaller battles, the next French King, John II, is captured by Edward's son, the Black Prince, at the battle of Poitiers in 1356. By the time of Edward III's death in 1377, England controls a good third of French territory. But the French doggedly resist, and the war drags on into a desultory second phase lasting well into the early 1400s. The Hundred Years War is a military history, and probably the finest English chronicle of these confusing events. Drawing upon all known English and French sources, A. H. Burne has assembled a stunning narrative that sweeps you into the military camps of the English and French kings. Volume 2 carries the story to its climactic ending in 1453.
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There are few offerings on Audible for this particular set of campaigns, so anyone interested in this really needs to know up front what they're getting into.
The first thing to note is that there are different kinds of historical accounts, and these serve different functions. This account is NOT a political history. It's a military history. That means that, just as the synopsis says, the causes of the war are briefly touched upon, but the bulk of this narrative deals with troop movements, battles, and the overall progress of the armies involved. For the armchair war gamer, this book will be the type that gets people to pull out the old maps and push around plastic markers.
For those not familiar with the time period, please understand that this work isn't targeted for those seeking to learn the basics, and it was never meant to be. In other words, you will not find here an understanding of who these people are and why they're doing any of what they do. This book is targeted for those who are already interested in (and thus have a solid idea of) the biographies and politics of the age and want to dig deeper into the campaigns themselves. Personally, I'd recommend starting with overview histories of Medieval England and France so as to learn who the key players are and to get a sense of the politics. Start broad so you can see how each era molds the next, then start narrowing the focus to this era. Get to know the likes of Edward III, the Black Prince, John of Gaunt, Philip the Fair, Henry V, and Joan of Arc. From there, move to a working knowledge of armor, of castle sieges, and of swords, longbows, and cannon, as these things will inform your understanding of what these troops were dealing with. And then if you decide you absolutely love the idea of a military history, this is the book for you. Most general history enthusiasts never get to this point. It's not a mark against the historian or the audience, it's simply a measure of the specialization involved. Some might take a book such as this as an opportunity to test their personal limits.
If you ARE in this target audience, you might want to know that some details within are compared to battles and movements through the same areas in World War I, and there are even parallels to the American Civil War, so if you know something about those campaigns, even better.
It should also be noted that this is not a fair and balanced account of the war. This is a more British-centric account, by a British historian, for a British audience, using mostly British resources. And while that might also be a big negative for some, it's folly to assume every history has to be a balanced account. There are considerably fewer Muslim-centric accounts of the Crusades available in English, for example, than there are Crusader-oriented accounts by the very nature of the historians. Understanding the strengths and interests of the historian helps to better understand the history being provided. General audiences will have a harder time wrapping their heads around this, but this is common, especially for military histories. It's also important to note that the French forces were largely pounded, especially under Edward III's campaigns, so their records are simply harder to find. That we have anything at all is of value.
Other reviewers have commented on the quality of the narration. I'm predisposed to enjoying Charlton Griffin's work, though admittedly most of what I've heard him narrate up to this point is more literary. For example, he did an amazing job with Milton's Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained, but you won't find such poetry here. Griffin is clearly aware of it too. He brings some level of drama to this account, but the account doesn't lend itself to melodrama. It's dry and scholarly reading for a niche audience, as you might expect an historian to deliver. Griffin does his best to kick it up a notch, and to my mind he does so admirably. As to his pronunciation of French... I don't know French, so I can't tell how close to the mark he is. I only know that most British speakers have peculiar but consistent ways they mangle the French language as a cultural prerogative that goes all the way back to 1066, and this is probably in keeping with it. All things considered, it sounded good to my ears, but as I say, I don't speak French. My advice is to listen to the sample and judge accordingly.
Having understood up front what to expect, and being interested enough to give it a go anyway, I think my only real gripe is that this title is broken into two parts. For the life of me, I can't imagine why, especially since the physical book is a single volume. If I can get the entirety of the Bible or the original Sherlock Holmes canon spanning dozens of hours for only one credit, why can't I get 20 hours of military audio for the same? Also, it'd be nice if there were maybe some PDF material that gave us some workable military maps. Still, for what it is, I'm rather pleased with it. I'd still love to get some better political overviews of this era on Audible though.
I became interested in the 100 Year War after reading George R.R. Martin's "Song of Ice and Fire" series. I had heard that Martin's series was based on the 100 year war (and The War of the Roses).
"The Hundred Year War, Volume 1" is no fantansy, but it's still a good story. It introduced me to two fascinating historical figures I was not familiar with -- King Edward III, and his son, "The Black Prince", Edward the IV.
"The Song of Ice and Fire" gives a fictional account of the horrors of medieval warfare. After reading this history, I'd say Martin got it right. It was brutal warfare, especially if you were a peasant.
For fantasy fans this is a good read. It is certainly not fantasy and reads as a history, but it provides so much back-ground material that is present in modern fantasy. Much of the warfare depicted in Robert Jordan's "Wheel of Time" series comes right out of the 100 year war. (The "Two Rivers" bow, is of course, the English longbow.)
As to the English longbow, it utterly dominated the battlefield. It was a simple, but brutally effective weapon and was the main reason why the English army was so effective in this war.
I am no fan of feudalism or Kingdoms, and would not like to live under such systems, but when the ruling classes of the medieval era decided to go to war, they were right in the thick of the battle. King Edwards or his son was present in every major battle depicted in this book. Compare that to our own effete ruling classes. Except in very rare circumstances, they and their children will be many thousands of miles from the battles of the wars they start.