By Barbara W. Tuchman
"Wise, witty, and beautiful . . . an exceptional publication, in an outstanding historic tradition." —CommentaryThe 14th century provides us again contradictory photos: a glittering time of crusades and castles, cathedrals and chivalry, and a dismal time of ferocity and non secular soreness, a global plunged right into a chaos of warfare, worry and the Plague. Barbara Tuchman anatomizes the century, revealing either the good rhythms of background and the grain and texture of household existence because it was once lived.
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Additional resources for A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century
Yet still they disagree. J. C. Russell puts the pre-plague population of France at 21 million, Ferdinand Lot at 15 or 16 million, and Edouard Perroy at a lowly 10 to 11 million. Size of population affects studies of everything else—taxes, life expectancy, commerce and agriculture, famine or plenty—and here are figures by modern authorities which differ by 100 percent. Chroniclers’ figures which seem obviously distorted appear in my text in quotation marks. Discrepancies of supposed fact were often due to mistakes of oral transmission or later misreading of a manuscript source, as when the Dame de Courcy, subject of an international scandal, was mistaken by an otherwise careful 19th century historian for Coucy’s second wife, at a cost, for a while, of devastating confusion to the present author.
No age is tidy or made of whole cloth, and none is a more checkered fabric than the Middle Ages. One must also remember that the Middle Ages change color depending on who is looking at them. Historians’ prejudices and points of view—and thus their selection of material—have changed considerably over a period of 600 years. During the three centuries following the 14th, history was virtually a genealogy of nobility, devoted to tracing dynastic lines and family connections and infused by the idea of the noble as a superior person.
The destrier or war-horse was bred to be “strong, fiery, swift, and faithful” and ridden only in combat. En route the knight rode his palfrey, high-bred but of quieter disposition, while his squire led the destrier at his right hand—hence its name, from dexter. In fulfilling military service, horse and knight were considered inseparable; without a mount the knight was a mere man. Battle was his exaltation. ” The troubadour Bertrand de Born, himself a noble, was more explicit. My heart is filled with gladness when I see Strong castles besieged, stockades broken and overwhelmed, Many vassals struck down, Horses of the dead and wounded roving at random.