AskHistorians Contributions, Long Reads

The Long Middle Ages

Wild Reddit Question Appears!

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Is the Long Middle Ages theory seriously considered by historians?

My brother told me about his history teacher when he was at the university telling him that he believed in a theory saying that the Middle Ages should be reconsidered as not ending with the fall of Constantinople or the discovery of America, but rather with the Industrial Revolution/French Revolution. Is this a real thing considered by some historians, or is it some obscure theory from dark places?


My Answer

The Periodization of the Middle Ages

The periodization of the Middle Ages is a historiographical legacy. It should be challenged. It should be revised. However, university chairs and editorial directives are now defined by this legacy and it’d be very hard to change anything about it…

I can’t for the life of me find the historian who first said that the Middle Ages started in 476 and ended in 1453 or 1492. I think I’ll never find him… However, the medieval era is commonly defined between the infamous “fall of Rome” (was it a “fall”, really? was it still “Rome”? who could answer such things?), set in 476, and the less notorious “fall of Constantinople” or “second fall of Rome”, set in 1453. Oddly enough 1453 is also the year that marks the symbolic end of the Hundred Years’ War (it was only put to an end diplomatically in 1475) and some historians would also like to make it a big thing. However, other argued that 1492 served as a better moment to mark the “end of an era” or a “new dawn for mankind” since it’s the year Columbus reaches the America—though he thinks at the time he’s found a new way to China; he’ll actually die without knowing that he actually landed on an uncharted continent. 1492 was also a big year for Spain for another reason: it marks the end of the Reconquista. The last Muslim kingdom of Granada falls to the Catholic Kings, Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile.

What’s funny with those dates is that they prioritize military achievements and political events above everything else. The invention of the printing press doesn’t serve as a landmark in that discussion. Events from outside Europe are totally ignored. The list could go on for several pages. In the end, the periodization of the Middle Ages is a historiographical legacy. It should be challenged. It should be revised. However, university chairs and editorial directives are now defined by this legacy and it’d be very hard to change anything about it… It’s both a blessing and a curse! It helps us to navigate through history easily but it also blinds us from a lot of different realities.

What in a Date? A Year, by any Other Time…

“Do you think people changed their way of life overnight? Of course not! Why then do we say that 1492 ends the Middle Ages? It’s more a landmark than anything else. People’s life didn’t change all of a sudden. If it did it was through a long process. 1492 is the high note of a long symphony, not some point of no return.”

The 9gag army was here

I distinctively remember my history teacher, Mrs B., telling us about the “great” discovery of America by Columbus, in 1492. She said: “Do you think people changed their way of life overnight? Of course not! Why then do we say that 1492 ends the Middle Ages? It’s more a landmark than anything else. People’s life didn’t change all of a sudden. If it did it was through a long process. 1492 is the high note of a long symphony, not some point of no return.”

I recently wrote an answer about the importance given to the 1066 conquest of England by William of Normandy. Back in the 11th century, 1066 was just another year in the span of a lifetime. It is true that the Norman rule brought a lot of change in the political management of the British Isles. However, those change came slowly and not overnight. It took time to William to assert his authority and deal with the last pockets of resistance. Then he had to know his new kingdom better before he could do anything with it. That’s when the Doomsday Book came to fruition.

The year 1066 became a “big thing” only in retrospect. When 14th and 15th century chroniclers tried to justify the over-expensive and never-ending war led by the kings of England against the kings of France. The latter were defined as a threat for the English people and even as a threat to the English language itself! The Norman conquest of 1066 served as a painful reminder. This was more a construct than anything, though.

Historians still do that when they look back into the past. They elevate a few dates to the level symbolic and meaningful constructs. It becomes a part of their reasoning. A way for them to “make sense” out of the past and put everything into a coherent narrative. In and of themselves, however, dates and years basically mean nothing to the great scale of the universe.


  • Joan of Arc’s Charisma
    People took Joan of Arc seriously because they believed in magic and miracles. She was only human though, but that’s what makes her story even more fascinating.
  • John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury (1387-1453)
    John Talbot was a relentless captain. So relentless in fact that he would find reasons to fight even in times of peace. Once, he came back to England for a few years and he started a judicial quarrel that almost led to an open conflict. The Duke of Bedford was wise enough to summon him in France, on the frontline, where he brought havoc to his enemies. Talbot was very gifted in starting and managing feuds.
  • Edward of Woodstock, the Black Prince (1330-1376)
    The Black Prince achieved great military deeds and dazzled many people with his lavish court in southern France–he was prince of Aquitaine. At age 16 he “won his spurs” leading the English vanguard at the Battle of Crécy (1346). Ten years later he vanquished the French at Poitiers and even managed to capture their king, John the Good! He would still insure a great military victory at Najera (1367) against a Franco-Trastamaran coalition. The man was a military prodigy.

Petrarch’s “Dark Ages”

Petrarch saw the beginning of the Dark Ages as the moment Rome fell under foreign control. It means that the so-called golden age of the Antonin dynasty marks as the downfall of Rome in Petrarch’s mind. It would backtrack the start of the Middle Ages to the year 96!

Sculpture of Petrarch in Florence (Italy)

Many have attributed to Petrarch the notion of “Middle Ages”. Theodore E. Mommsen wrote convincingly about it in his article: “Petrarch’s Conception of the ‘Dark Ages’” (1942)—available on JStor. As Petrarch roamed through Rome and its ruins he was flabbergasted by the little knowledge that its inhabitants had of those great historical landmarks. Mommsen writes (p. 232): “Petrarch complains bitterly that the contemporary Romans know nothing about Rome and things Roman. In his opinion this ignorance is disastrous. For he asks: ‘Who can doubt that Rome would rise up again if she but began to know herself?’”

As a matter of fact, Petrarch saw the beginning of the Dark Ages as the moment Rome fell under foreign control. It means that the so-called golden age of the Antonin dynasty marks as the downfall of Rome in Petrarch’s mind. It would backtrack the start of the Middle Ages to the year 96! Again, what was “Rome”? How did it “fall”? Cato the Elder, Cicero, Petrarch and Edward Gibbon would each argue a very different point of view on the matter! I chuckled recently when I read that no one actively sought to destroy the Western Roman Empire. It collapsed on its own. There’s actually nothing inherently wrong in that statement. The Western Roman Empire just… died out.

Jacques Le Goff, Inventor of the Long Middle Ages?

The age of mills was only put to an end by the age of machines. Le Goff lists up most of what argue in favour of a continuity instead of a divide between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance: means of transportation, economic structures (both material and intellectual), metallurgy, manners and politeness, landscape features, etc.

Picture of Jacques Le Goff
By the way… “Ceci est bel et bien une pipe.”

Jacques Le Goff is probably the most influential French medievalist of the latter 20th century. He still has students and admirers all over the world. His historical biography of Louis IX of France revolutionized the genre. The deeds of a man were not to be taken out of their context from anymore and that context had to be thoroughly studied. It didn’t suffice to enumerate the facts on a man’s life. You also had to understand his era, the social mind-set of his time and the economical structures he grew up in. That’s why Le Goff’s biography of Louis IX is one very heavy book!

Now, not to point out fingers, but Le Goff actually came up with the idea of the Long Middle Ages! He spent many interviews defending its validity before he eventually wrote a book about it. Recently translated into English, Must We Divide History Into Periods? argues in its final chapter that the Middle Ages lasted until the Industrial Revolution. The age of mills was only put to an end by the age of machines. Le Goff lists up most of what argue in favour of a continuity instead of a divide between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance: means of transportation, economic structures (both material and intellectual), metallurgy, manners and politeness, landscape features, etc. Alcohol is pointed out as a proper novelty, yet he writes (p. 85): “As Braudel remarks, if the sixteenth created alcohol, it was the eighteenth that popularized it. Brandy, produced especially in monasteries, was commonly prescribed by physicians and apothecaries as a remedy against plague, gout, and loss of voice. It did not become a festive drink until the eighteenth century.” The eighteenth century represents the real “turning point” in history whereas the Renaissance is mostly seen as the medieval demonstration of a somewhat typical spiritual and political crisis.

Therefore we could conclude that, indeed, the Long Middle Age theory is seriously considered by historians. It’s a theory that was propagated by historians in the first place!

Ernest Gellner and the Two Only Real Revolutions

His book Plough, Sword and Book: The Structure of Human History argues that there were only two real revolutions: the Neolithic Revolution and the Industrial Revolution. It means that he sees a very long continuity between late Prehistoric Times or early Ancient History and the Contemporary Era.

Picture of Ernest Gellner

An idea, however great or bad it is, is never the fact of one single man. Ideas float in the air. Anyone can grab them if you keep your mind open. Ernest Gellner, a philosopher who wrote most of his books on how to make sense of history, also argued that the Industrial Revolution more than any revolution or “Renaissance” before it brought a definitive change to human societies. To be fair, his book Plough, Sword and Book: The Structure of Human History argues that there were only two real revolutions: the Neolithic Revolution and the Industrial Revolution. It means that he sees a very long continuity between late Prehistoric Times or early Ancient History and the Contemporary Era. The overthrowing of governments doesn’t mean a thing from a philosophical standpoint. Political or military history are negligible. What really matters is the structure of human society: how people live day-by-day? How do they organize their time? What do they give importance to? How do they run their society? Every pre-industrialized civilization shares a lot of traits with each other. The patterns follow the same rules though they show a lot of variations. Gellner’s theory is quite long and arduous to read. After all, he criticizes the theories of Hegel and Husserl while building upon it. Make sure to understand it fully before dismissing it as “dumb” or “inaccurate”. Many people tend to react poorly when faced with heavy philosophy for they’re suddenly faced with unfamiliar concepts and ideas that critically challenge their daily preconceptions of the world.

In conclusion, not only is the idea of a Long Middle Ages a pretty serious theory among medievalists. It’s also only the start of a greater concept of history for philosophers.


Mark Twain. Joan of Arc. Frand Du Mond (1896). The Capture of the Tourelles.
Age of Empires 2, AoE2 Campaigns, AskHistorians Contributions, Long Reads

Did Joan of Arc actually Lead the French Army?

Wild Reddit Question Appears

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Did Joan of Arc actually fight and lead an army in the battle of Orleans, or was she propped up as a figurehead?

So I’ve always wondered this since I learned about Joan of Arc in grade school. IIRC, she was an illiterate girl whose only real education was in Catholicism. After apparently hearing the voice of God telling her that she’s destined to lead France to victory, she convinced then-prince Charles to give her an army to take back Orleans, and that she would install him as king. And of course, she succeeded in both endeavors.

Here’s my question: in lieu her limited education and experience, did she actually fight in and lead an army/devise tactics for the battle to retake Orleans? Or was she simply “given credit” for political, troop morale, and enemy intimidation purposes?

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    Paris, BnF, français 5054. Martial d'Auvergne. Vigiles de la mort de Charles VII. Illuminated Manuscript. Joan of Arc. Jeanne d'Arc. Compiègne.
    Joan is being captured by the Burgundians at Compiègne – Paris, BnF, fr. 5054, f. 70r

    My Answer

    The idea of Joan fighting is not debated. Many written sources relayed the fact that she was properly armed on the battlefield and participated in the war effort. She got hit by arrows twice, at Orléans (in the shoulder) and at Paris (in the leg). She was fighting alright!

    Now, what about her commanding the troops? Kelly DeVries wrote a biography on Joan of Arc to argue that she was in fact “A Military Leader” (1999). However he gives Joan too much credit in my opinion. He states that Joan’s rashness inspired other military leaders of her time when I actually observed in the 15th century chronicles that everything Joan “did”, the other captains serving Charles VII were already doing it long before she came to the scene (attacking the enemy by surprise, being relentless, etc.). What mostly held them back was the politics behind the war.

    Many written sources relayed the fact that she was properly armed on the battlefield and participated in the war effort. She got hit by arrows twice, at Orléans (in the shoulder) and at Paris (in the leg).

    Philippe Contamine, the most expert French historian about the 15th century, already observed that the English were poorly organized at Orléans. Their forces were too widely spread around the town. It was “easy” to take down one fort after the other. When Joan arrived, the most skilled of Charles VII’s captains were already at Orléans: La Hire, Poton de Xaintrailles, the Chabanne brothers, the bastard of Orléans… Those people knew how to fight and they had no duke nor prince to overrule them. They could “play ugly” and they didn’t care for the glory or the etiquette. The battle of Patay is an obvious example of that. La Hire and Xaintrailles rushed the enemy as soon as they spotted them, taking them by surprise and routing them out. A few months ago, at the battle of the Herrings, they’d been asked to wait for the arrival of the duke of Bourbon, who wished to claim the glory of the battle. It led to a gory defeat as the English mustered the time to organize their defending position and make themselves impervious to swift and heavy cavalry charges (a French specialty).

    Paris, BnF, français 5054. Martial d'Auvergne. Vigiles de la mort de Charles VII. Jeanne d'Arc. Joan of Arc. Paris. Illuminated manuscript.
    Joan of Arc besieges Paris – Paris, BnF, fr. 5054, f. 66v

    Nevertheless, Joan certainly wished to act as a commander. She was quite bossy, and sassy too. She was never given any proper command title, but she certainly became a leading figure in the French army. Though she mostly became some kind of celebrity–people loved and/or hated her, she was on every lips—she also acted as a proper commander. At Compiègne, when she was captured, she was actually insuring the retreat of “her” troops by staying behind. According to the chivalric art of war, a leader was always supposed to be on the front line, the closest to the enemy. Joan of Arc was also the most relentless “leader” at the siege of Paris. She was determined to take the city (which was defended by Burgundian soldiers—she hated the Burgundians). The duke of Alençon actually had to go and fetch her to take her away from the battle when everybody knew the day was lost.

    There was a glass-ceiling that she never could break. She never was a formal military leader. Moreover her military “career” was far too short for her to prove herself as an autonomous leader.

    The school of war was done on the battlefield at the beginning of the 15th century. We suspect some of Charles VII’s captains of not being able to write or read. Yet they could certainly fight and come up with crazy and daring tactics. Many of Charles VII’s captains were actually “self-taught” (meaning they were schooled by masters on the battlefield through practice and didn’t go to an academy of any kind) and were appointed/elected to their position by their peers since the military institutions of that time fell into total anarchy between 1418 and 1441. Some of them even had pretty obscure origins, pretty much like Joan of Arc.

    In conclusion there was a glass-ceiling that she never could break. She never was a formal military leader. Moreover her military “career” was far too short for her to prove herself as an autonomous leader. She didn’t have any military company of her own (any proper “captain” had his own band of brothers-in-arms). She always tagged along or she was placed, here and there, as a mascot–which infuriated her. La Hire, Xaintrailles and others actually tried to replace her once she was dead with a random shepherd they found on some field or something. It led to an utter disaster of a battle that, to my knowledge, was only recorded by a Burgundian chronicler (but a reliable one). The endeavor was never repeated. However, Joan of Arc showed promises and at that time women could lead armies. Princesses, Queens or Duchesses actually commanded their troops in some cases when their husbands were away (or dead). Little is known about them actually fighting, though, but they certainly knew how to rule and strategize. The key at that time for any ruler was to surround themselves with shrewd and capable advisors and to listen to them, then only to take decisions and boss people around—well, that’s what I believe at least—but also what people at that time thought of good government!

    La Hire, Xaintrailles and others actually tried to replace her once she was dead with a random shepherd they found on some field or something.

    For further readings, don’t hesitate to ask, but most of the scholarly work on Joan of Arc was written in French. A good place to start though is the forever great Pernoud, Régine & Clin, Marie-Véronique. Joan of Arc: Her Story. trans. Jeremy Duquesnay Adams. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 1999.


    More about Joan of Arc

    Joan of Arc’s Charisma

    People took Joan of Arc seriously because they believed in magic and miracles. She was only human though, but that’s what makes her story even more fascinating.

    Did Joan of Arc actually Lead the French Army?

    Joan of Arc never was a formal military leader. Moreover her military “career” was far too short for her to prove herself as an autonomous leader. However, she showed promises and at that time women could lead armies.


    Joan of Arc Hero-General in Age of Empires 2

    In a former post I briefly discussed about how Age of Empires 2 wrongly gave Joan of Arc the title of “Commander of the Army of France”. That function actually lied with the “Connétable” (which was the proper title of such a high office) who was chosen for life by the king—once he’d obtained his title, it couldn’t be taken away from him. Back in 1429, the French Connétable was Arthur de Richemont, who has an entry on my blog regarding his background.

    First, I would like to pinpoint where that historical mistake came from. Then I would like to say a few more words about Richemont’s relationship with Joan of Arc as the actual commander-in-chief or the French army.

    Joe Staten, creative director for Microsoft who helped to design the first Age of Empires game stated that his “real passion was history. [He] read a lot of historical fiction and so when Age came around […] it was this perfect melding of the kinds of games that [he] liked to play: real-time strategy games with this history that [he] loved.”

    There we have it: the Age of Empires series doesn’t draw from history books but from historical novels. Building on that fact it becomes quite easy to find out the novel that inspired the Joan of Arc campaign in Age of Empires 2. We just have to look at the most influential of them all: the Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc by Mark Twain, first published in 1896. As a matter of fact, that very novel contains a chapter titled “She Is Made General-In-Chief.” It isn’t too long so I’ll simply paste it here for you to read.

    Mark Twain Creates Joan of Arc General

    It was indeed a great day, and a stirring thing to see.

    She had won! It was a mistake of Tremouille and her other ill-wishers to let her hold court those nights.

    The commission of priests sent to Lorraine ostensibly to inquire into Joan’s character—in fact to weary her with delays and wear out her purpose and make her give it up—arrived back and reported her character perfect. Our affairs were in full career now, you see.

    Dead France woke suddenly to life, wherever the great news travelled. Whereas before, the spiritless and cowed people hung their heads and slunk away if one mentioned war to them, now they came clamoring to be enlisted under the banner of the Maid of Vaucouleurs, and the roaring of war-songs and the thundering of the drums filled all the air.

    Mark Twain. Joan of Arc. Frand Du Mond
    Illustration by F. V. Du Mond.

    The verdict made a prodigious stir. Dead France woke suddenly to life, wherever the great news travelled. Whereas before, the spiritless and cowed people hung their heads and slunk away if one mentioned war to them, now they came clamoring to be enlisted under the banner of the Maid of Vaucouleurs, and the roaring of war-songs and the thundering of the drums filled all the air. I remembered now what she had said, that time there in our village when I proved by facts and statistics that France’s case was hopeless, and nothing could ever rouse the people from their lethargy:

    “They will hear the drums—and they will answer, they will march!”

    It has been said that misfortunes never come one at a time, but in a body. In our case it was the same with good luck. Having got a start, it came flooding in, tide after tide. Our next wave of it was of this sort. There had been grave doubts among the priests as to whether the Church ought to permit a female soldier to dress like a man. But now came a verdict on that head. Two of the greatest scholars and theologians of the time—one of whom had been Chancellor of the University of Paris—rendered it. They decided that since Joan “must do the work of a man and a soldier, it is just and legitimate that her apparel should conform to the situation.”

    Two of the greatest scholars and theologians of the time—one of whom had been Chancellor of the University of Paris—rendered it. They decided that since Joan “must do the work of a man and a soldier, it is just and legitimate that her apparel should conform to the situation.”

    Mark Twain. Joan of Arc. Frand Du Mond (1896). Joan discovers the disguised king.
    Illustration by F. V. Du Mond.

    It was a great point gained, the Church’s authority to dress as a man. Oh, yes, wave on wave the good luck came sweeping in. Never mind about the smaller waves, let us come to the largest one of all, the wave that swept us small fry quite off our feet and almost drowned us with joy. The day of the great verdict, couriers had been despatched to the King with it, and the next morning bright and early the clear notes of a bugle came floating to us on the crisp air, and we pricked up our ears and began to count them. One—two—three; pause; one—two; pause; one—two—three, again—and out we skipped and went flying; for that formula was used only when the King’s herald-at-arms would deliver a proclamation to the people. As we hurried along, people came racing out of every street and house and alley, men, women, and children, all flushed, excited, and throwing lacking articles of clothing on as they ran; still those clear notes pealed out, and still the rush of people increased till the whole town was abroad and streaming along the principal street. At last we reached the square, which was now packed with citizens, and there, high on the pedestal of the great cross, we saw the herald in his brilliant costume, with his servitors about him. The next moment he began his delivery in the powerful voice proper to his office:

    “Know all men, and take heed therefore, that the most high, the most illustrious Charles, by the grace of God King of France, hath been pleased to confer upon his well-beloved servant Joan of Arc, called the Maid, the title, emoluments, authorities, and dignity of General-in-Chief of the Armies of France—”

    The most illustrious Charles, by the grace of God King of France, hath been pleased to confer upon his well-beloved servant Joan of Arc, called the Maid, the title, emoluments, authorities, and dignity of General-in-Chief of the Armies of France.

    Here a thousand caps flew in the air, and the multitude burst into a hurricane of cheers that raged and raged till it seemed as if it would never come to an end; but at last it did; then the herald went on and finished:

    —“and hath appointed to be her lieutenant and chief of staff a prince of his royal house, his grace the Duke of Alençon!”

    Mark Twain. Joan of Arc. Frand Du Mond (1896). Joan's entry into Orléans (from a painting by Scherrer)
    Illustration by F. V. Du Mond.

    That was the end, and the hurricane began again, and was split up into innumerable strips by the blowers of it and wafted through all the lanes and streets of the town.

    General of the Armies of France, with a prince of the blood for subordinate! Yesterday she was nothing—to-day she was this. Yesterday she was not even a sergeant, not even a corporal, not even a private—to-day, with one step, she was at the top. Yesterday she was less than nobody to the newest recruit—to-day her command was law to La Hire, Saintrailles, the Bastard of Orleans, and all those others, veterans of old renown, illustrious masters of the trade of war. These were the thoughts I was thinking; I was trying to realize this strange and wonderful thing that had happened, you see.

    Yesterday she was not even a sergeant, not even a corporal, not even a private—to-day, with one step, she was at the top. Yesterday she was less than nobody to the newest recruit—to-day her command was law to La Hire.

    My mind went travelling back, and presently lighted upon a picture—a picture which was still so new and fresh in my memory that it seemed a matter of only yesterday—and indeed its date was no further back than the first days of January. This is what it was. A peasant-girl in a far-off village, her seventeenth year not yet quite completed, and herself and her village as unknown as if they had been on the other side of the globe. She had picked up a friendless wanderer somewhere and brought it home—a small gray kitten in a forlorn and starving condition—and had fed it and comforted it and got its confidence and made it believe in her, and now it was curled up in her lap asleep, and she was knitting a coarse stocking and thinking—dreaming—about what, one may never know. And now—the kitten had hardly had time to become a cat, and yet already the girl is General of the Armies of France, with a prince of the blood to give orders to, and out of her village obscurity her name has climbed up like the sun and is visible from all corners of the land! It made me dizzy to think of these things, they were so out of the common order, and seemed so impossible.

    Mark Twain. Joan of Arc. Frand Du Mond (1896). The Siege of Orléans (From the painting by J. E. Lenepveu in the Panthéon at Paris)
    Illustration by F. V. Du Mond.

    3 Historical Mistakes In Twain’s Narrative

    Unfortunately Mark Twain wasn’t writing a history book but a historical novel. To be good or great novels abide to a set of dramatic rules. Everything seems “bigger than life” though at the same time “oddly probable” in a novel.

    In order to make his novel more enticing or catchy, Mark Twain tweaked a few facts here and there. Nothing much… but just enough to mix the historical truth with pure fiction and sell a few lies as facts.

    There Were No Statistics in the Middle Ages

    Twain really wants to make us understand how crazy Joan’s mission was. How impossible it was deemed to achieve. How incredible it was when it was. That’s what makes her story worthy of being told. Joan’s story is worth to be remembered because she did the impossible. She was a simple peasant girl who lead the French army to an impossible victory against the English. That’s the pitch.

    Therefore Joan is not only confronted to a fixed social order but also to cold hard reason. It’s being shown in the novel through the anachronistic use of statistics. There were to statistics in the Middle Age. The mathematical optimisation of the public order was not yet a thing. The mathematical language in itself had not even been constructed yet! However, “numbers don’t lie”. We live today with the deluded notion that numbers reflect the truth and reality itself (as if the production of those statistical numbers wasn’t a problem in and of itself).

    Twain uses that familiarity he expects from the reader with the everyday use of statistics to make Joan’s tale “bigger than life” and even more incredible than it actually is. The anachronism of that literary stratagem doesn’t even pose a problem.

    Mark Twain. Joan of Arc. Frand Du Mond (1896). The Capture of the Tourelles.
    Illustration by F. V. Du Mond.

    Joan of Arc Never Was General in Chief

    Remember the pitch. Joan’s story is worth to be remembered because she did the impossible. She was a simple peasant girl who lead the French army to an impossible victory against the English. We already have the “bigger than life” element sorted out: her quest defeated all the statistics that could be thrown at her. Now comes the “oddly probable” moment.

    How come that she led the French army to victory? Simple. She was made General in Chief. Twain is starting to pile up lies here. He’s building a proper house of cards. But here comes the wind.

    Short story short, the duke of Alençon had been captured into battle a few months prior to the siege of Orléans. He’d been invited by the duke of Burgundy to join the English alliance but he refused. His grandfather had died at Crécy and his father, most heroically, at Agincourt. His lands had been taken away from him by the English. He was left penniless with nothing to go on but his good name and sense of honour. Therefore if politely but firmly declined the offer.

    First order of business: Joan was never created General in Chief. Not only did that title not existed at the time, but also Joan wasn’t given any official commanding title of any kind. It was merely agreed that she could accompany the army. Nothing more, although she quickly rose as a moral and religious exemplary figure and natural leader. She made the French army ring the Te Deum on their departure from Blois to Orléans.

    What’s funny is that Twain resorts again to anachronism here, by referencing to modern military grades and titles of command. He talks of “privates” when there was no such thing back then. It could be construed as a literary adaptation, a way to make the subject clearer to the reader. However, it mostly induces a fake sense of the medieval reality…

    Moreover, any basic knowledge of medieval armies at the time makes this “oddly probable” moment another “bigger than life” ingredient of narration. So big, this one, in fact, that we need to resort to a suspension of disbelief to make the rest of the novel any enjoyable. We clearly left the realm of facts for the country of fictions.

    Mark Twain. Joan of Arc. Frand Du Mond (1896). The Coronation of the French King at Rheims
    Illustration by F. V. Du Mond.

    The Duke of Alençon Never Was Joan’s Lieutenant

    Since Twain started to pile lies up, why not top it with a cherry and make it a nice cake with frosting and everything? The duke of Alençon is made Joan’s lieutenant. She has a really bloody prince under her command! What’s up with that?

    Short story short, the duke of Alençon had been captured into battle a few months prior to the siege of Orléans. He’d been invited by the duke of Burgundy to join the English alliance but he refused. His grandfather had died at Crécy and his father, most heroically, at Agincourt. His lands had been taken away from him by the English. He was left penniless with nothing to go on but his good name and sense of honour. Therefore if politely but firmly declined the offer.

    At that point he was released and could rejoin his wife who, to make things less complicated, was the step-sister of the king of England. You know. Family’s a bitch. Nevertheless he couldn’t fight the English nor the Burgundians anymore as long as he hadn’t settle his ransom. It was not yet the case when Joan left for Orléans. That’s why he didn’t contributed to the city being liberated. He couldn’t have. He was bond by the code of chivalry. The man of the hour at Orléans was the Bastard of Orléans. And he certainly took no order from Joan! He kept her in the dark regarding most of the strategic decisions and meetings which drove her mad.

    Joan’s story is worth to be remembered because she did the impossible. She was a simple peasant girl who lead the French army to an impossible victory against the English. That’s the pitch.

    You’d understand though that for a novelist trying to sell a narrative pitch, those kind of facts would be deemed negligible and wouldn’t make out for a “great story”. They had to be tweaked if not properly erased and presented differently.

    Mark Twain. Joan of Arc. Frand Du Mond (1896). The Capture of Joan of Arc at Compiègne
    Illustration by F. V. Du Mond.

    The Proof that Age of Empires 2 Was Based on Twain’s Novel

    Age of Empires 2 (1999). Joan of Arc's Campaign. Scenario 2: The Maid of Orléans
    Age of Empires 2 (1999). Joan of Arc’s Campaign. Scenario 2: The Maid of Orléans

    We have already stated that Joe Staten, creative director for the Age of Empires series, got his inspiration from historical novels. Mark Twain wrote a historical novel about Joan of Arc. We only have to connect the dots now.

    As a matter of fact there is no mention of any statistics in Age of Empires 2 within Joan of Arc’s narrative. We can therefore rule that lumpy anachronism out. There is no connection there.

    The most obvious evidence that AoE2 told the story of Joan of Arc after Twain’s novel lies with the duke of Alençon. Indeed, he greets the player as he/she starts the second scenario: The Maid of Orléans. Not only is it a historical inacurracy. It’s the very embellishment that Twain drew out to make Joan’s story “bigger than life”.

    The duke of Alençon greets Joan of Arc at Chinon as she leaves for Blois in AoE2.

    This is hard evidence if there is any. The fact that AoE2 also gives Joan the title of general could contribute to build our case here but there is much more to say regading the Twain-AoE2 romance about the portrayal of La Hire [blogpost on that topic underway].

    The Real “General” of the French Army: Arthur de Richemont

    Richemont appears in Age of Empires 2 when the players reaches the last scenario in Joan’s story. He’s to lead the French army at the battle of Castillon alongside other heroes among which La Hire who either survived his own death or crawled out of his grave. La Hire dies in 1443 and the battle of Castillon takes place in 1453. I let you work the numbers out. Remember! “Numbers don’t lie.”

    The Medieval French Army … In Theory

    The French Army went under a lot of development during the Hundred Years’ War. It took quite a bit of time for it but waging war became the business of professionals, a small group of people who devoted their whole life to the art of war. Noblemen were slowly being pushed out of the business for their religious worship of proper etiquette led to utter military disasters. The feudal pyramid of old was crumbling from within. Noblemen were more and more focused on administrative matters and less and less prone to the actual exercice of war. This tendency does NOT constitute an absolute however. The Burgundian alliance was renowned for its traditionnalism. The duke of Burgundy found many capable military leaders within his nobility. Just as the French army grew out of the Feudal System, the Burgundian army maintained everything it could from it: the titles of old, the etiquette, the chivalrous ranking system, etc.

    The French army had a constable at its head and two marshalls (maréchaux) to fill in for him. They represented the king himself and anyone challenging their authority was also challenging the king. Once appointed they couldn’t be replaced until their death.

    The shift for the French army started with Charles V (1338-1380). This king properly turned the tables on the English and his son would have put an end to the Hundred Years’ War if he hadn’t gone mad. The French army was put under the ‘managment’ of its constable (connétable): Bertrand Du Guesclin. It followed strict rules: no open engagement on any battlefield, a war of attrition, sneak and surgical attacks, a solid regulation of the men-at-arms roaming the country. The great dukes and princes were pushed out of the leadership of the war but the king feared no real opposition for he heavily relied upon his brothers (the duke of Berry and the duke of Burgundy) and they followed his leadership closely, going as far as copying the royal administration within their own estates to manage it.

    At this point the French army had a constable at its head and two marshalls (maréchaux) to fill in for him. They represented the king himself and anyone challenging their authority was also challenging the king. Once appointed they couldn’t be replaced until their death. Now what happened is that Charles VI couldn’t maintain this neat system intact. He delved into demencia, his uncles took control of the government and the dukes and princes started to fight each other for power. The royal army was dried out of money and the king’s authority came to naught. When Charles VII eventually took over his father, the French army was in a state of utter anarchy. The soldiers were not being paid and resorted to plunder and unregulated attacks on the king’s enemy to make a living. They were often high in debt and roamed the country in search of lucrative ventures. Captains were appointed by their own men and the military military mistruted the mighty dukes and princes for they usually knew better how to take or to defend a city.

    Charles VII had a weak character and was easily manipulated. He favoured close friends a bit too much and he let the people he liked rule in his stead. First there was Pierre de Giac, then there was Camus de Beaulieu. Richemont had both of them killed.

    Richemont Falls Into Disgrace

    Richemont was a highborn son of the House of Britanny. Though he was not the firstborn son of his father, he eventually became Duke of Britanny at the end of his life. Since his mother married Henry IV of England, he also had close ties to the House of Lancaster. However, he was raised by the duke of Burgundy and had even closer ties to the Burgundian nobility. He even became himself a Burgundian lord when he married a Burgundian princess. Nevertheless he refused to enter the Anglo-Burgundian alliance and reached for Charles VII through the Queen of Sicily, Yolande of Aragon. She made him constable and from 1425 onwards he became the official “General in Chief” of the French army.

    Charles VII had a weak character and was easily manipulated. He favoured close friends a bit too much and he let the people he liked rule in his stead. First there was Pierre de Giac, then there was Camus de Beaulieu. Richemont had both of them killed then he appointed Georges de La Trémoille to watch over the king and gain his favours. However, La Trémoille was far richer than Giac or Beaulieu and, most of all, shrewd as hell. His ambition led him to challenge his former patron and create a faction within Charles VII’s council against Richemont.

    Despite a few splendid military successes, like the liberation of Montargis (1427), Richemont had to go into exile and avoid the king’s court altogether. His brother, Duke of Britanny, had joined again the Anglo-Burgundian alliance and Richemont’s name was utterly ternished by such a diplomatic failure. The English could push forward against a disorganized French army and they eventually reached Orléans. La Trémoille reigned supreme and unchallenged. That’s when Joan of Arc showed up at Chinon.

    La Trémoille was far richer than Giac or Beaulieu and, most of all, shrewd as hell. His ambition led him to challenge his former patron and create a faction within Charles VII’s council against Richemont.

    As Joan convinced the king to take action, Richemont was still in exile. He was even formerly forbidden by the king to join with the French army on the battlefield. However, the captains that were defending Orléans were kind of his good men. The Bastard of Orléans, La Hire, Poton de Xaintrailles, such leaders had formerly found a strong political ally in Richemont when it came to liberate Montargis back in 1427. Richemont had even took out of his own pocket to insure their military services. Moreover they had no love for the high and mighty lords that haunted the king’s court.

    They had had their reservation against Richemont, of course. He was a high born himself and they knew through experience that such people used to look down on them. At Montargis they had bluntly told him to stay behind and leave them deal with the enemy (which they did most successfully! routing John Talbot, earl of Shrewsbury, himself!). Nevertheless Richemont had recognized their proper value when no one else had and it sure meant something.

    Joan of Arc Meets Arthur de Richemont

    Let’s rewind this story for a minute.

    To make complicated matters quite simple, Arthur’s mother married Henry IV of England when Arthur’s dad, who had been duke of Britanny, died. Do you remember? However, as Henry V rose to the throne, Arthur’s mother was deemed… a nuisance. Therefore she was put on trial for sorcery. She never had to fear for her life though, this trial was more of a way to put her aside politically and make room for the new king. Nevertheless, I think we need to keep that piece of background history in mind when we come to the moment Arthur de Richemont met Joan of Arc.

    Now, let’s jump to this blogpost conclusion.

    Orléans was free! The Maid had achieved her miracle. However, the Loire still had to be cleansed from English rule. At that very moment, the duke of Alençon had finally paid the last chunk of his ransom and could ride back into battle to honour the memory of his ancestors. The king appointed him as his “lieutenant-général”, meaning he was now put in charge of the French army. Jargeau, Meung, Beaugency: those powerful cities were to fall back under French rule!

    Jargeau fell. Then Meung. Joan the Maid, the duke of Alençon and La Hire were heading towards Beaugency but the English were gathering more troops to fight them off. The troops were tired. A victory seemed uncertain at this point. Were the French heading to a new Vae Victis?

    Sensing a change in the winds, Richemont decided to turn up with his personal army. La Trémoille got enraged. The French army led by Alençon was under a great commotion. Joan had been convinced that Richemont had to be defeated. She turned to the captains of the army, the Bastard of Orléans, La Hire, Poton de Xaintrailles. Their reaction was as rash as it can be: “If you go against the constable, you’ll find someone to talk to! We’d rather serve under the command of Richemont and fight alongside his men than to fight alongside all the maids of the realm!” Joan wisened up fast and convinced Alençon that fighting Richemont was a bad idea. La Trémoille could enrage all he wanted, Richemont reached the French army and both parties met in the most joyfull manner.

    Richemont eventually met the Maid of Lorraine and spoke with her. His words were recorded for the posterity. He said: “Joan, I’m being told you want to fight against me… I don’t know if you are sent by the devil or by God. If you’re sent by God, I don’t fear you. If you’re sent by the devil, I fear you even less.” Then he asked Joan to plead for him to the king to reinstate him in his charge before they went on and took back Beugeancy together whilst Richemont’s reinforcements helped to defend Meung that was under a heavy counterattack.

    I’ll surely write more on those historical events when I ever write my walkthrough + historical commentary of Joan’s third scenario in Age of Empires 2: “The Cleansing of the Loire”.

    Mark Twain. Joan of Arc. Frand Du Mond (1896). Execution of Joan of Arc (From the mural painting by J. E. Lenepveu in the Panthéon at Paris)
    Illustration by F. V. Du Mond.
    AskHistorians Contributions

    Summer Readings on AoE2 Heroes

    Book suggestions for Barbarossa/Attila/El Cid?

    I love reading about history, …

    …and especially about great historical figures, I believe the spark was lit by AoEII especially, since I love both that period and the game (which I still play). I have read the following books and would love to hear suggestions on nicely written books on Barbarossa, Attila, or El Cid, since the AoC are the best campaigns in my opinion.

    The books I have read thusfar if someone is interested to read themselves:

    • Joan of Arc by Helen Castor. Bit drier than the other ones, but still a nice read.
    • Saladin by John Man, very nicely written book on how Saladins life played out.
    • God’s Wolf by Jeremy Lee about Reynald de Chatillon (Saladins nemesis which can be found in campaigns 2 and 3 if I am not mistaken). Tells the story of the second crusade from a Western perspective, great read.
    • Genghis Khan and the making of the modern world by Jack Weatherford. Out of all these books the best in my opinion, with not only focussing on Genghis’ life and conquest but also about Mongol life in general including laws, food, customs etc.
    • Attila (3 books) by William Napier, which is historical fantasy, overall a great read but would like to have more of an overview and historically sound read.

    Thanks in advance if someone has any suggestions!

    [Question from u/xGalen on the AoE2 Subreddit]

    The hype is real

    My answer

    Hi there!

    Here are the books I can recommend about our AoE2 heroes. (Thank you u/nimanoe for tagging me in.) Those books are all referenced in the Oxford Encyclopedia of Medieval Warfare and Military Technology (2010) so they are quite up to date and provide very solid information. There should be little trouble to find freely available book reviews written about them on JStor, to help you get a summary and a sense of their content 🙂 I will limit myself to one book per historical character, but don’t hesitate to ask for more books if what I suggest doesn’t meet your tastes or expectations! In case you couldn’t find them in retail, don’t hesitate to browse WorldCat to find the library closest to you that has it!

    You might think some of those books are ‘old’ because they date back from the 70’s of the 80’s. Don’t worry, History is a slower science than let’s say Physics or Chemistry. 70’s or 80’s monographies can still remain very authoritative secondary sources. You should generally take books from the 19th century with a grain of salt, though… They’re often easily available on Google Books or Archive.org, and they generally offer a very solid fact-driven narrative, but the analysis they bring about the past is most of the time lacking if not totally outdated. Anthropology, Sociology and Psychology hadn’t made their way quite yet within the study of History. Also, the writing of History has shifted post WW2 from the study of “great men” to the study of the economical long-term patterns, the history of cultural representations, and more broadly the study of the masses and/or the minorities (gender studies comes to mind).

    AGE OF KINGS

    1. William Wallace

    • Fisher, Andrew. William Wallace. Edinburgh: John Donald, 1986.

    2. Joan of Arc

    • DeVries, Kelly. Joan of Arc: A Military Leader. Stroud, U.K.: Sutton, 1999.

    /!\ /!\ /!\ Actually, I have that last book at home and I don’t really like the positions taken by the author for several reasons, including over-simplification. Therefore I would go for something ‘safer’ and maybe even more entertaining: Pernoud, Régine & Clin, Marie-Véronique. Joan of Arc: Her Story. trans. Jeremy Duquesnay Adams. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 1999.

    The Joan of Arc campaign weekend is coming to the AoEII:DE Beta early August! Prepare yourselves for exciting news!

    3. Saladin

    • Möhring, Hannes. Saladin: The Sultan and His Times, 1138-1193. Translated by David S. Bachrach. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 2009.

    This book was originally written in German if I’m not mistaken. German historians are just pure nerds. It might be a bit dry to read, I don’t know, but this book is a very safe bet!

    4. Genghis Khan

    • Ratchnevsky, Paul. Genghis Khan: His Life and Legacy. Translated and edited by Thomas N. Haining. Oxford: Blackwell, 1991.

    5. Barbarossa

    The Oxford Encyclopedia only suggests German monographies about Barbarossa. I’ll write them down since I know many AoE2 players are from Germany 🙂

    • Eickhoff, Ekkehard. Friedrich Barbarossa im Orient: Kreuzzug und Tod Friedrichs I. Tübingen, Germany: Wasmuth, 1977.
    • Opll, Ferdinand. Friedrich Barbarossa. Darmstadt, Germany: Wissenshcaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1994.

    Now, what I do to find scholarly books easily in any medieval matter is that I browse the Regesta Imperii and if you type in what you search correctly, you’ll just find wonders:

    • Freed, John Beckman. Frederick Barbarossa: the prince and the myth. New Haven, 2016. (This book is from 2016, so it’s normal that it wouldn’t be referenced in the 2010 Oxford Encyclopedia.)

    Don’t hesitate to try the Regesta Imperii yourself to find many other titles: books, articles, etc. Then head to JStor to find book reviews, the article themselves sometimes, when they’re not free to download from their author’s Academia page.

    THE CONQUERORS

    6. El Cid

    • Clarke, Henry Butler. The Cid Campeador and the Waning of the Crescent in the West. New York: AMS, 1978.

    7. Attila

    • Thompson, E. A. The Huns. Oxford: Blackwell, 1996.

    If you’d like shorter books with still a great scholarly value, you should turn yourself towards ‘collections’ of vulgarized books published by authoritative institutions. There is the “Que Sais-Je ?” collection in French, for example. The “C.H. Beck” in German. Finally, the “Very Short Introductions” from the Oxford University Press are a great read.

    Enjoy your summer! 🙂

    The purpose to read is to argue. Wololooo!
    AskHistorians Contributions

    Why you should NEVER trust your government when it comes to Medieval History—I’m looking at you, Czech Republic!

    What you’ll find in this post

    So my good friend Brother_Judas texted me on Reddit about some oddity regarding Czech history. He’d been doing some more reading to draw more of his beautiful maps, when he came upon this information:

    In 1002, Duke Vladivoj was enfeoffed with the Duchy of Bohemia from the hands of King Henry II of Germany. With this act, what had been a fully sovereign duchy became part of the Holy Roman Empire. After Vladivoj died the next year, the Polish duke Bolesław I the Brave invaded Bohemia and Moravia. In 1004, after the Poles were expelled from Bohemia with help from Henry II, Duke Jaromir received the duchy in fief from the king.

    It puzzled my good friend, you see, because I had showcased a map depicting the Holy Roman Empire in 962 that included Bohemia as part of the Empire. Brother_Judas had seen and studied that map. So he came back straight to me, demanding answers in the most gallant fashion.

    The Holy Roman Empire in 962

    He wrote the paragraph I quoted then reported that he’d found this information on a website belonging to some department of the Czech Ministry of the Interior. It’s a good thing he translated the thing for me because I sure couldn’t have been able to read it! That’s why, dear children, making friends from foreign countries is a most valuable thing.

    Well, I was in a pickle, wasn’t I? I mean, you trust me to upload solid and trustworthy historical information on my blog. Then comes along a government full of officials that contradicts me. This is upsetting. If I had lied brazenly, you’d unfollow right away and I wouldn’t blame you.

    Now, wait a minute. Who told you any government was trustworthy when it comes to sharing historical information? Have you not read 1984?

    I went back to that book I found the HRE 962 map that I had shared. It was published by Harvard University Press. That only should vouch for its intrinsic value. However, it happened more than once that an academic rushed his writing, didn’t check his sources and oversimplified things. Beyond the map itself, what did the text say?

    The emperor was rarely able to help missionaries once they set off into the wild north and east. Those sent to Denmark were expelled in the 820s and Christianization made no headway there until the conversion of Harald Bluetooth in the mid-tenth century. The cooperation of local elites proved indispensable, especially as conversion entailed simultaneous acceptance of imperial suzerainty and payment of tithes. The Bohemian leader (and later saint) Wenceslas had been educated as a Christian and accepted imperial overlordship, only to be murdered on his brother’s orders in 929. Bohemia was forced to acknowledge imperial suzerainty in 950, though resistance to Christianity persisted into the eleventh century. Nonetheless, conversion of much of its elite proved significant in spreading Christianity and imperial influence to the East Elbian Slavs and to the Poles and Magyars. Vojtech (Adalbert), a missionary martyred by the Prussians in 997, came from the Bohemian ruling family.

    Then I read a bit further down:

    Otto III was subsequently criticized for converting tribute-paying princelings into independent kings. It is more likely that Boleslav and Istvan considered themselves the emperor’s primary allies, while Otto regarded himself as king of kings. The relationship remained fluid because of internal changes in the Empire, Poland and Hungary. Boleslav’s successors were not crowned kings, and his son Mieszko II returned the royal insignia to the Empire in 1031. A royal title could mark temporary ascendency over domestic foes, while submission to the Empire was a favored tactic of weaker rulers seeking external backing. In practice, Poland remained a tributary of the Empire from the 960s until the late twelfth century without this infringing its internal autonomy or requiring its ruler to participate in German politics. In this sense, it remained more distinct than Bohemia, which was clearly an imperial fief by 1002.

    The author, Peter H. Wilson, is a history professor at the All Souls College of Oxford. I should take his word but I didn’t. I spotted a reference of his: Nora Berend, Central Europe in the High Middle Ages. Bohemia, Hungary and Poland, c.900-c.1300. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013. I decided to check that book out too. On the one hand, Nora Berend herself is a professor at the St Catharine’s College of Cambridge. On the other hand, her book is a marvel. The following stellar review had even been written by Christian Raffensperger in Speculum, a top-notch historical review centered on Medieval History:

    The arrival of this book is more than welcome for those of us teaching medieval history beyond Western Europe … The work required to produce this must have been immense and the payoff is tremendous for the reader … Central Europe in the High Middle Ages makes the medieval histories of these three incredibly important medieval polities available to an English-language audience of students and scholars, and it will hopefully facilitate the expansion of the idea of medieval Europe throughout college classrooms.

    So, basically, Nora Berend’s book is the shit. No surprise there, it’s a Cambridge history book. Therefore I took upon myself to peruse its third chapter on ‘formation of polities and Christianization’ and here’s another quote I can hit you with:

    Boleslav I attempted to counterbalance the growing political power of Germany under Henry I by tightening Bohemia’s traditional relations with Bavaria, leading to a long-standing alliance. Boleslav continued his father’s policy of strategic co-operation with the Polabian Slavs, which lasted for more than two centuries. He also tried to take advantage of German–Hungarian conflicts, and allowed the Magyar plunderers to pass freely as they made their way to Thuringia and further west. Nonetheless, he was forced to accept the suzerainty of Otto I in 950, and resume tribute payments. Bohemian assistance was provided to the German king to defeat the Magyars at Lechfeld in 955. Bohemia fell under the permanent control of the Empire, albeit indirectly.

    Let’s conclude. Who’s right? Who’s wrong? What the hell happened? What the story behind all this? Well, you kind of know it by now. Nonetheless, make sure to check out my short history of the early Dukes of Bohemia, from Vratislav to Bretislav, in my next post!

    AskHistorians Contributions

    “Why is the rule by William the Conqueror seen as such a turning point in English history instead of Cnut the Great’s rule?”

    I have heard of the date 1066 so much but not 1016 when Cnut became king of whole of England – Why is it so?

    [Question by u/littlesaint: link to the original reddit post]

    My answer

    I see many discussions on historical facts, but I think the best approach to answer this difficult question is with historiography: the writing of history. Also I’m pretty happy because I can provide some light on the subject. I hope you’ll like it.

    I read in J. Bellis’ monography (The Hundred Years War in Literature. 1337-1600, 2016) that “in 1754 David Hume held that ‘William had even entertained the difficult project of abolishing the English language’, persuaded by the fabrications of the chronicle of pseudo-Ingulf, not until 1826 demonstrated to be a fifteenth-century forgery not an eleventh-century original. […] In their emphases on the conquerors’ alleged attempts at total linguistic abolition, the emotive invective of the French conflict of the eighteenth and nineteenth century was surely rearing its head: Hume and Scott were (unwittingly, perhaps?) the Gloucester and Castleford of their generations.” (p. 28)

    A few pages before, J. Bellis writes on Gloucester and Castleford’s works.

    “Early in the thirteenth century, Lazamon described the Normans as ‘unnatural people’, the dominance of their language as ‘malicious practice’ and ‘an immoral act’. […] He represented conquest as a specific act of linguistic vandalism, an overwriting of the precious and precarious textual landscape that encoded British history.§ Such romanticized reconstructions became more exaggerated as the events became more distant. In the early fourteenth century, the Metrical Chronicle (historically attributed to Robert of Gloucester, although this is debated) inveighed against the fact that ‘the English people have been dragged down to the ground, on account of a false king, who had no right to the kingdom.’ […] Two whole centuries after 1066, it projected an image of the conquerors as an unassimilated, unwelcome group, and the English as a racial subset living among invaders. […] Thomas Castleford took the topos further, writing of the Conqueror, ‘he cleft the land of England from English blood’. […] He depicted the dominance of French in the legal system as a deliberate ploy to condemn the English in a language they could not understand.” (p. 21-22)

    J. Bellis concludes:

    “This romantic exaggeration, itself inherited from the later Middle Ages, was in turn inherited by criticism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Edward Freeman (1876) held that ‘the tongue of the Norman conquerors … utterly displaced the national tongue’. He called ‘the abiding corruption of language’ ‘the one result of the Norman Conquest which has been purely evil’, lamenting that ‘the tongue which we brought with us from the elder England … has become for ever the spoil of the enemy’. Again, this reflects thirteenth- and fourteenth-century constructions (conducive to eighteenth- and nineteenth-century reconstructions), not the reality; it neatly illustrates for just how long the depiction of ‘linguistic conquest’ went on gathering momentum.” (p. 28)

    We can therefore trace back a long chain of texts that construct the 1066 Norman Conquest as a total disaster for England and the English language in particular. It all begins in the 13th century with Lazamon point of view on the matter, which is then inflated by Gloucester and Castleford’s writing in the 14th century. This leads to the writing of the pseudo-Ingulf chronicle in the 15th century, “that purported to be an eleventh-century monastic chronicle” (Bellis, 2016, 25), but that is nothing but a forgery and has been written to sustain the war propaganda against the French. That last text was taken very seriously, however, by Hume and Scott, who romantically exaggerated the impact of the Norman Conquest on the 11th century Anglo-Saxon England. Their point of view was then carried on by the honourable scholar that was Edward Freeman and the impact of the Norman Conquest has been discussed ever since.

    On the other hand, there is no such historiographical debate, spreading through several centuries, about Knut’s conquest. Partly because, “as Pearsall holds, ‘Englishness had always been constructed’ negatively, ‘out of opposition to Frenchness’, which ‘had been the whetstone of English national sentiment from Norman times and … was always capable of being reinvoked’.” (Bellis, 2016, 64)

    The marking of 1066 as a point of “no return” was, however, not rendered obvious by former chroniclers. Among them we should mostly consider the anonymous author of the prose Brut. Before diving into that I’d ask you to allow me a short excursus about the Brut literature.

    The Brut is a medieval narrative source that can be written in Latin, Old French (anglo-norman) or Middle English. Its literary tradition, as far as we can trace it back, starts with Monmouth own Historia Regum Britanniae (a most important historical chronicle that also lays the foundation of the Arthurian literature). That first Latin chronicle was written in the 12th century. It was then translated and adapted into Anglo-Norman verses by Wace, a few decades later. Those two massive works had a very clear and single objective: legitimize the Plantagenet kings as the rightful rulers of England.

    Wace’s Roman de Brut—as it is called—was later on adapted into prose: the prose Brut. Now, we do have an awful lot of manuscripts containing different versions of that Anglo-Norman prose Brut. They were for most of all listed and described by the eminent scholar who was Lister M. Matheson.

    A medieval chronicle was a “living text”, meaning it could be altered every time it was copied. Many things could change: from the content itself to the apparatus. The prose Brut was particularly popular because many chroniclers decided to add to it, generation after generation.

    Circling back to the topic at hand, J. Marvin observed in her masterful monography (The Construction of Vernacular History in the Anglo-Normand Prose Brut Chronicle, 2017) that “the [prose Brut] chronicle also handles the Norman Conquest to minimize the appearance of a dynastic shift, taking pains to delegitimize Harold while legitimizing William as much as possible. It carefully notes William’s relationship to Edward the Confessor and his brother Alfred. […] It also emphasizes Harold’s unfitness, as a greedy and prideful oath-breaker, to rule. […] William’s victory becomes a triumph of right as much as might.” (p. 121-122) However, funnily enough, the apparatus of some prose Brut would later deconstruct that carefully crafted presentation of continuity.

    “In London, Inner Temple Library, Petyt MS 511, vol. 19 (P511/19) the presence of the Latin genealogical poem that starts with William the Conqueror – ‘rex est anglorum, bello conquestor eorum’ – emphasizes his significance, and the sense of his beginning a new epoch in English history. For good measure, P511/19 also contains the Latin link between the prologue and the main text, and in the blank space left below the Latin link a fifteenth-century user has briefly repeated in Latin the information found in the earlier French note, including William’s conquest. This framing of the narrative is thus strongly reinforced for readers. And it appears to have had an effect. […] A fifteenth century annotator, probably the same person who added the Latin note, has provided a lengthy French note on the conquest of Britain and the change of the realm’s name, and there are also two manicules, one at the passage in the text acknowledging ‘la grant mescheance’ and another in the top margin beside the note.” (Marvin, 2017, 180-181)

    The P511/19 contains what Lister M. Matheson classified as the Short Version of the prose Brut, which present a continuation of the chronicle up until 1333. It is therefore a 14th-century text and manuscript. The specific layout of the manuscript added to the 15th-century hand that wrote annotations in relation with the Norman Conquest further demonstrate the historiographical shift I was presenting in the first paragraphs, especially since the author of the prose Brut had particularly written his chronicle to showcase a rightful continuity between Edward and William’s reigns.

    K. A. Murchison also demonstrates in her article about Le Livere de Reis de Engleterre (LRE), “Piety, Community and Local History: Le Livere de Reis de Engleterre and it’s Context in Cambridge, Trinity College, MS R.14.7” (2016), another early 14th-century chronicle, that the Norman Conquest wasn’t presented as a major shift by its author. “The chronicle is principally occupied with conveying the history of the eleventh and twelfth centuries. […] The author draws primarily on Geoffrey of Monmouth and Bede. […] Compared to its sources, LRE generally puts greater emphasis on the Church than the nation, and this creates the illusion of a transnational community of ethics, which deemphasizes national differences. […] As [John] Spence points out, England’s French prose chronicles typically justify the switch from Anglo-Saxon to Norman rule by emphasizing the legitimacy of William the Conqueror’s claim to the throne and by celebrating his reign. In contrast, LRE distributes praise or blame for William and other Norman rulers based on the way they treat religious individuals and institutions.”

    These different observations help us to understand how the “Norman Conquest” gradually became a myth that served a purpose. Indeed, during the Hundred Years War “it was politically useful to keep insisting on the possibility of French aggression, and stoking the idea that its particular object was the English language. These allegations […] deliberately associated the French in the late fourteenth century with the Normans in the late eleventh, eliding present aggressors with former conquerors to depict a dubiously just, territorial skirmish as a defence of the realm (and the language) against its ancient and perennial menace. Perhaps it was not for nothing that the French are repeatedly described by the chronicles as ‘the Normandys’.” (Bellis, 2017, 63)

    From that point onwards, 1066 became a very strong literary topos.

    In conclusion, I’d like to add that I’m not stating, in any way, that William’s conquest of England as in and for itself is any more or less important than Knut’s. However I can safely assert that it became a much bigger deal for later historians. It was severely more discussed, it rose and brought on a lot more emotions (especially in connection with national pride and sense of identity), and that is why, in my opinion, William’s rule of England is seen “as such a turning point in English history”.