Warfare in Medieval Manuscripts, Pamela Porter

Reviewer: Wouter van Dijk

Warfare in Medieval Manuscripts, Pamela Porter

The British Library, London 2018
ISBN: 978 0 7123 5605 3

Hardback with dust jacket, richly illustrated, with further reading section and index
128 pages
£ 12,99 / € 13,99

Warfare in Medieval Manuscripts

Medieval manuscripts continue to appeal to our imagination, as well as the manner of warfare in the Middle Ages. How wonderful is it then, when a book is published that is entirely devoted to the imagination of this subject in manuscripts. It turns out that in Medieval manuscripts there are often images that show warring parties. Pamela Porter, former curator of the German and Scandinavian Manuscripts at the British Library, made a selection from the rich collection of medieval manuscripts around the world to bring together the finest in this book. This edition is a revised and renewed edition of Porter's book that was published in 2000. Especially for this edition some special images from the collection of the British Library were added to the book.

Like many of the publications of the British Library, this handy book is beautifully illustrated, another example can be found here. It shows the pomp and splendor that is present in many medieval manuscripts, which often did not only aim to inform the reader, but also served as a showpiece and status object. The booklet serves as a fine but limited introduction to the manner of warfare in the Middle Ages, and highlights several facets based on the many beautiful illustrations that the book contains.

Porter takes the reader along some important elements of Medieval warfare. She starts with the theories about warfare that were dominant at the time, with De Re Militari of Vegetius and, to a lesser extent, Frontinus's Stratagemata playing an important role. A complete chapter is of course also dedicated to knights and chivalry. In it, Porter describes the most important steps in a knight's career and shows how courtliness and virtue should be the guiding concepts in his life. That this worked out quite differently in practice sometimes, may be clear. Of course, the development of the joust from the mêlée and the development of heraldry to recognize friend and foe on the battlefield are also treated. Another chapter concerns the development of armour and armament. The change from the protection of a hauberk to a full plate armor is very nicely recognizable from the images of knights in manuscripts from different centuries. The armament changed in a process of mutual influence with that of armour.

Other chapters deal with the manner of fighting on the battlefield and the formation of armies and the development of castles and sieges. The images in manuscripts do not only serve as colorful illustrations to the written information, but often serve as a source for important insights into the development of war and fortification in this period. The book concludes with a chapter on the use of gunpowder and how this finally heralded the end of the traditional way of warfare in the Middle Ages. That the introduction of firearms did not entail a revolution must be mentioned here, the first guns are already depicted on manuscripts from the second quarter of the fourteenth century, but it still lasted until the sixteenth century until they became the decisive factor the battlefield. By then, the large-scale deployment of knights on horseback had already come to an end in Western Europe due to the large-scale deployment of longbowmen in the English armies, for example in the Hundred Years War and the Wars of the Roses.

The great added value of Porter's book lies in the many beautiful illustrations that it contains. In addition, it offers an accessible and concise introduction to Medieval warfare. Warfare in Medieval Manuscripts is an asset to any bookcase.

Wouter van Dijk