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Friday, September 23, 2016

A Distant Mirror - Barbara W. Tuchman

This is a serious, scholarly book about the 14th century, but written in such an approachable manner that anyone interested in this time period should be able to read it.

To illustrate the time period, the author settles on one man to trace how his life was impacted by all the changes of this century.  That man is Enguerrand de Coucy VII – the last of a dynasty of grand seigneurs of France in the Picardy region.   Enguerrand’s first wife was Isabella of England, daughter of King Edward III.   As a peer of France, this put him in an extremely interesting position through the Hundred Year’s War.

But really, this story is about the Black Death, and how that influenced (or killed, take your pick) chivalry, and how that created the conditions that made the Hundred Year’s war.     It’s really a fascinating story.    This is the end of the Middle Ages, and having everything that unfolds channeled through the lens of this single life is such a perfect way to understand everything that was happening in that time.  

Coucy is such a fascinating man.  He did so much, and had connections all over Europe, to the Holy Land.    I had a much narrower vision of the breadth of the Medieval world – I guess I didn’t think that they could possibility be so cosmopolitan.    This book was an eye opener for me there.

The funny thing too is that this was first published in 1978, but it is such a brilliant work, it still holds up.    Kudos to the author for thinking of this brilliant way to present this work, and the careful research she put into it.

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