By Barbara W. Tuchman
"Wise, witty, and beautiful . . . an exceptional ebook, in an excellent old tradition." —CommentaryThe 14th century offers us again contradictory photographs: a glittering time of crusades and castles, cathedrals and chivalry, and a gloomy time of ferocity and religious soreness, a global plunged right into a chaos of struggle, worry and the Plague. Barbara Tuchman anatomizes the century, revealing either the nice rhythms of background and the grain and texture of household lifestyles because it used to be lived.
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Additional info for A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century
The only entrance to the compound was a fortified gate on the inner side next to the donjon, protected by guard towers, moat, and portcullis. The gate opened onto the place d’armes, a walled space of about six acres, containing stables and other service buildings, tiltyard, and pasture for the knights’ horses. Beyond this, where the hill widened out like the tail of a fish, lay the town of perhaps a hundred houses and a square-towered church. Three fortified gates in the outer wall encircling the hilltop commanded access to the outside world.
Children are neglected and children are loved. Knights talk of honor and turn brigand. Amid depopulation and disaster, extravagance and splendor were never more extreme. 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.
It should be assumed that medieval figures for military forces, battle casualties, plague deaths, revolutionary hordes, processions, or any groups en masse are generally enlarged by several hundred percent. This is because the chroniclers did not use numbers as data but as a device of literary art to amaze or appall the reader. Use of Roman numerals also made for lack of precision and an affinity for round numbers. The figures were uncritically accepted and repeated by generation after generation of historians.
A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century by Barbara W. Tuchman