By Sword and Fire: Cruelty and Atrocity in Medieval Warfare,
by Sean McGlynn; 2008; Orion Books Ltd.
In a period of time many envision to contain noble acts of Chivalry and medieval savagery, McGlynn investigates the records of atrocity inflicted on the soldier and non-combatant alike, and why these acts of brutality were carried out.
Starting with a backdrop of crime and punishment in the medieval period, and investigating the roles of the King and Church in times of war, McGlynn moves to the ideal of Chivalry, and pieces together just what this code actually meant for soldiers in battle, and non-combatants caught in the middle.
McGlynn discusses battles, sieges, pillaging, the killing of prisoners and non-combatants and ravaging of the land through a series of examples from various dates within the medieval period. He discusses the different viewpoints of those involved and their possible motivations for carrying out their actions. His last chapter touches upon the further consideration of the psychological impact of war on men, though does not address this separate and highly complex field to any great depth.
What is clear is that the medieval period appears to be full of atrocity and cruelty to the modern eye only due to the onset of our civilised world. McGlynn points out how quickly we fall back into old ways when physical combat is upon us. The Chivalric code was reserved only for those rich enough to be ransomed, and then only if the situation favoured the taking of prisoners.
This book offers a sobering and honest look at medieval warfare, and how it impacted upon all it surrounded, and how cruelty and atrocity followed in the wake of the pursuit of wealth, and the military imperative.