The destruction of the French army at Crécy in 1346 and the subsequent siege and capture of Calais marked a new era in European history. The most powerful, glamorous and respected of all western monarchies had been completely humiliated by England, a country long viewed either as a chaotic backwater or a mere French satellite.
The young Edward III’s triumph would launch both countries, as we now know, into a grim cycle of some 90 years of further fighting ending with English defeat, but after Crécy anything seemed possible – Edward’s claim to be King of France could be pressed home and, in any event, enormous rewards of land, treasure and prestige were available both to the king and to the close companions who had made the victory possible. It was to enshrine this moment that Edward created one of the most famous of all knightly orders, the Company of the Garter.
Barber writes about both the great campaigns and the individuals who formed the original membership of the Company – and through their biographies makes the period tangible and fascinating. This is a book about knighthood, battle tactics and grand strategy, but it is also about fashion, literature and the privates lives of everyone from queens to freebooters. Barber’s book is a remarkable achievement – but also an extremely enjoyable one.