Late last year I got the opportunity to read an advance issue of Medieval Warfare and since it was a chance to keep up to date with different historical literature since graduation I was delighted. A couple of issues were sent to W.U.HSTRY and Lilly (W.U.HSTRY ruler) sent this one over to me as it kept in line with my interests as a historian including art history, the Hundred Years War, and my curiosity in medieval weaponry. My initial reaction in receiving this issue, which is released in January 2017, was to enjoy how much effort has gone into the layout of the magazine and wishing I had the ability to draw medieval landscapes and images with such skill. The key theme of this issue was the ideology of man, specifically those of the lower orders of society, trying to act like God through violence and war in order to settle their respective scores, and the German Peasants War of the sixteenth century was an apt choice to represent this theme throughout. The editor of Medieval Warfare, Peter Konieczny, gave a short introduction to the theme of this month by identifying the main contributors to January’s edition such as eminent medieval scholars such as Kelly DeVries, some of whose work I enjoyed reading myself during research in my undergraduate History degree. There are heavier analytical aspects to this magazine towards the German Peasants War and this is followed by a lighter hearted tale of a cow stopping a siege.
I could sit here and analyse the whole magazine but I thought it would be more suitable for me to choose the highlights. As expected from the magazine with warfare in the title there is a strong tilt towards weaponry, armour, military tactics and the role the lords and peasants played against each other during the German Rebellion. The first article by Kelly DeVries ‘Lucifer and his Angels’ debates the issue around why would peasants revolt in the first place. The abstract introduces the Marxist opinion that peasant oppression from their lords meant that rebellion was always ‘simmering’. DeVries initially states that peasant revolts were infrequent, of varying size, and never successful. This is a good start to looking into why, how and what caused the sixteenth century German peasants to revolt and why it is particularly interesting to medieval historians. Throughout the article is images of armour worn during the war and maps presenting the breadth of the revolt in the German provinces.
The next couple of articles include text by Erich B.Anderson who looks at an army that swept through Upper Swabia in 1525 and Jean-Claude Brunner’s ‘Siege of Salzburg’. They both look in-depth as specific episodes of German history within the different aspects of the Peasants War. Another interesting part was an excerpt in Sidney E.Dean’s article on ‘Knight of the Iron Hand’ Götz von Berlichingen where Dean looked specifically into the mechanics of Berlichingen’s literal iron hands and whether they were efficient or useless in their role. Each article offers the opportunity to look into further reading which for both amateur and academic historians alike are useful.
The best article available in my opinion would be Iason-Eleftherios Tzouriadis’ ‘Death, Violence and Sex’ which looks into Anti-War propaganda art created during the sixteenth century as a response to the wars encircling Europe during the late middle ages. This is a particular interest to the art geek in me. Art in the military was limited as an aid in studying the military in itself and their equipment. Tzouriadis references Hale’s 1990 work Artists and Warfare in the Renaissance. This offers extra insight into how historians have started to critically analyse illustrations to inform their research. The article shows several examples to back up both Tzouriadis and Hale’s analysis.
It is always good practise as historians to look for parallels between the medieval and modern eras. Dahm looks into the socio-economic and political similarities between medieval Germany and 1850 when an eminent piece of medieval warfare scholarship was published. The last part of the magazine was dedicated towards the Hundred Years War as an increasing interest in the logistics of medieval warfare is appearing in historical literature, and a weapon that never existed.
In all this is a fascinating issue that introduced an element of history I was unfamiliar with and happy to get acquainted. The whole issue is 60 pages and packed with information, illustrations and snippets of relevant information. There is a coherency between the articles with a strand on the role of peasants in history, the logistics of each revolt, war, rebellion, siege or catastrophe and finally their representation in the media. I found nothing to argue with but a lot to research as a new interest to add to my bookshelves and by the end of the magazine you will want to rewatch Monty Python and the Holy Grail (the last article).
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