Book Review: Writing Battles: New Perspectives on Warfare and Memory in Medieval Europe


by Roy Naismith, Máire Ni Mhaonaigh, and Elizabet Ashman Rowe, editorsí

Oxford and New York: Bloomsbury, 2020. Pp. x, 267. Illus., notes, biblio., index. $39.95. ISBN: 1350253162

Constructing Medieval Battle Narratives

As its title implies, this is a collection of papers, which were presented at three military history conferences on Writing Battles. These academic articles aim to examine the different ways that the narratives of medieval battles in England, Scotland, Ireland, and Scandinavia (plus one essay on the battles of the First World War) were constructed.

The papers address a number of issues: How were the battle narratives created by those who wrote them, and to what purposes (ideological, political, nationalistic, even personal)? How were battles named? What effect did particular battles have on history? What sources did the battle narratives rely on? Can these narratives be trusted? Can battle accounts be used to pinpoint where a battle actually took place? Together, they show that no battle narrative survives its contact with history, and the narrative tends to change the further it recedes into the mists of time.

Particular chapters of interest include one that explores how warfare in Southern England turned London into the political and economic capital of England by the 11th century (Viking raids in particular drove people into London for the protection that was offered by the fortress city). Another fun chapter looks at how medieval battles have been depicted in cinema. One paper focuses on battle accounts found in Scandinavian rune stones and those composed by the great Scandinavian skalds (what we would call poets or bards). Since this is a collection of conference papers, some are rather dry and academic and may be boring for the casual reader. But still, there is much here to benefit a discerning reader.




Note: Writing Battles is also available in e-editions.


StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium

Reviewer: Alexander Stavropoulos   

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