Hawkwood: The Diabolical Englishman by Frances Stonor Saunders - review by Anne Somerset

Anne Somerset

A Force for Destruction

Hawkwood: The Diabolical Englishman


Faber & Faber 384pp £17.99 order from our bookshop

SIR JOHN HAWKWOOD was a fourteenth-century mercenary leader so dedicated to war that he took offence when hailed with the polite greeting, 'God give you peace'. Having served an apprenticeship in barbarity with Edward 111's army in France during the early phases of the Hundred Years' War, in 1360 he found himself out of a job as a result of a brief cessation in hostilities. Refusing to be inconvenienced by this, Hawkwood stayed on as a freelance, plundering and holding to ransom the luckless population. When his band of adventurers threatened to storm the papal city of Avignon, Pope Innocent V1 had the seemingly inspired idea of paying Hawkwood and his men to go and fight in Lombardy. Unfortunately, in doing so he set in motion a ghastly cycle of misery, for, once installed in the Italian peninsula, Hawkwood proved impossible to dislodge.

The chronicler Froissart described Hawkwood as 'a right valiant English knight' who 'gained great renown in Italy from his chivalry', but there was nothing gallant or noble about Hawkwood's methods of waging war. In theory the mercenary companies of his time were bound by the chivalric code, and they insisted

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