What do you think?
Rate this book
714 pages, Paperback
First published September 21, 1978
Since he (Enguerrad de Coucy) had first marched at fifteen against the English, and at eighteen hunted down the Jacquerie, the range of Coucy’s experience had extended over an extraordinary variety of combat, diplomacy, government, and social and political relationships. As son-in-law of Edward III, holding double allegiance to two kings at war, his position had been unique. He had seen war as captain or one of the to command in eleven campaigns—in Piedmont, Lombardy, Switzerland, Normandy, Languedoc, Tuscany, northern France, Flanders, Guelders, Tunisia, Genoa; he had commanded mercenaries, and fought as ally or antagonist of the Count of Savoy, Gregory XI, Hawkwood, the Visconti, the Hapsburgs, the Swiss, Navarrese, Gascons, English, Berbers, the Republic of Florence, and nobles of Genoa. As diplomat he had negotiated with Pope Clement VII, the Duke of Brittany, the Count of Flanders, the Queen of Aragon, with the English at peace parleys, and the rebels of Paris. He had had one temperamental and extravagant wife eight years his senior, and a second approximately thirty years his junior. He had served as adviser and agent of the two royal Dukes, Anjou and Orléans, as Lieutenant–General of Picardy and later of Guienne, as member of the Royal Council, as Grand Bouteiller of France, and had wtice been the preferred choice for a Constable. He had known and dealt with every kind of character from the ultra-wicked Charles of Navarre to the ultra-saintly Pierre de Luxemburg.
What was this peasant who supported the three estates on his back, this bent Atlas of the medieval world…Snub-nosed and rough in belted tunic and long hose, he can be seen in carved stone medallions and illuminated pages representing the twelve months, sowing from a canvas seed bag around his neck, scything hay bare-legged in summer’s heat in loose blouse and straw hat, trampling grapes in a wooden vat, shearing sheep held between his knees, herding swine in the forest, tramping through the snow in hood and sheepskin mantle with a load of firewood on his back, warming himself before a fire in a low hut in February. Alongside him in the fields the peasant woman binds sheaves wearing a skirt caught up at the belt to free her legs and a cloth head-covering instead of a hat.
The meats and fish, all gilded, paired suckling pigs with crabs, hares with pike, a whole calf with trout, quails and partridges with more trout, ducks and herons with carp, beef and capons with sturgeon, veal and capons with carp in lemon sauce, beef pies and cheese with eel pies, meat aspic with fish aspic, meat galantines with lamprey, and among the remaining courses, roasted kid, venison, peacocks with cabbage, French beans and pickled ox-tongue, junkets and cheese, cherries and other fruit.
[N]ot a king or queen, because everything about such persons is ipso facto exceptional, and besides, they are overused; nor a commoner, because commoners’ lives in most cases did not take in the wide range that I wanted; nor a cleric or saint, because they are outside the limits of my comprehension; nor a woman, because any medieval woman whose life was adequately documented would be atypical.