- Contact and Exchange in Later Medieval Europe: Essays in Honour of Malcolm Vale ed. by Hannah Skoda, Patrick Lantschner, and R. I. J. Shaw
This multifaceted collection sets out to explore the “interactions across boundaries and borders” in Europe during late medieval times (2). The range of the volume is therefore extremely broad, though tapered to some extent by its dual (secondary?) objective of respecting the distinguished work of Vale, whose many well-received books and articles have focused on “courts, chivalric culture, and warfare” in the intertwined societies of northwestern Europe (2). The result is an interesting array of scholarly ideas about perceiving frontiers in new or unusual ways, but the assortment does not always achieve congruity.
The volume is divided into two parts; its first half deals with “the variety of boundaries” and its second with “different practices of exchange” (11). Preceding these units is a brief yet informative survey of Vale’s academic life and major contributions as well as a general introduction that lays out not only the general goals of the book but also a short description of intellectual trends in the field toward global, transnational, and entangled (histoire croisée) approaches to historical interpretation. These opening sections provide a useful and dynamic discussion around the intriguing possibilities of imagining a new map of Europe, one based on interrelated networks and webs of communication that have little to do with accustomed state (or proto-state) boundaries in the late medieval era.
Some of the volume’s essays fulfill its outlined aims better than others, and occasionally the work as a whole feels out of balance. In the first half, for example, three of the essays in sequential order center on linguistic concerns. Guilhem Pepin’s examination of language, allegiance, and identity in Brittany and Gascony makes for a fascinating narrative about the blend, or non-blend, of politics and culture in those provinces. Erik Spindler’s disturbing look at the fate of many Flemings during the Peasant Revolt of 1381 suggests that a simple desire for enhanced solidarity among the English led to attacks on the pronunciation-challenged, and Maria João Violante Branco argues for a new political-linguistic view of translations in Spain. All three chapters have interesting points, but together they come off as an unexpected and perhaps unwarranted cluster in the book.
The volume recovers its broader approach after this digression, however, reaching several high points of analysis. Maurice Keen’s discussion of continued political connections between the emerging states of France and England following the Wars of the Roses (following the Hundred Years’ War) aptly demonstrates abiding international bonds being fueled rather than extinguished by domestic discord. Similarly, Rita Costa-Gomes furnishes the most interdisciplinary essay of the book with her captivating investigation of “princely gifts” crafted by African artists for Portuguese nobles, specifically a fifteenth-century ivory olifant [End Page 257] (a medieval hunting horn) with European hunting scenes carved on it (174). The mix of art, politics, and trade in her work fits the stated subject of the volume superbly. Also, Mario Damen's exploration of the Low Countries’ distinct approach to tournament participation in the 1400s reminds us that regional links could be exaggerated.
Some of the pieces such as Paul Booth’s study of the Black Prince’s dying wish to reward the denizens of Wirral or Jean Dunbabin's perspective on Philip Chieti’s expatriate difficulties could ultimately have been more convincing in their arguments, but they nonetheless challenge assumptions about nobles and their wide nexus of influence. A sense of imbalance returns in John Watts’ closing to the collection. After praising the volume, he proceeds to question whether notions of entangled history could go (or have gone) too far and become unworkable, unneeded, or unintelligible. Has a tipping point been reached? His question is a worthwhile one for the field, and if Watts jars the intellectual balance of the book as a last word, he does so in a...