- Henry II: A Medieval Soldier at War, 1147–1189
Over his four-decade career, Henry II of England conquered and acquired a vast congeries of territories, often denoted by historians as the Angevin [End Page 1220] empire, stretching from the Scottish border in the north to the Pyrenees in the south, including England, Ireland, Normandy, Anjou, Maine, Brittany, Touraine, and Aquitaine. Despite his considerable military achievements, however, Henry II's career as a soldier and commander has received relatively little attention from scholars, who have been much more interested in other aspects of his career, particularly his notable successes in reforming the law and administration in many of the territories under his rule. John D. Hosler has essayed to fill this substantial lacuna in the scholarship with a study that focuses on Henry II's military career from his first participation in the civil war against King Stephen of England in 1147, until the final revolt against Henry by his sons, abetted by Philip II of France (1165–1223), in 1189.
Hosler divides his study into seven chapters. Chapter one provides a useful survey of the sources available for Henry I's reign, under the rubrics of chronicles, record sources, and literary sources. The first group includes self-consciously historical texts. The second group includes charters, writs, and diplomata, many of which have not yet been edited or published. The third group of sources consists of letters, and works of literature that were not self-consciously historical. Chapter two, which is substantially longer than the other chapters, provides an overview of Henry's political and military career, with the evidence derived largely from narrative sources. Chapter three focuses on the military organization within Henry's vast realm, with an emphasis on the nature of military obligation, the continuity of the Anglo-Saxon fyrd into the period of Angevin rule in England, and the employment by Henry of mercenaries. Chapter four considers Henry's overall military strategy at different points in his reign, and the tactics that Henry and his commanders employed. This chapter also includes a brief section on logistics, which focuses largely on Henry's use of naval resources to transport his troops overseas. Chapter five is concerned with sieges, which Hosler correctly identifies as playing the dominant role in the conduct of medieval warfare. Chapter six provides something of a case study in Henry's military career by returning to the 1173–74 revolt, led by Henry II's eldest son, Henry, that convulsed the entire Angevin empire for eighteen months. In chapter seven, which serves as a conclusion, Hosler considers the question of the nature of the Angevin empire, and whether Henry intended to create it. Hosler also uses the conclusion to make the case that the overall success of Henry's military career requires that he be considered among the leading medieval generals, on a par with his great-grandfather William the Conqueror, and his son Richard Lionheart.
Hosler's book is a welcome addition to the history of twelfth-century Europe, correctly asserting the central importance of war, the preparation for war, and war's aftermath to all aspects of life. However, a second edition of what promises to be a popular work will require several important revisions. Hosler's valuable chapter on the sources for Henry's reign would be much improved by an analysis of the parti pris of the authors, of both literary and historical works, as this affects not only their observation of political events, but also their presentation and interpretation of military affairs. This is particularly important given the general bias of medieval authors toward reporting on the deeds of the great, while ignoring the actions and [End Page 1221] even the presence of the great majority of all medieval combatants, namely foot soldiers of low social and economic status.
All too often, scholars of a romantic bent have abused the highly biased views of contemporary writers to depict medieval warfare...