This is part one of a massive four-volume history of the Hundred Years War. As such, it spends a good amount of time setting the stage, and covers through Crecy and the siege of Callais.

The first chapter is an interesting, and effective, experiment in writing, presenting the funeral of Charles IV in 1328, and using it to show the physical side of Paris as the procession walks from Notre-Dame to Saint-Denis, which was well outside Paris at the time, and taking asides to talk about the state of France as a whole.

The rest of the book… isn’t quite like that, though it continues to do the same great job at presenting the smaller stories to build up the larger ones. Much of the book is taken up with pre-war maneuvering, and starts with an interesting point that while Philip IV (the Valois successor to the Capetian Charles IV) saw his relationship with Edward III (and his French holdings in Gascony) in feudal terms, the French bureaucracy generally saw things in more ‘nationalistic’ terms. Much of the early part of the book revolves around problems arising from judicial proceedings where English authority is largely undermined and eroded away.

This creates a situation where war is increasingly likely, as the ‘high court’ for affairs in Gascony is in Paris, and just by its nature generally stacks the deck against Edward III, who is still the legal lord of the area, and his vassals. There’s lots of litigation held up for years, occasional seizures of castles as part of legal decisions, and lots of low-level politics of local factions aligned with the English or the French.

Of course, France is a large, populous country, compared with relatively small and backward England. Much of the book is also spent looking at the various limits on the power of the French court, and how that made it difficult to pursue a vigorous campaign when fighting breaks out. England is comparatively centralized, and Edward III was willing to go to some fairly extreme measures to finance a war. Much of the middle of the book has all sorts of financial woes as even experimental high-finance can’t keep up with the needs of paying and feeding a major army for long.

But much of that serves as practice for more successful English campaigns once some of the difficulties are sorted out. Philip IV still hasn’t really sorted out his troubles, enhancing a sense of paralysis as the English army finally gets its act together, and marches across a fair amount of northern France, and then has the first of several spectacular, but not war-winning, victories at Crecy.

Along the way, the book spends time with problems in Wales, and much more notably, Scotland, making sure that there is as complete a view of the situation, and the pressures on England and France, as possible. Overall, it’s very thorough, and an interesting read from start to finish. Sadly, it’ll probably take me far longer than it should to get to the next three volumes.