Thursday, June 17, 2010

Even Historians Have to Say 'Holy Cow!' Once in a While

The title just about says it all. Still, reading Barbara Tuchman's A Distant Mirror, there are so many ways a historian reveals a bias in history writing; but it must be difficult to put together an account of the doings of kings without saying 'Holy Cow!' or something a little stronger. In her chapter on the Jacquerie, she wrote about Guillaume Cale riding to meet Charles II of Navarre by saying his 'common sense apparently deserted him'. Charles of Navarre 'preferred guile and treachery'. 'The capture of their leader by such easy and contemptuous treachery'' clearly shows the author's disgust with Charles of Navarre. He is not a likable guy.
Cale was the leader of a band of peasants who were fighting the nobility for better conditions for the poor. The peasants had been brutalized by the plague, Hundred Year's War and knights, who during a lull in the war turned to brigandage perpetrated against peasantry for the most part, as they were defenseless, being prohibited to bear arms. After Charles captured Cale, he 'massacred "3000" more peasants' and burned 300 alive. Then he beheaded Cale after reportedly crowning him as King of the Jacques with a circlet of red hot iron. Tuchman calls this 'wicked mockery' because, really, it must be hard to write about this cruelty and not comment on it ever.

6 comments:

Tracy said...

it must be hard to write about this cruelty and not comment on it ever.

True, but the reported actions speak for themselves - just calmly gathering the evidence or 'bearing witness' is better than impassioned and one-sided descriptions, if you want to be believed.

anachronist said...

After Charles captured Cale, he 'massacred "3000" more peasants' and burned 300 alive. Then he beheaded Cale after reportedly crowning him as King of the Jacques with a circlet of red hot iron.

I hate to say it was typical in those times. Peasants were just a tad better than livestock. Their gang leader had to be punished in a cruel way so others didn't get wrong ideas. Do you know that medieval hangmen were paid per hour of their "work" so basically the longer they tortured a victim the more money they earned?

The Red Witch said...

@but the reported actions speak for themselves

Not unless you understand the facts in the context in which they occur. A good historian will help you put the information into perspective. I just think it must be hard to write about the cruelty and death of the 14th century without passing judgement.

@Peasants were just a tad better than livestock.

No, I think the livestock were more valuable. Or valued. Seriously.

anachronist said...

No, I think the livestock were more valuable. Or valued. Seriously.

I think you might be right. After all, nobody would think of torturing a good cow.

Tracy said...

No, I think the livestock were more valuable. Or valued. Seriously.
Even with the depradations of the Great Plague? I thought the lack of manpower following the Black Death meant that peasants were generally able to ask for better pay/conditions? Basic law of supply and demand.

The Red Witch said...

They could ask for more money but they were still treated like dirt. There were many chroniclers who complained about them getting too big for their breeches. I think Froissart railed against them for some reason. Maybe the Peasants' Revolt left him with a fear of the poor rural classes.