English Weapons and Warfare: 449–1660, by A.V.B. Norman and Don Pottinger

I love this book. A dear friend loaned it to me when I first began researching Arthurian literature. Three years later, when I asked him “Can I borrow your awesome book on English armor? I think it’s brown. Or maybe blue,” he knew exactly which book I was talking about. The title of English Weapons and Warfare: 449–1660 makes the content self-explanatory. Norman and Pottinger fit a surprising amount of detail in this book, considering that they have 220 pages to cover 1200 years of weapons, armor, and tactics.

Perhaps the organization is what makes this book so efficient. English Weapons is divided chronologically. Each section is further divided into organization, arms/armor, tactics/strategy, and castles/cannons. The table of contents is arranged so that the reader can pick a section by period or by subject.

Drawings in English Weapons are sparse, but they are efficiently used. I focused on armor and weapons when I read this book. Norman and Pottinger’s descriptions were most useful to learn what weapons and armor looked like, how they were used, and how they changed, responding to changes in warfare methods and cultural climate. English Weapons gave me a solid foundation for understanding the many arming and fight scenes of Arthurian literature as well as countering some basic stereotypes. The writing style is efficient and effective.

It’s difficult to tell if this book is intended for a popular or scholarly audience, but I’ll suppose popular since it covers such a broad topic in a small space. Someone brand-new to medieval history may have a hard time grounding some of the mentioned events in their historical context, but someone brand-new to medieval history would also be unlikely to pick up this book without a desire to connect it to other sources. For scholars, this book is useful for a basic overview of medieval warfare as well as a quick reference for specific periods or weapons.

My only complaint about English Weapons is that I want more. I would have liked more detailed information on how weapons were used, the quality of surviving artifacts, and their dominance during the Middle Ages. Obviously, this is an unrealistic complaint because they authors have not failed to address these topics and would have added more detail if this had been a longer book. English Weapons is worth buying, but if you can’t have your own copy, make sure to get it through inter-library loan.

Table of Contents

(I am not reproducing the ToC by subject since it’s so long.)

  • Preface
  • The Invaders
  • Chivalry
  • The Twelfth Century
  • The Thirteenth Century
  • The Fourteenth Century
  • The Fifteenth Century
  • The First Half of the Sixteenth Century
  • The Second Half of the Sixteenth Century
  • The Seventeenth Century up to 1660
  • Appendix: The Making of an Armour
  • Index

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