Hawkwood: Diabolical Englishman is the first biography of the mercenary John Hawkwood for over a century, by Frances Stonor Saunders, the author of Who Paid the Piper? The CIA and the Cultural Cold War and The Woman Who Shot Mussolini.
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The hugely acclaimed, best-selling life of Hawkwood, one of the outstanding figures of English and European history.
John Hawkwood was an Essex man who became the greatest mercenary in an age when soldiers of fortune flourished – an age that also witnessed the first stirrings of the Renaissance. When England made a peace treaty with the French in 1360, during a pause in the Hundred Years War, John Hawkwood, instead of going home, travelled south to Avignon, where the papacy was based during its exile from Rome. He and his fellow mercenaries held the pope to ransom and were paid off. Hawkwood then crossed the Alps into Italy and found himself in a promised land: he made and lost fortunes extorting money from city states like Florence, Siena, and Milan, who were fighting vicious wars between themselves and against the popes.
This man of war husbanded his use of violence, but for all his caution he committed one of the most notorious massacres of his time – an atrocity that still clouds his name.
'... this historical expose has a lively, contemporary feel. Frances Stonor Saunders has an eye for the telling details that bring this turbulent age to life ... To read the book's pacy prose is to smell the stench of wars, plague and moral decay, and yet it also hurls you into an exciting and changing world.'
Maintaining a cracking pace, Saunders vividly illuminates medieval life and, more particularly, death.
This is more than mere biography. As much about the times as the man, it fulfils Saunders's aim of forcing us "to re-examine the true origins of the Renaissance". Saunders's research has been extensive and meticulous. But like all the best learning, she wears hers lightly as she challenges received wisdom about Europe after the Black Death. She gives us the ugly, but also the age's "sheer puissance". And there are morals here for our different, but still troubled times. There is dry, droll wit aplenty too ... this book deserves all the superlatives it has earned.
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