Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Barbara Tuchman began her study of fourteenth century Europe to learn what impact the Black Death (1348-1350) had on medieval society. She soon discovered that the great plague was but one of the calamities that afflicted the ill-fated century, and she expanded her research into other major upheavals, including the Hundred Years’ War between France and England, the Great Schism in the Catholic church, the rise of religious dissent, and the decline of feudalism and chivalry.

To give her resulting study a locus, she chose a representative historical figure, Enguerrand VII, as her nominal subject. The last dynastic sire of Coucy, Enguerrand was an important player in the diplomatic maneuvering in the second half of the century, but because he was neither king nor emperor and thus was of limited interest to medieval chroniclers, many of the details of his life are at best sketchy. At various points in her history, Tuchman can only make provocative guesses as to Enguerrand’s role or even his whereabouts.

His life provides only the warp of the author’s intricate and splendid historical tapestry. The woof is made up of major events in Western Europe, especially Anglo-French relations and the power struggles within France and the Church. These are treated chronologically and for the first third of the book do not directly involve Enguerrand. He was, after all, only a child when the Black Death spread through Europe, so Tuchman only records the...

(The entire section is 545 words.)