Sir Arthur Conan Doyle called THE WHITE COMPANY “the most complete, satisfying and ambitious thing I have ever done.” These are strange words from an author famous for the creation of Sherlock Holmes, one of the most popular figures in the annals of English literature. Written in the period before Doyle began work on his famous detective stories, THE WHITE COMPANY is now largely forgotten, but the novel was highly popular in its time and established the author’s reputation as a serious writer. It appealed to Doyle’s audience because it recalled the invigorating age of chivalry to a people who longed to escape the dullness and stuffiness of the industrial age. Doyle expressed the aspirations of his age more thoroughly than any writer of his time—an age that was thirsting for action and mystery or anything exciting that would temporarily release it from the stifling air of respectability. No one, except perhaps Dumas, could write more stirring scenes of action.
The charm of THE WHITE COMPANY lies in its romantic plot. The English nobles are all valiant men but none so valiant as Sir Nigel. Hordle John is the strongest Englishman ever seen, as Aylward is the lustiest bowman. About the full-flowering of chivalry, in the age of Edward III, Doyle had no illusions. He saw its brutality, its grime, its pain; but stripped of the brutality, the code remained. Its root was honor; and each of its laws became an article of faith that might strengthen and sustain it as powerfully as any religion.
Doyle had a high regard for his historical novels, which were based on meticulous research; he had read well over a hundred volumes on the period of Edward III and considered it the greatest epoch in English history. As a consequence, he underestimated the contemporary stories he wrote with ease. Modern readers can see that the saga of Sherlock Holmes is more valuable as a period piece and has captured the imagination of a wider audience in the long run than the romance of Edward III; nevertheless, THE WHITE COMPANY remains an exciting and robust tale and is well worth the reading.