While rewatching the near gang rape of Brienne, it is striking how Jaime knew that Locke’s men would try to rape Brienne. Jaime knew because, for many soldiers in the periods on which the novels are based, rape was the standard behavior for many soldiers.
At a six-hundred year remove, it is easy for the level of violence of these men to escape us. Historians assume and, consequently, neglect to elaborate on the “standard operating procedure” of medieval soldiers. In Medieval Warfare by Helen Nicholson, the author describes different types of warfare — and its not what you’d think. We tend to think of war as being planned (“pitched”) military battles — two armies meet at a certain location to fight. However, war has many faces and during the Hundred Years’ War it was all about the “soft targets” as they are known today.
By the fourteenth century, few pitched battles occurred in Europe. From 1450-1530, however, there was a resurgence in pitched battles for indeterminate reasons.
Much late medieval theory of warfare stemmed from the works of the Roman writer Vegetius in the fourth century AD. Vegetius gave advice on everything from how to besiege a city to the engineering and logistical aspects of war and how to retreat from battle. Vegetius counselled military leaders to avoid battle if they could and instead practice scorched earth tactics (burn villages, destroy their food supplies, and sometimes kill their citizens) — a tactic so odious the 1977 Geneva Conventions banned it.
Edward III and his son the Black Prince loved scorched-earth tactics — and they practiced them without remorse on helpless French peasants in a series of vicious raids known as chevauchées — penetrating “cuts” deep into the French countryside. During these raids, English soldiers incinerated the villages, pillaged the food supply (destroying what they didn’t need), raped many of the women, and then killed the peasants for a twenty-mile wide swath by however many miles long in the French countryside. (Chivalry only bound knights to not hurting unaccompanied ladies of the aristocracy. Ladies accompanied by an opposing knight and peasant women were fair game.)
What’s often left out of the discussions of chevauchées is the deep terror the peasants must have felt as the English knights approached. Historians believe the peasants must have heard about the last village the soldiers attacked and likely had an idea the soldiers were about to descend upon them. The English soldiers did not hide the destruction they left behind — they did this to demoralize the peasants and leave them terrified knowing a bloody and savage death was about to roll into town.
In this video on the LA Times website, George RR Martin discusses Arya and the Hound. As the accompanying article notes, even the Hound himself points out that he is a killer and that he likes it. The Hound may be franker about this blood lust, but he is far from alone. Locke and his men, who nearly gang rape Brienne, chop off Jaime’s hand, and throw Brienne into a pit to be mauled to death by a bear, clearly revel in violence. Balon Greyjoy and the Boltons aren’t far behind. To my way of thinking, characters such as these exemplify the often overlooked dark side of the English soldiers in the Hundred Years’ War.