Arya, the Hound, and Men of the Hundred Years War

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Arya and the Hound © HBO

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.

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Locke’s men nearly gang rape Brienne. © HBO via Wikia.

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.

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The Battle of Crécy is an example of a pitched battle from the Hundred Years’ War by Jean Froissart.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jamie Adair is the editor of History Behind Game of Thrones, a website about the history behind George RR Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" novels and the hit TV show, "Game of Thrones."

8 Comments

  • Reply March 25, 2014

    KWolf

    Are there stories of peasants defending against these raids?

  • Reply March 26, 2014

    Jaime Adair

    I’ve never heard of any stories of peasants defending themselves against the raids or attempting to fight back, but it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. So far at least, I’ve found it very hard to obtain information written in English about the impact of the raids on the French people (e.g., from their point of view).

    The lack of English texts that discuss the social impact on average French people during the Hundred Years’ War is a huge sore spot with me; I have a moral issue with this and think that Ian Mortimer’s “Edward III: The Perfect King” should be burned in effigy. The Hundred Years’ War killed the equivalent of an entire country – 3.5 million people over 116 years. This would be roughly 58 million people in “today’s people” (based on the population growth over the past 600 years). Presumably, many of those killed were French peasants – in other words, people like you (?), me and many of the people reading this blog (e.g., the 90%). Yet, even though the Hundred Years’ War was one of the world’s more deadly conflicts – especially for civilians – the civilian death toll seems to get swept under the carpet while we lay laurels at the feet of Edward III and his ilk.

    I believe the peasant ends up being “dehumanized” in many histories. We often project ourselves into the role of the noble when we read British medieval history because so many popular histories focus on nobility and royalty; if we are middle class, we forget that our medieval equivalent would be the average person, typically a peasant and in some cases a merchant (maybe).

    The term peasant has become pejorative and often reflects inaccurate stereotypes (stupid, muddy, toothless peasants). The result is we don’t care about what happened to peasants I don’t think. We often discuss the Hundred Years’ War exclusively from the perspective of the English nobility. We neglect the French peasants even though, when they lived in conquered territories, they were actually English subjects. Edward III is the “perfect king,” but how many “French” peasants would have agreed with that assessment?

    But, I digress… 🙂 (Sorry I keep trying to bite my tongue about the Hundred Years’ War and the poor peasants, but apparently not very successfully! 🙂 )

    You would think that peasants would attempt to protect themselves and possibly even plot to defend themselves. We know from the Peasant’s Revolt in England that peasants could easily fashion farm tools into quite dangerous weapons – especially with the help of the local blacksmith.

    But, defense may have been impossible. I’ve heard that a knight was equal to three soldiers on foot. Horses were trained to kick, stomp, bite, and trample on command, so they functioned as a weapon unto themselves – amplifying the effectiveness of the knight much more than we might otherwise imagine. And, I think I’ve heard that 3-6 mounted knights (??) could take out an entire medieval village.

    The long and the short of it is that I don’t know the answer to your question, and I’ve wondered the same thing myself.

    I don’t typically believe in conspiracy theories. However, I suspect that Joan of Arc may have been part of an organized scheme by the French peasants to defend themselves.

  • Reply March 27, 2014

    Olga

    There’s the Jacquerie, Jamie, in a peasant’s revolt in 1358. That should make you happy 🙂 That’s the only French one I can find in that period though.
    Kings are mainly valued for their warfare, as much now as they were then. Henry VII, who established peace, wealth and prosperity is called things like a miser and a mummy’s boy and even a coward, because he didn’t march off to war every couple of years. Never mind he managed to bring the country together after decades of faction warring.
    Do you think King John would have been so maligned if he hadn’t lost so many battles?

    • Reply April 4, 2014

      Jaime Adair

      Olga, I’m so-o-o sorry I took so long to reply. Thanks for pointing out the Jacquerie. I don’t know much about it at all, but I will definitely have to do some research – as you know, I’m very interested in peasant revolts. 🙂 I agree about King John. Although, lol, I have to admit the taxes probably didn’t help either. He taxed the people a lot – and nobody liked being taxed for losing!

  • Reply April 1, 2014

    John

    >> for many of the soldiers in the medieval periods on which the novels are based, rape was par for the course. <<<
    Unfortunately it's not bound to medieval periods. Vietnam, WW1, WW2, Abu Ghraib, … have well documented testimonials of soldiers raping local women

    • Reply April 4, 2014

      Jaime Adair

      That’s really sad. I believe what you’ve written is quite true. I don’t understand the impulse – in fact, I even tried to do a little research on it. There seems to be a strong association between war, violence, and rape (or perhaps even sexual desire). It is unclear to me if rape in the context of war is a result of a quest for power, a desire to inflict violence, or sexual desire. (Many people say rape is not about sex, but I’m not sure if that’s always the case.) But, I believe there is some type of tradition – even if only literary – where the violence of war wets the soldier’s sexual appetites.

      • Reply April 4, 2014

        Olga

        The rape of men is a bit of a dark secret too. I know you covered it in one of your previous articles Jaime, which was brilliant. Sadly it still happens now, men and women. We just don’t hear much about it.

        • Reply April 4, 2014

          Jaime Adair

          Thanks, Olga. That is very true about the rape of men not being discussed adequately – especially in historical literature.

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