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Interview with Morgen Witzel

Morgen Witzel has written ten books and more than 400 articles on History, Economcis, Business
and Management; he is Honorary Senior Fellow at the School of Business and Economics,
University of Exeter. He recently took time out of his busy schedule to let us ask him a few

Q :Longman History:
Why did you choose to write about this subject?

A: Morgen Witzel:
We have been interested in the Crécy right from when we first began to study medieval history. The battle and the campaign that preceded it are a fascinating story, every bit as much so as the Agincourt campaign, which is much better known. But what interested us also are the sources for this campaign, which make it possible to put events and people under a microscope and really examine them in detail. It is possible to look at the campaign and the battle from all sorts of different angles, from administrative records, from chronicles and eyewitness accounts, from daily journals of events and of food consumption during the campaign, and of course by following the route of the armies and looking at the ground over which they travelled. The more we looked at Crécy, the more we became convinced that not only was this a story worth telling for its own sake, in more detail than has previously been attempted, but that such a study would help us to better understand the people who took part in the campaign and the environment in which they fought.

Q :Longman History:
What is it about your book that will most interest the reader?

A: Morgen Witzel:
We hope that what will interest them most is the level of detail, about the people involved in
the campaign, how they travelled, what they ate, how they behaved in battle and so on. We
have been able to provide a day-by-day account of the whole campaign for the English army,
and for part of the time for the French army as well. We did this by bringing together all of
the contemporary sources, in way that has not previously been done. For example, we think
we have been able to not only confirm the number of English men-at-arms killed at Crécy,
but also to name all of them.

This level of detail will, we hope, lead to the reader becoming much more involved, able to
visualise in his or her own mind the sights, sounds and smells of medieval warfare. We have
not really tried to set Crécy in context or analyse how it did, or did not, change the course of
the Hundred Years War; there are plenty of other books that do both these things. This is not
a grand tapestry, but a mosaic made up from hundreds of fine bits of detail, which taken
together create a compelling picture.

Q :Longman History:
Who are the key characters in your book?

A: Morgen Witzel:
The key characters are the two kings, Edward III of England and Philippe VI of France, but
there are a number of supporting players. On the English side these include Edward, Prince
of Wales (the Black Prince), whose reputation was first established during the course of the
Crécy campaign. Godefroi d’Harcourt, the Norman defector, played a major role, and may
have been responsible for the initial English decision to invade Normandy. The English also
had some superb battlefield commanders and tacticians, notably the Earls of Northampton,
Warwick and Arundel, and we have paid a lot of attention to the first two in particular.

On the French side, too, a number of characters stand out. Robert Betrand, seignieur de
Briquebec, played an important role early in the campaign, and does not always get the
credit he deserves for his Fabian tactics in the Cotentin. The most unlucky of them all has to
the Comte d’Eu, the young Constable of France, who fought and lost his only battle against
the English at Caen. Philippe VI's brother the Comte d'Alençon played an important role in
the disaster at Crécy. And there are the foreign leaders too, like the Genoese commander
Ottone Doria. The one who really stands out is Jean de Luxembourg, the blind King of
Bohemia, who led his troops with great skill during the campaign before his much-
mythologised death at Crécy.

Q :Longman History:
What are the most significant chapters in your book?

A: Morgen Witzel:
The chapters which contain the day-by-day account of the campaign are the most important,
because such an approach has never been used before when describing a medieval
campaign. And, although it is a relatively small part of the book, Chapter 10 which describes
the actual battle is very important. Our account brings together all the relevant sources and
analyses them in more detail than any other previous work on the subject. We go into the
major events of the day and analyse the motives and behaviours of the various key figures
on both sides, as well as trying to make sense of the confused and chaotic muddle that was
the battle itself. We also include an appendix which explains why we have made certain key
assumptions about the battle, which will help the reader to understand our own analysis and
thought processes.

Q :Longman History:
How did you become interested in history?

A: Morgen Witzel:
We have both been interested in history from any early age. Marilyn Livingstone’s father was
a history teacher and as a child she was taught the importance of studying history. She went
on to do a joint degree in History and History in Art at the University of Victoria in British
Columbia, Canada, where she became increasingly intrigued by the Middle Ages, an interest
she has shared with Morgen Witzel since they met. Marilyn has always been particularly
interested in English medieval history, although she retains a keen interest in art and
architectural history of all ages. A master's degree at Royal Holloway and Bedford New
College cemented her interest the fourteenth century. An interest in economic history was
also sparked during her master’s degree study, and it is in this area that she continues her
primary historical work, completing a PhD thesis (at The Queen’s University of Belfast) on
the Nonae or taxtation of ninths which was levied by Edward III in the early part of the
Hundred Years War. After a first degree in History in the University of Victoria, Morgen went
on to do a master's degree in Renaissance diplomatic history, but the fourteenth century
continues to be an abiding interest.

Q :Longman History:
Do you have any suggestions for places that people interested in this subject should

A: Morgen Witzel:
All of the relevant sites along the campaign trail were visited by the authors during the
course of research for the book, and many had been visited by them several times over the
past 25 years. It is possible, and enjoyable, to follow in the footsteps of Edward and his
army and Philippe and his armies across the Norman and Picard countryside, using the
excellent detailed maps available from IGN, the French equivalent of the Ordinance Survey.
Many of the places mentioned in the books retain some features that were present in the
1340s, and the battlefield itself can easily be visited; a viewing platform was erected some 20
years ago on the presumed site of Edward’s windmill, and although it was in need of repair
in the spring of 2003, it provides a good view of the battlefield and the surrounding
countryside. Other key sites can be easily seen; there was destruction during the Second
World War in many towns, in Normandy especially, but even so places like St-Vaast-la-
Hougue, Quettehou, Carentan with its marshes, St-Lô, Gaillon, La Roche Guyon and the
Blanchetaque remain very evocative.

Q :Longman History:
How did you research a book like this?

A: Morgen Witzel:
We used a combination of methods. There are a number of contemporary sources, in
particular chronicles like those of Geoffrey le Baker, Jean le Bel and Jean Froissart as well
as other, less well-known chronicles, which relate the story of the campaign, or at least some
aspects of it. There also exist a series of letters by English participants in the campaign,
including one by King Edward himself. These have been studied in detail by historians for
many generations, of course, but we have gone through them afresh and in minute detail.
But we also made much greater use of a source which has been very much under-utilised by
previous historians of the campaign. This source, the kitchen account, had been used before
only to provide information about the location of the king and his household during the
campaign. However, it proved to provide a wealth of detail about provisioning and conditions
more generally for the king and his household for the whole period, during both the build-up
to the English departure for France and on a daily basis during the campaign. We found a
great deal of information in this and other financial and administrative accounts, where for
example we were able to confirm many names of those who took part in the campaign,
especially people who were killed. Often we could use these records to confirm - or disprove
- statements made in the chronicles and other contemporary letters. Finally, as mentioned,
we also travelled the entire route and examined important sites in as much detail as possible,
an exercise which was very valuable in providing context to the events we describe.

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