Tuchman really has a beautiful way of writing–exhibit A:
“The knights who watched or participated in the slaughter [of Limoges] were no different in kind from those who wept so piteously for Chandos, but the obverse of facile emotion in the 14th century was a general insensitivity to the spectacle of pain and death. Chandos was bewailed because he was one of themselves, whereas the victims of Limoges were outside chivalry. Besides, life was not precious, for what was the body, after all, but carrion, and the sojourn on earth but a halt on the way to eternal life?” (Tuchman, 263-4)
In such a way Tuchman gives one explanation, perhaps, for seemingly thoughtless carnage and horror. Near the end of the work, she gives this summary:
“If the sixty years [of Sire Coucy’s life] seemed full of brilliance and adventure to a few at the top, to most they were a succession of wayward dangers; of three galloping evils, pillage, plague, and taxes; of fierce and tragic conflicts, bizarre fates, capricious money, sorcery, betrayals, insurrections, murder, madness, and the downfall of princes; of dwindling labor for the fields, of cleared land reverting to waste; and always the recurring black shadow of pestilence carrying its message of guilt and sin and the hostility of God” (Tuchman, 580).
The Middle Ages are hard to understand, I suppose, not only because of our distance from them in time and space (at least as Americans), but also because of a radical difference in values. To them, God was in everything and everything was of God; today, more people attribute events to cause and effect or luck than to the will of God. Whether that’s good or bad, I’m certainly glad I’m living in this century! When I think of what life would be without basic sanitation, deodorant (oh God), electricity, running water, phones, all of my much beloved conveniences of life…well, I’m glad to read about the past, but I’m glad I live here. If that makes me spoiled, so be it!
As for Scott, I’m on page 263 of roughly 400 and am wondering about the author’s choice of title…