A Distant Mirror
A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century is a narrative history book by the American historian Barbara Tuchman, first published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1978. It won a 1980 U.S. National Book Award in History[a] The main title, A Distant Mirror, conveys Tuchman's idea that the death and suffering of the 14th century reflect that of the 20th century, especially the horrors of World War I.
The book's focus is the Crisis of the Late Middle Ages suffered by Europe in the 14th century: the Hundred Years' War, the Black Plague, the Papal Schism, pillaging mercenaries, anti-Semitism, popular revolts including the Jacquerie in France, the liberation of Switzerland, the Battle of the Golden Spurs, and peasant uprisings against laws that enforced the use of hops in beer. She also discusses the advance of the Islamic Ottoman Empire into Europe, ending in the disastrous Battle of Nicopolis. Yet Tuchman's scope is not limited to political and religious events. She begins with a discussion of the Little Ice Age, a change in climate that reduced the average temperature of Europe until the 18th century, and takes care to describe the lives of the people, from nobles and clergymen, right down to the peasantry.
Tuchman relies much on Froissart's Chronicles.
Much of the narrative is woven around the French nobleman Enguerrand de Coucy. Tuchman chose him as a central figure partly because he lived a relatively long life and could therefore stay in the story during most of the 14th century. (Coucy was born in 1340, seven years before the Black Death began in southern Italy. He died in 1397.) He was also close to much of the action, tied to both France and England. (Coucy was a French noble, but he married Isabella, the eldest daughter of Edward III of England. He and his contemporaries ruthlessly suppressed the Jacquerie.)
- A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century
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