The White Company
First book edition in 3 volumes (UK)
|Author||Arthur Conan Doyle|
|Publisher||Smith, Elder & Co. (UK)
Thomas Y. Crowell Co. (US)
|Media type||Print (Hardback)|
|Preceded by||The Great Keinplatz Experiment|
|Followed by||The Doings of Raffles Haw|
The White Company is a historical adventure by Arthur Conan Doyle set during the Hundred Years' War. The story is set in England, France, and Spain, in the years 1366 and 1367, against the background of the campaign of Edward, the Black Prince to restore Peter of Castile to the throne of the Kingdom of Castile. The climax of the book occurs before the Battle of Nájera. Doyle became inspired to write the novel after attending a lecture on the Middle Ages in 1889. After extensive research, The White Company was published in serialized form in 1891 in Cornhill Magazine. Additionally, the book is considered a companion to Doyle's later work Sir Nigel, which explores the early campaigns of Sir Nigel Loring and Samkin Aylward.
The novel is relatively unknown today, though it was very popular up through the Second World War. In fact, Doyle himself regarded this and his other historical novels more highly than the Sherlock Holmes adventures for which he is mainly remembered.
At the age of twenty, young Alleyne, son of Edric, leaves the Catholic abbey where he has been raised—intelligent, skilled, and well-liked, though sheltered and naive—and goes out to see the world, in accordance with the terms of his father's will. The same day, the abbot banishes John of Hordle for worldly behavior: great appetite, teasing, and flirting. At the Pied Merlin inn, they make friends with veteran archer Sam Aylward who has returned to England from France to recruit for the White Company of mercenaries. Aylward has brought a request for Sir Nigel Loring of Christchurch to take command of the company. Aylward and John continue to Christchurch, while Alleyne detours to visit his older brother, the socman or landlord of Minstead, whose fierce reputation has grown to wickedness.
The brothers meet for the first time since Alleyne was an infant and Alleyne finds that his brother is still furious their father gave three hides of land (80–120 acres) to the monastery for the boy's support. The socman threatens a lovely maiden, Maude, who escapes with Alleyne's aid and they flee on foot to find her horse. Maude makes a striking impression on the abbey-raised young man. When she hears that Alleyne intends to rejoin his friends to approach Sir Nigel Loring, Maude laughs. Alleyne meets up again with Aylward and Hordle John, and the three friends meet Sir Nigel and his formidable wife Mary. Alleyne is taken on as squire to Sir Nigel and as tutor to his daughter, who Alleyne discovers is the same Maude he saved from his evil brother. When the men eventually depart for France, the young couple admit their love, but only to each other. En route to Gascony, our heroes destroy pirates, then report to the court of the Prince of Wales in Bordeaux.
After adventures fearful and funny, the valiant fighters lead the White Company to join the Prince. The Spanish and French attack them in a narrow ravine, where the mighty warriors are almost all destroyed and the Company must disband. John and Alleyne, badly wounded, survive, but Sir Nigel and Aylward are missing and presumed dead. The English go on to win the Battle of Nájera, fulfilling the mission. The Prince knights Alleyne in his sick bed and, as the former socman has died, Sir Alleyne Edricson becomes the new socman of Minstead. He returns victorious with John as his squire, to snatch Maude from the doors of the nunnery and marry her. En route back to rescue their friends, all reunite for a happy ever after.
- Alleyne Edricson: through the wishes of his father, he has been raised by monks. Upon reaching the age of twenty he leaves the Abbey and goes into the world. During the next two years, Alleyne becomes a squire to Sir Nigel Loring, and travels to France to join the White Company, a band of archers. When Alleyne performs a great feat of valour, he himself becomes a knight. Upon returning to England, as one of the sole survivors of the White Company, he weds Sir Nigel's daughter.
- Sir Nigel Loring: based loosely on the real life figure Sir Neil Loring, he is a valiant but baldheaded little knight, known and admired by every lord and soldier on both sides of the English Channel. He constantly hopes to engage in jousts and sword fights for honor and glory. He is famed for his deeds at several battles including those of Crecy and Poictiers. He is the Constable of Twynham Castle.
- Samkin Aylward: An elite archer who has spent most of his life as a soldier. His excellent shooting skills, hardy constitution, sense of humour, and good luck have seen him through many battles, allowing him to pursue his chief pastime - wooing and flirting with women. His valour saves Sir Nigel's life on numerous occasions.
- John of Hordle, or Hordle John: A short-term monk who was kicked out of the monastery for his unfitting behavior. A huge man of great strength and sarcastic wit.
- Abbot Berghersh
- Sir Oliver Buttesthorn
- Simon Edricson, Socman of Minstead
- Walter Ford, esquire
- Goodwin Hawtayne
- Sir Claude Latour
- Lady Mary Loring
- Maude Loring
- Black Simon of Norwich
- Peter Terlake, esquire
- John Tranter
Historical figures who appear as characters in the novel
- James Audley
- Bernard Brocas
- Hugh Calveley
- Henry II of Castile
- Peter of Castile
- John Chandos
- Olivier de Clisson
- Edward III of England
- Edward, the Black Prince
- Thomas Felton
- William Felton
- John of Gaunt, 1st Duke of Lancaster
- Jean III de Grailly, captal de Buch
- Bertrand du Guesclin
- Robert Knolles
- James IV of Majorca
- Charles II of Navarre
- Thomas Percy, 1st Earl of Worcester
- Sir Simon de Burley
There was a real knight named Sir Nigel Loring at the time when the novel is set, but the historical record supplied few details and his role in the book is largely Doyle's invention. He is known to have been an original member of the Order of the Garter, and to have been in the Black Prince's bodyguard, particularly at the Battle of Poitiers on 19 September 1356. He was also a member of the Prince's war council and his chamberlain, and was part of the delegation that negotiated a truce at Bordeaux. As a reward for his role in that battle, he was granted 83 pounds per annum by the Prince.
- Amory Blaine, the protagonist in F. Scott Fitzgerald's This Side of Paradise, reads The White Company early in the book.
- Several of the characters in S. M. Stirling's Emberverse novels share names with characters from this book and are apparently descendants and/or reincarnations of the characters, and Stirling has acknowledged its influence on his own writing.
- Two minor character names appear in the Hollywood film A Knight's Tale, specifically "Delves of Dodgington" (Delves of Doddington in the novel) and "Fowlehurst of Crewe" as fake names for the characters Roland and Wat respectively.