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Shipping in the Medieval Military: English Maritime Logistics in the Fourteenth Century

By Craig L. Lambert

Woodbridge, Suffolk: The Boydell Press, 2011

6-1/4” x 9-1/2”, hardcover, xiii + 243 pages

Tables, appendices, notes, bibliography, index. $90.00

ISBN: 9781843836544 


            Craig Lambert, a research assistant at the University of Hull, brings to light the important logistical role of less notable men in the wars conducted by Edward II and Edward III, namely the medieval mariner and his myriad of partners responsible for the raising, outfitting, and transporting of armies and their requisite supplies by sea. For though the English Channel is not the Atlantic Ocean, undertaking a crossing for the invasion of France required logistical virtues that foreshadowed later English naval logistics: the well organized and highly efficient garnering of resources (including crews, ports, and supplies), their organization, and their distribution.

            From the outset of his well-crafted historiographical introduction, Lambert immediately engages his readers with two excerpts by fourteenth-century travelers to relate the perilous nature of seafaring in the medieval period. Lambert illustrates the dangerous nature of maritime travel, but also the necessary role of merchant fleets in supplying and transporting invading armies of Edward II, Edward III, and the Black Prince. He illustrates, as an example, the ample amount of scholarship devoted to land campaigns, but points out that just how the Crown raised the 1342 invasion fleet of 487 ships, sailed by 8,796 mariners, carrying 4,500 soldiers, remains unexplored by historians. The focus of Lambert’s work is an assessment of the “contribution made by maritime communities to the supply and transportation of troops during the period 1320-1360.”

            The succeeding four chapters discuss the above subject in detail, with statistical and anecdotal evidence from a vast selection of primary sources. Lambert divides the content into clear and easy to follow categories, each chapter focusing on the logistical organizational systems, time lines, advances, and changes over time in how the Edwardians raised their fleets. Chapter 1 covers the specific logistics of raising a fleet; Chapter 2, in detail, discusses the logistics and preparations for war as well as the supplying armies and garrisons by sea. Chapter 3 examines the preparation of fleets and their transportation of English armies to France by the Edwardians, and Chapter 4 addresses maritime resources of the Kings’ wars. Lambert finishes the body of his text with a well-rounded conclusion, tying in his extensive research with his main argument regarding the undeniably critical role of maritime resources in medieval English military operations. Supplemental to the introduction, four chapters, and conclusion, are two appendixes. The first lists each port, by county, that contributed supplies to fleets. The second describes Lambert’s methodology for how he reconstructed the fleets, with detail to their identification, and how he calculated their size and composition. The latter may be of some use to historians wishing to undertake a similar medieval maritime endeavor, whereas the former, interesting to both the historical enthusiast and academics alike.            

          Although not particularly interested in military or naval logistics, this reviewer found the book an enjoyable and eye-opening read. So much literature exists on the land operations of medieval-modern European armies, with only a fraction of attention given to how those armies arrived at their destination. Though logistical history may not be every history buff’s cup of tea, anyone devoted to the Edwardian conquests in Scotland and France may find these underlying and crucial supply forces of surprising interest. The work is well written, well argued, and supported with a substantial array of primary sources with a scholarly demonstration of Lambert’s knowledge of secondary material devoted to his topic. The period 1320-1360 has an obvious terminus, but excluding Edward II’s failed Bannockburn campaign of 1314 seems to leave the chronology with a somewhat capricious start. Other than a few citation irregularities with tables, there is little to critique in this work. Regarding the tables overall, they are well put together and Lambert makes ample use of the data provided in supporting his discussions on maritime logistics—an inherently complicated subject conveyed quite satisfactorily with well-structured arguments and clear language. Lambert’s book is an excellent contribution to medieval, military, and maritime history. This reviewer hopes Lambert’s attention to a less than popularly explored area of research reminds historians in general to consider the maritime and naval sides of things—the land and the sea. 

Daniel M. Brown

Coastal Carolina University