Why Osprey Books are problematic.
Osprey has for many years been publishing a series of books covering military events, uniforms, tactics etc. One of Osprey’s series is its so-called campaign series that basically covers interesting and important historical battles and campaigns. The books are not long generally under 100 pages in large format with copious numbers of photos, maps and specially commissioned illustrations for the particular publication. Since frequently these books cover campaigns that get only cursory treatment in conventional, easy to get sources these books are of great value in providing up to date information in an accessible format.1
Sadly however you just cannot rely on Osprey publications. Sometimes you get a writer whose interpretation of a campaign is loaded with perverse interpretations of the evidence2 and / or you get what can only be called a cavalier attitude towards easily ascertainable facts.
One glaring and embarrassing example is The Fall of English France 1449-53.3 This book provides a long needed overview of in English of a campaign that is just about completely unknown to English readers, although it is very well known indeed to the French. English readers can easily get accounts of the battle of Agincourt and other notable English victories of the Hundred Years War, but about English defeats the resources available are distinctly in comparison minuscule.
Thus we get histories of the Hundred years war that give scant coverage to the campaigns that ended the war. In fact coverage of the closing years is in fact quite sparse in books about the war.4 So the publication of a book like this one should be encouraged so that more people know about not very well known periods of military history. Sadly the book has flaws that detract from its value.
The author David Nicolle is supposed to be an expert in medieval military history and yet it appears that the book was not fact checked very thoroughly.
I will here give a few examples, not all by a long shot, of the errors in the book.
The book claims that the French retook Dieppe in 1443 and a subsequent English attempt to retake it failed. It is true that an English attempt to retake Dieppe failed in 1443 but the French had retaken Dieppe in 1435. Just how this error slipped in I do not know, although Brune in his book claims that the Duke of York retook Dieppe in 1436. So that could be the source of the error. Whatever the reason it is well established that Dieppe was taken by the French in 1436 and never retaken by the English.5
Another error is that it lists the rebellion of Jack Cade has occurring in June and July of 1449. This quite simply wrong; the rebellion occurred in 1450 in June and July of that year. Just how this error crept into this book is a mystery.6
Another error is the book states that the beginning of the War of the Roses was the First Battle of Barnet on May 22 1455. Well for one thing there was only one battle at Barnet during the War of the Roses and that occurred on April 14 1471. It was The First Battle of St. Albans that occurred on May 22 1455. It is interesting to note that Nicolle seems to be perfectly aware that there were two battles at St. Albans during the War of the Roses. Just how this error did not get noticed is a bit mysterious.7
On the legend of a map it says that both English and French forces are marked in red. This is an error for by looking at the map it is clear that English forces are blue. This is basically a pretty picayune error but annoying none the less.8
Another error that is more along the lines of misleading by brevity is a mention that the English in 1436 “evacuated” Paris. Well this is pretty misleading. In reality several English forces were cut to pieces around Paris in the spring of 1436. The French were then invited in by the inhabitants of the city to come in and the citizens rose against the English. The English garrison was driven into the Bastille. There they negotiated being allowed to leave in exchange for giving up the fortress intact. Saying that the English “evacuated” Paris doesn’t cut it.9
What the book has is glaring errors of fact that even a routine fact check should have caught. As mentioned above given that this book covers a topic that should in fact be getting more coverage this is rather annoying.
What this does is to make the book seem less reliable. After all these are the errors I caught. Where there errors that I did not catch because I lack the detailed background? After all I’m no expert in this campaign yet I found annoying errors.
Further if the book is not reliable how can I rely on its interpretations of data? After all if it screwed up with errors like the above, (Again not a complete list of what I found), just how reliable is the interpretation?
Of course this doesn’t just apply to this book but too the entire Osprey series of books on military history. Do they employ fact checkers? And just how did these errors creep into the text if they do have fact checkers. After all something as glaring as a First Battle of Barnet or the wrong date for Cade’s rebellion are annoying and may indicate a rather slapdash approach to editing on the part of Osprey publications.
As it is these kind of problems that make me hesitate to recommend Osprey books to others.
1. See Osprey campaign series.
2. See for example; Forczyk, Robert & Dennis, Peter, Nez Perce 1877, Osprey Pub. Inc., Oxford, 2011.
3. Nicolle, David, The Fall of English France 1449-1453, Osprey Pub. Inc., Oxford, 2012.
4. Allmand, Christopher, The Hundred Years War, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1988, pp. 35-36, Perroy, Edouard, The Hundred Years War, Capricorn Books, New York, 1965, pp. 317-322, Burne, Alfred H., The Hundred Years War, Penguin Books, London, 2002 (Originally published in two volumes, 1955, 1956), pp. 661-696. For an example of how English historians boost English victories see Barker, Juliet, Agincourt, Little Brown, London, 2006.
5. Nicolle, pp. 5, 7, Burne, p. 638, Pollard, A. J., John Talbot and the War in France 1427-1453, Royal Historical Society, London, 1983, pp. 45, 59-61, Barker, Juliet, Conquest, Little Brown, London, 2009, pp.232-233, 301-302, Seward, Desmond, The Hundred Years War, Penguin Books, London, 1978, ch. 10, sec. 418. (I am quoting from an electronic edition).
6. Nicolle, p. 8, Griffiths, R. A., The Reign of Henry VI, Second Edition, Sutton Publishing, Gloucestershire, 1998, pp. 610-665.
7. Nicolle, pp. 5, 19, War of the Roses, Wikipedia Here.
8. Nicolle, pp. 68-69.
9. Nicolle, p. 8, Barker. 2009, pp. 239-246, Seward, ch. 10, sec. 418.