A Distant Mirror

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A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century, published in 1978, is a work by American historian and Pulitizer Prize winner Barbara Tuchman, focusing on life in 14th century Europe.

To provide a central figure to weave a narrative around, Tuchman chose the French nobleman Enguerrand de Coucy, 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.) But he was chosen mostly because he was in the forefront of action, tied as he was to both France and England. Coucy was a French noble, but he married Isabella, the eldest daughter of Edward III of England.

The book covers the cataclysms suffered by Europe in the 14th century: the Hundred Years' War, the Black Plague, the papal schism, pillaging mercenaries, anti-Semitism, and popular revolts, including the Jacquerie in France, ruthlessly suppressed by Coucy and his contemporaries, the liberation of Switzerland, the Battle of the Golden Spurs and peasant uprisings against laws that enforced the use of hops in beer. However, Tuchman does not just focus on political and religious changes. She begins her book with a discussion of the Little Ice Age, a change in climate that lowered the average temperature of Europe until the 18th century. Tuchman also takes care to describe the lives of the people, from nobles and clergymen, right down to the peasantry.

Tuchman relies much...
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