Frances Stonor Saunders lives in London. She is the author of Who Paid the Piper?, a history of the cultural cold war that has been translated into many languages. She is available for interview.
Hawkwood is a remarkable portrait of one of the late fourteenth century’s most colourful characters, John Hawkwood – an Essex boy who became the greatest mercenary in an age when soldiers of fortune flourished.
‘This was the age of the new man, and John Hawkwood was the most audacious of them all. His scheme, quite simply, was to hold Europe’s richest country to ransom, and he turned the business of war into an exorbitant art. Over a period of thirty years, Italy had to buy herself back from him with tiresome regularity.’
When England made a peace treaty with the French king in 1360, Hawkwood travelled south to Avignon, where the papacy was based during its exile from Rome. He and his fellow mercenaries held the pope to ransom and were paid off. At the pope’s behest, Hawkwood crossed the Alps into Italy and found himself in a promised land for the entrepreneurial soldier. Dominating military affairs for many years, he made and lost fortunes extorting money from the Italian city states of Florence, Milan, Siena and Pisa; yet when he died he was given a state funeral by Florence, and is commemorated in a famous painting by Uccello that still hangs in the Florentine Duomo.
It was said of Hawkwood that ‘an Englishman Italianised is a devil incarnate’, and Frances Stonor Saunders sheds light on this dark legend. Peopled by characters ranging from Chaucer, Petrarch, Boccaccio and St Catherine of Siena to corrupt Popes and the Visconti tyrants of Milan, Hawkwood brings a glittering chapter of history to life.