The book includes a historical cycle, "Sir Nigel Loring" consisting of two novels – “Sir Nigel” and “The White Company”.
Sir Nigel is a historical novel set during the early phase of the Hundred Years' War, spanning the years 1350 to 1356, by British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and written in 1906. It is thebackground story to Doyle's earlier novel The White Company, and describes the early life of that book's hero Nigel Loring, a knight in the service of King Edward III in the first phase of the Hundred Years' War. The character is loosely based on the historical knight Neil Loring.
The tale, at its outset, traces the fortunes of the family of Loring of the Manor of Tilford in Surrey, many of whose scions had been prominent in the service of the Norman and Angevin Kings of England, against the backdrop of the Black Death. The tale starts with the problems the family and its last scion, Nigel Loring, face at the hands of the monks of Waverley Abbey, up to the coming of Sir John Chandos.
Playing the host to King Edward III of England, Nigel asks to be taken into his service, a request that is complied with by his being made squire to Sir John Chandos. In order to make himself worthy of the hand of the Lady Mary, daughter of Sir John Buttesthorn, he vows to perform three deeds of honour to her.
Nigel and his follower Samkin Aylward arrive at Winchelsea, whence they take passage to Calais. En route, he manages to intercept Peter the Red Ferret, a French spy who had stolen certain papers of Sir John Chandos. Since these papers had some bearing upon the English defence of Calais in view of a projected French attack, it was considered necessary in the extreme to recover them. Having defeated the spy in single combat, Nigel is overcome by the wounds he receives and is laid up in the Castle of Calais.
When the king visits the young squire to praise his courage, he mentions that the spy is to be hanged. This outrages Nigel, who had promised the Red Ferret quarter, and he crosses purposes with the king. Although the king is enraged by the squire's impertinence, at the intercession of Sir John Chandos, he yields. Nigel Loring then proceeds to set the Red Ferret free after having taken from him his word not to violate the truce and a visit to the Lady Mary, to fulfil his promise to her.
Shortly thereafter, Nigel is sent on an expedition to Brittany under the command of Sir Robert Knolles. In the course of their journey, they encounter a Spanish battle fleet in the Straits of Dover, and in conjunction with the English fleet from Winchelsea, inflict a severe defeat upon the Spaniards. The tale is a rendition of the Battle of Les Espagnols sur Mer (August 1351), as chronicled byFroissart, with a fictional storyline weaved in skilfully with the history. Nigel Loring carries himself well, but achieves nothing of note besides boarding a Spanish carrack to assist Prince Edward, the Black Prince, under the directions of Sir Robert, when the prince and his men were outnumbered by Spaniards.
As the army marches into Brittany, a Frenchman is observed tracking the English column. Nigel is entrusted by Sir Robert Knolles with the task of capturing the Frenchman, a task he executes admirably. But when in the act of conducting him to the English camp, they find that the English army had been attacked and some of its longbowmen, among them Samkin Aylward, captured by the robber baron of La Brohiniere, nicknamed the butcher, for his practice of executing captives who refused to join his levees. The English troops try to storm the castle of La Brohiniere, by a frontal assault, which fails dismally, with the death of the French captive who, being of noble birth, assists the English in destroying this common nemesis.
With the assistance of Black Simon of Norwich, a very prominent character in the series, and man-at-arms in the army, and some of the peasants of the surrounding country who hated La Brohiniere for his cruelty and deeds, Nigel penetrates the connecting passage between the main castle and one of its outworks. In the ensuing assault, the castle is taken and La Brohiniere killed by his captives. As a token of appreciation of Nigel's planning and execution of a very difficult task, besides communicating the squire's valour to King Edward and Sir John Chandos, Sir Robert Knolles, at Nigel's request instructs his messenger to convey the news of his deed to the Lady Mary.
The English army proceeds to the Castle of Ploermel, then in the hands of the English knight Richard of Bambro', to advance the English arms in Brittany against the French at Josselin. But news of a truce between England and France precedes their arrival and serves to dampen their spirit until a visit by the French seneschal Robert of Beaumanoir, Master of Josselin. The French lord proposes a passage of arms, and since a reason would be necessary to justify such a violation of the truce, to the two kings of England and France, he proceeds to pick a mock-quarrel with Nigel Loring. Beaumanoir observes that "we have none of the highest of Brittany ... neither a Blois, nor a Leon, nor a Rohan, nor a Conan, fights in our ranks this day". Conan was in fact the personal name of several Dukes of Brittany.
In the jousts that thus ensue, the English arms are initially routed with Bambro' killed and Nigel felled, severely wounded. Though the English rally and sorely press the Bretons, by an underhand act, one of the Breton squires mounts his horse, when the conflict was supposed to be on foot, and rides upon the English crushing them.
This incident is a thinly veiled account of the famed Combat of the Thirty of March 1351, which is of importance in Breton history and in the annals of chivalry, as being an exemplary passage of arms. Sir Robert Knolles, who is held to have participated in the fictional jousts in Sir Nigel, was also one of the original thirty combatants.
Subsequent to the joust, where he tries to take on Beaumanoir himself and is severely wounded, Nigel Loring is left to recover at the Castle of Ploermel by his comrades, and proceeds to convalesce in the course of a year, which sees the breaking of the truce, a defeat of French arms in Brittany and the declaration of another truce.
Nigel is by then made seneschal of the Castle of Vannes. It is then that Sir John Chandos summons him to Bergerac to accompany the Black Prince on a raid into France. This raid concludes in the Battle of Poitiers (September 1356). In the course of the battle, Nigel overcomes King John II of France but fails to receive his surrender not knowing the identity of his opponent and is thus unable to lay claim to the king's ransom. But since the king himself identifies the squire as his conqueror, the Black Prince awards Nigel Loring his golden spurs and dubs him a knight (the historical Neil Loring is older than the protagonist, and was knighted in 1340 at the Battle of Sluys).
Sir Nigel then returns to England where he weds the Lady Mary. The book concludes with a summary of Sir Nigel's life and the future, which had already been documented in The White Company.
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 Najera. 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.
The "White Company" of the title is a free company of archers, led by one of the main characters. The name is taken from a real-life 14th-Century Italian mercenary company, led by John Hawkwood.
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 ofChristchurch 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 Najera, 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.
Table of Contents:
1. The House of Loring
2. How the Devil Came to Waverley
3. The Yellow Horse of Crooksbury
4. How the Summoner Came to the Manor House of Tilford
5. How Nigel was Tried by the Abbot of Waverley
6. In which Lady Ermyntrude Opens the Iron Coffer
7. How Nigel Went Marketing to Guildford
8. How the King Hawked on Crooksbury Heath
9. How Nigel Held the Bridge at Tilford
10. How the King Greeted His Seneschal of Calais
11. In the Hall of the Knight of Duplin
12. How Nigel Fought the Twisted Man of Shalford
13. How the Comrades Journeyed Down the Old, Old Road
14. How Nigel Chased the Red Ferret
15. How the Red Ferret Came to Cosford
16. How the King’s Court Feasted in Calais Castle
17. The Spaniards on the Sea
18. How Black Simon Claimed Forfeit from the King of Sark
19. How a Squire of England Met a Squire of France
20. How the English Attempted the Castle of La Brohiniere
21. How the Second Messenger Went to Cosford
22. How Robert of Beaumanoir Came to Ploermel
23. How Thirty of Josselin Encountered Thirty of Ploermel
24. How Nigel was Called to His Master
25. How the King of France Held Counsel at Maupertuis
26. How Nigel Found His Third Deed
27.How the Third Messenger Came to Cosford
THE WHITE COMPANY
1. How the Black Sheep Came Forth from the Fold.
2. How Alleyne Edricson Came Out Into the World.
3. How Hordle John Cozened the Fuller of Lymington.
4. How the Bailiff of Southampton Slew the Two Masterless Men.
5. How a Strange Company Gathered at the “Pied Merlin.”
6. How Samkin Aylward Wagered His Feather-Bed.
7. How the Three Comrades Journeyed Through the Woodlands.
8. The Three Friends.
9. How Strange Things Befell in Minstead Wood.
10. How Hordle John Found a Man Whom He Might Follow.
11. How a Young Shepherd Had a Perilous Flock.
12. How Alleyne Learned More Than He Could Teach.
13. How the White Company Set Forth to the Wars.
14. How Sir Nigel Sought for a Wayside Venture.
15. How the Yellow Cog Sailed Forth From Lepe.
16. How the Yellow Cog Fought the Two Rover Galleys.
17. How the Yellow Cog Crossed the Bar of Gironde.
18. How Sir Nigel Loring Put a Patch upon His Eye.
19. How There Was Stir at the Abbey of St. Andrew’s.
20. How Alleyne Won His Place in an Honorable Guild.
21. How Agostino Pisano Risked His Head.
22. How the Bowmen Held Wassail at the “Rose De Guienne.”
23. How England Held the Lists at Bordeaux.
24. How a Champion Came Forth From the East.
25. How Sir Nigel Wrote to Twynham Castle.
26. How the Three Comrades Gained a Mighty Treasure
27. How Roger Club-Foot Was Passed Into Paradise.
28. How the Comrades Came Over the Marches of France
29. How the Blessed Hour of Sight Came to the Lady Tiphaine.
30. How the Brushwood Men Came to the Chateau of Villefranche.
31. How Five Men Held the Keep of Villefranche
32. How the Company Took Counsel Round the Fallen Tree.
33. How the Army Made the Passage of Roncesvalles.
34. How the Company Made Sport in the Vale of Pampeluna.
35. How Sir Nigel Hawked at an Eagle.
36. How Sir Nigel Took the Patch From His Eye.
37. How the White Company Came to Be Disbanded.
38. Of the Home-Coming to Hampshire.