Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 June 2012
This chapter considers the circumstances in which war was held to be legitimate and what was permissible in its conduct. It is a time-honoured premise that ‘in times of war the law sleeps’, yet this has only ever been true in part. There has always been a requirement for the protection of individuals or groups, both military and civilian, and for the regulation of combat. The variety of experiences at what has been called the ‘sharp end’ of war can mislead commentators when they come to assess how far such regulation achieved its aims. Especially in the case of chivalry there has been criticism for its failure to realise its high ideals, as if this somehow undermines the credibility of practitioners' intentions. This might be considered unreasonable in the context of modern attempts to restrict or control violence in warfare through the Geneva Conventions, which can still often be more honoured in the breach than the observance. A further issue for discussion is whether attitudes towards the legitimacy of violence changed across the divide between medieval and early-modern – in particular, in the period c. 1350 to c. 1650. In simple terms, did things get worse in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, perhaps as a result of the wars of religion in western Europe? Were there more unfortunate victims of warfare in the Thirty Years' War than 300 years earlier in the even-longer-running Anglo-French conflict, the so-called Hundred Years' War?