Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 October 2013
“We learn from history that we do not learn from history”: this was the title of an address by Captain B. H. Liddell Hart on 3 May 1938 to the Manchester Luncheon Club at the Midland hotel. A major point he made, based on twenty years' of study of the records of the First World War, was:
pure documentary history seems to me akin to mythology. Many were the gaps to be found in official archives – tokens of documents destroyed later to conceal what might impair a commander's reputation … a general could safeguard the lives of his men as well as his own reputation by writing orders based on a situation that did not exist, for an attack that nobody carried out … I have wondered how the war went on at all when I have found how much of their time the commanders spent in preparing its history.
Liddell Hart's conclusions were based on abundant data which contradicted official documentation. He interviewed people who participated in battles, read the memoirs of politicians and army officers, compared archives, etc. All these are utterly irrelevant while dealing with medieval battles. In these cases, the only relevant part of Liddell Hart's assertion is that documentation is not reliable. In other words, fishing out facts from medieval records is almost impossible. Therefore, having independent data which may shed some light on events that took place during a battle might be an important contribution to its reconstruction and understanding.