The White Company

As a child Arthur Conan Doyle’s mother  told him stories of chivalrous knights and glorious deeds.  These tales helped the Doyle family to survive hard times, fueled young Conan Doyle’s imagination and helped him to become a writer.  They may have also been part of the inspiration for The White Company.

Today Conan Doyle is known for his Sherlock Holmes stories and to a lesser degree The Lost World.  However during his lifetime he was also known as an author of historical fiction.  In 1889 his novel Micah Clark was published.  The book, set in the late seventeenth century, focused on  political and religious turmoil.  It was very popular, requiring three reprintings in ten months to keep up with the public’s demand.

In 1889 Conan Doyle attended a lecture on medieval times.  He soon found his thoughts turning to the fourteenth century.  It wasn’t long before another historical novel was in the works.  After extensive research, The White Company was written.  Its initial publication was in serialized form throughout 1891 in Cornhill Magazine.

While the work is virtually unknown by the public today, it was very popular in its time.  Its popularity continued throughout the Second World War.  The British government made sure that despite paper shortages The White Company  was kept in print.  The book was considered a national morale booster.

The novel is about the adventures of a group of “manly and true” bowmen called the White Company.  Sir Nigel Loring is their leader and Alleyne Edricson is his squire.  The novel is filled with battles, knights, and chivalry.

“Now order the ranks, and fling wide the banners, for our souls are God’s and our bodies the king’s, and our swords for Saint George and for England!”  – The White Company

Years later Conan Doyle wrote a prequel to The White Company.  That book, titled Sir Nigel, was printed in 1905.  Conan Doyle said that the two books, “made an accurate picture of that great age, and that as a single piece of work they form the most complete, satisfying and ambitious thing I have ever done.”

Sir Neil Loring

The character of Sir Nigel Loring was loosely based on Sir Neil Loring, who is depicted here.

In 1921 Conan Doyle was asked which novel had been the most fun to write.  The answer was The White Company.  Conan Doyle said, “I was young and full of the first joy of life and action and I think I got some of it into my pages.”

So they lived, these men, in their own lusty, cheery fashion–rude and rough, but honest, kindly and true. Let us thank God if we have outgrown their vices. Let us pray to God that we may ever hold their virtues. – The White Company

The White Company

The White Company – First book edition in 3 volumes (UK)

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