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Literature / The White Company

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From the Illustrations by N.C. Wyeth
A historical novel by Arthur Conan Doyle, set during the Hundred Years' War. It mainly follows the adventures of Alleyne Edricson, who is squire to Sir Nigel Loring, and two of his comrades: Samkin Aylward and Hordle John as they travel across France to meet up with the eponymous White Company. Along the way, they have a quite a number of chance encounters, whereby much honor is gained through noble deeds and feats of arms.

Some years later, Doyle wrote Sir Nigel, recounting Sir Nigel Loring's youth and how he met Samkin.

Tropes include:

  • Action Girl: Lady Loring is described by hardened veterans as being better fit to lead the storming of a fortress than to raise a young girl.
  • Actually, That's My Assistant: When the company is being welcomed to a town by the mayor, who knows Sir Nigel only by reputation, the mayor overlooks the unprepossessing Sir Nigel and assumes that Black Simon, the captain of Sir Nigel's men-at-arms, is the famous knight.
  • Annoying Arrows: Unsurprisingly averted, since the eponymous White Company is a band of semi-mercenary English longbowmen.
  • Asshole Victim: The lord and lady of Villefranche are splendid examples of Upper Class Twits: as far as they're concerned, the peasants are there to supply them with money. They end up mauled to death by those same peasants.
  • Awesomeness by Analysis: The White Company archers rescue the heroes from a burning tower by sending them a long enough rope, having calculated the height via trigonometry.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed:
    • The Norman pirate, on learning he is to be hanged, bulls into one of the archers guarding him, sending them both overboard.
    • Tiphaine carries a dagger to off herself before the peasants can get to her.
  • Big Eater: Sir Oliver Buttesthorne is a large man who can't get through a single conversation without bringing it around somehow to food.
  • Broad Strokes: there are some considerable discrepancies between White Company and Sir Nigel; for one, there is no indication in the latter that Sir Nigel Loring and Samkin Aylward actually knew each other before.
  • Cain and Abel: Alleyne and his brother, the Socman of Minstead.
  • Catchphrase: Aylward has several, such as "by my hilt!" and "by these ten finger-bones!"
  • The Cavalry:
    • When trapped in Villefranche, the Company arrives in time to save the heroes- what's left of them.
    • At the final battle, Alleyne nearly dies while riding to find help. When he runs into Englishmen, they rush to the battle, but by then there's only ten men left of the Company.
  • The Charmer: Aylward has no problem promising to be faithful with women left and right, but is adamant that they be willing.
  • Chivalrous Pervert: Aylward again. He thinks nothing of juggling three girlfriends and chasing anything in a skirt between visits, but he is very well aware of the difference between 'playing hard to get' and 'not interested', and won't chase a woman who doesn't want to be chased. Threaten a woman of any age or rank in his presence and you are dead.
  • Chubby Mama, Skinny Papa: Sir Nigel is a short, slender, almost frail-looking man, and Lady Mary is a tall and stocky woman.
  • Churchgoing Villain: One of the highwaymen begs for a boon before his execution, that he might be allowed to hold a sacred relic in his hands, and promises to intercede in favor of the bailiff once in heaven.
  • The Consigliere: Lady Mary Loring proves quite capable of managing Twynham Castle in her husband's absence. Especially so when she manages to organize the castle's defenses to fend off a siege by the Socman of Minstead, which ends with his death and his mercenary army fleeing.
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: Hordle John is pissed off at Aylward for promising them a great leader and instead bringing them to a decrepit, balding old man with bad eyesight. Just then, a bear escapes its handlers, causing everyone to flee... save Sir Nigel, who goes up to the bear and whacks it on the nose with his handkerchief, confusing it long enough for the handlers to arrive. John apologizes to Aylward for doubting him.
  • Cultured Badass: The main reason Aylward wants Alleyne in the Company is that he can read and write in addition to being able to hold his own.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: All over the place. Aylward openly joins for the plundering opportunities, peasants are treated as less than scum by nobles, Nigel will happily fight against allied fellow knights for the slightest (or even imagined) insult...
  • Dude, Not Funny!: Ford permits himself a joke about Sir Oliver's weight. Sir Nigel gives him a look that shuts him up, saying no squire of his will make fun of a belted knight. Then he relaxes since Ford hasn't been a squire long enough to know what jokes are and are not permissible.
  • Expecting Someone Taller: Several people are astonished to find that the legendary Sir Nigel Loring is in fact small, skinny, bald and near-sighted. The same people are usually even more astonished to find he more than lives up to his lethal reputation.
  • Expy: Hordle John is Little John in all but nickname.
  • Externally Validated Prophecy: Lady Tiphaine predicts that France will one day regain its eastern coast (in the hands of the Plantagenets at the time), but also the rise of The British Empire.
  • Fainting Seer: Lady Tiphaine, and her "blessed hour of sight."
  • The Fellowship Has Ended: The White Company is disbanded in the second-to-last chapter. For good reason, as there are only about 10 survivors remaining out of an original total of 400. That's a 97% death ratio.
  • Glory Hound: Sir Nigel always, always refers to the enemy in terms of the advancement that fighting them can bring.
  • Gratuitous French: Aylward, in particular injects French terms every other word. He's a true Englishman himself, but spending most of his adult life fighting England's wars overseas has left its mark on his manner of speaking.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: "Lusty" is used to describe many a character in situations having nothing to do with lust.
  • Henpecked Husband: Zigzagged. On the one hand, Sir Nigel's wife spends their last ride before his departure making a full list of recommendations to Alleyne regarding the clothes her husband is to wear or the money he isn't to spend (and is proven right shortly after when he tells Alleyne to give his entire purse to a beggar), but on the other hand, he is perfectly capable of handling himself without her assistance, and of course woe betide anyone stupid enough to insult her appearance in earshot of her husband.
  • The High Middle Ages
  • Historical Domain Character: Many from The Hundred Years War, including Edward III and Edward, the Black Prince, Pedro the Cruel, and du Guesclin.
  • Honor Before Reason:
    • Sir Nigel treads perilously close to this at times, although other characters (particularly the archers) take a more pragmatic approach.
    • In Sir Nigel, Nigel's superiors have to remind that they're at war, so could he please put the knight-errant attitude at rest for a while. Naturally, he doesn't, which helps save the day.
  • Hypocritical Heartwarming: Maude occasionally insults Alleyne while he's trying to teach the young ladies of the castle. The instant another of the girls does the same, Maude turns on her.
  • In Which a Trope Is Described: Most of the chapter titles are this: "How Sir Nigel Sought For a Wayside Venture", "How England Held the Lists At Bordeaux", and so on.
  • Kleptomaniac Hero: Aylward. His first appearance is at the head of six men carrying his assorted French plunder, including a feather-bed. Most of his anecdotes about past battles revolve around the valuables he picked up during or after them.
  • Knight in Shining Armor: Sir Nigel, of course, but also Chandos, du Guesclin, and many others.
  • The Lady's Favour:
    • Sir Nigel carries one of his wife's gloves. It is not overly large.
    • One of the other squires asks Lady Maude to take her veil as a sign of her favour, but she gives it to Alleyne instead.
  • Miles Gloriosus: Francois Poursuivant d'Armour Pelligny, Champion of the Bishop of Montaubon, who boasts of his martial prowess but offers an increasingly strained series of excuses when John offers him an opportunity to put his money where his mouth is.
  • Oblivious to Love: As the day of departure grows nearer, Maude is seen moping around the castle. While in conversation with her handmaid, Alleyne comes to the conclusion that it's because she might never see her father again, and doesn't understand the maid's fit of laughter.
  • Offscreen Moment of Awesome:
    • When Sir Nigel gets captured by the Spanish in the final battle, they sell him as a galley slave. He manages to escape, kills the captain of the ship, and with some help from Samkin Aylward who had been trying to rescue him, they sail the galley back to England with a ton of riches in its hold.
    • Lady Loring manages to fend off an siege by a rival lord, though Lady Tiphaine gives an account of how the battle is going thanks to her second sight.
  • One Dialogue, Two Conversations: After rescuing an old painter and his daughter carrying a window with the figure of a saint, Alleyne and Ford spend an entire conversation enraptured by the beauty they just saw, which is thrown off the tracks when Alleyne mentions a beard which the daughter assuredly did not have.
  • Outfit Decoy: While the heroes are trapped in a castle overrun by revolting peasants, one of them puts his helmet on the end of a pole and pokes it through a doorway to see whether it will be attacked. It is.
  • Overly Generous Fool: Sir Nigel's squire Alleyne is put in charge of his lord's purse by his wife. He doesn't understand why until he sees that Nigel is such a paragon of chivalry he'd cheerfully give their travel funds to beggars without a thought as to the rest of the trip. When Nigel tells him to give a beggar the purse, Alleyne discreetly gives the man a single coin so they can keep going.
  • Pirates: Spade-beard and TĂȘte-noire are Type 1, assaulting the White Company's ship while they are crossing the English Channel.
  • Plunder: Aylward's main interest in campaigning. He's introduced as needing six men just to carry his loot.
  • Prequel: Doyle wrote a prequel called Sir Nigel detailing Sir Nigel's early life and how he met Sam Aylward.
  • Rags to Riches: Hordle John eventually finds fortune when he captures and ransoms a Spanish knight. Alleyne as well, once his wicked brother dies, he inherits the Socman's land and holdings.
  • Rescue Romance: Alleyne first meets Lady Maude Loring when he spirits her away from the Socman of Minstead's harassment. The second time they meet at Twynham Castle, it's pretty obvious they are into each other.
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized: The peasant uprising against the oppressive lord of Villefranche. The rebels are depicted as brutal and out-of-control, murdering everyone they come across in the castle including a priest who earlier tried to help them despite the lord's disapproval
  • Rule of Three: Nigel is allowed to marry only after accomplishing three feats. Defeating an armed knight in single combat, taking a castle, and capturing the King of France are deemed suitable enough.
  • Suddenly Suitable Suitor: Late in the plot, the Socman of Minstead is killed while besieging Twynham Castle, which means Alleyne now owns a sizable estate and a small fortune. It is after he finds this out that he approaches Sir Nigel to ask for his daughter's hand in marriage. Actually a bit better than most examples of this trope, as Nigel would have also required a potential husband to be a man who had proven his courage under fire in addition to being able to support a wife, and Alleyne had definitely proved that in his travels with the White Company.
  • Suffer the Slings: A group of slingers are part of the Knights of Calatrava & Santiago, the Spanish army that the White Company engages in battle near the end. They are far from harmless, as the slingers kill the archer Johnston as well as over twenty of his men. A bit later, when Alleyne is trying to climb down a cliff in order to find help for the White Company, one of these slingers decides to take potshots at him. Alleyne is hit twice, and he suffers shattered ribs and a concussion.
    • This is during the historical battle of Navarrete, where the Spanish did indeed have a sizable contingent of slingers.
  • Taking the Veil: Lady Maude makes preparations to join a convent when she receives word that the White Company was wiped out to the last man, including her father and the man she loves. What she didn't know is that Reports of My Death Were Greatly Exaggerated. Alleyne returns to Twynham and takes her away from the convent to marry her.
  • The Tourney: Complete with a Black Knight who turns out to be Bertrand du Guesclin
  • Tranquil Fury: Heaven help you if you insult Sir Nigel's lady.
  • The Ugly Guy's Hot Daughter: Calling Sir Nigel "ugly" is a bit of a stretch, but he is small, skinny, balding and permanently squinting due to near-sightedness. Lady Maude, however, is drop-dead gorgeous.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Nigel Loring is based on the historical Neil Loring, one of the original Knights of the Garter.
  • Wacky Wayside Tribe: Several, particularly the pirates and the peasant uprising. Sir Nigel seems to enjoy these, and is always on the lookout for them. On a more meta level, the real reason why the book reads like a collection of random adventures is because this was originally a serialized publication (and because the author wanted to show off the research he'd done).
  • With a Friend and a Stranger: Alleyne, Aylward, and Hordle John.
  • Worthy Opponent:
    • Sir Nigel and Bertrand du Guesclin. Reaches Enemy Mine levels when the two of them are trapped by the Jacquerie.
    • Hordle John holds no ill-will towards the abbot who kicked him out of the Abbey of Beaulieu, deeming him the only man among all the monks.
  • Would Not Hit a Girl: Sir Nigel's failing eyesight came from a siege where he took a bucket of lime to the face, thrown by a female defender. He could have killed her to defend himself, but to strike a woman is entirely beyond him.
  • Ye Olde Butcherede Englishe: The whole book is written in this style, although it's fairly well done.

Alternative Title(s): Sir Nigel