The second son of a minor Essex landowner, John Hawkwood chose to head south in 1360 after serving as a captain in the Black Prince's wars against France. He and other freebooters beseiged the Pope at Avignon, and when they were paid to go to Italy, discovered that the threat of force could be very profitable indeed. The Italian city states - Florence, Milan, Sienna and Pisa - offered the richest pickings in Europe. Hawkwood became the most successful, clever and reliable mercenary leader of the time, leading the Italians to conclude that 'the Devil is an Englishman'.This is the story of an age when everything came to have a price - when the mercenary companies were vastly rich corporations, with their own accountants, lawyers and orators. But Frances Stonor Saunders's book is also a glittering and hard-edged evocation of a time of cultural greatness, peopled by characters ranging from Chaucer, Petrarch, Boccaccio and St Catherine of Sienna to corrupt Popes and the Visconti tyrants of Milan. Above all, Hawkwood is a brilliant illumination of one of the outstanding figures of English and European history.