The best books to understand Anglo-Saxon England

Tom Licence Author Of Edward the Confessor: Last of the Royal Blood
By Tom Licence

Who am I?

Tom Licence is Professor of Medieval History at the University of East Anglia and a former Fellow of Magdalene College, Cambridge. He is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries. He teaches Anglo-Saxon History to undergraduates and postgraduates.


I wrote...

Edward the Confessor: Last of the Royal Blood

By Tom Licence,

Book cover of Edward the Confessor: Last of the Royal Blood

What is my book about?

Edward, in the past, was regarded as a weak king whose policies led to the Norman Conquest. This new biography dismantles the old argument and reassembles the evidence to show that Edward was a conscientious ruler, and that others were to blame for the conquest of 1066.

The books I picked & why

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Britain After Rome: The Fall and Rise, 400 to 1070

By Robin Fleming,

Book cover of Britain After Rome: The Fall and Rise, 400 to 1070

Why this book?

Britain After Rome is the best account of what it was like to live in Britain in the centuries before the Norman Conquest. Vividly recreating ordinary people’s lived experiences, Fleming mines the archaeological and material record to illuminate the non-political changes that transformed Roman Britain into the Britain of 1066. While plenty of books focus on the activities of kings and bishops in those centuries, Fleming’s engaging and erudite survey tells the history of everyone.


The Anglo-Saxon World

By Nicholas J. Higham, M.J. Ryan,

Book cover of The Anglo-Saxon World

Why this book?

The Anglo-Saxon World is the best introductory survey for students of Anglo-Saxon history. Experts in their field, the authors flesh out the traditional narrative account with insights from archaeology, numismatics, and DNA analysis. The book is splendidly enriched by almost three hundred colour photographs, tables, maps, and diagrams, while box-out sections in each chapter delve into interesting topics or debates. The authors also outline the historiography for readers who want to know how scholarly understanding of the period has developed.


Building Anglo-Saxon England

By John Blair,

Book cover of Building Anglo-Saxon England

Why this book?

Blair approaches the history of these centuries by dividing mainland Britain into environmental and cultural zones. In doing so, he highlights the role of geography, geology, infrastructure, trade and even rainfall in determining trends of settlement, social cohesion, and material culture. Blair examines how landscapes were created – the evolution of villages, towns, and religious complexes – while exploring the relationship between centres of power and the satellite hubs around them. The book is richly served by colour images, artists’ reconstructions, maps, and diagrams. Comparisons to Scandinavia (where early timber structures survive) help bring the houses and surroundings of the Anglo-Saxons vividly to life.


Kingship and Government in Pre-Conquest England C.500-1066

By Ann Williams,

Book cover of Kingship and Government in Pre-Conquest England C.500-1066

Why this book?

For readers who want an expert introduction to the origins of kingship, power, and government in the centuries before the Norman Conquest, Ann’s Kingship and Government is the place to go. A great strength of her book is that it explains key concepts, structures, and terminology as the need arises, and in a way that clarifies the story that is being told. This equips the reader to explore what can otherwise seem like a strange and incomprehensible world. If you want the nuts and bolts of how Anglo-Saxon society and its power structures operated, this is the book for you. It is also one of the best political surveys of the emergence of England in those centuries.


Queen Emma and Queen Edith: Queenship and Women's Power in Eleventh-Century England

By Pauline Stafford,

Book cover of Queen Emma and Queen Edith: Queenship and Women's Power in Eleventh-Century England

Why this book?

Men tend to dominate accounts of Anglo-Saxon history, which focus on kings, bishops, and warlords and men who wrote about them. Stafford’s important joint biography, interweaving the lives of Queen Emma and Queen Edith, redresses the balance by rewriting that history through the lens of women’s experiences. Stafford compares Emma and Edith in the familial, domestic, and political spheres, throwing into sharp relief the power dynamics of queenship through six desperate decades of conquest and disputed succession. In this fascinating setting, queens emerge as the survivors, while the men frequently succumb to violent or premature ends.


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Interested in Anglo Saxons, the Middle Ages, and World War 2?

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