The best books on early English history

Who am I?

We know so little about early English history that it’s a period often ignored by novelists who prefer to set their tales in eras that are a little more fleshed out and familiar to their readerships. This is a shame as, though much has been lost, there is still plenty to discover, and England’s ‘dark age’ offers us a rich seam of untold stories. By combining research, scholarship, and imagination an author can strike a literary light that will illuminate even the darkest corner.

I wrote...

Sword of the Angles

By S. J. Arnott,

Book cover of Sword of the Angles

What is my book about?

Denmark, AD 520. Fearing invasion, Cynefrid, the King of Angeln, summons a muster of fighting men to his eastern stronghold. Thegn Eadwig and his nephew, Leofric, answer the call, but they quickly become embroiled in the intrigues of the kingdom and a violent encounter leads to Leofric being charged with murder. This bloody act heaps ruin on Leofric and his family, and he is forced to flee to a remote sanctuary where he recovers his strength and plans the revenge that will ultimately reclaim his birthright.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Little Emperors

S. J. Arnott Why did I love this book?

Alfred Duggan is one of those authors I stumbled across by accident (a random discovery at my local library) a man whose books I immediately started collecting once I’d finished his first. His novels are impeccably researched and he’s one of the few authors I know who seem to slip effortlessly into the minds of their characters, offering an authentic viewpoint of their world through their eyes. This novel is set in the dying days of Roman Britain and uses what few historical details are known of the period to give us a completely credible tale of the ‘little emperors’ of the Romano-British administration as they attempt to cling to power after the departure of the last legions to the Continent.

By Alfred Duggan,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Little Emperors as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Excerpt from The Little Emperors

Felix was a citizen of good birth, descended from a long line of civil servants; it was beneath his dignity to take a bribe. But he knew that freedmen must be judged by different standards. T he machine would not work unless the subordinates were willing.

Book cover of The Winter King

S. J. Arnott Why did I love this book?

Bernard Cornwell is best known for his Sharpe series and, more recently, the seemingly never-ending Last Kingdom collection, but The Winter King is, in my opinion, his crowning achievement, the first in a trilogy that attempts to set the stories of King Arthur into an authentic Dark Age historical context. Cornwell does the job brilliantly, re-telling the Arthurian legend through the recollections of an ancient Christian monk, Derfel Cardarn (a Saxon no less) who in his youth was a warrior in Arthur’s retinue, a member of his Round Table. Arthur, Merlin, Lancelot, Guinevere, and the rest of the Arthurian host are presented to us in a wholly believable way and, even knowing how things turn out, it’s an enthralling tale that you should not miss.

By Bernard Cornwell,

Why should I read it?

12 authors picked The Winter King as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Uther, the High King of Britain, has died, leaving the infant Mordred as his only heir. His uncle, the loyal and gifted warlord Arthur, now rules as caretaker for a country which has fallen into chaos - threats emerge from within the British kingdoms while vicious Saxon armies stand ready to invade. As he struggles to unite Britain and hold back the Saxon enemy, Arthur is embroiled in a doomed romance with beautiful Guinevere.

Book cover of Sarum: The Novel of England

S. J. Arnott Why did I love this book?

Sarum is an incredible work that charts the history of the British Isles from the end of the Ice Age to modern times. It sounds like too much to pull off, but Rutherford does a wonderful job of it by restricting the story to the area around 'Sarum’ (Old Sarum) the name of the earliest settlement of the historic city of Salisbury. The story charts the progress of six local families as they march through the centuries, from their origins as Stone Age hunter-gatherers, though the building of Stonehenge, the arrival of Rome, the Norman Conquest, the creation of Salisbury Cathedral and so much more. It’s a rich tapestry, expertly woven. Once you’ve picked up one of Rutherford’s epics, you’ll be sure to want more.

By Edward Rutherfurd,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Sarum as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


'A high-speed cavalcade of our island story' DAILY EXPRESS
'Supremely well crafted and a delight to read' CHICAGO TRIBUNE
'A thundering good read' THE BOOKSELLER
'A richly imagined vision of history' SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE



Sarum weaves an enthralling saga of five families - the Wilsons, the Masons, the family of Porteus, the Shockleys, and the Godfreys - who reflect the changing character of Britain.


In a novel of extraordinary richness, the whole sweep of British civilization unfolds through the story of one place, Sailsbury, from beyond recorded time…

Book cover of The Long Ships

S. J. Arnott Why did I love this book?

Something of a forgotten classic, this used to be the most widely read novel in Sweden. Though not strictly a book about English history, the story describes the impact of the raids of the Northmen on England through the eyes of our protagonist, Red Orm, and details his adventures in Moorish Spain, Ireland, Sweden, and the Byzantine Empire. This is a classic tale of exploration and discovery that also manages to present us with a very believable view of the late 10th-century world, especially that of Anglo-Saxon England during the reign of Ethelred the Unready. If you enjoy high adventure and have any interest in the Vikings and the culture that bore them this is an excellent addition to your library.

By Frans G. Bengtsson, Michael Meyer,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Long Ships as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This saga brings alive the world of the 10th century AD when the Vikings raided the coasts of England.

Acclaimed as one of the best historical novels ever written, this engaging saga of Viking adventure in 10th century northern Europe has a very appealing young hero, Orm Tostesson, whose story we follow from inexperienced youth to adventurous old age, through slavery and adventure to a royal marriage and the search for great treasure. Viking expeditions take him to lands as far apart as England, Moorish Spain, Gaardarike (the country that was to become Russia), and the long road to Miklagard.…

Book cover of The Evening and the Morning

S. J. Arnott Why did I love this book?

A prequel to the famous best-seller The Pillars of the Earth this book follows the fortunes of three disparate characters as they navigate the perilous Viking-riven world of 10th-century England. Although some of Follett’s books are considered ‘light’ reading by many he’s a meticulous author who enjoys his period research and always presents his readers with stories as rich in historical accuracy and verisimilitude as they are in drama and intrigue. A broad cast of characters gives us a view of life from all the strata of English (and Norman) society: from noblewoman to slave; craftsman to monk. A long, long book that will leave you wanting even more.

By Ken Follett,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Evening and the Morning as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

#1 New York Times Bestseller
An Amazon Best Book of 2020

The thrilling and addictive prequel to The Pillars of the Earth--set in England at the dawn of a new era: the Middle Ages

"Just as transporting as [The Pillars of the Earth] . . . A most welcome addition to the Kingsbridge series." --The Washington Post

It is 997 CE, the end of the Dark Ages. England is facing attacks from the Welsh in the west and the Vikings in the east. Those in power bend justice according to their will, regardless of ordinary people and often in conflict…

You might also like...

Quoz: A Financial Thriller

By Mel Mattison,

Book cover of Quoz: A Financial Thriller

Mel Mattison Author Of Quoz: A Financial Thriller

New book alert!

Who am I?

I’m a huge thriller fan, and I love finance. In fact, I worked in the industry for over twenty years. I have an MBA from Duke and have been the CEO of three different SEC/FINRA-registered broker-dealers. Unfortunately, I’ve found myself deep into a thriller with a financial component that turns out to be implausible, overly simplistic, or both. It breaks the narrative for me. With these books, that’s not a concern. Financial thriller aficionados unite!

Mel's book list on exploring the dark side of finance

What is my book about?

It’s 2027. Rory O’Connor is the financial genius who helped create ICARUS, a quantum computer that controls the world’s stock markets with AI and algorithms. But Rory has recently suffered some tough breaks. He’s checked out of high finance and into a luxury Caribbean condo. After a former colleague finds anomalies with ICARUS, Rory quickly finds himself at the nexus of a high-stakes international conspiracy.

In the process, he discovers a hidden thumb drive that contains the mysterious and encrypted Vega files. Now, Rory must travel to Switzerland, access the ICARUS mainframe, decrypt the drive, overcome his demons, and save the world from financial chaos. If he fails, the globe descends into an economic Armageddon controlled by madmen and psychopathic bankers.

Quoz: A Financial Thriller

By Mel Mattison,

What is this book about?

Quantum AI, corrupt central bankers, and the blockchain collide in a stock market supernova. The annihilation of the global economic order is just the beginning.

"As governments around the world seek to exert tyrannical control over currency, Quoz serves as a cautionary tale for what lies ahead. You've been warned." -Trey Radel, Former Member of United States Congress

It's 2027. The AI revolution has merged with quantum computing to take control of global financial markets. Operated by the mysterious Bank for International Settlements based in Basel, Switzerland, the quantum supercomputer known as ICARUS has promised the world a more stable…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the Middle Ages, London, and intelligence agency?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the Middle Ages, London, and intelligence agency.

The Middle Ages Explore 405 books about the Middle Ages
London Explore 757 books about London
Intelligence Agency Explore 117 books about intelligence agency