The best books for exploring important aspects of Medieval History

Who am I?

I became fascinated by the history of the period from 900 to 1250 as an undergraduate at the University of Exeter where I was supervised for a doctorate by Professor Frank Barlow. The subject of my thesis was Odo, bishop of Bayeux (1049/50-1097), a biography that introduced me to a multitude of subjects. That time stimulated a fascination with France and with the place of English history, British history, and the history of the Normans in a European context, as well as an interest in biography and individual lives.


I wrote...

William the Conqueror

By David Bates,

Book cover of William the Conqueror

What is my book about?

My interest in William began when almost fifty years ago when I discovered that there were many unknown or scarcely known charters. So, it all started from an awareness that there was a lot that people did not know. Writing the book took all this into account, but it also raised serious issues for me about how to place in context culturally and morally. I always think about the words on page 513: "William’s life is ultimately a parable on the eternal moral conundrum of the legitimacy of violence used to achieve what its perpetrators believed to be a justifiable end."

The book has been translated into French and Chinese.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Feudal Society

David Bates Why did I love this book?

An English translation of a book published in French in 1940 (La société féodale). One of the truly great books on medieval society, it brought the richness and diversity of the Middle Ages alive for me in ways that have stayed with me throughout my career as a scholar and author. It also introduced me to History as written in France, again something that has always inspired me.

By Marc Bloch,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Feudal Society as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Marc Bloch said that his goal in writing Feudal Society was to go beyond the technical study a medievalist would typically write and 'dismantle a social structure.' In this outstanding and monumental work, which has introduced generations of students and historians to the feudal period, Bloch treats feudalism as living, breathing force in Western Europe from the ninth to the thirteenth century. At its heart lies a magisterial account of relations of lord and vassal, and the origins of the nature of the fief, brought to life through compelling accounts of the nobility, knighthood and chivalry, family relations, political and…


Book cover of The Norman Empire

David Bates Why did I love this book?

Like Marc Bloch’s book, this helped me to grasp how to take an international perspective on the history of the central Middle Ages. In this case, its central theme was that we must think about Normandy and England as politically, socially, and economically joined together after 1066. It has inspired a lot that I have written and my teaching to students. See my The Normans and Empire for personal reflections.

Book cover of King and Emperor: A New Life of Charlemagne

David Bates Why did I love this book?

A magnificent biography that vividly brings alive the life and personality of one of the great figures of European history, one whose legacy is still with us. Charlemagne’s creation of an empire roughly equivalent in size to the modern EU is explored with wonderful insight. We see in him the energy and skill that enabled him to project power, making himself both trusted and feared. It makes us think about the ultimate contradictions of empire as a phenomenon, the mix of savage violence and the accompanying proclaimed civilizing mission that organized and shaped peace. 

By Janet L. Nelson,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked King and Emperor as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A DAILY TELEGRAPH AND BBC HISTORY MAGAZINE BOOK OF THE YEAR 2019

'A remarkable book: the dramatic story of a truly extraordinary man ... brilliant' Helen Castor, author of She-Wolves

A major new biography of one of the most extraordinary of all rulers, and the father of present-day Europe

Charles, King of the Franks, is one of the most remarkable figures ever to rule a European super-state. That is why he is so often called 'Charles the Great': by the French 'Charlemagne', and by the Germans 'Karl der Grosse'. His strength of character was felt to be remarkable from early…


Book cover of Married Life in the Middle Ages, 900-1300

David Bates Why did I love this book?

A marvellous book that explores the experience for men and women of being married during the Christian Middle Ages. It presents us with an analysis of individual lives and is a social history, a gender history, an emotional history, a sexual history, and much else besides. Among the many subjects treated are female agency within marriage, the extent to which it was possible to choose a married partner, and the history and personal experience of married clergy when such marriages were forbidden. 

By Elisabeth Van Houts,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Married Life in the Middle Ages, 900-1300 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Married Life in the Middle Ages, 900-1300 contains an analysis of the experience of married life by men and women in Christian medieval Europe, c. 900-1300. The study focusses on the social and emotional life of the married couple rather than on the institutional history of marriage, breaking it into three parts: Getting Married - the process of getting married and wedding celebrations; Married Life - the married life of lay couples and clergy,
their sexuality, and any remarriage; and Alternative Living - which explores concubinage and polygyny, as well as the single life in contrast to monogamous sexual unions.…


Book cover of The English in the Twelfth Century: Imperialism, National Identity and Political Values

David Bates Why did I love this book?

This is a remarkable collection of essays by a scholar who, along with the likes of Rees Davies, Robert Bartlett, Ian Short, and Hugh Thomas, has brought about a revolution in the way we think about the English people and their identities during what we should call the long twelfth century. The consequences for the way in which we think about British history and the place of the British Isles within continental Europe have been profound. The debates continue!

By John Gillingham,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The English in the Twelfth Century as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Six of the greatest twelfth-century historians - William of Malmesbury, Henry of Huntingdon, Geoffrey of Monmouth, Geoffrey Gaimar, Roger of Howden, and Gerald of Wales - are analysed in this collection of essays, focusing on their attitudes to three inter-related aspects of English history. The first theme is the rise of the new and condescending perception which regarded the Irish, Scots and Welsh as barbarians; set against the background of socio-economic and cultural change in England, it is argued that this imperialist perception created a fundamental divide in the history of the British Isles, one to which Geoffrey of Monmouth…


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Unsettled

By Laurie Woodford,

Book cover of Unsettled

Laurie Woodford

New book alert!

What is my book about?

At the age of forty-nine, Laurie Woodford rents out her house, packs her belongings into two suitcases, and leaves her life in upstate New York to relocate to Seoul, South Korea. What begins as an opportunity to teach college English in Asia evolves into a nomadic adventure.

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After four years of traveling, Laurie’s return “home” becomes an unexpected adventure of its own when she ends up in Arkansas and meets Bruce, a bird-loving, bearded Quaker, and then struggles to reconcile her need for freedom with her longing to feel settled.

Unsettled

By Laurie Woodford,

What is this book about?

At the age of forty-nine, driven by an urgent restlessness, Laurie Woodford rents out her house, packs her belongings into two suitcases, and relocates to Asia. What begins as an opportunity to teach college English overseas, evolves into a nomadic adventure as Laurie works and volunteers in South Korea, Ethiopia, Peru, Spain, and Mexico. After four years of traveling, Laurie's return "home" to the U.S. becomes an unexpected adventure of its own when she ends up in Arkansas and meets Bruce, a bird-loving, bearded Quaker, who challenges her to reconcile her life of fierce independence with her longing to feel…


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Interested in the Middle Ages, Europe, and feudalism?

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, Europe, and feudalism.

The Middle Ages Explore 405 books about the Middle Ages
Europe Explore 872 books about Europe
Feudalism Explore 17 books about feudalism