The best books for exploring important aspects of Medieval History

David Bates Author Of William the Conqueror
By David Bates

The Books I Picked & Why

Feudal Society

By Marc Bloch

Book cover of Feudal Society

Why 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.


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The Norman Empire

By John Le Patourel

Book cover of The Norman Empire

Why 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.


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King and Emperor: A New Life of Charlemagne

By Janet L. Nelson

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

Why 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. 


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Married Life in the Middle Ages, 900-1300

By Elisabeth Van Houts

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

Why 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. 


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

By John Gillingham

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

Why 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!


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