The best books on medieval warfare (if you love knights and castles)

Sean McGlynn Author Of Blood Cries Afar: The Magna Carta War and the Invasion of England 1215-1217
By Sean McGlynn

Who am I?

A boyhood fascination with knights and castles, plus the inevitable influence of Tolkien’s world, drew me into medieval history, especially its warring side. An MA and a PhD in medieval warfare consolidated my enthusiasm, with my first three books being on that topic (what I call my Blood and Guts trilogy). I remain fascinated by the all-encompassing influence of medieval warfare on society and its unforgiving impact on warriors and non-combatants alike. Writing, lecturing, and public talks on these have led me into other interesting fields, including two TV documentaries.

I wrote...

Blood Cries Afar: The Magna Carta War and the Invasion of England 1215-1217

By Sean McGlynn,

Book cover of Blood Cries Afar: The Magna Carta War and the Invasion of England 1215-1217

What is my book about?

While most people know something of King John and Magna Carta, very few have heard of the French invasion of England in 1216. Exactly 150 years after the Norman Conquest in 1066, history nearly repeated itself. French forces, under the chivalrous Prince Louis, invaded and took control of half of England. At one point some two-thirds of barons paid homage to Louis as the new ruler of the kingdom. The French remained in England for a year-and-a-half, during which time there were dramatic full-scale battles on land and at sea, with campaigning armies inflicting terrible destruction on the people of England.

Full of vivid, colourful characters, this critically acclaimed book is the first-ever study of the invasion, offering the most detailed accounts of its numerous, exciting military engagements.

The books I picked & why

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Victory in the East: A Military History of the First Crusade

By John France,

Book cover of Victory in the East: A Military History of the First Crusade

Why this book?

This book brought home to me just how much the victory of the crusaders on the First Crusade was an astonishing and unlikely military feat. John France shows how it was achieved stage by bloody stage, discussing strategy, tactics, leadership, battles, and sieges, while also focusing on the central role played by careful logistics. Throughout I was struck by the incredible tenacity of the crusaders and the terrible deprivations and losses that they had to endure. An absorbing and authoritative account of a truly epic campaign of loss and victory.

War in the Middle Ages

By Philippe Contamine,

Book cover of War in the Middle Ages

Why this book?

This book was my “bible” during my days as an MA student of medieval warfare. Contamine convinced me that medieval warfare was truly at the heart of medieval society and thus deserving of dedicated study and research. While densely packed with facts and figures that can be daunting in their quantity, it is full of fascinating revelations, such as the bugler on the battlefield who died from over-exertion!

The Wars of the Roses

By John Gillingham,

Book cover of The Wars of the Roses

Why this book?

Prof Gillingham was my first PhD supervisor. (I got through a couple or more!) I have always tried to emulate not only the clarity of his writing but also his dry touches of humour and his eminent common sense; not for him the clever-silliness of many academics. All these virtues are on display here in this highly readable account of The Wars of the Roses, in which a complex conflict is rendered enjoyably accessible.

The Medieval Archer

By Jim Bradbury,

Book cover of The Medieval Archer

Why this book?

The controversial topic of the English longbow continues to haunt medieval warfare studies today. I was delighted to read this robust book which convinced me with its clear argument that the “long” bow was not itself a revolutionary new weapon of the later Middle Ages, but a bow that had evolved over time and which had always been significant in medieval warfare. Throughout there are lots of absorbing accounts of battles.

The Black Prince

By Michael Jones,

Book cover of The Black Prince

Why this book?

I reviewed this book for The Spectator. The life of the Black Prince exemplifies that of a career soldier at the highest level of command, here someone who weaved a trail of destruction across France during the Hundred Years War through chevauchées and bloody battles and sieges. I was taken by Jones’s attempt to offer a more positive image of this ruthless warrior, not least to excuse him of his notorious massacre at Limoges. Having myself written at length about the Black Prince’s infamous actions, the book made me reconsider to some extent what happened in the city. Jones also captures the drama and danger of the press of medieval battles, not least at Crécy in 1346. Brutal as medieval warfare was, it is undeniably viscerally exciting to read about.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the Middle Ages, Medieval warfare, and the Crusades?

5,215 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the Middle Ages, Medieval warfare, and the Crusades.

The Middle Ages Explore 208 books about the Middle Ages
Medieval Warfare Explore 10 books about Medieval warfare
The Crusades Explore 33 books about the Crusades

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Under the Hog: A Novel of Richard III, The Cambridge History of War: Volume 2, War and the Medieval World, and The Cross of Lead if you like this list.