The best books on the late medieval crisis: war and plague in Britain and France

The Books I Picked & Why

The Black Death

By Rosemary Horrox

The Black Death

Why this book?

This is a wonderfully curated selection of sources drawn from many western European countries. They offer us a real sense of how individuals, groups, governments and the Church reacted to this, perhaps the most appalling natural disaster in European history. We learn not only of political but personal and psychological reactions to a plague which most contemporaries viewed as a manifestation of divine anger with a sinful world.


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Edward III

By W. Mark Ormrod

Edward III

Why this book?

A magnificent example of the possibilities of historical biography from an author whose life was cut tragically short. Ormrod writes with a balance of passion, precision, and wry humour. Edward III reigned in the shadow of the deposition of his father, while his own military triumphs in the Hundred Years War set an example his successor, Richard II, found impossible to emulate. Alongside a wealth of detail, Ormrod reveals the pressures of kingship during the extraordinary turbulence of the fourteenth century.


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The Revolt of Owain Glyn Dwr

By R. R. Davies

The Revolt of Owain Glyn Dwr

Why this book?

Rees Davies was one of the first historians to seek to explore the histories of Britain and Ireland as both unique and intertwined narratives. Although this book focuses on the Welsh revolt of the early 15th century it shows the author’s formidable understanding of the relationship between England and Wales in the century after the Edwardian conquest. An object lesson in academic history written with the general reader in mind.


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The Book of Chivalry of Geoffroi de Charny: Text, Context, and Translation

By Richard W. Kaeuper, Elspeth Kennedy

The Book of Chivalry of Geoffroi de Charny: Text, Context, and Translation

Why this book?

Often said to have been in decline in the later middle ages, this treatise, by a French knight, written for King John II’s Company of the Star, shows that chivalry, although under great pressure, remained a hugely powerful ethos which continued to shape aristocratic life in the fourteenth century. The work details the trials and travails of a life in arms and the ‘worth’ of various military enterprises. Rather poignantly, Charny died at the battle of Poitiers (1356) while bearing the Oriflamme, the French banner.


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Morality Play

By Barry Unsworth

Morality Play

Why this book?

Evocative, engaging, and clever, if, on occasion, desperately bleak. This is a murder mystery set against the backdrop of plague in the north of England. Although very well researched the book carries some of the hallmarks of contemporary fiction and so avoids many of the stereotypes (and irritations) of historical novels. Sometimes fiction can be as effective as ‘fact’ in showing the fate of individuals caught up in moments of revolutionary change.


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