The Best books to show you why medieval isn’t an insult

David Horspool Author Of Richard III: A Ruler and his Reputation
By David Horspool

Who am I?

I've been fascinated by medieval history ever since I played hide and seek around Welsh castles as a boy. At university – a medieval invention, of course – I was able to sit at the feet of some of the finest historians of the Middle Ages, experts like Maurice Keen and Patrick Wormald. As a writer, I have tackled medieval subjects like Alfred the Great and Richard III, as well as the history of English rebellion. I have come to realise that the Middle Ages could be cruel and violent, just like our own time, but that they were also a time of extraordinary achievements that form the foundations of the world we live in.

I wrote...

Richard III: A Ruler and his Reputation

By David Horspool,

Book cover of Richard III: A Ruler and his Reputation

What is my book about?

The extraordinary rediscovery of Richard III’s body in a Leicester car park reignited interest in the last of the Plantagenets. David Horspool’s book steers a tricky course between those who would like to recast Richard as a hero and those who believe Shakespeare’s black legend. Horspool brings the Wars of the Roses to life, as well as tracing the afterlife of Britain’s most controversial monarch.

The books I picked & why

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The Making of the Middle Ages

By R.W. Southern,

Book cover of The Making of the Middle Ages

Why this book?

This was the first book to open my eyes to the strangeness and sophistication of medieval life. To an English reader, its focus on the European Middle Ages is revelatory, as is its concentration on writers and travellers rather than kings and knights. At the time he wrote the book, the brilliant Richard Southern was hospitalized with tuberculosis. The book seems to be a distillation of a lifelong passion, which, fortunately, he was able to pursue for another four decades.

Autumntide of the Middle Ages

By Johan Huizinga, Diane Webb (translator),

Book cover of Autumntide of the Middle Ages

Why this book?

What goes up must come down: the Dutch polymath Huizinga describes the gradual breakdown of a civilization that had presided over Europe for five hundred years (the book was for years known as The Waning of the Middle Ages). Huizinga, like Southern, had lived through the Second World War and seen civilizations fall apart. His poetic take on the histrionics of late-medieval life has not always convinced scholars, but readers like me have rightly been entranced. The newest translation is a beautiful coffee-table book, making gorgeous use of Huizinga’s immersion in the artistic and architectural world he evokes so memorably.

Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts: Twelve Journeys into the Medieval World

By Christopher De Hamel,

Book cover of Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts: Twelve Journeys into the Medieval World

Why this book?

One of the great thrills of researching medieval history is getting the chance to handle original documents up close, as I have had the good fortune to do a few times. Christophe de Hamel is a palaeographer, a manuscripts expert who has travelled the world to examine some of the most precious handwritten works that still survive. As his title hints, De Hamel treats these artefacts as personalities, and his no-nonsense decipherment of priceless treasures is like listening in on a wise and witty conversation.

Kingmaker: Kingdom Come

By Toby Clements,

Book cover of Kingmaker: Kingdom Come

Why this book?

Bit of a cheat: four books in one. Researching the Wars of the Roses can often mean separating fact from fiction. When it comes to historical fiction on the Wars, authors have a tendency to impose their own theories on the facts and to ladle on the violence. The Wars were horribly violent at times, without question, and Toby Clements’s dazzling novels, which follow the fortunes of two outcasts, Thomas and Katherine, do not shy away from that. But these novels also focus on the humanity caught up in great events, to unforgettable effect.

The Last of the Templars

By William Watson,

Book cover of The Last of the Templars

Why this book?

I blame Dan Brown, but mention the Templars and you are usually met with a glazed look, as if you’re about to share your favourite conspiracy theory. William Watson’s book is a class, if not a universe, apart from Brown and co. It is an almost unbearably vivid re-creation of the world of the crusader kingdoms, and the corruption at the heart of Europe that first sustained and then destroyed their knightly protectors. In spare, unshowy prose, Watson demonstrates the darker side of the Middle Ages, in all its forbidding glory.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the Middle Ages, the Knights Templar, and the Wars of the Roses?

5,309 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the Middle Ages, the Knights Templar, and the Wars of the Roses.

The Middle Ages Explore 216 books about the Middle Ages
The Knights Templar Explore 6 books about the Knights Templar
The Wars Of The Roses Explore 11 books about the Wars of the Roses

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Blood and Roses: One Family's Struggle and Triumph During the Tumultuous Wars of the Roses, Peace-Weavers and Shield Maidens: Women in Early English Society, and The Song of Simon de Montfort: The Life and Death of a Medieval Revolutionary if you like this list.