The best books to transport you to medieval life

Madina Papadopoulos Author Of The Step-Spinsters
By Madina Papadopoulos

Who am I?

Madina Papadopoulos is a New Orleans-born, New York-based freelance writer and author. She is currently working on the sequel to The Step-Spinsters, the first in the Unspun Fairytale series, which retells classic princess stories set in the late Middle Ages. She studied French and Italian at Tulane University and received her MFA in screenwriting at UCLA. After teaching foreign languages at the university level, as well as in childhood and elementary school programs, she developed and illustrated foreign language coloring workbooks for preschoolers. As a freelance writer, she focuses on food, drinks, and entertainment.


I wrote...

The Step-Spinsters

By Madina Papadopoulos, Katie Herman (editor), Drew Luster (illustrator)

Book cover of The Step-Spinsters

What is my book about?

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away…(actually, in Medieval France, to be exact), there lived Cinderella's stepsisters, Fredegonde the tall and Javotte the small. They wake up the morning after the legendary ball to learn that they each still have a chance to be the bride—all they have to do is make their feet fit into that tricky slipper. Alas, these two damsels under stress never quite seem to fit in anywhere. But that doesn’t stop them from wishing and hoping as they set upon a quest for grooms and grandeur of their own.

The books I picked & why

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Catherine, Called Birdy

By Karen Cushman,

Book cover of Catherine, Called Birdy

Why this book?

Much of the fiction set in the Middle Ages follows landmark historical moments and infamous individuals. But just as today, nothing is more complex than the inner life of a teenage girl, so it was in 1290. Written as a personal diary, this book follows Catherine, nicknamed ‘Birdy,’ as she trudges through her lessons on becoming a lady (sewing, spinning, soap making), her fears of an arranged marriage to a gnarly old nobleman, the importance of friendship and the heartbreak of unrequited love. Universal truths, all comically relatable and sprinkled with amusing details of picking off fleas and using the privy. As a preteen and teen, I read, re-read, and re-re-read Catherine's diary, escaping into her daily life as I easily imagined myself in it. This book was a friend I knew I could always return to for comfort and understanding.

Catherine, Called Birdy

By Karen Cushman,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Catherine, Called Birdy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NOW A MAJOR MOVIE STREAMING ON AMAZON PRIME.

A funny coming-of-age novel about a fourteen-year-old girl's fight for freedom and right to self-determination in medieval England.

Catherine's in trouble. Caught between a mother who is determined to turn her into the perfect medieval lady and a father who wants her to marry her off to much older and utterly repulsive suitor.

Luckily, Catherine has a plan. She has experience outwitting suitors and is ready to take matters into her own hands . . .

Karen Cushman's Catherine, Called Birdy is the inspiration for Prime Video's medieval comedy film directed by…


The Lady and the Unicorn

By Tracy Chevalier,

Book cover of The Lady and the Unicorn

Why this book?

Tracy Chevalier once again manages to transport readers into iconic works of art, bringing the story of famed images to life, and exploring the personality of every hand that took to create it. Set in 1490, this book invents a tale behind the creation of “The Lady and the Unicorn Tapestries.” It has everything an engrossing read should have—romance, ambition, betrayal. But for the medieval aficionado, Chevalier’s incredible research on the creation of a tapestry—from designing the cartoon, to sheering the sheep’s wool to the dying it, to the weaving and the warping—is described as a master class that leaves the reader wanting to pick up a loom. 

The Lady and the Unicorn

By Tracy Chevalier,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Lady and the Unicorn as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A tour de force of history and imagination, The Lady and the Unicorn is Tracy Chevalier’s answer to the mystery behind one of the art world’s great masterpieces—a set of bewitching medieval tapestries that hangs today in the Cluny Museum in Paris. They appear to portray the seduction of a unicorn, but the story behind their making is unknown—until now.

Paris, 1490.  A shrewd French nobleman commissions six lavish tapestries celebrating his rising status at Court. He hires the charismatic, arrogant, sublimely talented Nicolas des Innocents to design them. Nicolas creates havoc among the women in the house—mother and daughter,…


The Hunchback of Notre Dame

By Victor Hugo, Lucy Corvino (illustrator),

Book cover of The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Why this book?

Paris. 1482. Notre Dame Cathedral. Quasimodo. Beautiful gypsy named Esmeralda. The characters are so renowned that a summary seems redundant—all I can add is that every rendition of this story in our communal mind is like seeing a postcard of Paris rather than visiting it in person. Please hop on a flight to this beautifully written page-turner, you won’t regret it. While at times classics can be heftier reads for the modern reader, this tome stands up to time as entertaining, fast-paced, and heart-wrenching. 

The Hunchback of Notre Dame

By Victor Hugo, Lucy Corvino (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Hunchback of Notre Dame as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Victor Hugo's great story of Quasimodo, the deformed bell ringer of Notre Dame and his unrequited love for the dancer, Esmeralda. Classics Illustrated tells this wonderful tale in colourful comic strip form, offering an excellent introduction for younger readers. This edition also includes theme discussions and study questions, which can be used both in the classroom and at home to further engage the reader in the story.


Life in Medieval Europe: Fact and Fiction

By Danièle Cybulskie,

Book cover of Life in Medieval Europe: Fact and Fiction

Why this book?

Dani​​èle Cybulskie, AKA “the 5 Minute Medievalist,” is a Medieval Influencer with books, a podcast, and blogs, all offering the world quickly digestible knowledge of this millennium in history. In her book, Life in Medieval Europe, Fact and Fiction, she takes us through a fun game of True or False. The grouping of the Middle Ages spans a confusingly long time, from around the late 400s to the late 1400s. Various traditions can be fit into those thousand years, one would think that by sheer probability most of our Medieval stereotypes would fit into one of those centuries. Interestingly enough, a good amount of what films set in Medieval Times is hilariously incorrect. Pick it up and start your guessing.

Life in Medieval Europe: Fact and Fiction

By Danièle Cybulskie,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Life in Medieval Europe as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Have you ever found yourself watching a show or reading a novel and wondering what life was really like in the Middle Ages? What did people actually eat? Were they really filthy? And did they ever get to marry for love?

In Medieval Europe in Fact and Fiction, you'll find fast and fun answers to all your secret questions, from eating and drinking to sex and love. Find out whether people bathed, what they did when they got sick, and what actually happened to people accused of crimes. Learn about medieval table manners, tournaments, and toothpaste, and find out if…


The White Queen

By Philippa Gregory,

Book cover of The White Queen

Why this book?

It’s often said that the golden rule for storytelling is “thou shalt not bore.” While as a history buff, I get a kick out of historical fiction even when it might read more non-fiction than fiction, the genre risks falling prey to having to balance fact over fun. This is not the case with esteemed historical fiction author, Philippa Gregory. For those who like their history with a touch of steam and can forgive historical “embellishments,” Gregory delivers heavily researched stories that put character arcs and plot twists front and center. These tempting books follow the women in power behind the scenes of the War of the Roses. As a prolific writer, Gregory bestows upon us a bounty of six books in this series, carrying the reader on more of a year abroad than just a quick vacation. 

The White Queen

By Philippa Gregory,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The White Queen as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The inspiration for the critically acclaimed Starz miniseries The White Queen, #1 New York Times bestselling author Philippa Gregory brings to life the extraordinary story of Elizabeth Woodville, a woman who rises from obscurity to become Queen of England, and changes the course of history forever.

Elizabeth Woodville is a woman of extraordinary beauty and ambition. Her mother is Jacquetta, also known as the mystical lady of the rivers, and she is even more determined to bring power and wealth to the family line. While riding in the woods one day, Elizabeth captures the attentions of the newly crowned King…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the Middle Ages, the Wars of the Roses, and nobility?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the Middle Ages, the Wars of the Roses, and nobility.

The Middle Ages Explore 303 books about the Middle Ages
The Wars Of The Roses Explore 22 books about the Wars of the Roses
Nobility Explore 68 books about nobility

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like The Black Cauldron, The Wolf Hunt, and A Year Without Mom if you like this list.