The best books on Medieval warfare

2 authors have picked their favorite books about Medieval warfare and why they recommend each book.

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The Wars of the Roses

By John Gillingham,

Book cover of The Wars of the Roses

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.

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 Tale of the Heike

By Helen Craig McCullough (translator),

Book cover of The Tale of the Heike

So if you want to get away from academic historians and go straight to the sources, this is a great place to start. The Tale of the Heike is the epic story, developed over centuries by Japanese storytellers, of the great war between the Taira clan and the Minamoto clan for dominance in Japan in the Genpei War of 1180-1185, the war from which emerged the first samurai-centered government in Japanese history, the Kamakura. Full of colorful characters, dramatic battle scenes, and betrayal-soaked politics, it gives an authentic window onto medieval warfare.


Who am I?

I fell in love with medieval military history in high school, and have been studying and writing about it as an undergraduate at Harvard, as a graduate student at Oxford, and as a professor of history ever since, eventually bringing the comparative methods and urge to generalize of a world historian to the task. I’ve written ten books and numerous articles. Good history gives me the thrill of time travel without the risk of the bubonic plague, and it has spawned related interests in sword and sorcery fantasy lit and wargaming, alongside my interests in painting, cartooning, and cooking the food of my native New Orleans. My motto: Have fun!


I wrote...

War and Conflict in the Middle Ages: A Global Perspective.

By Stephen Morillo,

Book cover of War and Conflict in the Middle Ages: A Global Perspective.

What is my book about?

This book offers the first global history of armed conflict between 400 and 1500 (or 1800?), an age shaped by climate change and pandemics at both ends. Examining armed conflict at all levels, and ranging from China and the Central Asian steppes to western Europe and beyond, it explores the technological, social, and cultural determinants of warfare and the tools and tactics used by warriors on land and at sea.

Armed conflict played a central role in the making of the medieval world, and medieval people used war and conflict to create, expand, and defend their communities and identities. Broad in its scope and rich in detail, this is a go-to guide for students and aficionados of military history, medieval history, and global history.

Coming in August 2022

Under the Hog

By Patrick Carleton,

Book cover of Under the Hog: A Novel of Richard III

Academic books too dry? Primary sources too intimidating? Find a copy of Under the Hog, a historical novel set in the War of the Roses in 15th century England that is perhaps the best historical novel ever — certainly the best written by a pseudonymous author! It gives a variety of close-up views of medieval combat, politics, and culture, and is a favorite among folks who think that king Richard III of England (yes, the evil hunchback of Shakespeare’s depiction) got a reputational raw deal from the Bard. 


Who am I?

I fell in love with medieval military history in high school, and have been studying and writing about it as an undergraduate at Harvard, as a graduate student at Oxford, and as a professor of history ever since, eventually bringing the comparative methods and urge to generalize of a world historian to the task. I’ve written ten books and numerous articles. Good history gives me the thrill of time travel without the risk of the bubonic plague, and it has spawned related interests in sword and sorcery fantasy lit and wargaming, alongside my interests in painting, cartooning, and cooking the food of my native New Orleans. My motto: Have fun!


I wrote...

War and Conflict in the Middle Ages: A Global Perspective.

By Stephen Morillo,

Book cover of War and Conflict in the Middle Ages: A Global Perspective.

What is my book about?

This book offers the first global history of armed conflict between 400 and 1500 (or 1800?), an age shaped by climate change and pandemics at both ends. Examining armed conflict at all levels, and ranging from China and the Central Asian steppes to western Europe and beyond, it explores the technological, social, and cultural determinants of warfare and the tools and tactics used by warriors on land and at sea.

Armed conflict played a central role in the making of the medieval world, and medieval people used war and conflict to create, expand, and defend their communities and identities. Broad in its scope and rich in detail, this is a go-to guide for students and aficionados of military history, medieval history, and global history.

Coming in August 2022

Historical Sketch of the Second war Between the United States of America and Great Britain

By Charles Jared Ingersoll,

Book cover of Historical Sketch of the Second war Between the United States of America and Great Britain

A congressman during the War of 1812, Charles Ingersoll took on the role of journalist and historian in the years that followed. He interviewed key players during the lead-up and aftermath of the burning of the White House. Though his sketch is dense, he provides some of the most important details not covered in other accounts from the era. Ingersoll also provides some of the most inspirational, cinematic quotes coming out of the burning of the U.S. Capitol. 

"The smoldering fires of the Capitol were spices of the phoenix bed, from which a rose offspring more vigorous, beautiful and long-lived," Ingersoll wrote. "The immediate and enthusiastic effect of the fall of Washington was electric revival of national spirit and universal energy."


Who am I?

As a writer of ten mostly historical nonfiction books, I tried to rely on the original writings of the people that I wrote about rather than third-hand accounts. What I love about reading people's own words is that letters allow you to see a person's humanity and their emotional reactions to their circumstances. I also love the cinematic qualities of the story of the burning of the White House. Both Dolley and James Madison went through an authentic, organic character change in the aftermath, much like characters in a movie. I also loved the revival of patriotism that took place in the aftermath, which is similar to the aftermath of  9/11.


I wrote...

The Burning of the White House: James and Dolley Madison and the War of 1812

By Jane Hampton Cook,

Book cover of The Burning of the White House: James and Dolley Madison and the War of 1812

What is my book about?

It's unimaginable today, even for a generation that saw the Twin Towers fall and the Pentagon attacked. It's unimaginable because in 1814 enemies didn't fly overhead, they marched through the streets; and for 26 hours in August, the British enemy marched through Washington, D.C., and set fire to government buildings, including the U.S. Capitol and the White House.

Relying on first-hand accounts, historian Jane Hampton Cook weaves together several different narratives to create a vivid, multidimensional account of the burning of Washington, including the escalation that led to it and the immediate aftermath. From James and Dolley Madison to the British admiral who ordered the White House set aflame, historical figures are brought to life through their experience of this unprecedented attack. The Burning of the White House is the story of a city invaded, a presidential family displaced, a nation humbled, and an American spirit that somehow remained unbroken.

Victory in the East

By John France,

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

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.

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 Last Great War of Antiquity

By James Howard-Johnston,

Book cover of The Last Great War of Antiquity

This book is, to me, the Platonic Ideal of scholarly military history. Howard-Johnston examines a somewhat obscure but vastly important war between the Byzantine Empire and the Persian Empire that lasted from 602 to 628 and left both empires vulnerable to the new Islamic power that was about to emerge in Arabia. His narrative is lively, his knowledge of the sources is unmatched, his interpretations masterful, and he exposes the inner workings of the book regularly in philosophical comments on the job of the military historian, causation in history, and the problems of source interpretation. That it took him longer to write than the war itself lasted is also one of my favorite pieces of historian-author trivia!


Who am I?

I fell in love with medieval military history in high school, and have been studying and writing about it as an undergraduate at Harvard, as a graduate student at Oxford, and as a professor of history ever since, eventually bringing the comparative methods and urge to generalize of a world historian to the task. I’ve written ten books and numerous articles. Good history gives me the thrill of time travel without the risk of the bubonic plague, and it has spawned related interests in sword and sorcery fantasy lit and wargaming, alongside my interests in painting, cartooning, and cooking the food of my native New Orleans. My motto: Have fun!


I wrote...

War and Conflict in the Middle Ages: A Global Perspective.

By Stephen Morillo,

Book cover of War and Conflict in the Middle Ages: A Global Perspective.

What is my book about?

This book offers the first global history of armed conflict between 400 and 1500 (or 1800?), an age shaped by climate change and pandemics at both ends. Examining armed conflict at all levels, and ranging from China and the Central Asian steppes to western Europe and beyond, it explores the technological, social, and cultural determinants of warfare and the tools and tactics used by warriors on land and at sea.

Armed conflict played a central role in the making of the medieval world, and medieval people used war and conflict to create, expand, and defend their communities and identities. Broad in its scope and rich in detail, this is a go-to guide for students and aficionados of military history, medieval history, and global history.

Coming in August 2022

The Cambridge History of War

By David A. Graff,

Book cover of The Cambridge History of War: Volume 2, War and the Medieval World

This is a superb example of what a multi-author compilation can achieve: wide coverage, specialist knowledge of a variety of topics and approaches, and thus fascinating details from around the world of medieval warfare. And what it lacks (in coherent overview and broad comparative approach) is supplied by my own book! I think of this as a good companion to my own more global, comparative, and theory-based account of medieval war and conflict.


Who am I?

I fell in love with medieval military history in high school, and have been studying and writing about it as an undergraduate at Harvard, as a graduate student at Oxford, and as a professor of history ever since, eventually bringing the comparative methods and urge to generalize of a world historian to the task. I’ve written ten books and numerous articles. Good history gives me the thrill of time travel without the risk of the bubonic plague, and it has spawned related interests in sword and sorcery fantasy lit and wargaming, alongside my interests in painting, cartooning, and cooking the food of my native New Orleans. My motto: Have fun!


I wrote...

War and Conflict in the Middle Ages: A Global Perspective.

By Stephen Morillo,

Book cover of War and Conflict in the Middle Ages: A Global Perspective.

What is my book about?

This book offers the first global history of armed conflict between 400 and 1500 (or 1800?), an age shaped by climate change and pandemics at both ends. Examining armed conflict at all levels, and ranging from China and the Central Asian steppes to western Europe and beyond, it explores the technological, social, and cultural determinants of warfare and the tools and tactics used by warriors on land and at sea.

Armed conflict played a central role in the making of the medieval world, and medieval people used war and conflict to create, expand, and defend their communities and identities. Broad in its scope and rich in detail, this is a go-to guide for students and aficionados of military history, medieval history, and global history.

Coming in August 2022

War in the Middle Ages

By Philippe Contamine,

Book cover of War in the Middle Ages

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!

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 Worm Ouroboros

By E.R. Eddison, Keith Henderson (illustrator),

Book cover of The Worm Ouroboros

Historical novels still too mundane? Read E.R. Eddison’s fantasy classic. An epic tale of war and heroism told in a fabulous faux-17th century English style, The Worm also features some of the best, most realistic battle scenes in all of fantasy literature -— check out the Battle of Krothering Side for its action, tactical acumen, and narrative brilliance. I have several times taught a class on “Swords, Sorcery, and Reality” that brings classic fantasy literature into dialogue with medieval primary sources, and Eddison regularly ends up as the student’s favorite, even beating out Tolkien (whose battle narratives are themselves excellent!). And this book has to be on this list, because it’s actually my favorite book ever. My earring is a Worm Ouroboros!


Who am I?

I fell in love with medieval military history in high school, and have been studying and writing about it as an undergraduate at Harvard, as a graduate student at Oxford, and as a professor of history ever since, eventually bringing the comparative methods and urge to generalize of a world historian to the task. I’ve written ten books and numerous articles. Good history gives me the thrill of time travel without the risk of the bubonic plague, and it has spawned related interests in sword and sorcery fantasy lit and wargaming, alongside my interests in painting, cartooning, and cooking the food of my native New Orleans. My motto: Have fun!


I wrote...

War and Conflict in the Middle Ages: A Global Perspective.

By Stephen Morillo,

Book cover of War and Conflict in the Middle Ages: A Global Perspective.

What is my book about?

This book offers the first global history of armed conflict between 400 and 1500 (or 1800?), an age shaped by climate change and pandemics at both ends. Examining armed conflict at all levels, and ranging from China and the Central Asian steppes to western Europe and beyond, it explores the technological, social, and cultural determinants of warfare and the tools and tactics used by warriors on land and at sea.

Armed conflict played a central role in the making of the medieval world, and medieval people used war and conflict to create, expand, and defend their communities and identities. Broad in its scope and rich in detail, this is a go-to guide for students and aficionados of military history, medieval history, and global history.

Coming in August 2022

The Medieval Archer

By Jim Bradbury,

Book cover of The Medieval Archer

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.

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.

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