Medieval Books for Christmas
It’s that time of year again – the mad scramble for the perfect Christmas gift for the historian, nerd, and avid reader on your list. Here are a few suggestions for you – new releases for December and January!
1.) The Norman Conquest: The Battle of Hastings and the Fall of Anglo-Saxon England
Author: Marc Morris
Publisher: Pegasus; 1 edition (December 15, 2014)
A riveting and authoritative history of the single most important event in English history: the Norman Conquest.
An upstart French duke who sets out to conquer the most powerful and unified kingdom in Christendom. An invasion force on a scale not seen since the days of the Romans. One of the bloodiest and most decisive battles ever fought.
This new history explains why the Norman Conquest was the most significant cultural and military episode in English history. Assessing the original evidence at every turn, Marc Morris goes beyond the familiar outline to explain why England was at once so powerful and yet so vulnerable to William the Conqueror’s attack; why the Normans, in some respects less sophisticated, possessed the military cutting edge; how William’s hopes of a united Anglo-Norman realm unraveled, dashed by English rebellions, Viking invasions, and the insatiable demands of his fellow conquerors.
2.) The Medieval World Complete
Author: Robert Bartlett
Publisher: Thames & Hudson; 1 edition (December 9, 2014)
The Medieval World Complete re-creates one of the great ages of European civilization through a sequence of spectacular images accompanied by a lively, informed commentary. Organized by topic and thoroughly cross-referenced, this comprehensive volume enables the reader to explore and understand every facet of the Middle Ages, an era of breathtaking artistic achievement and religious faith in a world where life was often coarse and cruel, cut short by war, famine, and disease. Framed by chapters that bracket the beginning and the end of this misunderstood period, The Medieval World Complete covers religion and the Church, nations and laws, daily life, art and architecture, scholarship and philosophy, and the world beyond Christendom. The book is completed by biographies of key personalities, from Charlemagne to Wycliffe, as well as timelines, maps, a glossary, a gazetteer, and a bibliography. 800+ illustrations, 612 in color.
3.) Dante and the Greeks
Author: Jan. M. Ziolkowski
Publisher: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection (December 15, 2014)
Although Dante never traveled to Greek-speaking lands in the eastern Mediterranean and his exposure to the Greek language was limited, he displays a keen interest in the cultures of Greece, both ancient and medieval, pagan and Christian. Bringing together cartography, history, philosophy, philology, reception studies, religious studies, and other disciplines, these essays tap into knowledge and skills from specialists in the medieval West, Byzantium, and Dante. The twelve contributors discuss the presence of ancient Greek poetry, philosophy, and science (astrology, cosmography, geography) in Dante’s writings, as well as the Greek characters who populate his works. Some of these individuals were drawn indirectly from ancient mythography, Homeric epic, and other such sources, while others were historically attested personages, down to Dante’s own era. Greek was not only a language and civilization of the past, but also a present (and often rival) religious and political entity. To each layer—ancient pagan, early Christian, and contemporary Byzantine—Latins related differently. Doctrinal, political, linguistic, cultural, and educational matters all played important roles in shaping the attitudes that form the focal point for this volume, which sets the stage for further engagement with Dante’s corpus in its cultural settings.
4.) The Medieval Vagina: An Historical and Hysterical Look at All Things Vaginal During the Middle Ages
Author: Karen L. Harris & Lori Caskey-Sigety
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (December 10, 2014)
In the Middle Ages much like today, the vagina conjured fear and repulsion, yet it held an undeniable allure. In the Medieval Vagina, the authors explore this paradox while unearthing medieval myths, attitudes and contradictions surrounding this uniquely feminine and deeply mysterious organ. What euphemisms did medieval people have for the vagina? Did medieval women use birth control? How was rape viewed in the Middle Ages? How was the vagina incorporated into literature, poetry, music, and art? How did medieval women cope with menstruation? The Medieval Vagina delves into these topics, and others, while introducing the reader to a collection of fascinating medieval women – Pope Joan, Lady Frances Howard, Margery Kempe, Sister Benedetta Carlini, and Chaucer’s Wife of Bath – who all shaped our view of the medieval vagina. The Medieval Vagina takes a quick-paced, humorous peek into the medieval world; a time when religious authority combined with newly-emerging science and medicine, classic literature, and folklore to form a deeply patriarchal society. It may have been a man’s world, but the vagina triumphed over oppression and misogyny.
5.) The Medieval Housewife
Author: Toni Mount
Publisher: Amberley (November 19, 2014)
Have you ever wondered what life was like for the ordinary housewife in the Middle Ages? Or how much power a medieval lady really had? Find out all about medieval housewives, peasant women, grand ladies, women in trade and women in the church in this fascinating book.
More has been written about medieval women in the last twenty years than in the two whole centuries before that. Female authors of the medieval period have been rediscovered and translated; queens are no longer thought of as merely decorative brood mares for their royal husbands and have merited their own biographies. In the past, historians have tended to look at what women could not do. In this book we will look at the lives of medieval women in a more positive light, finding out what rights and opportunities women did enjoy, attempting to uncover the real women beneath the layers of dust accumulated over the centuries.
.6) The Greatest Knight: The Remarkable Life of William Marshal, the Power Behind Five English Thrones –
Author: Thomas Asbridge
Publisher: Ecco (December 2, 2014)
A thrillingly intimate portrait of one of history’s most illustrious knights – William Marshal – that vividly evokes the grandeur and barbarity of the Middle Ages
William Marshal was the true Lancelot of his era – a peerless warrior and paragon of chivalry – yet over the centuries, the spectacular story of his achievements passed from memory. Marshal became just one more name in the dusty annals of history. Then, in 1861, a young French scholar named Paul Meyer made a startling discovery during an auction of rare medieval manuscripts. Meyer stumbled upon the sole surviving copy of an unknown text – the first contemporary biography of a medieval knight, later dubbed the History of William Marshal. This richly detailed work helped to resurrect Marshal’s reputation, putting flesh onto the bones of this otherwise obscure figure, yet even today William Marshal remains largely forgotten.
As a five-year-old boy, William was sentenced to execution and led to the gallows, yet this landless younger son survived his brush with death, and went on to train as a medieval knight. Against all odds, William Marshal rose through the ranks – serving at the right hand of five English monarchs – to become a celebrated tournament champion, a baron and politician and, ultimately, regent of the realm.
Marshal befriended the great figures of his day, from Richard the Lionheart and Eleanor of Aquitaine to the infamous King John, and helped to negotiate the terms of Magna Carta – the first ‘bill of rights’. By the age of seventy, the once-forsaken child had been transformed into the most powerful man in England, yet he was forced to fight in the frontline of one final battle, striving to save the kingdom from French invasion in 1217.
In The Greatest Knight, renowned historian Thomas Asbridge draws upon the thirteenth-century biography and an array of other contemporary evidence to present a compelling account of William Marshal’s life and times. Asbridge follows Marshal on his journey from rural England onto the battlefields of France, to the desert castles of the Holy Land and the verdant shores of Ireland, charting the unparalleled rise to prominence of a man bound to a code of honour, yet driven by unquenchable ambition.
This knight’s tale lays bare the brutish realities of medieval warfare and the machinations of royal court, and draws us into the heart of a formative period of our history, when the West emerged from the Dark Ages and stood on the brink of modernity. It is the story of one remarkable man, the birth of the knightly class to which he belonged, and the forging of the English nation.
7.) Medieval Rome
Author: Chris Wickham
Publisher: Oxford University Press (January 6, 2015)
Medieval Rome analyses the history of the city of Rome between 900 and 1150, a period of major change in the city. This volume doesn’t merely seek to tell the story of the city from the traditional Church standpoint; instead, it engages in studies of the city’s processions, material culture, legal transformations, and sense of the past, seeking to unravel the complexities of Roman cultural identity, including its urban economy, social history as seen across the different strata of society, and the articulation between the city’s regions.
This new approach serves to underpin a major reinterpretation of Rome’s political history in the era of the ‘reform papacy’, one of the greatest crises in Rome’s history, which had a resonance across the entire continent. Medieval Rome is the most systematic analysis ever made of two and a half centuries of Rome’s history, one which saw centuries of stability undermined by external crisis and the long period of reconstruction which followed.
8.) The Middle Ages
Author: Johannes Fried
Publisher: Belknap Press (January 13, 2015)
Since the fifteenth century, when humanist writers began to speak of a “middle” period in history linking their time to the ancient world, the nature of the Middle Ages has been widely debated. Across the millennium from 500 to 1500, distinguished historian Johannes Fried describes a dynamic confluence of political, social, religious, economic, and scientific developments that draws a guiding thread through the era: the growth of a culture of reason.
Beginning with the rise of the Franks, Fried uses individuals to introduce key themes, bringing to life those who have too often been reduced to abstractions of the medieval “monk” or “knight.” Milestones encountered in this thousand-year traversal include Europe’s political, cultural, and religious renovation under Charlemagne; the Holy Roman Empire under Charles IV, whose court in Prague was patron to crowning cultural achievements; and the series of conflicts between England and France that made up the Hundred Years’ War and gave to history the enduringly fascinating Joan of Arc. Broader political and intellectual currents are examined, from the authority of the papacy and impact of the Great Schism, to new theories of monarchy and jurisprudence, to the rise of scholarship and science.
The Middle Ages is full of people encountering the unfamiliar, grappling with new ideas, redefining power, and interacting with different societies. Fried gives readers an era of innovation and turbulence, of continuities and discontinuities, but one above all characterized by the vibrant expansion of knowledge and an understanding of the growing complexity of the world.
9.) Learning to Die in London, 1380-1540 (The Middle Ages Series)
Author: Amy Appleford
Publisher: University of Pennsylvania Press (December 26, 2014)
Taking as her focus a body of writings in poetic, didactic, and legal modes that circulated in England’s capital between the 1380s—just a generation after the Black Death—and the first decade of the English reformation in the 1530s, Amy Appleford offers the first full-length study of the Middle English “art of dying” (ars moriendi). An educated awareness of death and mortality was a vital aspect of medieval civic culture, she contends, critical not only to the shaping of single lives and the management of families and households but also to the practices of cultural memory, the building of institutions, and the good government of the city itself.
In fifteenth-century London in particular, where an increasingly laicized reformist religiosity coexisted with an ambitious program of urban renewal, cultivating a sophisticated attitude toward death was understood as essential to good living in the widest sense. The virtuous ordering of self, household, and city rested on a proper attitude toward mortality on the part both of the ruled and of their secular and religious rulers. The intricacies of keeping death constantly in mind informed not only the religious prose of the period, but also literary and visual arts. In London’s version of the famous image-text known as the Dance of Death, Thomas Hoccleve’s poetic collection The Series, and the early sixteenth-century prose treatises of Tudor writers Richard Whitford, Thomas Lupset, and Thomas More, death is understood as an explicitly generative force, one capable (if properly managed) of providing vital personal, social, and literary opportunities.
10.) Medievalism: a Critical History
Author: David Matthews
Publisher: D.S.Brewer (January 15, 2015)
The field known as “medievalism studies” concerns the life of the Middle Ages after the Middle Ages. Originating some thirty years ago, it examines reinventions and reworkings of the medieval from the Reformation to postmodernity, from Bale and Leland to HBO’s Game of Thrones. But what exactly is it? An offshoot of medieval studies? A version of reception studies? Or a new form of cultural studies? Can such a diverse field claim coherence? Should it be housed in departments of English, or History, or should it always be interdisciplinary? In responding to such questions, the author traces the history of medievalism from its earliest appearances in the sixteenth century to the present day, across a range of examples drawn from the spheres of literature, art, architecture, music and more. He identifies two major modes, the grotesque and the romantic, and focuses on key phases of the development of medievalism in Europe: the Reformation, the late eighteenth century, and above all the period between 1815 and 1850, which, he argues, represents the zenith of medievalist cultural production. He also contends that the 1840s were medievalism’s one moment of canonicity in several European cultures at once. After that, medievalism became a minority form, rarely marked with cultural prestige, though always pervasive and influential. Medievalism: a Critical History scrutinises several key categories – space, time, and selfhood – and traces the impact of medievalism on each. It will be the essential guide to a complex and still evolving field of inquiry.