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New Medieval Books: From England’s King (without a kingdom) to the Byzantine Astronomer

Five new books about the Middle Ages.

Henry the Young King, 1155-1183

By Matthew Strickland

Yale University Press
ISBN: 9780300232875

Excerpt: A King without a realm is at a loss for something to do: at such a loss was the noble and gracious Young King. Thus the poet Jordan Fantosme, writing for the Plantagenet court soon after the great was of 1173-4 which had pitted Henry II against his own son, Henry ‘the Young King’, encapsulated the paradox that lies at the heart of this study. Young Henry was the first – and last – king of England since the Norman Conquest to be crowned in the lifetime of his father. The desire to have his son created as an anointed king had been a driving factor in Henry II’s policies from at least 1162, and in 1170 he had pushed through his son’s coronation by the archbishop of York in highly contentious circumstances, which would lead, unwittingly but directly, to the murder of Thomas Becket only six months later. Yet despite the enormous significance he had attached to his son’s regal status, Henry II never felt able to grant his eldest son direct rule of any of the Angevin lands. The resulting tension between young Henry’s royal rank and his lack of effective power was, as Jordan Fantosme recognized, the root cause of his rebellion in 1173, which shook the Angevin empire to its core.

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A Medieval Woman’s Companion: Women’s Lives in the European Middle Ages

By Susan Signe Morrison

Oxbow Books
ISBN: 9781785700798

Excerpt: A Medieval Woman’s Companion introduces readers to medieval history, medieval women’s lives, Catholic beliefts, and the art and literature of the Middle Ages. This volume is intended for the general audience and to help students in high school and college to become familiar with a vast array of aspects affecting medieval women’s lives. Most chapters focus on a particular medieval woman, while a few look at general issues, such as language, medieval understandings of the body, and the importance of clothing in the Middle Ages. The final chapter suggests ways in which recent feminist and gender theories both can enhance our understanding of medieval women’s lives and be shaped by the experiences of medieval women.

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Warriors and Wilderness in Medieval Britain: From Arthur and Beowulf to Sir Gawain and Robin Hood

By Robin Melrose

McFarland and Company
ISBN: 978-1-4766-6826-0

Tracing the development of the King Arthur story in the late Middle Ages, this book explores Arthur’s depiction as a wilderness figure, the descendant of the northern Romano-British hunter/warrior god. The earliest Arthur was a warrior but in the 11th century Welsh tale Culhwch and Olwen, he is less a warrior and more a leader of a band of rogue heroes.

The story of Arthur was popularized by Geoffrey of Monmouth, in his Latin History of the Kings of Britain, and was translated into Middle English in Layamon’s Brut and the later alliterative Alliterative Morte Arthure. Both owed much to the epic poem “Beowulf,” which draws on the Anglo-Saxon fascination with the wilderness. The most famous Arthurian tale is Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, in which the wilderness and themes from Beowulf play a leading role. Three Arthurian tales set in Inglewood Forest place Arthur and Gawain in a wilderness setting, and link Arthur to medieval Robin Hood tales.

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Viking Law and Order: Places and Rituals of Assembly in the Medieval North

By Alexandra Sanmark

Edinburgh University Press
ISBN: 9781474402293

The first detailed appraisal of Norse assembly sites, providing detailed discussion of their archaeological profile and landscape setting.

Excerpt: This is the book I would have wanted to read when I first became interested in Norse law and assembly in the late 1990s. At that time, very little research into assembly sites had been carried out. Existing work was mostly found in overview publications, where short summaries of the thing organisation based on written sources were provided. Such overviews were augmented by a few sample thing sites, such as Thingvellir, the Icelandic Althing. In the early 2000s, the growth of landscape archaeology combined with interdisciplinary Viking Age research led to new and exciting exploration into the power of place and the sacred nature of assembly sites. These ideas have formed the basis and starting point of this book.

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Introduction to Astronomy by Theodore Metochites

Edited and translated by Emmanuel A. Paschos and Christos Simelidis

World Scientific
ISBN: 978-981-3207-48-6

Stoicheiosis Astronomike (“Elements of Astronomy”) is a late Byzantine comprehensive introduction to Astronomy. It was written by an outstanding figure in Byzantine culture and politics, who served also as prime minister. This volume makes available for the first time a large part of its astronomical contents, offering the original text with an English translation, accompanied by an introduction and analysis.

This book describes the celestial spheres, the rotation of the planets, and especially the apparent trajectory of the sun with its uniform and anomalous rotations, which are used to determine the length of the year. Metochites proposed a new starting date for the calendar (6th of October 1283) specifying the position of the sun on that date. The work revived the interest in studies of Ptolemaic astronomy as attested by numerous annotations in the margins of the manuscripts.

Besides its astronomical content there are statements on the epistemological method and other issues elucidating the spirit of that age. It will be of interest as an introduction to Byzantine astronomy for historians of science and philosophy, for astronomers, and those interested in the development of calendars.

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