Books Features

New Medieval Books: English Food to Japanese Demons

We will be beginning a new series here on – letting our readers know about new books being published about the Middle Ages. From scholarly to fiction, we will tell you about five new medieval books each week. Here are recently published works worth a look:

The Culture of Food in England, 1200-1500

By C.M. Woolgar

Yale University Press
ISBN: 978-0-300-18191-3

Excerpt: A word game, popular in the great households of late medieval England, had at its heart the creation of collective nouns. In the lists of these names, alongside the laughter of hostellers, the glossing of taverners, the promise of tapsters and fighting of beggars, were household references – a carve of pantlers (who looked after the bread), a credence of servers (‘credence’ was the process of tasting of ‘assaying’ foods against poison), a provision of stewards of household – and a hastiness of cooks. The pressures of the medieval kitchen, the precipitate hurry and the irritation of the cooks are all captured in medieval meanings of ‘hastiness’. The word embodied a further dimension, however, through word play: ‘hasta’ was the medieval Latin for a spit, and we see at once the heart of the fire that has aggravated the cooks, the profligate the use of fuel in roasting, a busy-ness and the hard work that was necessary to produce the finest foods for table. This book is about what that food and drink, from the finest to the commonplace, meant to people in the later Middle Ages and how they expressed meaning through it in their daily lives – and many of them would have been engaged in cooking, even if they were not hasty professional cooks. The premiss is that food and drink mattered for a whole host of reasons beyond simply providing the necessities of life.

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Children and Everyday Life in the Roman and Late Antique World

Edited by Christian Laes  and Ville Vuolanto

ISBN: 978-1-4724-6480-4

There are 20 articles in this book including, “Every-Day Life of Children in Ninth-Century Byzantine Monasteries”, by Oana Cojocaru; “Why Roman Pupils Lacked a Long Vacation,” by Konrad Vössing; “Resistance and Agency in the Everyday Life of Late Antique Children (3rd-8th c CE)”, by Béatrice Caseau; “Children in Monastic Families in Egypt at the End of Antiquity”, by Maria Chiara Giorda; “Children’s Accidents in the Roman Empire: The Medical Eye on 500 Years of Mishaps in Injured Children”, by Lutz Alexander Graumann, and “Little Tunics for Little People: the Problems of Visualising the Wardrobe of the Roman child”, by Mary Harlow

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Seven Demon Stories from Medieval Japan

By Noriko T. Reider

Utah State University Press
ISBN: 978-1-60732-489-8

An excerpt from A Tale of an Earth Spider: The kitchen was separated by paper sliding door, and upon reaching the threshold Raiko could feel the lurking presence of someone, an old woman, moving slowly behind the door. He knocked on the door and entered house. “Who are you?” Raiko asked. “This house seems strange and I don’t understand this.”

“I have been living here for a long here,” the wretched old woman replied. “I am 290 years old and have served, in their turn, nine lords of this house.”

Her was ghostly white. She used a tool called kujirr to lift her eyelids, which were flipped over her head like a hat. She pushed her mouth open with what looked like a long hairpin, and her lips were enlarged and tied around her neck. Her breasts sagged to her lap as if they were clothes. “Spring and autumn goes,” the old creature mournfully continued, “but my sad thoughts remain the same. Years begin and end, but my misery is eternal. This place is a demons’ den; no human dares pass through our gates.”

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Warrior Churchmen of Medieval England, 1000-1250

By Craig M. Nakashian

Boydell Press
ISBN: 978-1-78327-162-7

An examination of the actions of clerics in warfare in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, looking at the difference between their actions and prescriptions for behavior. Christianity has had a problematic relationship with warfare throughout its history, with the middle ages being no exception. While warfare came to be accepted as a necessary activity for laymen, clerics were largely excluded from military activity. Those who participated in war risked falling foul of a number of accepted canons of the church as well as the opinions of their peers. However, many continued to involve themselves in war – including active participation on battlefields.

This book, focusing on a number of individual English clerics between 1000 and 1250, seeks to untangle the cultural debate surrounding this military behavior. It sets its examination into a broader context, including the clerical reform movement of the eleventh and twelfth centuries, the development of a more comprehensive canon law, and the popularization of chivalric ideology. Rather than portraying these clerics as anachronistic outliers or mere criminals, this study looks at how contemporaries understood their behaviour, arguing that there was a wide range of views – which often included praise for clerics who fought in licit causes. The picture which emerges is that clerical violence, despite its prescriptive condemnation, was often judged by how much it advanced the interests of the observer.

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Islamic Civilization in Thirty Lives: The First Thousand Years

By Chase F. Robinson

University of California Press

Religious thinkers, political leaders, lawmakers, writers, and philosophers have shaped the 1,400-year-long development of the world’s second-largest religion. But who were these people? What do we know of their lives and the ways in which they influenced their societies?

Among those profiled are Abu al-Qasim Ramisht, a merchant millionaire; Abu Bakr al-Razi, free-thinking physician; ‘Abd al-Malik, engineer of the caliphate; Ibn Khaldun, social theorist and historian; Timur, sheep-rustler, world-conqueror; and Mehmed I, conqueror and renaissance man.

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If you know of a book that we should list in future posts, let us know – email us at


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