Celebrating the New Year by taking a look at these five new books on the Middle Ages.
Translated by Jackson Crawford
Excerpt: The ill-fated romances, tragic murders, and larger-than-life wars of the Volsung family are alluded to and celebrated in numerous poems, sagas, and works of art produced in Scandinavia in the Middle Ages, and the Saga of the Volsungs is the most cohesive form of their story that has survived to be read in the modern age. In it, we read of Sigurd the dragon-slayer, Brynhild the Valkyrie, and the iron courage of the brothers Gunnar and Hogni and hte avenging sister Gudrun.
By Liza Picard
Weidenfeld and Nicolson
From a review by Catherine Nixey: “In the six centuries since Chaucer wrote about those “sondry folk” who were alle on their way to Canterbury, the bodies of his characters have decayed badly, leaving little more than bare bones in the minds of modern readers. Roles that would in the late 14th century have created instant assumptions are now fleshless. What are we supposed to think of a Franklin? A Yeoman? A Summoner? What even is a Summoner? Now, in Chaucer’s People, the social historian Liza Picard is putting some of the flesh back on the skeleton of this, one of the earliest literary English works.”
By Kathryn L. Reyerson
University of Pennsylvania Press
Excerpt: This is the story of Martha de Cabanis, a medieval woman of the mercantile milieu in the southern French town of Montpellier, a large commercial center of coastal Languedoc. Martha married, as did most of her contemporaries, but she was widowed early in the 1320s and left with three young sons, aged eleven, eight, and four. The extant written evidence records her actions as a widow and a guardian to her children and offers a window on the record of such a woman in that time and place.
By Shannon McSheffrey
Oxford University Press
Excerpt: This is a book about a practice that is distinctly non-modern, revealing structures of thought and attitudes towards wrongdoing that are often quite alien to our own. It is also a book the could only have been written in the digital age. For both the in-depth case studies and the broader gathering of data for the period 1400-1550, I have been dependent not only on old-fashioned hours combing through documents in the archives, but also on online repositories of archival document photographs (especially the invaluable Anglo-American Legal Traditions website), digitized texts and studies, the power of internet search engines, and the analytical capacities of database and spreadsheet programs. If my conclusions challenge many of the arguments made by previous historians of sanctuary in medieval and Tudor England, this is at least partly because our digital landscape allowed me to find things and make connections that others before me could not have done.
By Christopher Heath
Amsterdam University Press
Excerpt: Paul’s works have often been ‘looted’ by historians using isolated details to support empirical argument without adequate consideration of the contexts behind either the author or the works themselves. This is similar to the kind of exploitation identified by Heinzelmann and Wallace-Hadrill in respect to Gregory of Tours (538-594) and Bede (672/3-735). The difficulty that links all three of these early medieval writers is that, for modern commentators, much of their narrative histories remain the only extent witness to the events that they describe. Thus, at the outset, this study intends to avoid the extraction of empircal data from the narratives. Instead, it seeks to demonstrate the dynamic creative tensions in Paul’s works. Attention will be spent on the building blocks of Paul’s prose narratives – in other words the foundations of his texts, the security of our versions of his works, and most importantly, his sources and how Paul set about consciously to organise and structure his work to convey meaning and significance.