I’ve had a few people ask for a YouTube video of this (and I will do it), but I wanted to write a blog post about this. I’ve read several medieval-based non fiction books that I love, and shouting them out seemed like a good idea. Not least because I’m always up for recommending books to people regardless of genre or fiction/non-fiction.
So, in no particular order, here we go:
- The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England – Ian Mortimer
This is a wonderful, wonderful book, one that propelled me onwards in my love of all things medieval. It’s filled with details that would classify it as a popular history book, but it’s in no way dumbed down or devoid of depth. I read it before university, I read it during my undergraduate degree, and I’m reading it now during my master’s. It is undoubtedly a form of public engagement in English medieval history, and public engagement is a big, big thing for me. The writing style is fluid, clever, and, perhaps most importantly for a ‘popular’ history work, it’s funny. It’s engaging. The format of a travel book for tourists is precisely why I love it – although I probably wouldn’t travel to medieval England!
- Medieval Women’s Writing: Works by and for Women in England, 1100-1500 – Diane Watt
This was my first actual academic foray into medieval women’s writing. It’s a short work, around 220 pages, but that’s why I’m so fond of it. It’s not dense at all; rather, the book is highly readable, and getting proper introductions to the women who I now read and study was so, so worth it. (Especially the discussions on Margery Kempe’s work and the letters of the Paston ladies. This book was a huge help for my classes on those particular women!)
- History of William Marshal – D. Crouch, S. Gregory, and A. J. Holden (eds.)
Oh. Oh. If you know me well, you know that I am fascinated by the Marshal family. I did my undergrad dissertation on Isabel de Clare and her five daughters; my master’s thesis is going to examine William as a fictional character in the History. Written sometime after William’s death (1219), and commissioned by his eldest son, it details the man’s rise from penniless knight to regent of England up until his death. It’s written in verse, and the language is both ornate yet simple. Granted, it’s embellished – likely to present William as that often-declared ‘greatest knight’ – and straddles the line between fiction and fact. But that doesn’t make it any less intriguing, or entertaining. (However, unless you have a spare £150 or the three volumes are in a nearby library, you might struggle to find a way to read it. I wish it was regularly in print, I really do.)
- Medieval Medicine: A Reader – Faith Wallis
I should point out that this list is by no means objective; I am absolutely being biased (although I hate that word). And since I’m hoping to study for a PhD on late medieval female medicine, I’ve delved into the available sources. And this collection has it in droves. And, like most of these books listed, it’s still accessible to the wider public. If you like medical ‘grossness’, or even just weird medieval tidbits, you’ll love this. Who knew medieval viagra involved ewe’s milk? Or that there was a belief in three types of phlegm? Medieval Medicine is filled with so many strange and delightful remedies and beliefs in anatomy; I recommend it even if you’re not in academia – especially if you’re not in academia.
- The Oxford Handbook of Women and Gender in Medieval Europe – Judith M. Bennett and Ruth Mazo Karras (eds.)
Of course I had to put this in the list. It’s such a valuable collection of essays on medieval women and gender. Every time I pick it up I find something new. I wouldn’t recommend reading it in one go – it’s a brick of a book at 642 pages – but I do suggest dipping in and out to read an essay at a time. Particular favourites include Medicine and Natural Philosophy: Naturalistic Traditions by Katharine Park and Feminism: Christine de Pizan, Female Advocacy, and Women’s Textual Communities in the Late Middle Ages and Beyond by Roberta L. Krueger. Seriously, please read this book. I love, love, love it. (Plus, female historians! Always a bonus.)
So, there’s five of my favourites. I have so many others, but I’ll probably make another post talking about them. Let me know what your favourites are, and if you’ve got any medieval-based books you’d recommend!