The summer holiday is coming into sight, and, no doubt, history teachers across the land are beginning to think about their reading lists. I thought I’d take this opportunity to share what I think are some of the best things to read with a sequence of posts. There really isn’t much of a logic to my selection other than ‘these are things I found useful’.
This post: 1066-1509
The first lesson I ever taught was on the Norman Conquest and I hadn’t really studied the period at all since I was 11. I needed a quick, readable introduction to the conquest, and so I went with David Bates’ biography of William the Conqueror. I’d also recommend the chapter in Melvyn Bragg’s The Adventure of English as this is fully of juicy examples of how the conquest changed the English language.
I think many history teacher struggle a bit with the political narrative between 1066 and 1509. We tend to know a bit about things like Henry II’s quarrel with Thomas Becket, and then it gets a bit hazy. I am a fan of Simon Schama’s History of Britain, and the first volume is good for setting out a narrative in his characteristic flowery language, and it’s also full of passages that can be used with pupils. For more detail, David Carpenter’s The Struggle for Mastery is a fantastic introduction to British history in the central middle ages, while Christine Carpenter’s The Wars of the Roses is good on English politics in the later middle ages. The fourteenth to fifteenth centuries are particularly complex, yet Gerald Harriss’ tome Shaping the Nation really helped me make sense of things like the Hundred Years’ War and the Lancastrian inheritance.
Most history teachers I know feel more comfortable with British social and economic history in this period, particularly the ‘feudal system’ and the impact of the Black Death. There is a whole collection of essays in Stephen Rigby’s edited volume A Companion to Britain in the Late Middle Ages which cover land, trade, women, education, literature and – probably most importantly – religion. The volume also has some solid introductions to the politics of the period, and is very strong on the wider British dimension. James Hannam’s God’s Philosophers is a good revision to traditional views on medieval thought, while Rosemary Horrox’s Fifteenth-Century Attitudes contains a selection of essays that deal with the end of the period.
For a good introduction to the wider European context, I found Robert Bartlett’s The Making of Europe a good introduction, and one which does not focus entirely on the Crusades.
Next post will be on the early-modern period: please feel free to add you recommendations below!
N.B. I have linked each of the texts above to the relevant Amazon page, though I do not get any commission or anything like that. Why not check out your local library, or apply for a visitor’s ticket at your local university library?