Medieval History For Dummies®

Table of Contents


About This Book

Conventions Used in This Book

How This Book Is Organised

Part I: Starting Up the Middle Ages (450–800)

Part II: Forming the Basis of Europe (850–1100)

Part III: Waging Holy War: Crusading at Home and Abroad (1050–1300)

Part IV: Dealing with Domestic Dramas: Parliament, Priories and Plagues (1200–1300)

Part V: Ending the Middle and Beginning the Age of Discovery (1300–1492)

Part VI: The Part of Tens

Icons Used in This Book

Where to Go from Here

Part I: Starting Up the Middle Ages (450–800)

Chapter 1: Journeying Back to the Middle Ages: When, Where, What, Who?

Pinpointing the Middle Ages: The Middle of What Exactly?

Having the time of their lives

Establishing a timeline

Locating the Medieval World

Getting to Know the People of the Middle Ages

Moving around – a lot

Minding your language

Appreciating an Era

Bucking the trend: Medieval inventions

Encountering fascinating people

Chapter 2: Finishing Off the Roman Empire and Entering the (Not So) Dark Ages

Saying Goodbye to Antiquity

Dismantling Rome: The Empire that Died

Trying to manage a new threat: Attila the Hun

Crowning the last Emperor: Romulus Augustulus

Enduring in the East: Byzantium

Delving into the Dark Ages

Migrating during the fifth century

Moving on up with the Merovingians

Spreading Christianity

Chapter 3: Settling in England with the Anglo-Saxons

Keeping On Moving On: Early Migrations and Anglo-Saxon Action

Stepping in to help (and hinder): The Saxons

Setting up the Super Seven: The heptarchy

Christianising England, again

Assessing the Anglo-Saxon Impact

Governing England: Resistance is feudal

Laying down the law

Enjoying Anglo-Saxon culture

Chapter 4: Organising Early France & Germany: The Merovingians and Carolingians

Making Major Moves: The Merovingians

Amassing land

Squabbling constantly

Pondering Merovingian power

Rising to Power: The Carolingians

Making the most of the mayor

Running in the family

Hammering the Merovingians: Charles Martell

Playing with power after Charles: Pippin

Chapter 5: Becoming Great: Charlemagne and the New Roman Empire

Growing into Greatness: Charles’s Early Years

Laying into the Lombards

Suffering a small setback in Spain

Wrestling with the Saxons

Extending his reach

Becoming Emperor: Charles to Charlemagne

Gaining a crown

Defining the Holy Roman Empire

Bickering with the Byzantines

Living and Ruling as Emperor

Making reforms

Finding things grim up north

Passing On: Charlemagne’s Legacy

Part II: Forming the Basis of Europe (800–1100)

Chapter 6: Laying the Foundations of Europe

Following Charlemagne: Louis the Pious

Dividing up authority

Pondering mortality: The ordinatio imperii

Behaving less than piously

Marrying again – and fuelling civil war

Slicing Up the Pie Again: Lothair I and Afterwards

Forging a New England: Alfred the Great

Preparing for great things abroad

Turning things around

Reorganising the military

Influencing others after his death

Chapter 7: Linking East and West: Islam in Europe

Storming In from the Desert

Going back to the beginning

Powering up the caliph

Heading west

Seizing Hispania

Vanquishing the Visigoths: Tarik

Taking over: Abd ar-Rahman

Venturing Farther Afield

Hammering into France

Reaching into Italy

Living Under Muslim Rule

Encountering Slaves and Pirates

Selling people

Hunting the seas: Pirates of the Mediterranean

Losing Power

Chapter 8: Invading from the North: The Vikings

Transitioning from Norsemen to Vikings

Attacking the British Isles

Raiding farther afield

Sailing Far and Wide

Taking long journeys on longships

Colonising: Creating a new home away from home

Shifting from raiders to traders

Reaching into Russia

Connecting with Constantinople

Living the Viking Life

Examining Viking religion and beliefs

Grinding their axes: Viking warfare

Dispelling misconceptions about the Vikings

Declining and Leaving a Legacy

Changing with the times: Testaments and trade bans

Reaching far and wide

Chapter 9: Splitting the Church: Schisms between East and West

Walking the Walk: Early Medieval Missionaries

Following the leader of the pack: Boniface

Taking God on tour: Cyril and Methodius

Experiencing conversion issues

Creating Cracks in the Church: The Photian Schism

Pitting the pope against the patriarch

Coming to a head in 863

Splitting the Church: The Great Schism

Writing a letter with enormous impact: Michael I

Trying to heal the breach

Chapter 10: Revving Up the ‘Real’ Middle Ages with the Normans

Stormin’ Normandy

Settling in Northmannia

Building up the Duchy of Normandy: Gold and Frankish sense

Mounting the Norman Invasion – 1066 and All That!

Claiming William ‘The Bastard’

Making friends and foes

Looking towards England

Invading England: The Norman Conquest

Waging the Battle of Hastings

Transforming England: Normanisation

Building towers of power

Ringing the changes

Constructing Castles: The New Big Things

Defending your land and hosting guests

Touring early buildings: Motte and bailey castles

Visiting medieval castles

Journeying South: The Normans in the Mediterranean

Fortune hunting in southern Italy: the de Hauteville clan

Setting their sights on Sicily

Part III: Waging Holy War: Crusading at Home and Abroad (1050–1300)

Chapter 11: Uncovering the Origins of the Crusades

Seeking the Causes of the Crusades

Going berserk at Manzikert

Hungering for land

Calling for Crusade

Bringing on the knights

Venturing into the Kingdom of France

Finding your way round France

Meeting the king of France

Extending the call to France

Preparing for the First Crusade

Meeting some notable Crusaders

Planning the journey

Covering travel expenses

Chapter 12: Waging the First Crusade: 1096–1099

Participating in the People’s Crusade

Palling around with Peter the Hermit

Marching with the great unwashed

Falling apart

Persecuting Jews

Heading East

Taking Alexius’s oath

Making moves on Nicaea

Achieving the first victory at Dorylaeum

Establishing a new state in Edessa

Laying siege on Antioch

Capturing Jerusalem

Negotiating with the Egyptians

Stumbling onward

Retaking the city

Establishing the Kingdom of Jerusalem

Chapter 13: Struggling for Power: Popes Versus Monarchs

Getting Busy with Pope Gregory VII

Taking a broader view of the Church’s role: Papal reform

Creating and stating new rules

Putting people in power: The investiture question

Expanding the Kingdom: Henry I of England

Going from fourth to first

Laying down the law and nabbing Normandy

Presenting the Charter of Liberties

Dabbling in investiture

Dealing with Unfinished Business: Henry V

Gaining Paschal’s agreement

Reaching resolution with the Concordat of Worms

Comparing the Ends of Two Henrys

Chapter 14: Waging the Second Crusade and Crusading at Home

Maintaining Semi-Order in Outremer

Responding to Holy War

Stepping up jihad in Edessa

Catching Crusade Fever

Calling for another round

Going on Crusade – without leaving Europe

Venturing East Again: The Second Crusade

Going with the Germans

Following the French

Encountering Nur ed-Din: A new enemy

Losing focus in Antioch

Dead-ending at Damascus

Playing the blame game

Chapter 15: Pitting Richard I Against Saladin: The Third Crusade

Turning Up the Heat: The Rise of Saladin

Coming out on top in Egypt

Sweeping all before him

Taking Jerusalem

Readying for Round Three: Europe Prepares for Crusade

Dealing with false starts and empty promises

Roaring into battle: Richard the Lionheart

Duelling for Dominance: Richard versus Saladin

Vying for Outremer

Besieging Acre – for years

Dealing with diplomatic baggage

Regaining Jerusalem (sort of)

Chapter 16: Following the Fourth Crusade and Other Failures

Playing a Game of Smash ’n’ Grab: The Fourth Crusade

Upping the ante: Bigger papal bargains

Struggling to find a leader

Securing Venetian transport

Sacking Constantinople

Crusading in Europe

Converting the Baltic region, again

Reclaiming Castile: The Reconquista

Fighting the enemy within: Heretics a plenty

Finishing with the Final Crusades

Regaining Jerusalem: Frederick II and the Sixth Crusade

Experiencing the last hurrah

Critiquing Crusading

Part IV: Dealing with Domestic Dramas: Parliament, Priories and Plagues (1200–1300)

Chapter 17: Having Trouble in England: John, Henry III and Edward I

Reliving the Ruinous Reign of King John

Splitting with France

Collapsing further

Agreeing to the Magna Carta

Reaching an ignominious end

Making the Best of a Bad Job: Henry III

Pitting baron against baron

Bursting out in civil war

Recovering the crown: The battle of Evesham

Passing quickly

Haggling over Homage: Edward I

Waging Welsh wars

Losing himself in France

Taking up the Great Cause: The Scottish question

Ending things in a draw

Chapter 18: Meeting Medieval Monks and Merchants

Contemplating the Religious Orders

Examining the origins of monasticism

Going about monastic work

Balancing Profits and Losses: Medieval Trade

Changing the very nature of trade

Trudging through Italian trade wars and tribulations

Expanding in the North

Chapter 19: Piling On the Popes: Avignon and the Antipopes

Reaching Crisis Point: Church versus State

Continuing an eternal argument

Making mounds of money

Fighting for the top: Boniface VIII and Philip IV

Establishing the New Papacy in Avignon

Fleeing to France

Living like kings

Breaking Up: Another Schism and the Antipopes

Returning to Rome: Gregory XI

Healing the split: The Council of Constance

Continuing the argument

Chapter 20: Facing God’s Judgement: Dealing with the Black Death

Journeying Far and Wide: Death Comes West

Tracking down the plague’s origins

Spreading across Europe

Creating the perfect breeding ground

Experiencing the symptoms

Treating the plague

Responding to the Plague

Posing theories and propagating persecutions

Regrouping after the plague: England

Assessing the Plague’s Impact

Calculating the death toll

Affecting culture

Part V: Ending the Middle and Beginning the Age of Discovery (1300–1492)

Chapter 21: Beginning One Hundred Years of War

Laying the Groundwork for a Long Struggle

Delving into dynastic ding-dong

Stepping in discreetly: Philip of Valois

Gathering the storm

Beginning the Battle: The Edwardian War

Spinning the ‘wool war’

Feeling a credit crunch

Fighting – and taunting – the French

Surveying fights elsewhere in France

Taking the Advantage: England

Fighting all the way

Meeting at last: The battle of Crecy

Rising up with the Black Prince

Collapsing in France

Recovering with the French: The Caroline War

Stoking the flames of war

Busting the English at Biscay

Regrouping: The Plantagenets need a new plan

Chapter 22: Pausing the War: Dealing with Unrest at Home

Getting Riled Up in England

Rooting out the causes of revolt

Revolting with the peasants

Regarding Henry IV: Bolingbroke Seizes Power

Perusing Henry’s path to power

Muddling through an unhappy reign

Chapter 23: Turning the Tide of War (Twice!): Henry V and Joan of Arc

Envisioning English Triumph: Henry V and the Lancastrian War

Travelling the road to Agincourt

Conquering France (almost)

Recovering with the French: Riding to the Rescue with Saint Joan

Rising from the bottom

Taking the initiative

Mounting a holy war

Recovering miraculously

Going on trial and meeting her end

Wrapping Up the Hundred Years’ War

Realigning at the Congress of Arras

Retreating, little by little

Ending the matter

Assessing the legacy

Chapter 24: Moving On from the Medieval Era

Heading Back to the Future: The Renaissance

Digging for the Renaissance’s roots: Cold hard cash

Feeding on the stream of culture

Extending the Renaissance throughout Europe

Bidding Bye-Bye to Byzantium

Making way for the new Turks

Crusading for the sake of trade

Taking Constantinople, in all its faded glory

Launching a new empire

Exploring a Whole New World

Sailing to the East: Vasco da Gama

Going off the map: Christopher Columbus

Part VI: The Part of Tens

Chapter 25: Ten Rubbish Rulers

King Stephen of England (c. 1096–1154)

King John of England (1166–1216)

Vortigern (c. 450)

Charles ‘The Bad’ of Navarre (1332–1387)

Louis V of France (c. 967–987)

John I of France (1316–1316)

Louis X of France (1289–1316)

Justinian II of Byzantium (669–711)

Justin II of Byzantium (c. 520–578)

Aethelred ‘The Unready’ (968–1016)

Chapter 26: Ten Medieval Pastimes

Playing Football

Savouring Subtleties

Trying Out Charms and Remedies

Enjoying Music and Dancing

Hocking Your Friends


Hunting for Sport

Laughing Aloud at Mummery

Going Ga-Ga for Goliards

Jousting the Day Away

Chapter 27: Ten Great Castles

Krak des Chevaliers, Syria

The Tower of London, London, England

Tintagel Castle, Cornwall, England

Caernarfon Castle, Wales

Kenilworth Castle, Warwickshire, England

Bodiam Castle, East Sussex, England

Wartburg Castle, Eisenach, Germany

Malbork Castle, Malbork, Poland

Caerphilly Castle, Caerphilly, Wales

Guedelon Castle, Treigny, France

Chapter 28: Ten Medieval People Who Changed the World

Charlemagne (742–814)

Anselm of Canterbury (1033–1109)

William of Normandy (c. 1027–1087)

Pope Urban II (c. 1035–1099)

Kublai Khan (1215–1294)

Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225–1274)

John Wycliffe (1320–1384)

Johannes Gutenberg (1398–1468)

Lorenzo d’Medici (1449–1492)

Christopher Columbus (c. 1451–1506)

Chapter 29: Ten Great Medieval Innovations

Creating Europe

Developing New Languages

Inventing Books

Bringing About Banking

Establishing World Trade

Improving Navigation and Cartography

Setting Up Universities

Combating with the Cannon

Taking On Sports

Innovating and Inventing

Medieval History For Dummies®

by Stephen Batchelor


About the Author

Stephen Batchelor has taught Ancient and Medieval History for a number of years to a wide variety of student groups, and is currently Head of Faculty for Creative & Visual Arts at MidKent College.

Stephen has travelled extensively around the Mediterranean and worked there as an archaeological tour guide. He has written book reviews for Current Archaeology and History Today and is the author of The Ancient Greeks For Dummies.

Authors’ Acknowledgments

I would like to thank several people for their involvement in this book: firstly, thanks to Steve Edwards and all the team at Wiley who worked on the project, and to Samantha Spickernell for her enthusiastic support of the original idea. I would also like to thank my mother for her support and the loan of her spare room to use as a library, and my partner Samantha for putting up with me once again spending hours in the solitary activity of writing. Special thanks too are due to the very talented Sarah Shade for the tremendous illustration of a Viking ship that appears in Chapter 8.

Finally, I would like to thank the students at Richmond Adult Community College whom it was my pleasure to teach between 1998 and 2007. As a group they reignited by my interest in the Medieval World and their enthusiasm, ideas and desire to make the connections between so many disparate places and peoples played a big part in my thinking for this book.

Publisher’s Acknowledgments

We’re proud of this book; please send us your comments through our Dummies online registration form located at

Some of the people who helped bring this book to market include the following:

Commissioning, Editorial, and Media Development

Project Editor: Steve Edwards

Content Editor: Jo Theedom

Commissioning Editor: Samantha Spickernell

Assistant Editor: Ben Kemble

Development Editor: Brian Kramer

Copy Editor: Andy Finch

Technical Editor: Amanda Richardson

Proofreader: Dawn Bates

Production Manager: Daniel Mersey

Cover Photos: © Photononstop/

Cartoons: Rich Tennant (

Composition Services

Project Coordinator: Lynsey Stanford

Layout and Graphics: Tim Detrick, Joyce Haughey, Melissa K. Smith

Proofreader: Laura Albert

Indexer: Cheryl Duksta

Brand Reviewer: Jennifer Bingham


I haven’t always been interested in the Middle Ages. My main interest used to be the Ancient World of Greece and Rome, and the Middle Ages always seemed to me a bit like the clearing up after a particularly good party. The period can be difficult to get your head around, what with being in the middle rather than at the start or at the end. Studying medieval history often means that you have to know what came before and can leave you with an awful lot of questions about what happened next. The times were certainly confusing too, with bits of territory changing hands all the time, and just as you get used to a king or a succession of kings, they all die and somebody else takes over.

But when I found out more about the Middle Ages, my opinions changed. I began to see that a great deal of the world that you and I know today came into being during the medieval period. I realised that some of today’s most pressing issues and biggest conflicts have their roots in events that happened more than 1,000 years ago. I also got to know more about the people (many of them flat-out characters) who populate the period, the fantastic castles that dot the landscape and the curious, bizarre and sometimes extremely unpleasant things that people did. In the process, I began to knit together and understand how the world got from the Roman Empire to the Renaissance – and beyond.

The more I read and discovered about the Middle Ages, the more I realised that in many ways the period has a greater relevance to my life than what happened in the time of the Ancient Greeks and the Roman emperors. Also, medieval history turns out to be just as much fun to read about as those earlier periods. If I had the chance to travel back in time to the medieval period, I’d jump at the opportunity. Well, as long as I managed to avoid the danger of violent death, the bad food, the horrid diseases and the smell (I’m confident that it would smell really, really bad).

About This Book

This book is an introduction to the Middle Ages – an attempt to give everybody the chance to get excited about the period: and what a period it was. Traditionally, people consider the Middle Ages to have lasted between 1100 and 1500, but in this book I look at what happened before then and where the Middle Ages came from. I start with the collapse of the Western Roman Empire in AD 476 and carry on to 1500 – a period of over 1,000 years! The events that I look at spanned territory from the west coast of Spain to the edges of Arabia, from Greenland to the north of the African continent. The period features countless numbers of different peoples, all moving from place to place, invading new areas and then being driven out by new sets of invaders.

The Middle Ages also featured the creation and development of many modern-day countries. Although they already existed as landmasses, France, England and Germany came into being as countries during the Middle Ages and began to develop the individual identities and cultures you now recognise.

The period also saw the first big clashes between western Europe and the near East and between the faiths of Christianity and Islam. Following the amazing Islamic conquests during the seventh century, Christianity responded with the Crusades of the eleventh to fourteenth centuries. The events and arguments of this tumultuous period are still at the centre of modern discussions and increase in relevance every day.

In addition, the medieval period is one that, save for some exceptions, historians still don’t know a great deal about. New archaeological discoveries and surviving written sources, however, mean that despite the passage of time understanding of the period is growing. New pieces of information keep emerging. I’m writing these words in January 2010, and by the time you read them, hundreds of new medieval objects buried in the Earth are sure to have been discovered, enabling yet more pieces of the jigsaw to fall into place.

Conventions Used in This Book

As you may have worked out by now, one of the big issues when reading about the Middle Ages is geography. The events in this book take place over a huge canvas, and very often boundaries shift and change every few years. Maps appear throughout the book to reflect some of these changes – the most detailed is Figure 1-1 in Chapter 1 (which you can also find online at Wherever possible I’m specific about where an event happened, but the places may not always appear on the maps.

Why is this the case? Well, some important events in medieval history occurred nowhere in particular. For example, many battles in which thousands were bashing the living daylights out of each other took place in open fields that are impossible to identify nowadays. Historians guess that these battles took place near to major towns, but this isn’t always accurate. For example, the Battle of Hastings in 1066 (which I describe in Chapter 10) didn’t happen in Hastings.

The other big issue when exploring medieval history is simply the huge amount that happened during the period. In all, I cover about 1,000 years of history. This book is intended as an introduction to the subject, and so obviously I can’t include everything. I skim over whole groups of people and skip some series of events. Think of this book as your starting point. I hope that when you finish, you’ll feel like going further, exploring other areas and seeking the answers to new questions.

An initially confusing thing about studying history is the way that we refer to centuries. Specifically, the confusing part is that the number of a century (such as the ‘20’ in ‘2010’) doesn’t directly refer to the relevant year. For example, I’m writing this book in 2010, which falls within the twenty-first century – not the twentieth. Because we date time from AD 1 – the year that Jesus Christ was born – the first century was made up of the years between AD 1 and AD 99. When AD100 began, it actually started the second century AD. So when I mention, for example, the thirteenth century, what I’m referring to are the years between AD 1200 and 1299. Simple!

Oh yes, and just a note about language. Wherever possible I describe things in English and use English names and words. Sometimes I use terms in the original language, but I always give the English alternative. I do this for good reason. People during the Middle Ages spoke hundreds of different languages that were further broken down into numerous regional dialects. Often words are translated slightly differently or spelt in different and unusual ways. Wherever possible, I use the most common spelling of a name, place or term. But don’t be surprised if you read another book or do some online research and encounter different spellings. That’s the nature of historical writing. Take as an example the famous Viking, king Canute (who features in Chapter 3). He can be known as Canute, Kanute, Knut, Cnut or Canute the Great. Each is correct in its own way!

How This Book Is Organised

This book is split into six parts. Five of them are a chronological guide to medieval history and the sixth, the Part of Tens, is a series of lists of things to look into next.

Part I: Starting Up the Middle Ages (450–800)

This part explains how the Middle Ages arose and what came before them. I look at the end of the Roman Empire, how it completely collapsed in Western Europe and how it became the Byzantine Empire in Eastern Europe. I shed some light on the ‘Dark Ages’ that followed and show that they aren’t quite as dark as people think. I also take a look at how the areas of modern-day France and Germany came to fall under the control of one people – the Franks. Their domination became so complete that one man, Charlemagne, managed to create himself a whole new empire to play with. I also examine what was happening in Britain, where the departure of the Roman legions left a nice big hole for the Anglo-Saxons to fill.

Part II: Forming the Basis of Europe (850–1100)

The Middle Ages really get going here! In this part I look at how Europe went through massive alterations and frequent changes of rulers and even ruling peoples. I examine the Holy Roman Empire and how disputes between its rulers eventually ended in the creation of the territories that became France and Germany. I spend two chapters looking at two different peoples who had an astonishing impact during the period: the Islamic armies that swept north and westwards and the Vikings who came south and journeyed as far as North America. I also consider how the medieval Christian Church developed, how it became more complex and how divisions and tensions ultimately arose that caused it to split. I introduce you to the tough, adventurous warriors who descended from Viking stock – the Normans – and detail their conquests in England.

Part III: Waging Holy War: Crusading at Home and Abroad (1050–1300)

Part III is all about Crusading, an activity that became very popular during the twelfth century. When the Byzantine Empire suffered a series of defeats by Arab forces, the pope appealed to Western Europe to take military action and reclaim the Holy Land in the name of Christianity. His appeal was amazingly successful. Over the next 200 years, a whole series of military expeditions occurred. Most ended in abject failure, and some never even made it out of Europe. At the same time some leaders took to Crusading within Europe against those they perceived to be unchristian and enemies of the Church. This period is fascinating, full of tremendous stories that veer from the appallingly brutal to the absolutely bizarre.

Part IV: Dealing with Domestic Dramas: Parliament, Priories and Plagues (1200–1300)

In this part I show how Medieval Europe changed during the thirteenth century. This period was a time when kings were increasingly coming under pressure to give power to the nobles who served them. Some, like the weak King John of England, gave in, and parliament was created. The period also saw a massive explosion in trade as the wealthy city states of Italy began to expand their interests across the Mediterranean, taking advantage of the inroads made by Crusaders. This period also saw big changes in the Church with monasteries and religious movements becoming increasing influential. In fact, the papacy argued so much that it split with itself and several people claimed to be pope at the same time. I also tackle the grim story of the Black Death, the plague that devastated Europe for a decade and killed more than 75 million people.

Part V: Ending the Middle and Beginning the Age of Discovery (1300–1492)

When did the Middle Ages come to an end? It’s a great question and in Part V I take a look at the final events, when the medieval period began to merge into the Renaissance. I recount the Hundred Years’ War between England and France and the amazing battles that took place at Crecy and Agincourt. I also spend some time with the Peasants’ Revolt in England, when the downtrodden had finally had enough and the Lollard movement saw them storming London and demanding change. The part ends with a chapter on the fifteenth century when the Middle Ages ceased to be: the Renaissance in Italy, the end of the Byzantine Empire and the voyages of Christopher Columbus resulted in a whole new world.

Part VI: The Part of Tens

The final part contains five brief chapters in which I give you some ideas of people and places to explore next. You can find a chapter on some of the worst kings of the medieval period (for which a lot of competition exists) as well as a chapter dedicated to ten people who really changed the world. Check out my list of the best medieval castles that you can still visit today, along with some of the more curious and unpleasant practices in which medieval people engaged. Something for everybody!

Icons Used in This Book

The book is loaded with information and occasionally I use the following icons to bring your attention to particular issues, noteworthy events or specific information:

intheirownwords_medieval.eps Many documents and literary sources survive from the Middle Ages. As often as possible, I give examples. Original writing from the period has always helped history come alive to me: I hope this technique works for you, too.

remember.eps I use this icon to highlight information that’s really important or helps set the scene for something I discuss later in the chapter or the rest of the book.

seenonscreen.eps An increasing number of films are being made about historical events from the Middle Ages. Some of them are great, and some of them are rubbish! Whenever the opportunity exists, I mention films and highlight aspects that are worth checking out.

technicalstuff.eps If you’re just looking for a general overview, by all means skip over sections with this icon. The information is interesting but not absolutely vital.

elsewhereintheworld_medieval.eps The book covers 1,000 years or so and a vast geographical area. Occasionally I use this icon to point out an event that was taking place elsewhere, which gives a further context to the topic at hand.

mythbuster_medieval.eps A lot of ‘facts’ which people think they know about the Middle Ages aren’t actually true at all, as with any period of history. I use this icon to debunk myths and set the record straight. Vikings wearing horned helmets, King Alfred burning the cakes and Cnut ordering the sea to stop in front of him; they and other tales all get the MythBuster treatment!

Where to Go from Here

So what next? My advice is to start from the beginning and read on. The book is chronological and tells the story of the Middle Ages from beginning to end. Each part focuses on a different portion of the overall story, and so you can start with the period in which you’re most interested.

However, each of the chapters is also like an individual essay on a specific topic, and so if you already know a bit about medieval history you can just jump straight in with a topic that interests you. For example, if you’re keen on the Crusades, go straight to Part III, or if you want to find out about Joan of Arc, have a look at Chapter 23.

Alternatively, you can start with the Part of Tens, see what grabs your interest and then refer back to the relevant chapter or part. Whatever you decide, I hope you have fun!

Part I

Starting Up the Middle Ages (450–800)


In this part . . .

So when did the Middle Ages happen? The answer is more complicated than you may think. In this part I look at what happened when the Roman Empire came to an end and numerous new states and countries began to emerge. I also look at how the Anglo-Saxons made England their own and how a whole new Holy Roman Empire came into being through a man who modestly called himself Charles the Great. But this part isn’t all empire building – you can also find thrilling epic poetry, a bold appearance by Attila the Hun and a homicidal German queen named Brunhilda!