"England - Britain - Europe in the Middle Ages"

Graduate Class spring 2001

Can you identify the bits by their modern names? The map comes from Norman Davies, The Isles (2000),p. 6, and I strongly recommend reading his Introduction, pp. xxi-xlii, as a nice, readable, even amusing way into the problems of this subject. How can we best move beyond the various nationalisms to see the history and culture of the Atlantic Archipelago or the Isles in the middle ages as that of one unit within larger ones?

This will be a reading seminar, concentrating on primary materials read and discussed round the table week by week. Since it will be oriented towards distant teaching requirements, we shall in the first instance read texts in translation. I shall make texts available as required in a single copy for students to deal with as they see fit for their own use. I am very much open to suggestions on which texts to study. 

I have, however, two course goals of my own. First is to encourage the change of perspective in "English" History which the Course Title suggests. The European context of English history is now fully recognized even by English historians, but still offers much more mileage to both researchers and teachers. Rather less recognized to date, but an idea whose time has patently come is the challenge of constructing a new Area Study, as it were, consisting of the peoples of the British Isles. We shall early on in the course read a couple of the new breed of text-books treating this newly defined unit of study and explore approaches to it. The enterprise raises some awkward conceptual problems. Previous historiography has largely been framed within the narratives of the four peoples whose nations have survived the winnowing process of time, Welsh, Scots, Irish and English. But this approach cannot handle at all the early middle ages, the period which, for example, forms the broader context for Old English literature. For this a genuine area study vision is required, which we may have to invent for ourselves. Perhaps one pay-off may be to avoid future absurdities like that- to give one example - of Susan Crane's entitling her otherwise excellent book on specifically English literature Insular Romance, even though it included no coverage of romances in any of the Celtic languages or anything produced outside England! 

My other goal is to examine the different ways in which literary and historical scholars can cooperate in the cultural study of "Medieval England, Britain, Europe". This is a challenge that does not just concern historians. Do the literatures of the non-English parts of the area not affect Old and Middle English? That would be surprising! We all know of one area where the effect is very substantial, the "Matter of Britain". But that is OK, because we can treat it as an import, like so much else from France. Ha! Maybe it does matter whether Arthurian sources  are Welsh or Breton. And there must be more than Arthur, both earlier and later. The inevitable relations of the English with Britons living right among them well into the period of extant Old English writings, and of war, trade, and intermarriage on various borders thereafter should be enough to raise serious questions. Am I just ignorant, or have these been largely left fallow, except by a few weird characters with their own (often nationalist) agendas?

    I hope we may select texts and some secondary discussion to raise questions of interdisciplinary interest about the different languages read and written in the area and the literatures thus created. On a previous occasion, we compared Anglo-Norman and Middle English versions of some of the romances created and enjoyed within medieval England with enlightening results. I should certainly like to attempt this again.

Another attractive possibility might be to study, perhaps over several weeks, a major chronicle. I have in the past used for this purpose Marjorie Chibnall's edition of The Ecclesiastical History of Orderic Vitalis, since it presents the Latin with parallel text English translation and very helpful notes, and because the volume that covers the Norman Conquest is available in paper at reasonable cost. Again, I hope for useful exchange of approaches between historians, for whom the reading of chronicles is almost bread and butter, and literary specialists, some of the best of whom (Andy Galloway not least) are now seeing the attractions of submitting this kind of writing to literary and other non-historical forms of criticism.

I am very much open to suggestions for other topics and texts. I shall deem this course a failure unless it confronts historians with literary and other people from Medieval Studies (or elsewhere) and gives us all a chance to learn from each other.

My official Office Hours are still TBA, but I shall be happy to see people in my office (MG 307), or even over a coffee elsewhere, by arrangement. My phone numbers are 5-2076 (office, and a matter of luck) and 257-3168 (home). E-Mail is prh3@cornell.edu.


Books Ordered at Campus Store as “Required Readings”:

FRAME, R. Political Development of the British Isles, 1100-1400 Oxford (OPUS)

LEHMBERG, S.F.The Peoples of the British Isles: a New History, vol. I Wadsworth 
CLANCHY, M.T.From Memory to Written Record, 2nd ed.Blackwells

RACKHAM, O.The History of the CountrysideJ.M. Dent

HOSKINS, W.G.The Making of the English LandscapePenguin

ADOMNANLife of St. Columba, tr. SharpePenguin

Ordered as “Optional Readings”:

BEDEThe Ecclesiastical History…OUP: World’s Classics

DAVIES, N.The Isles: A History(1200 pp. @ $25/30)Oxford


Some Recommended Paperback "Advanced" Textbooks, which I could still order:-

P. Sawyer, From Roman Britain to Norman England
M. Chibnall, Anglo-Norman England
The Oxford Illustrated History of Britain, ed. K.O Morgan (1984) is also available in fascicles, incl. Salway & Blair (to 1066), & Gillingham & Griffiths (1066-1485)
F. Barlow, The English Church, 1000-1066; Ditto, 1066-1154



The Case for a History of the British Isles

We shall read R. Frame, The Political Development of the British Isles, 1100-1400 and S.F. Lehmberg, The Peoples of the British Isles: a New History, vol. I (From Prehistoric Times to 1688) (Belmont CA: Wadsworth Pub. Co., 1992). Other possible text-books: Morgan, Oxford Illustrated Hist of Britain (above); Hugh Kearney, The British Isles: a History of Four Nations (Cambridge: University Press, 1989).Norman Davies, The Isles (Oxford, 2000) is too expensive to buy, and on too broad a scale, but is on Reserve and the first four chapters (omitting perhaps 84-101, 213-25) are worth a read.
J. Gillingham, "The Beginnings of English Imperialism", J. Hist. Sociology 5 (1992) and Robert Bartlett, The Making of Europe for literature & irritation.

England within Europe:

This has been a major theme of historical study throughout my career. You can test the waters effectively from J. Campbell, The Anglo-Saxons and J. Le Patourel, The Norman Empire. J.C. Holt, “Colonial England, 1066-1215” (1997) introducing a collection of his essays nicely reviews a lot of literature on the subject, including the all-important subject of language. And in the later middle ages there is always Gascony and the French (eg Hundred Years War), two arguably separable issues; see Margaret Wade Labarge, English Gascony for a good introductory read and (at a more specialist level) Malcolm Vale, English Gascony, 1399-1453 or his The origins of the Hundred Years War : the Angevin legacy, 1250-1340 (1996 edn.).

Bede, Ecclesiastical History, ed. (with trans.) Colgrave & Mynors and (with copious notes) by Plummer, both on reserve.J.N. Wallace-Hadrill, A Hist. Commentary (1988) [OLIN BR746. B39 W18]


Keynes & Lapidge, Alfred the Great (Penguin) presenting virtually all the sources in translation ought to be on every graduate's bookshelves. Fertile ground for historian-linguist exchanges.

Norman Conquest

The Ecclesiastical History of Orderic Vitalis (Bks. III & IV), ed. & trans. Marjorie Chibnall (Oxford Medieval Texts, 1969, paperback edn 1990). Please buy this from the Campus Store. D. Wilkinson & J. Cantrell, The Normans in Britain (Macmillan, Documents & Debates: London, 1987) a collection of source texts arranged topically with student questions at "6th Form" level. Sawyer, From Roman Britain ..., cap. 8.


No undergraduate course can avoid it, nor apparently can any literary scholar! Often tied to the last topic ("Was "Feudalism" introduced to England by the Normans?) , but the most interesting approach is is perhaps via the debate on "Bastard Feudalism" in Past & Present 125, 131 (1989, 1991). Also J.M.W. Bean, From Lord to Patron (1989) and M. Hicks, Bastard Feudalism (1995), not to mention Susan Reynolds, Fiefs and Vassals. And two good articles, with implications, int. al., for artistic patronage: S. Waugh, "Tenure to Contract: Lordship and Clientage in 13th-cent. England", EHR (1986), 811-39 and F. Lachaude, "Liveries of Robes in England, c. 1200-c. 1330", EHR 111 (1996), 279-98.

Religion & Secular Business in Monasticism

Hemingi Chartularium, i. 270-3, 282-6
R.V. Lennard, Rural England, 1066-1135,
M.D. Knowles, The Monastic Order in England, esp. cap. xxv.
E. Mason, St. Wulfstan of Worcester (1990), esp. cap. 6.
Jocelin of Brakelond, Chronicle of ... Bury St. Edmunds, tr. D. Greenway & J. Sayers (Oxford: World Classics, 1989), ed./tr. H.E. Butler (Nelsons Med. Classics, 1949).
The Chronicle of Battle Abbey, ed./tr. E. Searle (1980).

Religion (Women's)

The Ancrene Riwle, a Middle English work, 2 of whose versions are now available in PB transls. (M.B. Salu 1955; and a recent Penguin) is very little used by historians. Compare with some Cistercian source like Walter Daniel's Life of Ailred of Rielvaux, ed. F.M. Powicke, or even The St. Alban's Psalter, ed. O. Pacht, C.R. Dodwell & F. Wormald (1960) made for the subject of The Life of Christina of Markyate, ed./tr. C.H Talbot (1959; 1987).

Jewish-Christian relations

G. Langmuir, "The Knight’s Tale of Young Hugh of Lincoln", Speculum 47 (1972), reprinted among his collected papers, would be an excellent text, with the sources there cited.

Norman Conquest of Ireland

M.-T. Flanagan, Irish Society, Anglo-Norman Settlers & Angevin Kingship: Interaction in Ireland in the Late 12th Century (Oxford1989)
St. Bernard, The Life of St. Malachy.
G.H. Orpen (ed.), The Song of Dermot & the Earl, (recently reissued in PB, Llanerch P.)
Gerald of Wales, Topography of Ireland (Opera, Rolls Series, vol. 5), trans. T. Forester or J.J. O'Meara (1951)
----- Expugnatio Hibernica (Opera, vol 5), trans. A.B. Scott & F.X. Martin (1978)

Government & the Intellectuals

Richard FitzNeal, Dialogus de Scaccario, ed. C. Johnson (revd. 1983, with parallel translation) or ed. A. Hughes, C.G. Crump & Johnson (1902); also transld. in EHD ii.
R.W. Southern, "England's Place in the C12 Renaissance", History (1960) & in his Medieval Humanism.
J. Hudson, "... Richard FitzNigel & the Dialogue of the Exchequer", "St. Andrews Conference Volume" (1992)
R. Thomson, "England & the C12 Renaissance", Past & Present 101 (1983).
Beryl Smalley, The Becket Conflict and the Schools

History of the Landscape

This has been a growth area over the last decade or so. There are finally textbooks from which one can teach the subject for England even in the US. Knowledge of the physical environment is not an obvious strength of literary studies. And it is much harder to find materials outside England. I have therefore ordered two of the most readable and enjoyable of the available books for your scholarly bookshelf, Hoskins, The Making of the English Landscape (the book that really set it all going) and Oliver Rackham, History of the Countryside (consider, for example, the influence of rabbits on British cultures!).


An obvious inter-disciplinary topic. M.T. Clanchy, From Memory to Written Record (Blackwells: Oxford & Boston, 2nd ed. 1992) should be on all shelves. To go beyond Clanchy and towards fruitful interfaces with more literary studies, see N. Orme, "Lay Literacy in England, 1100-1300" and A. Wendehorst, "Who Could Read and Write in the Middle Ages?", which cover pp. 35-88 of England and Germany in the High Middle Ages , ed. A. Haverkamp & H. Vollrath (1996). R. Bartlett, The Making of Europe, cap. 8 is very interesting on linguistic determinants of ethnicity. PRH, "The Charter as a Source for the Early Common Law", J. Legal Hist. 12 (1991), 173-89 addresses the issue of the more precise drafting that accompanied the move from orality through – he claims -- the emergence of the "Flat-arsed Conveyancer".

So-called "Insular Romances" & other literary texts available in more than one language

Each of you could choose a doublet to comment on in class towards the end of the semester. S. Crane, Insular Romance gave me the idea & offers examples; cf. R. Field, "The Anglo-Norman Background to Alliterative Romance", in D. Lawton (ed.) M.Eng. Alliterative Poetry & its Lit. Background (1982) and I. Short, "Patrons & Polyglot: French literature in 12th-cent. England", A-N St. xiv (1992). Please to clear choices with me, but I set no limits as to date or nature. What about the OE Apolonius of Tyre? Or we could use W. Calin, The French Tradition & the Literature of Medieval England (1994) as our target.

Dispute "narratives"

The stories told by jurors in the very artificial conditions of royal courts invite inter-disciplinary study. I can provide a C13 selection, including some still hot from the archives.
"Countess Amicia's Case", a decision central to Milsom, The Legal Framework of English Feudalism (1976), but for which a political interpretation is suggested in Law & History Review 5. 2 (1987), 494-6, is available in print. And see R. Mortimer (ed.), Suffolk Charters xv (1996), intro. & no. 5.

Law & Order

C.A.F. Meekings, Surrey Eyre of 1235, vol. I (Surrey Rec.Soc. xxxi 1979); H.R.T. Summerson, "The Structure of Law Enforcement in 13th Cent. England", American J. Legal Hist. 23 (1979), 313-27. Perhaps some MS cases.

The Literature of "High Farming"

D. Oschinsky, Walter of Henley (1971), esp. pp. 308-42

P.D.A. Harvey, Manorial Records of Cuxham... (Oxon. Record Soc., 50, 1976 for 1974), 1-83 (Intro.).

The Law and Serfdom

We might critique Hyams, King, Lords & Peasants in Med. England, the standard (and little read) treatment, in the light of an interesting unpublished case he neglected to use. And/or R.H. Hilton, "A 13th-Cent. Poem about Disputed Villein Services", English Hist. Rev. (1941)

"Law" for Peasants and in the Edwardian [1272-1377] Village

Medieval Society and the Manor Court, ed,. Z. Razi and R. Smith (1996), Caps. 2-3 contain opposing views. TSS of the panel at the annual meeting of the American Society for Legal History at which everyone trashed cap. 2 before publication can be made available too.


R.B. Dobson (ed./trans.), The Peasants' Rising of 1381 (1970) contains virtually all the sources in English. There has been much interest in some of them recently among literary scholars., eg Steven Justice, Writing & Rebellion (1994) [PR275. H5 J96] and Paul Strohm, Hochon's Arrow (1992), cap. ? [PR275. S63 S76x 1992].

Historical Novels

There has been a rash of medieval "Whodunnits" recently. The best of these, notably Ellis Peters' "Brother Cadfael" series are highly enjoyable to read. But novelists have the license to approach important but undocumented topics of sentiment and sensibility, say, where historian angels fear to tread. They also have the obligation to make archaeological sense of the scenarios through which their characters operate. Thus they make concrete much that cautious scholars leave in necessary obscurity. Both their insights and their howlers can be very instructive to us stick-in-the-mud scholars. Students enjoy them too. Can we use such works for teaching? A possible topic for the end of the semester.

I had ordered Randall Wallace, Braveheart through the Campus Store, but cancelled the order when I realised I could get copies online for half the price. Alas! I have never seen the movie! but believe that now is the moment. (Net Lists like MEDIEV-L and H-Albion have long discussion threads in their easily accessible archives.) Let us see the video towards the end of term, after having perhaps read the novel. That discussion could be interesting.

Collective Bibliographyhhall place draft contributions hereabouts until we see how we want to organize this enterprise.

1. Jen Watkins:        From reviews in Medieval Archaeology.

2.  Carrie Fox         From Reviews in Cambrian Medieval Welsh Studies and other specialized Welsh history periodicals.

3. Carrie Fox          Some materials on Landscape Studies in the Isles, especially outside England.

4. Alizah Holstein     From Anglo Norman Studies.

5. John Sebastian    From Thirteenth Century England.

6. Johanna Kramer From Journal of the Haskins Society.

7. Doug Burgess    From Transactions of the Royal Historical Society.

You might also like to look at drafts of more generally helpful Bibliographies ready for further development.

Research Tools Bibliography

A Casual Taxonomy of Things a Medievalist Should Know    (NEW! Direct link to the author's own updated version)

A Sample (?Model) Bibliography on Psychohistory