The Medieval World

Article excerpt

Leading Italian scholar Alessandro Barbero's Charlemagne: Father of a Continent (University of California Press, 18.99 [pounds sterling]) is an important but engagingly written study of the man and the world he inhabited. Barbero's detailed research and sweeping knowledge of the institutions Charlemagne created brings to life his account of the man and what it meant to be king of the Franks while also describing everyday life and the changing political landscape of the time.

The Three Richards: Richard I, Richard II and Richard III by Nigel Saul (Hambledon & London, 19.95 [pounds sterling]) looks at three of England's best known kings and the surprising similarities in their life-stories. Each was brought up as a younger son not expected to accede to the throne; each died without leaving either sons or daughters; each was pious, and each died violently. This highly readable triple biography shows what it took to be a medieval king.

Lordship, Reform, and the Development of Civil Society in Medieval Italy: The Bishopric of Orvieto, 1100-1250 (University of Notre Dame Press, $50) by David Foote examines how three defining developments of the High Middle Ages--the feudal revolution, ecclesiastical reform, and state building--played out in a typical medieval Italian commune.

Mills in the Medieval Economy. England 1300-1540 by John Langdon (Oxford UP, 60 [pounds sterling) is a study of one of the most important technical technologies of the medieval era, and is enhanced by computerized analysis of the number and variety of mills in England in the later Middle Ages.

God's Clockmaker: Richard of Wallingford and the Invention of Time by John North (Hambledon & London, 19.95 [pounds sterling]) details the life of Richard of Wallingford, arguably England's greatest medieval scientist--as well as a monk and a leper--and how he built an extraordinary astronomical and astrological clock at St Albans.

Imagining Robin Hood: The Late Medieval Stories in Historical Context by A.J. Pollard (Routledge, 15.99 [pounds sterling]) takes us back to the fifteenth-century 'rymes' which wove ripping yarns, tales of derring-do and comic japes around a cast of familiar stock characters: Robin, Little John, the sheriff of Nottingham, the King. What was the significance of a set of tales which made heroes of a band of vicious criminals preying on travellers (mainly monks) and poaching deer (the king's), led by an outlawed forester, and being endlessly hunted by an inept law-enforcer? Pollard shows how the original Robin Hood represented a deep-rooted English cynicism about people in power and a longstanding popular distrust of the commitment of any government to making the world a better place.

In Fighting for Christendom: Holy War and the Crusades (Oxford UP, 12.99 [pounds sterling]), Christopher Tyerman discusses the Crusades in terms of issues such as colonialism, cultural exchange, economic exploitation, and the relationships between past and present, and by reassessing the medieval evidence, strips away contemporary and current myths and assumptions about crusading. …