Medieval history books: new titles for autumn/winter 2021

01 September 2021
Fragment of a Tapestry or Wall Hanging ca. 1420–30
Immerse yourself in the medieval era with History Scotland’s pick of soon-to-be-published history titles on life in the Middle Ages.

This is the perfect time of year to immerse yourself in a great read. We take a look at some of a selection of highly-anticipated medieval history reads, recently published or due to be published over the coming weeks.

1. The Late Medieval Scottish Parliament: Politics and the three Estates, 1424–1488. By Roland Tanner

In this ground-breaking study of the medieval parliament, Roland Tanner gives the Scottish Parliament a human face by examining the actions and motives of those who attended. In the past, the Scottish Parliament was seen as a weak and ineffective institution – damned because of its failure to be more like its English counterpart.

QUICK LINK: New research on unknown names from the Declaration of Arbroath

But Roland Tanner shows that the old picture of weakness is far from accurate. In its very different way, the Scottish Parliament was every bit as powerful as the English institution. The ‘Three Estates’ (the clergy, nobility and burgh representatives who attended Parliament) were able to wield a surprising degree of control over the Crown during the fifteenth century. 

2. BLUDIE HARLAW: Realities, Myths, Ballads. By Ian A. Olson

In the summer of 1411, the ageing Donald of Isla, Lord of the Isles, invaded mainland Scotland with a huge, battle-hardened army, only to be fought to a bloody standstill on the plateau of Harlaw, fifteen miles from Aberdeen, a town he had threatened to sack. One of the greatest battles in Scottish history, described by hardened mediaeval chroniclers as 'atrocious', 'Reid Harlaw' left some 3,000 dead and wounded. 

Written records in Latin, Scots, Gaelic and English are presented in their original form, and with transcriptions and translations. Two major ballads are analysed, one contemporary, and one fabricated over 350 years later - which is still sung. 

3. The Permeable Self: five medieval relationships. By Barbara Newman

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Starting from the premise that the medieval self was more permeable than its modern counterpart, Newman explores the ways in which the self's porous boundaries admitted openness to penetration by divine and demonic spirits and even by other human beings. She takes up the idea of "coinherence," a state familiarly expressed in the amorous and devotional formula "I in you and you in me," to consider the theory and practice of exchanging the self with others in five relational contexts of increasing intimacy.

4. Medieval Badges: their wearers and their worlds. By Ann Marie Rasmussen

Interdisciplinary in approach, Medieval Badges introduces badges in all their variety and uses. Ann Marie Rasmussen considers all medieval badges, whether they originated in religious or secular contexts, and highlights the different ways badges could confer meaning and identity on their wearers.

5. The Gilded Page: The Secret Lives of Medieval Manuscripts. By Mary Wellesley

Medieval manuscripts can tell us much about power and art, knowledge and beauty. Many have survived because of an author's status--part of the reason we have so much of Chaucer's writing, for example, is because he was a London-based government official first and a poet second. Other works by the less influential have narrowly avoided ruin, like the book of illiterate Margery Kempe, found in a country house closet, the cover nibbled on by mice. Scholar Mary Wellesley recounts the amazing origins of these remarkable manuscripts, surfacing the important roles played by women and ordinary people--the grinders, binders, and scribes--in their creation and survival.

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