The great thing about the period 1199–1399 is the combination of fascinating personalities and dramatic and major change. There are consequently lots of really engaging and interesting books to read on this period of history . . .
Most recently, Dan Jones has produced lots of things; his book The Plantagenets is a great intro, written with all Dan’s characteristic verve, energy and intelligence.

On the thirteenth century, David Carpenter’s The Struggle for Mastery is a comprehensive discussion of British history between 1066 and 1284.

For 1307–1399, although it is quite old now, one of the best books is still May McKisack’s The Fourteenth Century. It’s a fantastic intro with really good analysis. There are a lot of cheap second-hand copies of it around.

Gerald Harriss’ Shaping the Nation, which begins in 1360, is excellent and takes the reader beyond our period into the fifteenth century.

Looking at England, the British Isles and Europe and particularly at how the polities of the period were made, is John Watts’ The Making of Polities.

It is one of the most important medieval history books of recent years, and perhaps ever. Our conceptual understanding of the period is founded significantly on this, together with Jim Holt’s Magna Carta, which is one of the best history books ever written.

There are, in addition, some excellent books on various aspects of state development, one of the most important of which is John Maddicott’s The Origins of the English Parliament.

Those who want to know more about war in specifically the conquest of Wales, the Scottish Wars of Independence and the Hundred Years’ War are spoilt for choice between Rees Davies’ The Age of Conquest, Alice Taylor’s The Shape of the State in Medieval Scotland and countless books on the Hundred Years’ War – good places to start there are the works of Juliet Barker, Malcolm Vale and Anne Curry.

On individual kings and reigns, there is a wealth of material.

There are not one, or two, but three very good biographies of King John. On Henry III, David Carpenter’s work is not only accessible to people who are coming to the period without much knowledge, it is also very interesting and is based on his own research, which is among the most extensive on the period: he is literally a mine of information.

We would recommend particularly his The Struggle for Mastery and his two-volume biography of Henry III, which allows us insights into his personality as though his reign were yesterday. What David Carpenter doesn’t know about Henry III is probably not worth knowing!

Similarly there is a recent biography of Edward II by Seymour Phillips, one of Edward III by Mark Ormrod, and several studies of Richard II, taking different approaches to him: Nigel Saul’s Richard II has an argument with which we don’t agree, but it is an interesting biography.

Even on members of the nobility there are biographies, reflecting the wealth of source material for the period.

We would highlight particularly John Maddicott’s biographies of Simon de Montfort and Thomas of Lancaster, and Anthony Goodman’s John of Gaunt.

The women of the period have received less attention, but Helen Castor’s She-Wolves is an important start to what will hopefully be a train of correctives to that.

Arise, England: Six Kings and the Making of the English State, will be published in hardback on 4 April 2024.
Buy the Book
Caroline Burt

A lively, new and sweeping history of the rise of the state in Plantagenet England by Caroline Burt and Richard Partington.