Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Penguin History Of Medieval Europe

Keen covers Western European Medieval history from the 9th-15th century. Russia, Byzantium, and Spain are hardly mentioned because of the great difference in the events that occurred at the same time. The book starts with Charlemange and ends with the start of the Renaissance. The focus is on the relationship kingdoms and rulers had with the Catholic church, how they build each other up, and eventually, become independent nations.

This overview of the Middle Ages is great for a general knowledge on the topic. I like being able to connect the causes of different events such as: the Great Schism, the Hundred Years War, and the Crusades. It is important to understand how empires and kingdoms were formed and changed as these events took place.

The only problem I ever have with overviews of history is, just as I am getting interested in a person or event, the next topic is already being discussed. When reading about a general time period I always come away with a list of topics and people I want to know more about. This is not a bad thing, it is just a little distracting while reading the overview. Some of the people from this book I want to read more about are:

  • Frederick II of Hohenstaufen from the early 13th century, he was curious about issues with the soul and immortality. He would perform experiments to try to prove his theories. Supposedly, he sealed a man in a barrel and had guards watch until the man died. He wanted them to see if the man's soul would emerge. Keen claims that many of the tales about him were likely exaggerated. I want to read more about him to find out what stories were told about him, if they were true or not, and why these stories might have been told or happened.
  • Jean Froissart fought in the Hundred Years War. One of many people that wanted to be seen as a chivalrous romantic figure, like those that were commonly read about at the time. He wrote down his experiences in the war, which are said to read like a chivalrous story. His book is: Chronicles, and it is now on my reading list.
  • Abelard an influential philosopher in the late 11th, early 12th century. He traveled and taught students. He is famous for his affair with Heloise. He ends up being accused of heresies in his teaching, and is excommunicated.
  • Celestine V a hermit who was made Pope in 1294. He ended up resigning as Pope after about six months serving in the position. This caused a lot of problems for the church and his successor. I would be interested in reading more about why he was chosen, and what exactly influenced his decision to resign. Update October 3, 2014: I read The Pope Who Quit about Celestine V. Read my review here.

I would recommend this book to people wanting to get a general idea about what happened during the Middle Ages. You will learn what the major issues were, and what caused them. In this edition there are tables for royal houses and popes, which makes it much easier to understand the succession and how everyone is related. There are maps at various points that help you understand where kingdoms and duchies were located, and where battles were fought. 


  1. I've actually been meaning to find out more about Abelard myself for a while now, but I keep putting it off & then forgetting..

    1. I have too! There are a couple books about him and Heloise at a used bookstore that I've had my eye on. I keep meaning to look them up to decide which one to get, but there is always something else there that catches my eye and I get that instead. And then I have to wait to get more credit...