Departure from past encounters

Ruling England, 1042-1217
August 19, 2005

The teaching of medieval English history to sixth formers has long been handicapped by the textbooks. All that has been on offer are increasingly dated university surveys that nowadays are beyond most first-year undergraduates and they expect knowledge few now possess, indulging as they do freely in Latin and French quotations. Richard Huscroft offers a much-needed alternative. He provides a comprehensive survey of English history organised in three periods: Late Anglo-Saxon, 1042-66, Anglo-Norman, 1066-1154 and Angevin, 1154-1217. His ending point is the expulsion of the invading French from England in 1217, not the death of John in 1216.

Within each period, there is an overview of the reigns; of developments in government and law; and of relations with the Church. Huscroft presents a study skilfully tailored to the needs of students aged 17 to 21. Concepts are explained when first encountered. There is a full gamut of maps, genealogies, chronological charts and an appendix of principal primary authors for the period.

The whole is founded on an up-to-date range of secondary reading. An original feature is that Huscroft alerts his readers to areas of the historiography that are the subject of debate among historians and where views have recently changed or are changing. This is done through self-contained one-page essays that will be useful to teachers and students. They include debates such as "Did the feudal system ever exist?" and "Did Richard I care about England?". It is a welcome thing in a history textbook to find it recognised that history writing is a developing process.

There is little to criticise in this admirable work. One could note the faint traces of the Oxford history school that linger around it. Law, exchequer, chancery and writs take up a large amount of space that current historiography might have devoted more explicitly to the issues of centralisation, monarchy and state formation. That aside, the excuse for the lack of medieval history taught at A level - namely, that there is no suitable textbook - will no longer wash.

David Crouch is professor of medieval history, Hull University.

Ruling England, 1042-1217

Author - Richard Huscroft
Publisher - Longman
Pages - 232
Price - £12.99
ISBN - 0 582 84882 2

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