A Summer Steeped in Historical Sources and History Books
So, this past spring and summer I read a lot of history books* covering a huge span of time — from roughly the end of the Roman Empire to the beginning of the 16th century — in Western Europe in both French and English this summer, and thought it might be helpful to list them all in one place. It's all tangentially related to a writing project I'm working on, but I was also finding the more I read the vaster my gaps of knowledge seemed and the more I felt like I wanted to work on my historical education for its own sake.
While there are some themes that stand out — perhaps most especially the intricacies of feudalism, knights, tournaments, and queer & trans people throughout the so-called Middle Ages — it got pretty eclectic fast. Most of these books were consulted thanks to online university databases (accessed through my membership to the Grande Bibliothèque), my municipal library, the National Archives, or even public databases such as archive.org, or found by emailing/tweeting at medievalists and scholars and asking for help with obtaining copies of certain resources. Thank you especially to all who have reached out to me on Twitter whenever I've posted in the #MedievalTwitter hashtag, you've all been so helpful.
* I actually vlogged a bit about it over here, in my vlog titled "All I Wanna Do Is Be A Rogue Queer Historian!"
Forgive the lack of a proper biographical style with publisher and publication dates, the vast majority of the following books are no longer in my possession and I often recorded hasty notes (sometimes only titles or authors) in my journal or in Scrivener. Here they are, in roughly the order I read them:
|Title||Author(s)||Geography & Era||Topic||Notes|
|Rompez les lances ! Chevaliers et tournois au Moyen Âge||Sébastien Nadot||France, but also England and Germany, X to XV centuries||Tournaments, Knights, Feudalism||Very helpful point de départ, survey of the period and how tournaments affected politics/economy and vice-versa, lots of interesting materials and anectodes|
|Perceval ou Le Conte du Graal||Chrétien de Troyes||France, XII century||Arthurian myth, original text||...Dry.|
|Empires and Barbarians: The Fall of Rome and the Birth of Europe||Peter Heather||Western Europe, end of Roman Empire||Political and economic reorganization of Western Europe as the Roman Empire faded away||Very interesting book, need to re-borrow it from the library.|
|The Celtic Myths||Miranda Aldhouse-Green||Ancient Western Europe, from the Classical era of Antiquity||Celtic mythology and customs as recorded by the ancients and more recently||Included because I found in this book a really interesting discussion on the difference between the Celts of Antiquity and what we now understand as Celtic, which is a label that was defined in the 16th century by Classical Scholar George Buchanan|
|La Renaissance du XII Siècle||Jacques Verger||France, XII century||Intellectual and spiritual evolution in the XII century, examining common misconceptions||Very interesting book and had to return it to the library too soon, would appreciate another look-through, I concur with Étienne Anheim's notes on the book|
|Love Between Women||Bernadette J. Brooten||Western Europe, Antiquity to Medieval Period||Women, Homosexuality, Homosociality, Gender||Really fascinating book about the love and erotic relationships between women throughout the history of Western Europe despite how little clear information has survived to the modern day.|
|Crossing Borders, Love Between Women in Medieval French and Arabic Literatures||Sarah Ahmer||Ancient France and the ancient Arab world, X to XV centuries||Homosexuality, Homosociality, Women, Poetry, Erotic tradition, Gender||Absolutely fascinating. I need to reread this one, but it reminds me that I have a ton more research to do on the Literary, Sexual, and Spiritual Renaissance that occured in Al-Andaluz, and how the Church and Christian Europeans ruthlessly destroyed that after the tenth century.|
|Deux Hommes Sur Un Cheval||Didier Godart||Western Europe, Medieval Period||Religion, Homosexuality, Homosocial behaviours, Knights, Tournaments, War, Masculinity||I have a lot of thoughts but am currently rereading through the book and don't want to dive into it here, but as far as I can tell Godart proposes that the structures around Knighthood and Tournaments were a continuation of homosexual warrior mysteries that had existed in Antiquity.|
|Life In A Medieval Castle||Frances Gies, Joseph Gies||Western Europe, X-XIV century||Castles, War, Feudalism, Class||Very complete book, gives a clear snapshot of how the chateau-fort affected society and conflict in France especially for centuries.|
|Aliénor d’Aquitaine||Régine Pernoud||France, XII century||Historical Biography/Fiction, Aliénor d'Aquitaine, Crusades, England, France||I particularly enjoyed hearing about her early life, which I felt more unfamiliar with!|
|La chanson de Roland||Translation & notes by Léon Gautier||France, XI century||Original text, translation, and commentary||Not the more exciting read but essential.|
|Le roman de Silence de Heldris de Cornuälle||Translation by Sarah Roche-Mahdi||Cornwall, XIII century||Arthurian legend, Octosyllabic verse, Original text, Gender, Queer knights||Very, very, very interesting, and I plan on making a more complete blog post examining this roman in detail soon.|
Several if not most of these papers are chiefly literary rather than historical in nature. When possible, I've also included JSTOR links, or similar, to the articles so that others can find them, since I thankfully did record those. (Mostly.)
|Title||Author(s)||Geography & Era||Topic||Notes|
|The Church and the Homosexual: An Historical Perspective, 1979||John Boswell||Western Europe, Medieval era||Roman Empire, Europe, Sexuality, Catholic Church||See Jane Vanderbosch below.|
|A short history of tournaments||Steven Muhlberger||Western Europe, X to XVI centuries||Knights, Feodalism, Tournaments||Good, quick survey to complement Rompez les lances ! above.|
|Pueri Sunt Pueri: Machismo, Chivalry, and the Aggressive Pastimes of the Medieval Male Youth||Sean McGlynn||Knights, Feodalism, Tournaments, War, Gender||Starts digging into the interplay between what we "understand" today as gender and past feudal knightly identity and activities.|
|Fragment inédit des tournois de Chauvenci de Jacques Bretel||Paul Meyer||France, XIII century||Knights, Tournaments, Primary Source||Original text, fascinating.|
|Killing the myth||John Clements||Western Europ, XI century||Knights, Feodalism, Tournaments, War||Detailed information on knightly fighting styles of the period, and how armour was utilized.|
|"Caritas" Begins at Home: Virtue and Domesticity in Chrétien's "Yvain"||Rebekah M. Fowler||France, XII century||Chrétien de Troyes, Arthurian legends, Chivalric values, Religious values & worldview||Very interesting and makes me think in particular of the standards of hospitality in the ancient world, especially among the ancient Gauls, Saxons, Germanic tribes, and Nordic cultures.|
|'A Mayde, and Last of Youre Blood': Galahad's Asexuality and its Significance in "Le Morte d'Arthur"||Megan Arkenberg||England, France, 1485||Arthurian legends, (A)sexuality, Chivalric values, Thomas Mallory||To reread once I've completed a more thorough reading of Mallory Le Morte d'Arthur|
|Befriending the Medieval Queer: A Pedagogy for Literature Class||Richard E. Zeikowitz||Western Europe, Medieval Period||Gender||More of a literary lens for examinations of depictions of "masculinity" that clash with modern assumptions about "masculinity" than an examination of actual queer historical figures.|
|The Cypher of Chivalry: Violence as Courtly Play||Carl Grey Martin||England, France, XII to XV centuries||Chrétien de Troyes, Arthurian legends, Chivalric values, Gender, Class, Tournaments, War||How violence and the chivalric courtesy/values of knights are closely related, and how chivalry obscures this violence.|
|Comment on John Boswell's "Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality"||Jane Vanderbosch||Western Europe, Medieval Period||John Boswell||As far as I can tell John Boswell (who among other greatly influenced Didier Godart mentioned above) is controversial. I found Vanderbosch's comments particularly helpful.|
|The Man with No Name, Identity in French Arthurian Verse Romances||Sarah E. Gordon||Western Europe, Medieval Era||Arthurian romance, Identity, Chivalric virtues, Romance||A look at how identity is at the core of the early romantic genre as defined by Chrétien de Troyes, Guillaume LeClerc, or Raoul de Houdenc.|
As several people had mentioned that they were interested in checking out these kinds of texts, here are the ones I've read so far. And, if you have any reading suggestions, especially about trans or queer people in Medieval Europe and especially Medieval France, please send them to me!