In an engrossing panorama of the medieval world that carries its learning lightly, Michael Prestwich tells the life stories of some seventy individuals across Europe and the Middle East from the ninth to fifteenth centuries. Monarchs and merchants, popes, peasants and poets, artists and adventurers, saints, scholars and soldiers people the pages of this elegant volume.
Major empire builders such as Charlemagne, Frederick Barbarossa and Chinggis Khan are contrasted with influential female leaders such as Matilda of Tuscany, Eleanor of Aquitaine and Joan of Arc. Religious figures range from Urban II, the pope who started the Crusades, to Hildegard of Bingen, notable nun, Thomas Becket, martyred archbishop, and Dominic de Guzmán, founder of the Dominican order. Fulk Nerra, pioneering castle builder, sits beside the great Persian polymath Avicenna. James Douglas, hero of Scottish independence, rubs shoulders with Dante, Giotto and Abbot John of Wallingford who fought leprosy to construct a marvellous astronomical clock.
Contrary to modern myth, this book shows how medieval people lived in an era that was more one of invention and innovation than of superstition and backwardness. People in the Middle Ages did not believe the earth was flat; torture was far less common than in later centuries; and technological advances included guns, printing, blast furnaces, spectacles, stirrups and the compass. The book provides a truer picture of a world often wrongly portrayed by popularizers and novelists of today.