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The Best You're Not Seeing

Worthwhile Features in Medieval History You May Have Missed


Below are some features at the Medieval History site that garner much less traffic than the most popular stuff, but that are worth a look. The subjects covered in these articles may not be the most significant in medieval studies, but if you don't take the time to learn about them, you can consider yourself missing out. If you're a regular subscriber to our newsletter, you may already be familiar with some of these topics. If you're not a subscriber, you can sign up in the upper right portion of any page of this site.

Here they are, in no particular order:


Scene from the Bayeux Tapestry
Melissa Snell

At one time, the Norman Conquest was considered the single most significant event in British history. And there's no doubt that a radical change took place in England after the invasion. Even though other events are rightly gaining attention among historians, I was still rather surprised to see this feature barely hanging on in the top twenty percent of our most-visited pages.

If you're not familiar with the events leading up to the Battle of Hastings and the impact the invasion had on Britain, be sure to check out Your Guide's multi-part feature, Conquest. If you do know something about these events, test yourself in The Quest for Conquest Quiz.

The Alhambra

Dusty, red, boxy exterior buildings disguise splendid Islamic architecture and design in this remarkable fortress. Begun in the 13th century, the Alhambra served for a time as the palace of the Moorish kings of Granada. In order to explore its edifices and artwork, visit the Alhambra Image Gallery. To learn more of its history, check out this encyclopedia article.

The Keepers of Knowledge

Even though the idea of the medieval era as a "dark age" is no longer considered apt (and rightly so), there's no denying that in the transformation of the western Roman Empire into medieval Europe there were political upheavals, occasional violence, and a breakdown in communications. In these uncertain circumstances, how was knowledge and learning preserved? By those monks who patiently, diligently, and lovingly acquired and reproduced manuscripts: the Keepers of Knowledge. And while they were performing this most valuable service for posterity, some less reputable students known as Goliards were disseminating knowledge of an entirely different sort.


In the fourteenth century, a violent uprising shook the core of the nobility in England. Why did peasants who had for so long been laboring under the strictures of manorialism suddenly stand up and say "enough"? How and where did the rebellion spread? How did the king react? And what was the ultimate outcome? Find out in Your Guide's multi-part feature about the Peasants' Revolt, Conflagration.

The Myth of Rotten Meat

Say "medieval" to many people, and a host of somewhat ludicrous misconceptions are likely to come up in the conversation. Most concern how bigoted, stupid, and filthy medieval people supposedly were. And one of the most ridiculous misconceptions concerns the premise that medieval people regularly used spices to disguise the taste of rotten meat. In fact, pages and pages have been written on how the necessity for spices to perform this very function drove merchants to seek new routes to the East and spurred Columbus to sail west in search of one such route.

There were, of course, many economic reasons that people wanted quicker, easier ways to travel to the Orient that had nothing to do with spicing foul meat. And, really, just how effective could such a trick really be? In any case, check out the Myth of Rotten Meat and make up your own mind. From there, you might also be interested in Food Preservation and Fresh Meat and Fish.

Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry

Anatomical Man - Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry
Public Domain

For the second year in a row, the Book of Kells has made it into our Top Ten Subjects (even more popular this year than last year), and I'm delighted. Such an important artifact of Irish history and early medieval Christianity deserves to be seen, learned about, and understood. But there's another manuscript that deserves to be seen: the splendid 15th-century book of hours, Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry. I am particularly fond of this book (and I plunked down quite a chunk of change for a hardcover facsimile), and perhaps that is why I was so surprised to see that it received less than a sixth of the traffic that the Book of Kells got.

To be fair, the extraordinary popularity of my Kells pages might be explained by the 2009 film, The Secret of Kells. Still, I can't help but feel that Les Très Riches Heures is getting too often overlooked. Do yourself a favor: learn about the the book in this introduction, then explore the stunning images in this gallery.

Thank you for taking the time to visit some of my lesser-known offerings. Reviewing the website statistics at the end of the year has really made me think about what my visitors seek. Please return in 2013 for new material that I hope you'll think is worth your time.

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