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4.4 out of 5 stars27
4.4 out of 5 stars
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on 14 May 2009
This book covers various aspects of life in England from the end of the Saxon period up to the reign of Edward VI. Its content is wide-ranging, including family life, law and order and attitudes to outsiders. As such it is a useful primer for further study. The book doesn't neglect the humorous (to modern minds) of certain Middle Age beliefs and stories including Winchester Geese and the woman of Norwich who 'did not eat or excrete for 20 years, a fact proven in front of the Bishop'! The chapter on the cycle of the year was good but could have done with more depth on the spiritual significance of the various feasts and seasons. However, this does not distract from the book's overall quality. Personally, I would have enjoyed a chapter on warfare and its impact on the ordinary people of the country. Perhaps this could be a suggestion for the next edition. Overall, this book is highly recommended.
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on 25 August 2013
...or almost. Slow to get going (but then, some would say, so was the Middle Ages) but it perked up and covered both high and low-born, and ranged nicely over several hundred years of history. An Age does not start from nothing...and Whittock puts the start in context, and rounds off with the effect of the Age on future generations. Full of stories and facts that whet the appetite and added to the store of knowledge that, like the Age itself I suspect, is not to be sniffed at.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 2 April 2014
Life in the Middle Ages is part of the Constable & Robinson
series of brief histories, and this particular book by Martyn
Whittock is both an interesting and entertaining addition to
their list.

Using his vast knowledge of the period, the author presents
the Middle Ages, that period from the 10th century to the mid
15th century, in extremely readable and informative portions.

We have chapters on Late Anglo Saxon Society,
Population, Diet and Health, The role of women and the family,
Law and Order, Language and Culture, and The shape of
English Society by 1553.
Almost every aspect of life is covered in some depth, with
suggestions for further reading.

Using Primary Sources such as the medieval chronicles of
the time we are led into the period by an author who not only
knows his subject but seems to have lived it too, at least from
a genealogical point of view.

Over 300 pages, with full primary and secondary source notes,
an excellent bibliography and index.

Well worth buying whether you are a student of the period, a
history buff, or need to use the book as a vade mecum to check
up on facts and dates.
Published 2009
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VINE VOICEon 25 March 2010
I found this to be an excellent general overview of the period. It is aimed at the non-academic reader and written in a concise, understandable fashion, with plenty of description of various aspects of society at the time. This is one of the best books of its type and as enlightening and enjoyable as Ian Mortimer's Time Travellers Guide to Medieval England (which is brilliant).

Recommended to anyone with an interest in this period of history who wants an insight into life at the time but does not want to be engulfed in too much economic detail. Christopher Dyer is the writer to go for to glean more in-depth information and analysis.
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on 30 September 2010
There is really not much to add to other peoples reviews of this book. In fact it's just an excellent read with plenty of straight forward information, which is easily digestible.

One can use this book as a primer for more in depth studies or as a kind of general guide book of the times. It's very interesting to read with the help of a computer, which means that one is able to look up references - such as churches, or towns - immediately and see what they look/looked like. You could almost plan a very interesting tour of the UK using this book to plan visits to churches, towns and DMV's (deserted medieval villages).

I found myself sitting down and reading this as a novel, which means hard to put down. Whilst at the same time discovering plenty of new information and of course developing my curiosity to find out more.

Excellent read and well recommended for everybody who is interested to learn more about this period.
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on 1 December 2012
Martyn Whittock brings to light everyday life in the middle ages and provides a glimpse of the rough and tumble hardships of the times. The book gives an insight into life roughly between the Norman invasion and the battle of Bosworth, the onset of the Tudor dynasty. The amount of interesting facts outlined in the book is enormous. Information such as the life expectancy for women was 25 and men 35, about the same as that of Sierra Leone in 2002 and that the homicide rate of the period was akin to modern day New York are such examples. That so great was the extent of church construction in the thirteenth century that it has been calculated it was the equivalent, in modern terms, of every family in England paying £500 every year, for the whole century is yet another example.

The general demographic explanations are very interesting in general and easily readable. Topics include the character of late Anglo-Saxon society, religion, population, diet and health, law and order, language and culture and much, much more. Most of the topics are covered really well and interesting but I thought a considerable portion of the content on religion provided too much information and lacked depth. I would have preferred to have read a more concise but in depth explanation on the Christian beliefs of the times. Here I thought the author attempted to strangle the reader with too much information due to the complexity and importance that such beliefs had during those times.

Despite this however, it is still a really good read and sheds light on a lot of areas that was hitherto unknown to me. Three stars still makes it a very entertaining read.
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on 19 October 2012
A credible academic work which is at the same time highly readable and entertaining, full of fascinating detail and insights into the everyday lives of people in Medieval times. Provides a good thorough overview of the period. Enjoyable.
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TOP 50 REVIEWERon 5 August 2013
This is one of the "Brief History of ..." series which covers all sorts of topics from Stonehenge, to Misogyny (!), to the End of the World, and just about everything in between.

This book is a social history of England between the tenth century and about the mid-fifteenth century, so from just around the time of the West Saxon resurgence after the Viking incursions to about the reign of Edward VI. This is a great book for an undemanding read, informative and engaging. It would be great for someone with little or no knowledge of the period, or who wished to learn more about the social history of the period. The book is divided into chapters on:
The Character of Late Anglo-Saxon Society
The Changing Countryside
The Growth and Decline of Towns
Changing Expressions of Christian Belief
Population, Diet and Health
Women and the Family
Law and Order
Language, Culture and Entertainment
Living on the Edge: Aliens and Outcasts
Signs and Marvels: the Medieval Cosmic Order
The Cycle of the Year
The Shape of English Society by 1553

What really makes this book such an engaging and generally entertaining read is the way the author has put in anecdotes, and writings from the time to illustrate points throughout the book. This gives the book an informality and immediacy by relating what can be dry and factual to a `reality' that was lived by the people of the times. Definitely recommended.
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on 27 October 2015
You can tell that the author is a school teacher and lay reader because he explains things and makes them interesting.

We Anglo-Catholics tend to reverence the Middle Ages as a time of faith – but things are not that straightforward.

East Anglia had more murders in the 14th Century that does New York today.

Trading was international so English coins have been found as far away as Russia.

There was ethnic cleansing – the Danes were regarded as ‘weeds’ and there was a massacre. The accusation that ‘foreigners are coming over here and taking our jobs’ is nothing new.

Most incomers assimilated very quickly.

Setting up a monastery was a tax loophole. Monasteries were not attacked by people against religion but as sources of wealth.

Not all clergy were celibate and minor orders were allowed to marry.

Pagan symbols were employed form cultural, rather than religious, reasons.

Bristol was involved in the slave trade as far back as 700.

Life expectancy was 35 for men, 25 for women.

The origins of modern ground rents can be found in mediaeval London.

Cathedrals were in rural areas but the Normans rebuilt them in cities so as to have church and state together controlling everything.

Boys could marry at 14, girls at 12 and sex after betrothal but before marriage was OK.

Ale was made from grain but beer from hops.

There’s a very good chapter on the persecution of Jews.

If as king was killed, even a bad one, this effected the whole country’s fortunes.

I didn’t know that an older custom than Midnight Mass was a vigil for Christmas which included the reading of Jesus’s genealogy.

Ronald Hutton sees the reformation, where celebrations of the medieval calendar were abolished, as ‘the end of merrie England.’
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on 17 December 2013
I downloaded this book after other -- more specific -- research I had done piqued my interest in the period. I had very little knowledge of medieval history generally (in truth, I wasn't even sure of the time period covered by the term), but the wasn't a stumbling block at all.

Written in an accessible and engaging style, A Brief History of Life in the Middle Ages is a superb overview for casual historians such as myself. Great stuff, Mr Whittock.
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