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Buried deep in this fine work is Francis Pryor's pondering of the question, how much of a 'revolution' was the Industrial one? The question indicates the theme of this book, which stresses continuity. Change was present, but often under very controlled circumstances. For Pryor, an archaeologist-writer who offers his ideas with wit and conviviality, the theme is "continuity" over "revolution". It's easy to highlight changes in a social scene, but as a man dedicated to hard evidence, the background is more important. Here, in the last of a string of books on what his science has found in Britain, continuity is the dominant theme.

Pryor launched his concept with "Britain BC", carried it through with post-Roman times in "Britain AD" and now arrives at the Christian-dominated Middle Ages. The change in religion had little impact on the daily transactions throughout Britain, with the likely shift of taxes from manor to chapel. The time-frame for this book begins about 650 CE and ends with the death of Henry VIII in 1547 CE. Nearly a millennium of time, with plenty of opportunity for "revolutions" - yet no major shifts in daily existence are in evidence. Henry's sequestration of the monasteries produced little in the way of disruption for village or town folk. As Pryor notes in the beginning, the book is about "hedges and fields, waterfronts and trade" rather than about the antics of monarchs or aristocrats. The Black Death had much more impact on society than any of the royals. Apart from the mortality, the economic shifts resulting from this plague were of far longer-lasting significance.

Even before the plague struck, agriculture and manufacturing led to early "free trade" agreements, even reaching across the Channel. Pryor finds such arrangements indicative of wider awareness and interaction than most "classical" histories have granted. Moreover, it's not treaties and other documents that he uses to make these points, but archaeological finds that provide hard evidence of what was transpiring in Britain in the Middle Ages. The Viking and Norse incursions carried a good many people into Britain, but after the initial raids, they came to stay and settled in nicely, thank you. If anything, the Norse' sea-faring skills more likely expanded existing trade arrangements, than disrupted commerce.

Pryor's chapters on urban life are the highlights of this work. After the Norse had become part of British society, population growth became a significant part of the social scene. Numbers rose to a height just before the Black Death that were not attained again until the 16th Century. The author selects various towns, describing their social and economic reactions to the plague and its aftermath. Drawing on his own observations and that of many other workers of recent generations he depicts a scene of nearly continuous development. York, in particular receives detailed attention for a span of nearly five centuries. York has provided a rich archaeological trove for the period - a rising trade community with a reach to distant places.

Reading Pryor is an unending delight, with nothing hidden in arcane academic discourse. He's open about what the evidence says and where uncertainties remain. Only the mildest interest in the past will bring rewards from this book. Readers are encouraged to enter this realm in full confidence that research is sound and the presentation fully accessible. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
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on 9 September 2006
Its a great read! I am a PhD student involved in medieval studies and find his narrative approach easy to read. The book helps you understand how the real people of the middle ages lived and died. He takes historical events and combines them with archaeological finds to give context and meaning. Its so nice to read a 'normal' book that is factual and informed with out having to trudge through academic papers. Read it as a companion to other 'specialist' books as it is aimed at the informed public not scholars. Go and read this book, it's fun and light but very informative!
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on 1 May 2016
This is a delightful and fascinating ramble through the history of Britain from the exodus of the Romans until c. 1550. The author is a highly qualified archaeologist, although he specialises in prehistory. This book is wonderfully conversational and very much a personal jaunt through the era - he repeatedly emphasises that he avoids certain topics (e.g. castles) because they bore him and has to tear himself away from others because he could easily spend a whole series of books on them. As an archaeological history, it is thoroughly grounded in the various digs - there's lots of name-dropping of archaeologists, but in a very friendly, conversational manner rather than a pretentious one, and plenty of detail about individual finds (as well as a hugely impressive set of footnotes with references). Moreso, though, the archaeological nature of this book made it much more interesting for me. It's focused on the 'long history' of Britain - the slow changes in people's patterns of agriculture, industry and settlement - rather than dates and famous people. It unashamedly ignores the rich and instead focuses on the broad patterns of everyday life. Super, and just up my street. It also, unlike nearly every other medieval history book in existence, does not ignore pre-1066. The Saxon period is given just as much care and attention as 1066-1348 or 1348-1550.

My only few criticisms would be that this book is what it is - as Pryor repeatedly states (and apologises for), this is not a textbook. The balance of topics is not at all fairly weighted. I found the chapters on Saxon history fascinating but somewhat hard-going as it's not an era I'm at all familiar with (due to so many history books ignoring the 410-1066 period). Also, I wish he had mentioned Wales (and by extension, Scotland and Ireland). As it stands, this is not really 'Britain in the Middle Ages' but rather 'England in the Middle Ages'. In any case, I would still strongly recommend this book. Written by someone who really, really knows his stuff, it is far, far more accurate and informative than other popular history books (e.g. the very readable but highly flawed 'The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England') but just as easy and engaging of a read.
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on 29 November 2007
If you were to read one book about the Middle Ages, this might be it. Certainly better this than an in depth view of the feudal "system". The book has a fine aim of painting the continuity of history. Where does the period begin - where does it end? This book is about the changes and developments in the lives of ordinary people. It demonstrates the engineering and constructional advancements, trade and communications of the period, blowing away some of the long taught myths of the Middle Ages.

It is a pleasure to read as it joins the historical documentary narrative to the archaeology.

It is a sequel in some was to Britain BC and Britain AD, but you could equally read them in reverse.
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on 10 February 2013
I'm still trying to get through this book - the author is so intrusive in the narrative. I don't, for example, need to know that Pryor himself is an atheist when reading about Medieval religion in Britain! It feels to me that there is some subtext here but I haven't quite worked out what it is. Hope I can find a way to shake off the sense that the author is breathing down my neck as I read, and get the information I'm reading for!
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on 21 August 2012
A fantastic voyage back to medeival Britain with great detail and good research material. thoroughly enjoyed my purchase and hope for more like it
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on 13 March 2011
This is a strange book. I felt reading it like someone invited to a dinner party who is sat next a very talkative host, who proceeds to give one the benefit of his opinion on all manner of things. These include metal detectionists,his writing methods, archeologists he had known, our planning laws, time team,various archeological projects and various projects whih accompany these. Oh, and incidntally there are his views on medieval times. There is little modesty about the author.

It would be helpful if there had been some better connections with the known time lines. After finishing the book I felt that I would avoid dinner parties such as this, at least for a while.

If you have seen the author on Time Team and like him you may well enjoy this book.It is more a popular review of the research literature than anything else and in the end rather dry.

To be fair,I did just finish the book but would look for more balanced insights in future.
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on 3 March 2013
Dr.Pryor writes well with a good understanding of what the reader needs to know.I can follow him through the centuries and make more sense of it all
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