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The Story of Medieval England: From King Arthur to the Tudor Conquest

Examine the remarkable story of a tumultuous thousand-year period in British history and learn how medieval Britain laid the foundation for much of what we know today.
Story of Medieval England: From King Arthur to the Tudor Conquest is rated 4.8 out of 5 by 240.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fabulous Edu-tainment ! I loved this course and hope to hear another from Professor Paxton soon. Some info that I already knew -- but lots more rich detail and insightful analysis. THANK YOU
Date published: 2024-05-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The "Dark Ages" in bright sunshine! Like many in their early seventies, I heard the "Middle Ages" frequently referred to as the "dark ages". Although I subsequently learned differently in drips and drabs over the years, this course of study thoroughly demolishes that label and sheds the brightest of lights over the history of England from its murky beginnings after Roman rule, throughout the "Middle Ages" and to the onset of the English Renaissance period. This is a marvelous learning program and great fun in which to participate.
Date published: 2023-10-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Exceptional course This course is that good. I listened to Professor Paxton’s lectures as intently as a child being read a bed time story - full of wonder and amazement. This course filled in a lot of knowledge gaps and a lot of other gaps I didn’t even know needed filling!
Date published: 2023-09-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from English History brought to life Dr. Paxton's Incredible story telling skills made this one of my favorite courses. No dry moldy kings but a rich tapestry of human strength, frailty, loyalty and ambition. All gorgeously illustrated. Absolutely loved the course. My only suggestion for improvement is more content on the common people. Also more on women!! Highly recommend this course if you love history and the colorful roots of our English fore fathers and mothers.
Date published: 2023-05-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Clear and Engaging Overview I thoroughly enjoyed learning from Professor Paxton, who admirably summarizes and cogently synthesizes this broad survey of royal succession from the early Anglo-Saxon kings up to the time of Henry Tudor. She mixes the historical facts of royal intrigue and succession with enjoyable insights on legends such as King Arthur and Robin Hood, perspectives on the social and economic life of the non-royalty, and practical aspects of political governance and military strategy. Where historians disagree, she is able to summarize and present the controversies while maintaining the narrative. And importantly, she shares delight, curiosity, amusement, criticism, empathy, and fondness for the many characters she introduces along the way. I actually look forward to rewatching this from the beginning to consolidate and reinforce the abundant information.
Date published: 2023-05-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Emergence of Merry England This excellent course by Jennifer Paxton rests upon three entwined strands of English history: royal biographies, everyday life, and the development of institutions. Recording the deeds of kings is a style of history older than England itself and still highly popular. On the one side you have great or at least able men like Alfred the Great, Cnut, William the Conqueror, Henrys I, II, IV, V, and VII, Edwards I, III and IV. On the other you have men (and one woman) who were too timid, unmilitary, impolitic, arrogant, or overly ruthless to make a worthy figure or even to stay on the throne. Take Ethelred the Unready, Edward the Confessor, Stephen, Matilda, John, Henrys III and VI, Edward II, and Richards II and III. Some, like Harold Godwinson or Edward V, were just unlucky and never had a fair chance to show what they could do. Who deserved to be king was largely a matter of birth order and biological descent from a previous king, as Professor Paxton illustrates with the aid of family trees. Normally the oldest son ought to come to the throne, but in some cases, including Alfred, Stephen and Richard III, royal uncles or cousins pushed aside the better claimant by force and by consent of the landowning elite, i.e. the barons. Relations with the barons were critical to making a successful king, who had to both woo and awe them. Kings who failed at both were losers. Henry III, Edward II, and Richard II all preferred to reward and take advice from their favorites—sometimes from France—rather than the realm’s most powerful lords, even in the face of growing protest and resistance. In all three cases, this royal foolishness led to civil war. John and Richard III oppressed the barons with confiscations and executions, and this led to civil war. Meanwhile, the people spent their lives in quiet suffering or mild prosperity. Paxton devotes four lectures to English society and economy, plus one on the Black Death. In England’s early centuries, say 550 to 800 AD, almost everyone lived in the countryside cultivating the soil to feed themselves and support an illiterate warrior elite. They relied on the primitive two-field rotation system and pulled the plow with oxen rather than horses. Houses were wattle and daub. By 1485—the end of this course--many lived in towns or the city of London while the peasantry had diversified itself into yeomen, ordinary peasants, and cottagers. The upper classes consisted of clerics, titled nobility, gentry, and London merchants. England remained mostly rural, but the population was larger—despite the Black Death--thanks to better farming techniques like the three-field rotation system and the use of the horse collar. The countryside now sent wool to the Low Countries for manufacture into cloth but was increasingly itself engaged in clothmaking. In general, ordinary people had nothing to do with politics until the Black Death and religious heresy or dynastic turmoil inspired the massive Peasant’s Revolt of 1381 and Jack Cade’s rebellion during the Wars of the Roses. Between people and kings there were institutions. Baronial parliaments for specific occasions and grievances developed through conflict and royal concessions into THE Parliament, a standing body representing commons (gentry and chartered towns) and lords. Anglo-Saxon customary law yielded to standing local, county, and royal courts applying precedents and parliamentary statutes. The early English church centered mainly upon abbeys with limited lay contact eventually became an orderly sacred hierarchy with bishops in their cathedrals at the top and parish priests in village churches at the bottom. By the late 14th century some ordinary people inspired by John Wycliffe took an interest in the Bible and called for lay control of the English Church; Queen Elizabeth I’s Protestant faith lay only two centuries ahead. When not fighting each other or working in government, Anglo-Norman royals and nobles devoted considerable time to the pursuit of chivalry. The dubbing ceremony initiating young men into knighthood grew in complexity and sanctity. Tournaments began as a combat exercise and eventually became a highly stylized sport. Noble families adopted specific coats of arms according to the elaborate rules of heraldry or perhaps joined elite associations like Edward III’s Order of the Garter. Paxton devotes a generous amount of time to English literature. In the Anglo-Saxon period this is represented especially by the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Beowulf and the Battle of Maldon. After more than two centuries in which Latin and French dominated letters, English prose and poetry made a comeback with William Langland’s Piers Plowman, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, and Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur. William Caxton’s introduction of the printing press during the reign of Henry VII allowed Chaucer and Malory to reach a mass audience. Popular legends of Robin Hood first began to circulate in the fifteenth century, though they would not appear in print until later. There is little to complain about in this course. It would have been nice if the professor had gone into popular culture or discussed women and family life, but no one can cover everything. For me the great unanswered question of English history is why English remained a Germanic language at its root despite a flood of words from French and Latin. Except for North Africa (which eventually took up Arabic), every other Roman province overrun by Germanic tribes retained Romance dialects, but not Britain. Wales continued speaking Celtic until the modern era and never used Romance, but like Latin Celtic speech perished in England. Did the Angles, Saxons and Jutes violently destroy Celtic-British society? The sixth-century history by the British monk Gildas says yes, but archeology says no. On the other hand, as Professor Paxton notes, DNA analyses suggest an absence of Celtic-British males from the English genome. If you want to learn about the history and life of medieval England, this course will more than satisfy you.
Date published: 2023-04-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Exceptionally well presented and organized Professor Paxton makes one wish that every Wondrium course was taught by her. She also makes me wish that more of the courses I took in college many years ago had been as well presented and well organized as this course is. It is among the top two or three programs that we have watched in the Great Courses syllabus.
Date published: 2023-04-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Curiosity Appeased! I was thinking to myself one night, “I don’t know much about the details of the history of England & how it was established.” I knew where to go - the Great Courses - & found this series by Dr. Paxton. Her presentation, delivery, & the accessibility of the knowledge she shares is exactly what I was looking for. I love the way she presents her knowledge with sources, stories, direct accounts, historical analysis, etc - it is extremely impressive & easy to follow, as well. She is an excellent lecturer & truly a master at this subject matter. I am hooked!
Date published: 2023-03-17
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Overview

Explore the remarkable story of a tumultuous thousand-year period in British history. Delivered by award-winning Professor Jennifer Paxton, The Story of Medieval England: From King Arthur to the Tudor Conquest is a tour de force that shows how—in the midst of war and the struggle to balance royal power with the rights of the governed—medieval Britain laid the foundation for much of what we know today. Richly detailed, these 36 lectures are essential to a complete understanding of the modern Western world.

About

Jennifer Paxton

It was a special joy to me to work with The Great Courses because I was already a longtime customer and fan! I know I had become a better teacher because of my years of listening to the excellent instructors in The Great Courses series.

INSTITUTION

The Catholic University of America

Jennifer Paxton is a Clinical Associate Professor of History at The Catholic University of America. She is also the Associate Dean of Undergraduate Studies and director of the University Honors Program. She was previously a Professorial Lecturer in History at Georgetown University, where she taught for more than a decade. Jennifer received her PhD in History from Harvard University, where she also taught and earned a Certificate of Distinction in Teaching. She is a widely published, award-winning writer and a highly regarded scholar, earning both a Mellon Fellowship in the Humanities and a Frank Knox Memorial Fellowship.

Jennifer lectures regularly at the Smithsonian Institution and serves as an expert on Scotland and Ireland for Smithsonian Journeys. Her research focuses on England from the reign of King Alfred to the late 12th century. She is particularly interested in the intersection between the authority of church and state and the representation of the past in historical texts, especially those produced by religious communities. She is completing a book that examines how monastic historians shaped their narratives to project present polemical concerns onto the past. She is also working on a project that examines changing views of abbatial leadership across the Anglo-Norman world in the 11th and 12th centuries.

By This Professor

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The Story of Medieval England: From King Arthur to the Tudor Conquest

Trailer

From Britannia to Britain

01: From Britannia to Britain

A discussion of how the geography of Britain has shaped political events over the centuries introduces you to the significance of English history between the 5th-century fall of the Roman Empire and the 1485 advent of the Tudor dynasty.

34 min
Roman Britain and the Origins of King Arthur

02: Roman Britain and the Origins of King Arthur

The collapse of Roman rule, arrival of barbarian raiders and settlers, and resistance to Germanic immigration serve as a backdrop to a tantalizing mystery. Examine the evidence as to whether the unidentified champion who temporarily halted the advance of the barbarians could have been the King Arthur of later legend.

33 min
The Early Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms

03: The Early Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms

See how the victories of the shadowy figure possibly identified with Arthur offered only temporary stability, with the initiative soon shifting to the Germanic immigrants. Examine what we know about the societies that produced them and how their laws and culture were transformed by contact with Britain's.

32 min
The Conversion of the Anglo-Saxons

04: The Conversion of the Anglo-Saxons

Follow the parallel stories of the conversion of the Anglo-Saxons to Christianity and the emergence of England's seven preeminent regional kingdoms. Those kingdoms drew—depending on their location—upon two different sources of Christian influence and custom.

32 min
Work and Faith in Anglo-Saxon England

05: Work and Faith in Anglo-Saxon England

Plunge into the substance of daily life for Anglo-Saxons of all social levels, including illness and mortality, the transition from paganism to Christianity, farming, trade, or even raiding. What is clear is that there is tremendous variation in the economic and religious experience of the population.

31 min
The Viking Invasions

06: The Viking Invasions

Watch as the one- or two-boat raids of the late 8th century grew into vast armies of 50 ships or more by the middle of the 9th. Intent on settling permanently, the invaders' influence in eastern England would be profound, with patterns of landholding, legal institutions, and even language altered forever.

32 min
Alfred the Great

07: Alfred the Great

Explore the career of Alfred the Great, who led the heroic resistance that kept Wessex free of Viking control. Separate fact from legend in the life of the man who would create the Wessex dynasty that would eventually become the first ruling house of a united England.

32 min
The Government of Anglo-Saxon England

08: The Government of Anglo-Saxon England

Grasp the well-organized ways in which the Anglo-Saxon state became perhaps the most successful in Christian Europe, with sophisticated coinage and access to the court system by all levels. Although crude by modern standards, it functioned quite well compared to its contemporaries.

33 min
The Golden Age of the Anglo-Saxons

09: The Golden Age of the Anglo-Saxons

Learn why the 10th century is often referred to as the Golden Age of the Anglo-Saxons. It produces not only vernacular literary masterpieces like Beowulf and The Battle of Maldon but inspiring sermons, monastic reform, and an artistic renaissance encompassing book production, metalwork, and needlework.

29 min
The Second Viking Conquest

10: The Second Viking Conquest

The Golden Age ended as the Wessex dynasty was overturned by a second wave of Viking invaders, with Denmark's King Cnut seizing the throne and marrying the Wessex queen. See how the well-organized Wessex state functioned until Edward the Confessor restored the "legitimate" dynasty in 1042.

30 min
The Norman Conquest

11: The Norman Conquest

Learn the reasons behind the overturning of the Anglo-Saxon regime by external invasion. This tightly focused lecture examines both the battle to succeed Edward the Confessor, who died childless, and the defeat of his successor by William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings.

31 min
The Reign of William the Conqueror

12: The Reign of William the Conqueror

Witness an extraordinary consolidation of power as William used the military to overcome early resistance to his rule, systematically expropriated the nobility to install his own followers, and used both legal and administrative measures to fortify his position.

33 min
Conflict and Assimilation

13: Conflict and Assimilation

Open a window on what life was like in post-conquest England through a variety of sources, including the famous Domesday Book compiled at William's order. This extraordinary compilation offered the king an unprecedented survey of English landholding and thus very exact information about wealth and the ability to pay taxes.

32 min
Henry I - The Lion of Justice

14: Henry I - The Lion of Justice

Examine the reign of Henry I in a lecture ranging from his many administrative innovations—including the development of royal accounting at the Exchequer—to the legendary temper that led to the castration of all the royal moneyers discovered to be cheating the treasury.

32 min
The Anarchy of Stephen's Reign

15: The Anarchy of Stephen's Reign

Experience the 14 years of civil war that erupted 4 years after Henry's death in 1135, with his daughter and nephew battling over Stephen's throne—largely because England's barons had no wish to be ruled by a queen.

31 min
Henry II - Law and Order

16: Henry II - Law and Order

See how England returned to order as Henry II razed castles built without the crown's permission, consolidated justice in royal hands, and standardized its operations. But he also raced toward a fateful and ultimately deadly confrontation with his former chancellor and best friend, Thomas Becket, archbishop of Canterbury.

32 min
Henry II - The Expansion of Empire

17: Henry II - The Expansion of Empire

With Becket dead and martyred, Henry faced the difficult task of keeping a secure hold on his many continental dominions and managing his children's futures. Learn how the many royal titles created by his family's politically intertwined bloodlines created just as many possible conflicts.

34 min
Courtly Love

18: Courtly Love

Take a pause from political intrigue to look at the culture that flavored the royal and princely courts, with a focus on the rise of courtly love, the music and poetry that were its backdrop, and the creation of a rich tradition of vernacular Arthurian romances.

31 min
Richard the Lionheart and the Third Crusade

19: Richard the Lionheart and the Third Crusade

View the reign of Richard the Lionheart primarily through the lens of his experience as a crusader, with implications focusing on the position of Jews in England, the development of royal administration in his absence, and the ambitions of his brother.

32 min
King John and the Magna Carta

20: King John and the Magna Carta

Experience the disastrous reign of King John. His technical violation of a feudal oath to the French king led to the loss of Normandy and several expensive efforts to regain his lost land—efforts that ultimately led to the signing of the Magna Carta.

32 min
Daily Life in the 13th Century

21: Daily Life in the 13th Century

Another pause in the political narrative allows for a close look at life in a 13th-century English village—life that had changed materially for the better since the Anglo-Saxon and Norman periods.

32 min
The Disastrous Reign of Henry III

22: The Disastrous Reign of Henry III

A key theme of the course comes into sharp focus as you see how Henry's many ill-advised foreign ventures created a never-ending need for money to be provided by England's barons. Their frustration triggered a revolt and the nucleus of what would ultimately become Parliament.

31 min
The Conquests of Edward I

23: The Conquests of Edward I

Explore the reign of Henry's far more talented son, Edward I, from the perspective of both his military career—as a crusader and in Scotland, Wales, and France—and his role as a lawgiver, including greatly expanding the role of Parliament in making statute law.

33 min
Edward II - Defeat and Deposition

24: Edward II - Defeat and Deposition

Step into the life of a king whose reign was one of great controversy. Edward is beset by intimations of sexually based patronage given to a favored knight, growing baronial resentment, an infamous defeat by the Scots, deposition by his own wife, and ultimately his murder.

32 min
Edward III and the Hundred Years' War

25: Edward III and the Hundred Years' War

See how repeated trade conflicts with the French drove Edward to claim the French throne. What would become the Hundred Years War produced both stunning victories and years of stalemate and plundering that left the French countryside impoverished but made the fortunes of many English knights and soldiers.

32 min
The Flowering of Chivalry

26: The Flowering of Chivalry

Learn the intricacies of the tournament and the practice of heraldry as you observe the evolution of the knight. What was once little more than a noble's hired thug evolved into a figure expected to participate in knightly culture and maintain new standards of proper, often heroic, behavior.

32 min
The Black Death

27: The Black Death

England, already weakened by a series of famines, was devastated by the disastrous epidemic that swept across Europe and arrived on its shores in 1348. It left in its wake social, economic, and religious effects that would endure for many decades.

31 min
The Peasants' Revolt of 1381

28: The Peasants' Revolt of 1381

Grasp how both religious frustrations and economic grievances stemming from the dislocations of the Black Death combined to bring about the most significant event in Richard II's early reign: the Middle Ages' most serious revolt against the English crown.

32 min
Chaucer and the Rise of English

29: Chaucer and the Rise of English

A journey through some selected works, including Piers Ploughman and The Canterbury Tales, highlights the rise of vernacular English poetry in the 14th century, with English also becoming a principal vehicle for religious writing.

32 min
The Deposition of Richard II

30: The Deposition of Richard II

Appreciate the extraordinary turns history can often take. Richard II's reign, which once seemed so promising, disintegrates in factional fighting and disputes so bitter they ultimately led not only to his deposition but to judicially sanctioned murder.

31 min
Daily Life in the 15th Century

31: Daily Life in the 15th Century

Examine how the population losses of the plague years finally produced the low rents and high wages that were once the goal of the Peasants' Revolt. The position of the gentry could also be precarious, with landowners often forced to defend their holdings in court or at sword point.

31 min
Henry V and the Victory at Agincourt

32: Henry V and the Victory at Agincourt

Resume the chronology of England's evolution as war with France is renewed and Henry V wins a historic victory at Agincourt in 1415. But gains of this great triumph of the Hundred Years War would ultimately prove only temporary.

31 min
Henry VI - Defeat and Division

33: Henry VI - Defeat and Division

The tensions over dynastic succession were made even more problematic by a multitude of ambitious royal cousins and were forced to the surface by growing discontent over the failing campaign in France. They ultimately led to the Wars of the Roses between the Yorkists and Lancastrians.

32 min
The Wars of the Roses

34: The Wars of the Roses

Take a look at the reign of the Yorkist Edward IV and the last effort of the Lancastrians to unseat this popular but notoriously lazy king, whose unexpected marriage to a socially inconsequential widow alienated many of his most important followers.

32 min
Richard III - Betrayal and Defeat

35: Richard III - Betrayal and Defeat

Let yourself be riveted by one of history's most dramatic chapters, highlighted by the imprisonment of Richard III's two nephews in the Tower of London and their probable murder, and a battlefield demise immortalized—though with considerable license—by Shakespeare himself.

34 min
England in 1485

36: England in 1485

Process everything you have learned in a final lecture that explains what England had become at the beginning of the Tudor dynasty. A thorough integration of the course's major themes leaves you with a clear understanding of what has taken place and a solid foundation for understanding the future of what would become the world's most powerful and influential nation.

33 min