In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Pre-Conquest England

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Important Works in the Historiography of the Period
  • Basic Readings in Ancillary Disciplines
  • Readings about Authors and Sources

Medieval Studies Pre-Conquest England
Robin Fleming
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 June 2012
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 June 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0011


Before 1990, historians of Anglo-Saxon England generally concerned themselves with the descendants of Germanic peoples who settled in lowland Britain from the early 5th century until the Norman Conquest of England in 1066. In the last two decades, however, scholars have extended their period of inquiry back into the 4th century—that is, to the period before Rome’s fall—which allows them to better calibrate levels of continuity and change between the ancient and early medieval periods. Historians of Anglo-Saxon England are increasingly interested in how English identity came to be formed in this period, and they have become more curious about the role native British people played in the creation of Anglo-Saxon England, as well as in how England’s neighbors helped the English define their differentness. Scholars in the field also accept as a given that we must study developments in England in the context of developments in other parts of the British Isles, Ireland, and the Continent. The focus on high politics and the church continues to dominate study in the field, but a number of scholars in recent years have also investigated crucial economic transformations, including the remaking of the landscape and the development of trade and urban communities. Work is also being done on farming and the peasantry, consumption and the powers, networks, and alliances of landholders in England. Many multiauthored volumes––either companion volumes or books on specific individuals or topics––appear in this bibliography. It is important to understand the role that such volumes play in this field: they allow scholars from different disciplines to contribute to focused discussions on pressing historiographical problems and are highly recommended for undergraduate and graduate students as well as for scholars working in the field.

General Overviews

A number of excellent syntheses and companion volumes are available that reflect the full range of extant evidence on the history of England––ecclesiastical and legal texts, works of literature and high art, linguistics, paleography, and archaeology. Some, such as Campbell, et al. 1991; McKitterick 1995; James 2001; Charles-Edwards 2003; Davies 2003; and Fleming 2010, provide readers with narrative histories covering many centuries in England and will help students and professional historians alike to put developments currently taking place in the country into broader historical contexts. Stafford 2009 and Crick and van Houts 2011 contain excellent syntheses of recent scholarship on a number of crucial topics on the early Middle Ages and, like Fleming 2010, have up-to-date bibliographies. All works in this section have chapters relevant to most other sections in this bibliography and are, therefore, good places to begin when exploring the period.

  • Campbell, James, Eric John, and Patrick Wormald. The Anglo-Saxons. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1991.

    Comprehensive, magisterial, and beautifully illustrated, although its archaeological evidence and interpretations are out of date.

  • Charles-Edwards, Thomas Mowbray, ed. After Rome. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

    Offers six outstanding essays on the first centuries after Rome’s fall, which investigate the construction of local and broader identities as well as the creation of Insular art objects, manuscripts, and texts produced in the new style of the period. The essays also provide readers with a British and Irish context in which to situate early Anglo-Saxon England.

  • Crick, Julia C., and Elisabeth M. C. van Houts, eds. A Social History of England 900–1200. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

    This volume sets the period’s invasions, migrations, and regime changes against a background sketched out by more than two dozen readable and individually authored chapters. Written by experts in history, literature, and archaeology, it focuses on everything from towns to violence, health and disease, and esoteric knowledge. Each essay includes a concise, thoughtful bibliography.

  • Davies, Wendy, ed. From the Vikings to the Normans. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

    Offers thematic chapters on the political, economic, intellectual, and religious history of 9th- through 11th-century England, by leading scholars in the field. Each chapter explores developments not only in England but also elsewhere in the British Isles and Ireland.

  • Fleming, Robin. Britain after Rome: The Fall and Rise, 400–1070. London: Penguin, 2010.

    A narrative history of the entire Anglo-Saxon period, based as much on archaeological as on written evidence. The book emphasizes economic and social history and the history of everyday life. It also provides a model for how material culture can be used to write Anglo-Saxon history.

  • James, Edward. Britain in the First Millennium. London: Arnold, 2001.

    A complete history of Britain, beginning with the Roman Conquest and ending with the Norman Conquest, with writing based both on texts and archaeology. Investigates the ways in which developments in Britain both mirrored and differed from those elsewhere in Europe. Especially strong on the 4th through the 7th centuries.

  • McKitterick, Rosamond, ed. The New Cambridge Medieval History. Vol. 2, c. 700–c. 900. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

    Includes a riveting article by Simon Keynes on the political history of Anglo-Saxon England from 700 to 900, alongside a series of histories of other contemporary kingdoms in Europe. See also The New Cambridge Medieval History, Vol. 3, c. 900–c. 1024, by Timothy Reuter (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000), which offers a judicious political narrative of England in the 10th and 11th centuries as well as essays on developments in contemporary kingdoms.

  • Stafford, Pauline, ed. A Companion to the Early Middle Ages: Britain and Ireland c. 500–1100. Chichester, UK, and Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009.

    DOI: 10.1002/9781444311020

    Comprises interesting, readable, thought-provoking essays by leading experts on everything from Christianity to lordship to kingship. Each chapter provides an entry into the debate and the most recent scholarship for the topic at hand.

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