Rated 5 out of 5 by Challenger Absolutely great
This is the story of England over one whole Millennium – from the time the Romans left the local folk to fend for themselves against the Angle and Saxon invasions, until the end of Henry the 7th Reign and the beginning of the early modern period, or Renaissance. At the beginning of the story, England is but a peripheral province of the Roman Empire. In fact it is so peripheral that Rome eventually gives it up to the Barbarian onslaughts of the Germanic Angles and Saxons – basically telling the locals that they should fend for themselves as best as they can. Best of luck… This is the age at which King Arthur is supposed to have lived, and his main focus was to fight the incoming Angle and Saxon flux and keep the British territory in the hands of the local Celtic population. This story seems to be under debate for two different reasons. The first, is that there are is not that much evidence to indicate that there had ever actually been a flesh and blood King Arthur. There is mention of a war lord winning twelve battles against the Germanic invaders in that era, though the name of that war lord is not clearly Arthur, nor is it clear that he was a “King”. The second reason, is that it is not clear that the Angles and Saxons invaded Britain violently at all. Professor Paxton tells us that the Archaeological evidence seems more to support a more peaceful immigration rather than an invasion. Eventually the Angles and Saxons do settle in Britain, and over time they assimilate to a large extent and convert to Christianity, though we are told that at the beginning they develop a very Germanic strand of Christianity for themselves that was quite distinct and in many ways non-committal…
Having survived the Anglosaxon invasion – migration, Britain is ready for the next onslaught in the 8th century; the Vikings. Beginning as mere raiding parties whose main aim was to pillage and plunder, the Vikings eventually became intent on settling down in Britain. They conquered many parts of it. It was only in the reign of Alfred the Great from Wessex, that the Vikings were to be checked and many of the territories won back to the English peoples, though many of them remained in settlement particularly in the North of England. The Vikings would leave a permanent legacy on British culture, primarily helping to establish legal institutions and altering the language. It would be the offspring of King Alfred that would eventually unite many of the British territories, creating a British nation for the first time. A further twist in this thrilling narrative is the overturning of the tables yet again - the Wessex dynasty surrenders to the Viking attacks under king Cnut.
What follows is a very complicated and convoluted grab for power, due primarily to succession problems. The outcome is the entry of yet another player into the British scene, one that would have perhaps the deepest permanent repercussions on British culture of all invaders to Britain – the Normans. The Normans made their stunning entry onto the stage in 1066, with the conquest of William of Normandy in the battle of Hastings. This conquest was to produce a strong dynastic line with some of the most famous monarchs of the British history. It is to lead to the complete amalgamation of the Normans (who are actually Vikings settled in Northern France in the 8th century) and English cultures to form a new culture, deeply affecting the English language forever. Over the next centuries Britain will develop into a unified nation, with sophisticated church hierarchies and administrative mechanisms. The constant power struggles between the Monarchs and the nobility is to lead to an evolution of governance mechanisms that will see the writing of the monumental Magna Carta by King John (Lackland). He will later have this document retracted by the pope, saying that it was written under coercion. This retraction did not have a lasting effect, and eventually the Magna Carta was adopted in a rather evolutionary process. Its adoption will lead to the eventual birth of the parliament, and this in turn will lead Britain to have a balanced form of monarchy that will keep Britain further away from absolutist regimes compared to its neighbors. No review is of this course would be complete without mention of two other major events of this late medieval period: the hundred year war with France, and the Black Death – both of which had a profound effect on Britain.
All of these profound processes would have an absolutely pivotal effect on Western culture in the future. The story ends in the late 15th century, with the accession of King Henry the 7th to the throne and the beginning of a new dynastic line – the Tudors. This is also the end of the middle ages. This long, turbulent, war drenched history will create a Britain poised in position to become a millitary and trading superpower with the eruption of the Renaissance and the Columbian exchange.
I deeply enjoyed this course given by Professor Paxton. The story itself was absolutely fascinating, and much of it was rather new to me. She is a fantastic presenter with an extremely animated presentation style seasoned lots of wit and humor. She tells us in detail the inner politics of the dynasties, their succession strategies, and some thematic and analytical aspects of Medieval Britain, though the majority of the course is narrative in nature. The course was simply brimming with insight and content, and it was an absolute pleasure to hear it.
November 5, 2014
Rated 5 out of 5 by NYNM Excellent, integrated, contextualized
This is one of the best TTC courses I have ordered (out of 100+) In fact, I listened to the first 12 lectures straight in a row immediately after downloading; it was that engaging a presentation!
Dr. Paxton does a superb job is covering the early years of English history. Even if this topic does not sound especially appealing, she handles it in such an assimilated manner, that the course stands out for its style as well as its content. Paxton's strongest point is her ability to integrate material, combining a broad view of her subject, including social history, geography, "Great Man" approaches, the daily life of "average" people, court intrigue, and many others. Everything "made sense" rather than just seeming to be an accounting of medieval facts.
She does an exceptional job in covering such topics as the role of religion (Christianity vs. Paganism), the development of government institutions, the importance of other lands such as Denmark and France, etc. Further, she is a wonderful storyteller who recants many tales in the early years of England. Her material is well contextualized and easy to listen to.
From the first minutes, Paxton combines early and later history, showing how modern English history (and world history, including American) has roots in early medieval experience. She distinguished between England and Britain, making clear distinctions about her topic. Within the first minutes, Paxton immediately establishes the relevance of the course and highlights her cohesive approach. This continues throughout.
My one comment is that, Dr. Paxton's voice sounds very young. Since I ordered an audio version, I am curious to see how she appears "in person." If she is in fact, rather young, it only adds to the appeal that she can present such a comprehensive course.
And on a minor note, I wish TTC had skipped the rather "corny" medieval music played between lessons.
This is a rare course that gives a refreshing view of history as a "reality" rather than a list of chronological "events." I hope Paxton offers more courses, and other TTC historians use her approach as a model for excellent teaching.
December 31, 2010
Rated 5 out of 5 by EdP28 One of the Best
This course (I had the audio version) is simply one of the best I have listened to from The Great Courses. I looked forward to a new lecture each day. Professor Paxton has a great gift for storytelling and is a very engaging and entertaining speaker. The content of each lecture was well-organized and placed within the context of the overall course. I knew a good deal about English history before this course and I now feel I have an even greater understanding of the 'big picture'. A job very well done!
June 6, 2015
Rated 5 out of 5 by Disrael Dr Paxton sets the bar high ...
I have been purchasing and viewing The Great Courses for over a decade now. I own more than 200 of The Great Courses and, I believe that it is fair to say, that I have experienced a very broad sampling of TGC's faculty. The very fact that I feel compelled to write my first review ever, should be an indication of how favorably impressed I am by Dr Paxton's presentation.
Disclosures: I purchase all of my courses on DVD (except for the few that I own that were not available, at least at the time of my purchase, on DVD), which accounts for 97% of my Great Course library. I am not in any way affiliated with The Teaching Company and my opinions are purely my own.
While I am an ardent lover of history, my interest in Medieval England alone was not compelling enough for me to purchase this course. It was after listening to Dr Paxton's audio course, "1066: The Year that changed Everything," that left me feeling that I had to watch or listen to any other course that Dr Paxton has prepared for TGC's. Here is why ...
The Professor: The short answer is that, IMO, Dr Paxton does everything right and really doesn't do anything wrong. After 200 courses, one develops a very real sense of what they do NOT like TGC presenters to do. While the content of these courses is nearly universally (with a few exceptions) excellent, the presentation of some lecturers is not always excellent. In my opinion, Dr Paxton has found that magic balance in the cadence of her speech and the pace of each lecture. Not too much gesticulation, not too little, not too fast a pace and definitely not too slow. Her attire is conservative and tasteful and changes throughout the 36 lectures. The quality of her voice is pleasant (not shrill or grating). There are no distracting habits (no repeated "umms," no looking up or down or away from the camera, no throat clearing, no jerky movements, etc). She takes a good command of the stage, moves fluidly, speaks clearly and transitions between teleprompters smoothly. In 36 lectures, I do not recall Dr Paxton making a single mistake in delivery. Either TGC's editing has improved significantly or she gave a flawless performance. Simply put, Dr Paxton is one of the top 3 smoothest, most polished lecturers that I have had the genuine pleasure of experiencing from my many Great Courses. Her style of presentation is charismatic with an obvious love and enthusiasm for her subject material. One gets the very strong sense that the depth of her knowledge goes far beyond what is offered in these lectures.
I saved the best for last. With respect to organization of the course as a whole, and each individual lecture, DR PAXTON REPRESENTS THE GOLD STANDARD IN HOW TO PRESENT COURSE MATERIAL. This course was so well organized and thought out that I was simply blown away at how well it was put together. While the course is generally chronological in it's organization, Dr Paxton takes occasional pauses in the advancing chronology to cover some general topics: Peasant life, Life at Court, local and broad economies, Art and Music, the Black Plague, etc. These brief intermissions from the advancing history (500 AD - 1485 AD) are well timed, informative and always applicable to the developing storyline.
The Course: The course as presented, delivers on what is promised in the course summary (online and in the catalogs). If you read the course summary then you already know what the course is about. Personally, I found the course far more interesting than I had anticipated. I also learned more than I thought that I would. While this course compliments some of my others (History of England from the Tudors to the Stuarts, Early Middle Ages, High Middle Ages, 1066) this was by far my favorite of all of these courses with "1066" being a close second. This was a well balanced course with respect to detail and interesting side stories. Dr Paxton tells you at the beginning of each lecture what will be covered and summarizes the high points at the conclusion of each lecture. She even teases you with tantalizing tidbits that will be "revealed in a future lecture." All "teasers" are satisfactorily expanded on, as promised, in later lectures. This is a very well organized and presented course.
DVD/Streaming vs Audio Only: Personally, I found the many maps (particularly for battles or migrations), illustrations (especially of the Kings and other key individuals), and particularly the family trees (Pedigrees) to be enormously helpful. I could have followed the course without these extras but they made it much easier to visualize a battle or to keep a particular King's ancestry organized in my mind.
Conclusion: While this is not my all time favorite Great Course, Dr Paxton made it one of my most satisfying. If you are interested in this time period, Medieval life, the history of England or the roots of self governance embodied in the US Constitution then this course is definitely worth your consideration. My highest praise goes to the the presenter, Dr Jennifer Paxton for being as perfect a lecturer as I have seen thus far in my long history with the Great Courses.
June 6, 2015