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

Course No. 8410
Professor Jennifer Paxton, Ph.D.
The Catholic University of America
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Course No. 8410
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What Will You Learn?

  • Examine early Anglo-Saxon kingdoms and the ways their laws and cultures transformed over time.
  • Separate fact from fiction as you explore the career of Alfred the Great, who created the Wessex Dynasty.
  • Examine the many ill-advised foreign ventures that Henry III embarked on, which led to the creation of Parliament.
  • Study how the Lancastrians attempted to unseat Edward IV after his marriage to a socially inconsequential widow.

Course Overview

Evidence of Great Britain's legacy to the English-speaking world—indeed, to most of the Western world itself—is all around us, woven intimately into the fabric of almost every aspect of daily life. We see it in

  • the laws and system of justice that help guide our behavior;
  • the political principles that underpin our representative governments;
  • the nature of those governments and their relationship to the governed;
  • much of our most glorious literature and art; and
  • our very language itself, from its most subtle meditations to its most powerful vulgarities.

But while many of us in search of the roots of this shared heritage often focus our attention on the contributions of modern Britain, the answers we seek are actually to be found much earlier.

For it is in the medieval history of England, Britain's most important realm, that our search must begin, from the withdrawal of Rome's legions to the beginning of the Tudor dynasty in 1485.

Even if you have a solid familiarity with medieval history as a whole, understanding the lessons of medieval England is essential to rounding out your knowledge of the period. Moreover, these lessons are a key to understanding much of the Western world that followed, including the social, political, and cultural legacies by which that world has been enriched.

The Story of Medieval England: From King Arthur to the Tudor Conquest tells the remarkable story of a tumultuous thousand-year period. Dominated by war, conquest, and the struggle to balance the stability brought by royal power with the rights of the governed, it was a period that put into place the foundation of much of the world we know today.

Taught by Professor Jennifer Paxton, an honored scholar and a professor at The Catholic University of America, The Story of Medieval England's 36 lectures feature a level of detail and attention to key figures that set this course apart from those with a more narrow focus.

Grasp the Emergence of the Themes that Shaped the Western World

As you journey through The Story of Medieval England's largely chronological narrative—occasionally interrupted for lecture-long explorations of specific topics—you'll see the course's key themes emerge. And as you do, Professor Paxton explains their impact and place in the larger historical picture:

  • The long process of creating a unified English state by assimilating successive waves of ethnically diverse invaders, developing a particular sense of "Englishness,"and forging the growth of English nationalism
  • The competition for power as different individuals struggled to establish rule and demonstrate the skills demanded of a king who would rule successfully
  • The tense relationship between kings and the nobility, including changes in the nature of noble rebellion
  • The role of the most persistent of those tensions—over money and taxation—in the creation and evolution of both the Magna Carta and Parliament
  • How changes in economics, religion, law and justice, literacy, disease, and other factors affected everyday life for English people of all classes

And because so much of history is driven by specific individuals and not just historical circumstance, each lecture is rich in intimate portraits that reveal those individuals at the key moments of their historical destiny. Among the extraordinary figures you'll encounter are many who are undoubtedly familiar, including these:

  • Alfred the Great, whose leadership against the Vikings, in the face of overwhelming military superiority, laid the foundation for what would become the first ruling house of a united England
  • William the Conqueror, the extraordinary ruler whose name tells only part of the story, with his reign serving as a demonstration of how to truly consolidate and maintain power
  • Eleanor of Aquitaine, the powerful French wife of King Henry II whose network of patrons fostered the spread of courtly literature and provided support for writers such as Chrétien de Troyes
  • John Wycliffe, the Oxford cleric whose attacks on some of the core tenets of the Catholic Church contributed greatly to Protestant doctrine at the time of the Reformation.

Learn How History Can Be Shaped Even by Those in Its Shadows

But there are others, as well. You'll meet men and women visible to history only for what they represented as members of a group. These include people like the anonymous craftsman taking up arms in the Peasants' Revolt of 1381, enraged that the dramatically reduced work force left by the Black Death still could not command a living wage.

And you'll meet some who achieved fame chiefly among historians, like the Pastons. The story of this family's 15th-century rise from the yeomanry to the gentry bursts forth from the treasure trove of letters they shared for generations and that have survived to this day. As scholars have pored over them, a great amount of detail has emerged that gives us real insight into the achievements and hardship of these new practitioners of upward mobility.

The precious historical legacy represented by the Paston correspondence, however, represents only one of the ways in which Professor Paxton keeps the course vibrant and moving. Presenting her material in a cheerful and comfortable style, she continually unveils fresh perspectives on the lives of the men and women who determined England's history, from the wealthiest noble to the hardest-working serf.

She reads from Chaucer, reveals details from the unprecedented collection of information in what would become known as The Domesday Book, and leads you onto the bloody soil of some of history's most memorable battles—each time turning history into spellbinding narrative.

Medieval British History Made Crystal Clear

Just as important, she does it while making the meaning of each historical moment crystal clear, while also illuminating its role as part of a greater whole. Periodically, she pauses in the overall chronology to devote entire lectures to specific issues, such as Chaucer and the rise of English, or the evolution of knighthood and chivalry, so that your view of history's forest is never overwhelmed by your nearness to the trees.

The result is a course that winds up being not only informative but deeply entertaining, with each lecture drawing you in with its own particular fascinations, including

  • a probing look at the scope of the Black Death and its social, economic, and religious implications, including its role in ultimately bringing about the Peasants' Revolt decades later;
  • a realistic examination of the legends of both King Arthur and Robin Hood, revealing whether there is indeed a core of truth at the heart of the stories we have heard;
  • a riveting description of the Battle of Bosworth Field, where the defeat of Richard III marked the beginning of the Tudor reign and ushered in a new age in English politics;
  • an insightful look at the origins of the role of the coroner, and what an examination of early records of death can tell us about the ways in which English people lived during the late Middle Ages, and
  • a discussion of the surprisingly nuanced penalties of the early Germanic law codes, which reveals the tremendous social complexity among the Germanic settlers in Britain in spite of the lack of any organized "state.”

Throughout The Story of Medieval England, including a tour de force final lecture in which she tightly weaves together the course's main themes and events, Professor Paxton consistently delivers a fresh level of understanding about medieval England, its rulers and subjects, and their significance for the world we live in today. The chain of theme and event that links our world to theirs will never be clearer, rewarding every moment you spend with this course.

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36 lectures
 |  Average 31 minutes each
  • 1
    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. x
  • 2
    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. x
  • 3
    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. x
  • 4
    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. x
  • 5
    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. x
  • 6
    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. x
  • 7
    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. x
  • 8
    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. x
  • 9
    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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x

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  • Download 36 video lectures to your computer or mobile app
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  • 216-page printed course guidebook
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Your professor

Jennifer Paxton

About Your Professor

Jennifer Paxton, Ph.D.
The Catholic University of America
Dr. Jennifer Paxton is Assistant Director of the University Honors Program and Clinical Assistant Professor of History at The Catholic University of America. She was previously a Professorial Lecturer in History at Georgetown University, where she taught for more than a decade. The holder of a doctorate in history from Harvard University, where she has also taught and earned a Certificate of Distinction, Professor Paxton is...
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Story of Medieval England: From King Arthur to the Tudor Conquest is rated 4.8 out of 5 by 194.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great course A very good summary of medieval Britain. The instructor was enthusiastic about her subject and presented it in an interesting manner.
Date published: 2019-03-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great I luv the history of England this is so brilliant 1st course I've taken in 50 yrs luvit
Date published: 2019-01-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from the history of medieval England I talk this course and I was Excellent. I loved it because it look in so far back in the history of England.
Date published: 2018-12-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Terrific lectures on a fascinating period! Ihave completed this wonderful course and I shall miss the dynamic Professor Paxton. She is a marvelous lecturer.Whether she is waging one of the many battles, explaining claims to the throne, or inserting factoids into her lectures she radiates a contagious enthusiasm for an historical period that she obviously enjoys sharing with an audience. I thoroughly enjoyed this course and have selected her course on Celtic culture based on my experience with her course on medieval England.
Date published: 2018-12-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Truly worthy of being called a "Great Course" A couple years ago I found myself at Windsor Castle during a business trip. I made the mistake of asking an apparently intelligent question regarding the characters in one of the stain glass windows of St. George's chapel. The docent went on and one and ended up 'stocking' us. We literally had to run down a hall to escape. I can only imagine, armed with the information in this course, what horrible trouble awaits me on my next trip to England. A delightful course dripping with fun details.
Date published: 2018-12-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Omg interesting and fun Presenter’s voice was great and engaging. She was quite knowledgeable and covered the history from the viewpoint of the rulers and the ruled. It brought the era to life
Date published: 2018-11-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent course Professor Paxton did a wonderful job of presenting this wide sweep of material. She knew just how much detail and hard information to include in a lecture and how to avoid bogging things down in minutia. Without in any way "dumbing things down" she managed to keep the lectures lively and interesting. And she tied a range of disparate developments into some overarching themes, a sure sign of a professor who has thought through and coherently organized the material. One test I use to evaluate a lecturer's success is how much of the material I retain from lecture to lecture, an important factor for me since I must occasionally set a course aside for a time. Professor Paxton could not have been more effective in this regard, as I found that nearly all the key points she made stayed with me long after her lectures had ended. For those interested in this subject, I could not recommend the course more highly.
Date published: 2018-10-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Well organized and sequenced I enjoyed Dr. Paxton's course "The Celtic World" and ordered this course to continue studying with her. The joy of The Great Courses for me is the opportunity to learn topics in greater depth. In this case I had an intermediate knowledge base of medieval England and now have a deeper understanding. In addition to lectures on king's and queens and wars and battles, Dr. Paxton also weaves into her lectures appropriate information related to sociology, economics, geography and literature. This course is clearly well organized and sequenced. Lectures are given in a lively manner with clear references with previous material when appropriate.
Date published: 2018-08-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very interesting! One of the many wonderful things about being retired is being able to educate myself on topics Ive long been interested in but didn’t have time to pursue. The story of medieval England is such a topic. The instructor did a wonderful job of explaining the history and helping me to understand some of the issues. Recommend this study to anyone interested in this area of history.
Date published: 2018-07-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Five stars This is a splendid course. I wish I'd had it fifty years ago when I was studying medieval English history in college. Jennifer Paxton's presentation is organized and clear, and the visual aids, especially the maps, are extremely helpful. Nor does her informal style of presentation -- which one notes is objected to in several reviews -- undermine the seriousness of the content. If anything, given the complexity of the historical material she has to deal with, it lends a friendly note of approachability to the subject. The one problem is her voice, which is borderline screechy and very hard to listen to for any length of time. Ordinarily one wouldn't mention this -- except for those who take speech and voice lessons specifically to over come such problems -- we're all stuck with the voices we were born with. But in the case of the The Great Courses, and the miracles of modern studio techniques, one wonders if a voice like this couldn't be lowered a bit and given more resonance through simple recording techniques. The screechiness isn't a problem for her actual students -- studies have shown that listeners adjust to speakers when they're physically present -- but for those of us who have to take it in through headphones its a bit like hearing fingernails scraped on a blackboard for hour after hour.
Date published: 2018-06-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from good overview and great detail This is a great course. Prof. Paxton has an amazing command of the subject matter and spices up the course with a sprinkling of amusing details. The early Britain and Anglo Saxon sections are especially interesting because these areas generally get ignored in the usual history of England. I would have liked a little more on England’s interaction with Scotland and the history of Scotland but I suppose that would have been tangential to the courses subject matter. ( hint to reviewer of this review, how about a course focused on the early history of Scotland, Ireland and Wales). Prof. Paxton has an easy and engaging lecture style that makes it obvious she enjoys both teaching and her subject. This course is a winner.
Date published: 2018-05-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A story of the creation of a nation This course is about how a collection of warring tribes coupled with outside invaders grew into a nation that sent it's power and, more important, it's ideals, around the world. This is the story of where those ideals came from, and how they developed.
Date published: 2018-04-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Coverage of Medieval English History I loved this course! Great content and engaging presentation.
Date published: 2018-03-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the best courses I've taken out of the 20 or so I have. The professor held my interest throughout and is very knowledgeable in the subject.
Date published: 2018-02-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from More from this lecturer, please! This course has made time in the car or doing chores a pleasure. The lecturer is engaging and informative. I frequently come home with some interesting tidbit that I must share. I logged into the site to see if she had anymore course so I could start those. I didn't even know I was interested in this topic before I began the series but now I want more.
Date published: 2018-01-27
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Just ok Generally good but a few inaccuracies and a fair amount of "presentism."
Date published: 2018-01-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the best History courses I've listened to I purchased Story of Medieval England a couple of months ago because I love learning about Great Britain, land of my ancestors. I am so glad I made the decision to buy! I almost always purchase audio courses because I enjoy listening to them while driving. My husband also listened to this course and loved it. Professor Paxton is such an entertaining lecturer! She brings a breadth of subject knowledge to the course and combines that with a flair for storytelling to engage her students and make learning fun.
Date published: 2018-01-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Captivating A fascinating story, told in a logical and captivating way. Listening to Professor Paxton is, quite simply, a very great pleasure!
Date published: 2017-12-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Jennifer Paxton is excellent Anyone who is interested in the history of pre-King James England will find this fact filled presentation by a talented and enthusiastic professor who is a great story teller a worthwhile series of lectures. So many twists and turns on that island nation. Interesting how the French speaking aristocracy ruled Britain and were responsible for the invasion of Ireland. And being king or queen did not always mean he or she had a secure throne.
Date published: 2017-10-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Ancient history comes alive. What a wonderful job she does in presenting the material! Ancient times in England becomes alive and is very enjoyable to watch and listen. You learn, you learn, you learn...and you enjoy doing it!
Date published: 2017-10-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good overall view I bought this in video form some time ago. It would work just as well in audio form, though personally I miss the illustrations and lecturer as I find I focus more. I now do these courses online and sometimes download lectures. This course is good for a comprehensive overall look at Medieval England. You could do hundreds of courses for a more in depth look at any given time or subject or Monarch in the Medieval period. This is a great introduction with a god and enthusiastic lecturer.
Date published: 2017-08-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Story of Medieval England King Arthur to the Tudor Really enjoying this! The content is clearly presented and fascinating.
Date published: 2017-08-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great bang for the $$! As the song goes: "Don't know much about history . . ." Bought the audio version of this course after I did Dr. Paxton's course, 1066., (6 lectures) because I liked it so much. For this course, 1000 yrs. of Medieval English history is crammed into 32 lectures. As I'm no scholar, but enjoy history, I hoped to get a grounding in historical England. Dr. Paxton told a great story, well-crafted and with humor, about how a nation was born: how English law & government formed, how religious belief developed, the impacts of war, famine, & plague on the people & the economy, the kings & the heirarchy, literature & culture. In short, she was able to give me a glimpse of a this world that is so much a part of who we are in America. No, she didn't get deeply into any one topic. But as a survey course, for someone who has an interest, without much prior knowledge in this subject, it was a great introduction. I am now listening through it again! If you want a semester seminar, this isn't for you. But if you want great bang for your buck, take this course!
Date published: 2017-07-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I've viewed many (15 to 20) of the Great Courses history courses. This was one of my favorites. One of the top 3 or 4 professors. Well presented, well organized, interesting! Also interesting topic. Good mix of narrative and interesting asides. If you're a history buff this is good stuff.
Date published: 2017-07-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Extraordinary course! First, this course is a perfect twin for Prof. Bucholz's amazing Tudor and Stewarts course. Second Prof. Paxton provides a lucid and very understandable overview of English medieval history, a subject I never paid much attention to. Her references to period chronicles and narratives makes it even more interesting. She is very personable and charming. It sort of makes you want to run to class. Highly recommend the video version of both courses.
Date published: 2017-06-18
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good, but good be better. For the most part, I liked the history being presented; but had a few complaints about a few of her comments. The first one concerns Henry II's inflammatory comment that led to the murder of Thomas Becket. The comment she used is generally considered to be apocryphal. There are other versions, not least that of Edward Grim, who was actually present at the murder. The other comment was that concerning John Marshal and the comment that "he didn't care about the child as he had the anvils and hammers to make even finer ones' in a situation where his son was being threatened with execution by King Stephen at Newbury Castle. There is no actual proof that situation even happened, and many historians question whether that happening is anything more than a tall tale. No contemporary chroniclers of that time mention a hostage situation at Newbury Castle. John Marshal (aka FitzGilbert) appears in many history books, as he was the King's Marshal for Henry I, Stephen, Henry II, and the Empress Matilda, and he served both sides in the 12th century civil war known as the Anarchy, but most historians from what I've seen, don't mention a hostage situation between King Stephen, William Marshal, and John Marshal in their history books. So I felt that to mention unproven situations, such as these, made me wonder about other comments the professor made.
Date published: 2017-04-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from All The Great Reviews are Spot On This is the most enjoyable, entertaining and informative Great Courses I have experienced. The presenter is a great teacher. I cannot add much to the many positive reviews other than to say I am in agreement.
Date published: 2017-03-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding This is one of the best Great Courses history courses that I have taken so far. The professor is enthusiastic and knowledgeable. The difference between a good history professor and a great history professor is the ability to turn the history into a story. This professor is excellent at turning history into a story. I learned a great deal about both the history and politics of the era and feel much more educated about the early history of England.
Date published: 2017-02-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Feast for the History Lover, Deliciously Told I've listened to dozens of series from the Great Courses over at least two decades, mostly history, literature, and music. Obviously, I've enjoyed the great majority of them, or I wouldn't keep coming back. But a few are special. In my opinion, there's really nothing to compare with Robert Greenberg's "How to Listen to and Understand Great Music". I love it because it opens a topic with which I'm only passingly familiar and makes me feel that I understand it. At least, I understand it well enough that I want to pursue it. I also love it because it's great fun - with lots of anecdotes, personal sketches, and quirky humor to spice up the lectures. I say all this because Professor Jennifer Paxton achieves something nearly as great with the (to me) far more familiar subject of medieval English history. I've taught this stuff. I've learned it from the particular perspective of a professional actor who does a good deal of Shakepseare. I'm not sure why I considered buying a course in this subject, but I'm so very, very glad I did. Jennifer Paxton knows how to tell a good story. And not just a colorful anecdote or revealing bit of biography. She knows how to pull together a thousand years of English history into a coherent narrative which leaves the listener with an idea that - if some of the details slip from memory - the great pattern of the period still seems clear. This is old-school history. Lots of kings and queens, nobles and prelates, rebels and outlaws. Battles by the score - in sufficient number and detail to make sense of wars like the Hundred Years War and War of the Roses. Modern history courses too often seem to dwell on the "short and simple annals of the poor". Professor Paxton gives us the lives of ordinary people, but she usually manages to place it in a political context, explaining the rise of a sense of English nationality, a distinct public opinion, and the beginnings of a civic space play into the doings of the great - and the forging of a nation. In other words, while this course is appropriately modern in its access to research, it does not struggle to be politically correct. Professor Paxton will note that the act of an historical figure might strike us as wicked, but she's quick to explain how it fits in with the values and conditions of its own time. I like that. Finally, this course does a lovely job weaving what we already know - bits of Shakespeare's plays or from great movies and novels, children's tales, and parts of our own national history - which make this long-ago time seem more familiar. I particularly relished her insistence that, if we want to understand Eleanor of Aquitaine, it's useful to think that only one 20th century movie star could have played her - Katherine Hepburn. This is a serious history course from a scholar who takes her subject, but not herself, seriously. It is an historical feast, deliciously told. Buy it!
Date published: 2017-02-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Interesting and clear For this series, I purchased the audio download so I could listen to the lectures in my car. It was great! Professor Paxton's lectures were well-organized, easy to follow, and engaging. Her conversational speaking style and occasional use of humor made the experience very pleasant and satisfying.
Date published: 2017-02-26
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