Summer Readings on AoE2 Heroes

Book suggestions for Barbarossa/Attila/El Cid?

I love reading about history, …

…and especially about great historical figures, I believe the spark was lit by AoEII especially, since I love both that period and the game (which I still play). I have read the following books and would love to hear suggestions on nicely written books on Barbarossa, Attila, or El Cid, since the AoC are the best campaigns in my opinion.

The books I have read thusfar if someone is interested to read themselves:

  • Joan of Arc by Helen Castor. Bit drier than the other ones, but still a nice read.
  • Saladin by John Man, very nicely written book on how Saladins life played out.
  • God’s Wolf by Jeremy Lee about Reynald de Chatillon (Saladins nemesis which can be found in campaigns 2 and 3 if I am not mistaken). Tells the story of the second crusade from a Western perspective, great read.
  • Genghis Khan and the making of the modern world by Jack Weatherford. Out of all these books the best in my opinion, with not only focussing on Genghis’ life and conquest but also about Mongol life in general including laws, food, customs etc.
  • Attila (3 books) by William Napier, which is historical fantasy, overall a great read but would like to have more of an overview and historically sound read.

Thanks in advance if someone has any suggestions!

[Question from u/xGalen on the AoE2 Subreddit]

The hype is real

My answer

Hi there!

Here are the books I can recommend about our AoE2 heroes. (Thank you u/nimanoe for tagging me in.) Those books are all referenced in the Oxford Encyclopedia of Medieval Warfare and Military Technology (2010) so they are quite up to date and provide very solid information. There should be little trouble to find freely available book reviews written about them on JStor, to help you get a summary and a sense of their content 🙂 I will limit myself to one book per historical character, but don’t hesitate to ask for more books if what I suggest doesn’t meet your tastes or expectations! In case you couldn’t find them in retail, don’t hesitate to browse WorldCat to find the library closest to you that has it!

You might think some of those books are ‘old’ because they date back from the 70’s of the 80’s. Don’t worry, History is a slower science than let’s say Physics or Chemistry. 70’s or 80’s monographies can still remain very authoritative secondary sources. You should generally take books from the 19th century with a grain of salt, though… They’re often easily available on Google Books or Archive.org, and they generally offer a very solid fact-driven narrative, but the analysis they bring about the past is most of the time lacking if not totally outdated. Anthropology, Sociology and Psychology hadn’t made their way quite yet within the study of History. Also, the writing of History has shifted post WW2 from the study of “great men” to the study of the economical long-term patterns, the history of cultural representations, and more broadly the study of the masses and/or the minorities (gender studies comes to mind).


1. William Wallace

  • Fisher, Andrew. William Wallace. Edinburgh: John Donald, 1986.

2. Joan of Arc

  • DeVries, Kelly. Joan of Arc: A Military Leader. Stroud, U.K.: Sutton, 1999.

/!\ /!\ /!\ Actually, I have that last book at home and I don’t really like the positions taken by the author for several reasons, including over-simplification. Therefore I would go for something ‘safer’ and maybe even more entertaining: Pernoud, Régine & Clin, Marie-Véronique. Joan of Arc: Her Story. trans. Jeremy Duquesnay Adams. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 1999.

The Joan of Arc campaign weekend is coming to the AoEII:DE Beta early August! Prepare yourselves for exciting news!

3. Saladin

  • Möhring, Hannes. Saladin: The Sultan and His Times, 1138-1193. Translated by David S. Bachrach. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 2009.

This book was originally written in German if I’m not mistaken. German historians are just pure nerds. It might be a bit dry to read, I don’t know, but this book is a very safe bet!

4. Genghis Khan

  • Ratchnevsky, Paul. Genghis Khan: His Life and Legacy. Translated and edited by Thomas N. Haining. Oxford: Blackwell, 1991.

5. Barbarossa

The Oxford Encyclopedia only suggests German monographies about Barbarossa. I’ll write them down since I know many AoE2 players are from Germany 🙂

  • Eickhoff, Ekkehard. Friedrich Barbarossa im Orient: Kreuzzug und Tod Friedrichs I. Tübingen, Germany: Wasmuth, 1977.
  • Opll, Ferdinand. Friedrich Barbarossa. Darmstadt, Germany: Wissenshcaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1994.

Now, what I do to find scholarly books easily in any medieval matter is that I browse the Regesta Imperii and if you type in what you search correctly, you’ll just find wonders:

  • Freed, John Beckman. Frederick Barbarossa: the prince and the myth. New Haven, 2016. (This book is from 2016, so it’s normal that it wouldn’t be referenced in the 2010 Oxford Encyclopedia.)

Don’t hesitate to try the Regesta Imperii yourself to find many other titles: books, articles, etc. Then head to JStor to find book reviews, the article themselves sometimes, when they’re not free to download from their author’s Academia page.


6. El Cid

  • Clarke, Henry Butler. The Cid Campeador and the Waning of the Crescent in the West. New York: AMS, 1978.

7. Attila

  • Thompson, E. A. The Huns. Oxford: Blackwell, 1996.

If you’d like shorter books with still a great scholarly value, you should turn yourself towards ‘collections’ of vulgarized books published by authoritative institutions. There is the “Que Sais-Je ?” collection in French, for example. The “C.H. Beck” in German. Finally, the “Very Short Introductions” from the Oxford University Press are a great read.

Enjoy your summer! 🙂

The purpose to read is to argue. Wololooo!

Why you should NEVER trust your government when it comes to Medieval History—I’m looking at you, Czech Republic!

What you’ll find in this post

So my good friend Brother_Judas texted me on Reddit about some oddity regarding Czech history. He’d been doing some more reading to draw more of his beautiful maps, when he came upon this information:

In 1002, Duke Vladivoj was enfeoffed with the Duchy of Bohemia from the hands of King Henry II of Germany. With this act, what had been a fully sovereign duchy became part of the Holy Roman Empire. After Vladivoj died the next year, the Polish duke Bolesław I the Brave invaded Bohemia and Moravia. In 1004, after the Poles were expelled from Bohemia with help from Henry II, Duke Jaromir received the duchy in fief from the king.

It puzzled my good friend, you see, because I had showcased a map depicting the Holy Roman Empire in 962 that included Bohemia as part of the Empire. Brother_Judas had seen and studied that map. So he came back straight to me, demanding answers in the most gallant fashion.

The Holy Roman Empire in 962

He wrote the paragraph I quoted then reported that he’d found this information on a website belonging to some department of the Czech Ministry of the Interior. It’s a good thing he translated the thing for me because I sure couldn’t have been able to read it! That’s why, dear children, making friends from foreign countries is a most valuable thing.

Well, I was in a pickle, wasn’t I? I mean, you trust me to upload solid and trustworthy historical information on my blog. Then comes along a government full of officials that contradicts me. This is upsetting. If I had lied brazenly, you’d unfollow right away and I wouldn’t blame you.

Now, wait a minute. Who told you any government was trustworthy when it comes to sharing historical information? Have you not read 1984?

I went back to that book I found the HRE 962 map that I had shared. It was published by Harvard University Press. That only should vouch for its intrinsic value. However, it happened more than once that an academic rushed his writing, didn’t check his sources and oversimplified things. Beyond the map itself, what did the text say?

The emperor was rarely able to help missionaries once they set off into the wild north and east. Those sent to Denmark were expelled in the 820s and Christianization made no headway there until the conversion of Harald Bluetooth in the mid-tenth century. The cooperation of local elites proved indispensable, especially as conversion entailed simultaneous acceptance of imperial suzerainty and payment of tithes. The Bohemian leader (and later saint) Wenceslas had been educated as a Christian and accepted imperial overlordship, only to be murdered on his brother’s orders in 929. Bohemia was forced to acknowledge imperial suzerainty in 950, though resistance to Christianity persisted into the eleventh century. Nonetheless, conversion of much of its elite proved significant in spreading Christianity and imperial influence to the East Elbian Slavs and to the Poles and Magyars. Vojtech (Adalbert), a missionary martyred by the Prussians in 997, came from the Bohemian ruling family.

Then I read a bit further down:

Otto III was subsequently criticized for converting tribute-paying princelings into independent kings. It is more likely that Boleslav and Istvan considered themselves the emperor’s primary allies, while Otto regarded himself as king of kings. The relationship remained fluid because of internal changes in the Empire, Poland and Hungary. Boleslav’s successors were not crowned kings, and his son Mieszko II returned the royal insignia to the Empire in 1031. A royal title could mark temporary ascendency over domestic foes, while submission to the Empire was a favored tactic of weaker rulers seeking external backing. In practice, Poland remained a tributary of the Empire from the 960s until the late twelfth century without this infringing its internal autonomy or requiring its ruler to participate in German politics. In this sense, it remained more distinct than Bohemia, which was clearly an imperial fief by 1002.

The author, Peter H. Wilson, is a history professor at the All Souls College of Oxford. I should take his word but I didn’t. I spotted a reference of his: Nora Berend, Central Europe in the High Middle Ages. Bohemia, Hungary and Poland, c.900-c.1300. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013. I decided to check that book out too. On the one hand, Nora Berend herself is a professor at the St Catharine’s College of Cambridge. On the other hand, her book is a marvel. The following stellar review had even been written by Christian Raffensperger in Speculum, a top-notch historical review centered on Medieval History:

The arrival of this book is more than welcome for those of us teaching medieval history beyond Western Europe … The work required to produce this must have been immense and the payoff is tremendous for the reader … Central Europe in the High Middle Ages makes the medieval histories of these three incredibly important medieval polities available to an English-language audience of students and scholars, and it will hopefully facilitate the expansion of the idea of medieval Europe throughout college classrooms.

So, basically, Nora Berend’s book is the shit. No surprise there, it’s a Cambridge history book. Therefore I took upon myself to peruse its third chapter on ‘formation of polities and Christianization’ and here’s another quote I can hit you with:

Boleslav I attempted to counterbalance the growing political power of Germany under Henry I by tightening Bohemia’s traditional relations with Bavaria, leading to a long-standing alliance. Boleslav continued his father’s policy of strategic co-operation with the Polabian Slavs, which lasted for more than two centuries. He also tried to take advantage of German–Hungarian conflicts, and allowed the Magyar plunderers to pass freely as they made their way to Thuringia and further west. Nonetheless, he was forced to accept the suzerainty of Otto I in 950, and resume tribute payments. Bohemian assistance was provided to the German king to defeat the Magyars at Lechfeld in 955. Bohemia fell under the permanent control of the Empire, albeit indirectly.

Let’s conclude. Who’s right? Who’s wrong? What the hell happened? What the story behind all this? Well, you kind of know it by now. Nonetheless, make sure to check out my short history of the early Dukes of Bohemia, from Vratislav to Bretislav, in my next post!


“Why is the rule by William the Conqueror seen as such a turning point in English history instead of Cnut the Great’s rule?”

I have heard of the date 1066 so much but not 1016 when Cnut became king of whole of England – Why is it so?

[Question by u/littlesaint: link to the original reddit post]

My answer

I see many discussions on historical facts, but I think the best approach to answer this difficult question is with historiography: the writing of history. Also I’m pretty happy because I can provide some light on the subject. I hope you’ll like it.

I read in J. Bellis’ monography (The Hundred Years War in Literature. 1337-1600, 2016) that “in 1754 David Hume held that ‘William had even entertained the difficult project of abolishing the English language’, persuaded by the fabrications of the chronicle of pseudo-Ingulf, not until 1826 demonstrated to be a fifteenth-century forgery not an eleventh-century original. […] In their emphases on the conquerors’ alleged attempts at total linguistic abolition, the emotive invective of the French conflict of the eighteenth and nineteenth century was surely rearing its head: Hume and Scott were (unwittingly, perhaps?) the Gloucester and Castleford of their generations.” (p. 28)

A few pages before, J. Bellis writes on Gloucester and Castleford’s works.

“Early in the thirteenth century, Lazamon described the Normans as ‘unnatural people’, the dominance of their language as ‘malicious practice’ and ‘an immoral act’. […] He represented conquest as a specific act of linguistic vandalism, an overwriting of the precious and precarious textual landscape that encoded British history.§ Such romanticized reconstructions became more exaggerated as the events became more distant. In the early fourteenth century, the Metrical Chronicle (historically attributed to Robert of Gloucester, although this is debated) inveighed against the fact that ‘the English people have been dragged down to the ground, on account of a false king, who had no right to the kingdom.’ […] Two whole centuries after 1066, it projected an image of the conquerors as an unassimilated, unwelcome group, and the English as a racial subset living among invaders. […] Thomas Castleford took the topos further, writing of the Conqueror, ‘he cleft the land of England from English blood’. […] He depicted the dominance of French in the legal system as a deliberate ploy to condemn the English in a language they could not understand.” (p. 21-22)

J. Bellis concludes:

“This romantic exaggeration, itself inherited from the later Middle Ages, was in turn inherited by criticism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Edward Freeman (1876) held that ‘the tongue of the Norman conquerors … utterly displaced the national tongue’. He called ‘the abiding corruption of language’ ‘the one result of the Norman Conquest which has been purely evil’, lamenting that ‘the tongue which we brought with us from the elder England … has become for ever the spoil of the enemy’. Again, this reflects thirteenth- and fourteenth-century constructions (conducive to eighteenth- and nineteenth-century reconstructions), not the reality; it neatly illustrates for just how long the depiction of ‘linguistic conquest’ went on gathering momentum.” (p. 28)

We can therefore trace back a long chain of texts that construct the 1066 Norman Conquest as a total disaster for England and the English language in particular. It all begins in the 13th century with Lazamon point of view on the matter, which is then inflated by Gloucester and Castleford’s writing in the 14th century. This leads to the writing of the pseudo-Ingulf chronicle in the 15th century, “that purported to be an eleventh-century monastic chronicle” (Bellis, 2016, 25), but that is nothing but a forgery and has been written to sustain the war propaganda against the French. That last text was taken very seriously, however, by Hume and Scott, who romantically exaggerated the impact of the Norman Conquest on the 11th century Anglo-Saxon England. Their point of view was then carried on by the honourable scholar that was Edward Freeman and the impact of the Norman Conquest has been discussed ever since.

On the other hand, there is no such historiographical debate, spreading through several centuries, about Knut’s conquest. Partly because, “as Pearsall holds, ‘Englishness had always been constructed’ negatively, ‘out of opposition to Frenchness’, which ‘had been the whetstone of English national sentiment from Norman times and … was always capable of being reinvoked’.” (Bellis, 2016, 64)

The marking of 1066 as a point of “no return” was, however, not rendered obvious by former chroniclers. Among them we should mostly consider the anonymous author of the prose Brut. Before diving into that I’d ask you to allow me a short excursus about the Brut literature.

The Brut is a medieval narrative source that can be written in Latin, Old French (anglo-norman) or Middle English. Its literary tradition, as far as we can trace it back, starts with Monmouth own Historia Regum Britanniae (a most important historical chronicle that also lays the foundation of the Arthurian literature). That first Latin chronicle was written in the 12th century. It was then translated and adapted into Anglo-Norman verses by Wace, a few decades later. Those two massive works had a very clear and single objective: legitimize the Plantagenet kings as the rightful rulers of England.

Wace’s Roman de Brut—as it is called—was later on adapted into prose: the prose Brut. Now, we do have an awful lot of manuscripts containing different versions of that Anglo-Norman prose Brut. They were for most of all listed and described by the eminent scholar who was Lister M. Matheson.

A medieval chronicle was a “living text”, meaning it could be altered every time it was copied. Many things could change: from the content itself to the apparatus. The prose Brut was particularly popular because many chroniclers decided to add to it, generation after generation.

Circling back to the topic at hand, J. Marvin observed in her masterful monography (The Construction of Vernacular History in the Anglo-Normand Prose Brut Chronicle, 2017) that “the [prose Brut] chronicle also handles the Norman Conquest to minimize the appearance of a dynastic shift, taking pains to delegitimize Harold while legitimizing William as much as possible. It carefully notes William’s relationship to Edward the Confessor and his brother Alfred. […] It also emphasizes Harold’s unfitness, as a greedy and prideful oath-breaker, to rule. […] William’s victory becomes a triumph of right as much as might.” (p. 121-122) However, funnily enough, the apparatus of some prose Brut would later deconstruct that carefully crafted presentation of continuity.

“In London, Inner Temple Library, Petyt MS 511, vol. 19 (P511/19) the presence of the Latin genealogical poem that starts with William the Conqueror – ‘rex est anglorum, bello conquestor eorum’ – emphasizes his significance, and the sense of his beginning a new epoch in English history. For good measure, P511/19 also contains the Latin link between the prologue and the main text, and in the blank space left below the Latin link a fifteenth-century user has briefly repeated in Latin the information found in the earlier French note, including William’s conquest. This framing of the narrative is thus strongly reinforced for readers. And it appears to have had an effect. […] A fifteenth century annotator, probably the same person who added the Latin note, has provided a lengthy French note on the conquest of Britain and the change of the realm’s name, and there are also two manicules, one at the passage in the text acknowledging ‘la grant mescheance’ and another in the top margin beside the note.” (Marvin, 2017, 180-181)

The P511/19 contains what Lister M. Matheson classified as the Short Version of the prose Brut, which present a continuation of the chronicle up until 1333. It is therefore a 14th-century text and manuscript. The specific layout of the manuscript added to the 15th-century hand that wrote annotations in relation with the Norman Conquest further demonstrate the historiographical shift I was presenting in the first paragraphs, especially since the author of the prose Brut had particularly written his chronicle to showcase a rightful continuity between Edward and William’s reigns.

K. A. Murchison also demonstrates in her article about Le Livere de Reis de Engleterre (LRE), “Piety, Community and Local History: Le Livere de Reis de Engleterre and it’s Context in Cambridge, Trinity College, MS R.14.7” (2016), another early 14th-century chronicle, that the Norman Conquest wasn’t presented as a major shift by its author. “The chronicle is principally occupied with conveying the history of the eleventh and twelfth centuries. […] The author draws primarily on Geoffrey of Monmouth and Bede. […] Compared to its sources, LRE generally puts greater emphasis on the Church than the nation, and this creates the illusion of a transnational community of ethics, which deemphasizes national differences. […] As [John] Spence points out, England’s French prose chronicles typically justify the switch from Anglo-Saxon to Norman rule by emphasizing the legitimacy of William the Conqueror’s claim to the throne and by celebrating his reign. In contrast, LRE distributes praise or blame for William and other Norman rulers based on the way they treat religious individuals and institutions.”

These different observations help us to understand how the “Norman Conquest” gradually became a myth that served a purpose. Indeed, during the Hundred Years War “it was politically useful to keep insisting on the possibility of French aggression, and stoking the idea that its particular object was the English language. These allegations […] deliberately associated the French in the late fourteenth century with the Normans in the late eleventh, eliding present aggressors with former conquerors to depict a dubiously just, territorial skirmish as a defence of the realm (and the language) against its ancient and perennial menace. Perhaps it was not for nothing that the French are repeatedly described by the chronicles as ‘the Normandys’.” (Bellis, 2017, 63)

From that point onwards, 1066 became a very strong literary topos.

In conclusion, I’d like to add that I’m not stating, in any way, that William’s conquest of England as in and for itself is any more or less important than Knut’s. However I can safely assert that it became a much bigger deal for later historians. It was severely more discussed, it rose and brought on a lot more emotions (especially in connection with national pride and sense of identity), and that is why, in my opinion, William’s rule of England is seen “as such a turning point in English history”.