This book is an introduction. It is meant to be more than a brief survey and less – considerably less – than an encyclopedic work. The emphasis here is largely chronological and the presentation mostly in the form of a narrative. It is based on the premise that the study of history must begin with chronology. I hope that it will not end there and that readers of this book will wish to pursue aspects of the subject to another level: the selected readings sections appended to each chapter can provide a starting point.
As a young scholar, I felt – and would tell anyone who would listen – that no serious research scholar should write a book like this: there are just too many areas of history crying out for scholarly investigation. Yet, without in any way abandoning a firm belief in the fundamental importance of original research, I have softened the tone and have even changed my mind. It is my hope that a straightforward narrative which presupposes no detailed knowledge of either the Middle Ages or the Christian religion will encourage the reader to share the author’s enthusiasm for the subject and will stimulate an interest in the general study of history.
A book of this kind, which covers 1,000 years or so, requires difficult choices about what to include and, conversely, what to exclude. I realize that no two historians would make exactly the same choices. I am all too conscious that, in the nature of things, there is bound to be something arbitrary about inclusions and exclusions, but I take some solace in knowing that readers can turn to such books as Steven Fanning’s work on mystics and Jonathan Riley-Smith’s studies on the Crusades to fill in the lacunae left where these difficult choices have been made.
Over the past few years I have taken advantage of friends by going on and on, almost shamelessly, about topics that appear in these pages. I thank them for their patience and tolerance. It is a pleasure to record my debt and gratitude to scholars who have generously read parts of the text and made helpful suggestions: Katherine Cushing, Keith Egan, Robin Fleming, Linda Grant, Michael Robson, Sarah Stever and Daniel Williman. The readers for the press in their thoughtful comments and suggestions have helped to improve the text enormously. To no one am I more indebted than to Michael Clanchy, who read the entire text, chapter by chapter, as it came from my printer. His comments and encouragement have been of inestimable value to me in preparing this book, and I cannot thank him adequately. I greatly appreciate the suggestions made by all of these scholars and have departed from them rarely and then, I fear, at my own peril.
Writing a book such as this reminds one of the great wealth of scholarly work that has been done and is being done in the field of medieval history. The substance of this book owes its existence to untold hundreds of scholars working in this field in the past and in the present. It is an exceptionally rich vein one is privileged to mine.
F. Donald Logan
21 September 2001