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Medieval Sources (500-1500AD)


The medieval period in Britain followed the collapse of the Roman Empire, and is roughly equivalent to the period from the Northern and Southern dynasties to the mid Ming Dynasty in China.

The first five centuries of the medieval period saw the evolution of several small kingdoms within England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales under a number of different ruling dynasties and peoples from the British Isles, continental Europe and Scandinavia.

By 1000 two larger kingdoms of England and Scotland had emerged. The invasion of William the Conqueror in 1066 was the last successful invasion from overseas, and this was followed by a period of consolidation and the strengthening and development of royal government in England over the next four centuries. The new Anglo-Norman dynasty also extended its authority over Wales and Ireland, but Scotland remained an independent kingdom throughout the medieval period.

Britain is rich in surviving source material from this later period, including the abundant administrative records of central and local government, the Church, and individual landowners. Literacy developed in a number of different languages. The most frequently encountered are Latin, French and various forms of English. However varieties of Gaelic and Welsh were also used in Ireland, Scotland, the Isle of Man and Wales.

Many projects in recent years have resulted in the digitisation of selections of these administrative and literary sources which have been made available online so that historians everywhere can access them.








Click on the resources below to find out more and access the sources

Anglo-American Legal Tradition

The Anglo-American Legal Tradition provides a large quantity of information relating to the royal courts in England from 1176 to the reign of Queen Victoria. The records provide a glimpse at the political, legal and economic workings of the royal court. The website contains colour images of the original court rolls and links to the calendars of patent and close rolls.  

Anglo-Norman Online Hub

The Anglo-Norman Online Hub contains the Anglo-Norman dictionary as well as a concordance of Anglo-Norman texts. These texts range in genre from romances to devotional material to administrative documents. The texts can be searched or browsed alphabetically. While the sources vary widely in genre and content, they are of particular interest to those who wish to examine aristocratic culture in England after the Norman Conquest.

British History Online

British History Online is a significant resource for historians of all aspects of British History. The website contains a broad range of material which has been printed and presents it in a navigable and searchable format.  Sources range from the Parliament Rolls of Medieval England to edited collections of wills. Sources are available for across the Middle Ages, with filters allowing the user to refine by century, subject or geographical location. As well as primary sources British History Online also provides subject guides, calendars of archival material and a small selection of secondary sources.

British Library Online Resources

The British Library has an extensive collection of medieval manuscripts, some of which have been digitised and are available online. This resource is particularly useful for manuscript illuminations, which have been reproduced to a very high quality. The British Library has also contains articles that bring together images relating to specific themes such as ‘Women in Medieval Society’ or ‘Medieval Monsters’. This is a rich resource for those interested in the society and culture of medieval Britain.

Calendar of Patent Rolls

This resource contains digitised versions of printed calendars of patent rolls from Henry III to Henry VI.  The patent rolls are administrative records of offices, rights, monopolies or titles issued by the monarch to a person or corporation. The patent rolls therefore provide a wealth of information for historians interested in legal, political and social history.

Camelot Project

The Camelot Project is a rich resource that provides extensive contextual information for Arthurian romances. Users can browse lists of creatures, characters, locations, or symbols to find fuller descriptions and textual references to where these topics appear across the entire body of Arthurian literature. This source would be of particular use to historians interested in the literature of the high and late Middle Ages.

Cause Papers in the Diocesan Courts of the Archbishopric of York, 1300-1858

The York cause papers are the papers of individual cases of the ecclesiastic court in York. The cause papers cover a wide variety of cases such as disputes over marriage contracts, tithes, and the validity of wills. While some of the entries only provide basic information on cases, others contain colour images of the original cause papers. The website also provides historical background of the Diocesan courts and guides to using the cause papers. The cause papers present a valuable insight into familial and community relations. The source is of particular interest to social, cultural and legal historians.

Corpus of Anglo Saxon Stone Sculpture

The Corpus of Anglo Saxon Stone Sculpture contains images and descriptions of English stone sculptures dating from the seventh to the eleventh century. The catalogue can be browsed or searched using criteria such as stone type, description, or location. The corpus is particularly useful for historians of the Anglo Saxon period and in particular those interested in art history.

Corpus of Romanesque Sculpture in Britain and Ireland

The Corpus of Romanesque Sculptures contains images and detailed descriptions of Romanesque sculpture dating from the eleventh and twelfth century. With sculptures recorded from over 5000 sites across Britain and Ireland, this website provides an extensive source for those interested in the cultural history of the high medieval period.

Corpus Vitrearum Medii Aevi: Medieval Stained Glass in Great Britain

The Corpus Vitrearum Medii Aevi (CVMA) contains a picture archive of more than 25,000 images, the majority of which are in colour. Each image is accompanied by a description that details the specific location and history of the image. This is an extensive source for those interested in medieval visual culture as well as a valuable resource for social and ecclesiastic historians more generally.

Database of Middle English Romance

The Online Database of Middle English Verse Romance contains information on over eighty verse romances composed between 1225 and 1500. Descriptions of each romance contain plot summaries, date, and location of composition, manuscript history and bibliographical information. Some descriptions also contain links to online editions of the romances. The database contains an extensive search function to bring together romances who contain common features, themes, or appear alongside each other in manuscripts.

England’s Immigrants 1330-1550: Resident Aliens in the Late Middle Ages

The England’s Immigrants Database allows the user to search the Alien Subsidies and a variety of other sources relating to England’s immigrant population between the years 1350 and 1550. Researchers can search or browse the database by name, occupation, nationality, residence, social status, or gender. The database is rich resource for demographic, social, economic, political, or cultural historians.

Fathers of the Church

The Fathers of Church provides English translations of the writings of the Christian Church Fathers along with contextual information on their lives and works. It is a useful reference work for those interested in medieval cultural and ecclesiastic history.

Fine Rolls of Henry III 1216-1272

The Henry III Fine Rolls Project provides translated editions of the rolls in order to make them accessible to a wider range of historians. The fine rolls recorded payments to the King from individuals or groups who would in return receive certain concessions. Therefore the fine rolls give a unique insight into how Henry III interacted with his subjects. The resource provides a glimpse of medieval politics at work making it a useful tool for economic, political, and social historians.

The Gascon Rolls Project (1317-1468)

The gascon rolls recorded administrative and governmental information for the English territories of France. The project allows users to browse calendars of the rolls and to search the rolls using a variety of filters, such as by person, place, occupation, or office. The website also contains research tools such as maps, a glossary, and contextual information. These rolls are a rich source for those interested in military, social, legal, and political history.

Internet Archive: Text Archive

The Internet Archive’s Text Archive is a digital library with over nine million digitised volumes. This includes digitised versions of edited primary sources. Books can be read online or downloaded in a variety of formats. Due to the volume of their collection this source is most useful when searching for a specific volume rather than explorative research.

Internet Medieval Sourcebook

The Internet Medieval Sourcebook is a collection of medieval primary sources. The sourcebook covers events from the Fall of Rome to the Reformation. The sources are organised chronologically through loose themes such as The Crusades or The Medieval Church. This acts as a loose time plan for social, economic, and cultural development of Europe across the period. There are sections relating to legal history, intellectual history, or the history of specific nations or empires. The sources available in each section are extensive and are collected from a wide variety of genres. Due to the breadth of material, the Medieval Sourcebook is an excellent source for historians interested in the legal, political, military, social, and cultural history of medieval Europe.

Late Medieval English Scribes

Late Medieval English Scribes is a catalogue of the scribal hands that appear in the late medieval writings of Geoffrey Chaucer, John Gower, John Trevisa, William Langland, and Thomas Hoccleve. The website contains profiles for each identified scribal hand as well as manuscript descriptions and images of the manuscripts themselves. This source is particularly useful for cultural and book historians.

Mapping the Medieval Countryside

The inquisitions post-mortem were formal inquiries held by the crown. Specifically these inquiries were held after the deaths of those who held their land directly from the King. These tenants included those at the very top of society, townspeople, and even some wealthy peasants. The inquiries sought to define the nature and value of the lands held by deceased tenants. The database allows the user to search by inquisition, name, or location. The source provides a wealth of information for those interested in social, agricultural, and legal history of the Middle Ages.

The Medieval Bestiary: Animals in the Middle Ages

A bestiary is type of book that shows images and discusses the qualities and characteristics of animals in the medieval imagination. It refers to both mythical and historical animals. The Medieval Bestiary has compiled a number of bestiaries from across the medieval period into one compendium, which can be searched or browsed alphabetically. Alongside written descriptions and stories relating to the animals The Medieval Bestiary also includes original manuscript illuminations of how the animals were envisioned. The Bestiary gives an insight to how medieval contemporaries viewed the world, making this source particularly relevant for cultural historians.

Medieval Resources Online

The Institute of Medieval Studies at the University of Leeds has compiled a large list of medieval resources that can be found online. While not all of these resources can be accessed without a subscription, the webpage is a very useful guide. The sources are organised thematically and each list of resources is annotated.

Medieval Wall Painting in the English Parish Church

The Painted Church Project contains images of medieval church wall paintings from across England. The images are organised by subject making it simple to compare each church’s depictions of the same theme. The source is particularly useful for those who are interested in cultural and art history, however, the religious content of the images also make it useful for those interested in medieval religion.

Middle English Compendium

The Middle English Compendium combines the Middle English Dictionary, a HyperBibliography of Middle English Prose and Verse, and the Corpus of Middle English Prose and Verse. The Corpus can be browsed alphabetically by author or through a number of search options. The material is mostly literary, including poetry, chronicles, and devotional manuals, however, it includes some administrative documents also. This source is particularly useful for those who are interested in late medieval cultural or literary history.

Norfolk Medieval Graffiti Project

The Norfolk Medieval Graffiti Project seeks to broaden our knowledge of the parish church. While stained glass, tombs, and inscriptions tell us something of the elite members of society, graffiti offers a new perspective on those who did not have the wealth of influence to have their names and symbols formally inscribed in their local parish church. As such the project is a valuable source to examine social history, especially at a local level. The project has a database in development. However, it currently offers users the ability to browse images from a selection of churches in Norfolk.

The Online Froissart

Jean Froissart’s Chronicle covers from 1326 to the end of the fourteenth century. The chronicles themselves have a rich manuscript tradition and this website aims to allow those interested in medieval manuscript studies to compare the development of Froissart’s chronicles over time. However, the content of the chronicle itself is abundant with social and cultural information of the fourteenth century that Froissart experienced.

Patrologia Latina

The Patrologia Latina Database is an online version of Jacques-Paul Migne's Patrologia Latina. The Patrologia Latina contains the writings of the Christian church fathers from the year 200 to 1216. Users can search the database by author, term, or specific reference to the original printed volume.

Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England

The Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England database compiles a wide variety of extant written sources from the sixth to the eleventh century. These include the doomsday book, coins, inscriptions, chronicles, and saints lives. The database has an extensive search function with a corresponding guide on how to filter results. This source provides an extensive reference work for anyone historians of Anglo-Saxon England but in particular those interested in prosopography.

Records of the Parliaments of Scotland to 1707

The Records of the Parliaments of Scotland is a searchable database of the proceedings of the Scottish Parliaments from the thirteenth to the eighteenth century. Alongside the proceedings themselves, the website also contains extensive contextual information on the history of the Scottish Parliament. There is also a guide for new users of the database, which suggests areas of research and guidance on getting the most from the database itself. The database is particularly useful for those interested in political history, however, it also provides insights in the social, economic, and legal history of Scotland.

Soldiers of Medieval England Database 1369-1453

The Soldiers of Medieval England Database allows the user to search through the Muster, Treaty, Gascon, and Scottish Rolls. The Muster Rolls list the names of soldiers who took part in military campaign and were compiled and edited at the point of embarkation. The Treaty, Gascon, and Scottish Rolls account the legal provisions taken by individuals who intended to serve. This database is useful for genealogy, military, and political history.

Matthew Paris