Core texts, supplemental books, art, video, and memory work to study the Middle Ages textbook-free
Book List,  Education,  History

Textbook-Free Medieval History

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The medieval era is a delight to study.  While there certainly were periods and places of darkness, the Medieval world should never be categorized as a grim wasteland in between two more glorious epochs of civilization, and the Middle Ages should be studied as more than a mere transition period.

Of course, studying Medieval history provides many fun opportunities to dress up in costume and build castles out of wooden blocks.  Beyond that, however, it is also a period of rich literature both in original source documents and in modern thematic literature.   Our family just finished a lovely semester reading about and memorizing poetry from the Middle Ages.  I am so excited to share some of our resource ideas with you all!

This is where it gets a tiny bit complicated.

Some people might call it my super power.

Some people (my husband?) might view it as my biggest weakness.

But when I start recommending books, it is really hard for me to stop!  I will do my best to limit this list.

I’ll try. Maybe.

{This post contains affiliate links.  Please see disclaimer.}

75+ Textbook-free Resources for Medieval History

Core texts, supplemental books, art, video, and memory work to study the Middle Ages textbook-free
Core resources, supplemental reading, art, video, memory work, and more to study the Middle Ages textbook-free

My desire is always to focus first on our core resources.  These are the books that will give us our biographical and chronological framework for the time period we are studying (in this case, the Middle Ages).  Many of these books I read aloud, although there are necessarily several I pass off to older kids for independent study (my voice and the toddler’s patience can only last so long).

There are also a few historical fiction resources that I love so dearly I am unwilling to leave them to chance on the supplemental-reading shelf.  Some of these I read aloud and some the children read on their own.

What follows are my own essentials.  These are of course not the only good books to teach and study the Middle Ages.  But this is my home and my school so I get to pick what I want;  my position has to come with at least this one privilege, right?

Check out my Textbook-Free History post for a bit more about how and why we study history the way we do.  And please let me know of any other books, documentaries, or projects I should incorporate the next time we cycle through this period of medieval history!

Also be sure to watch and read about how we incorporate reading journals for our younger and older children!

{Want to join us in a Year of Memory Work?  52 weeks of free videos and printables!}

Grab your FREE textbook-free history planning pages here.

Core for all ages:

Famous Men of the Middle Ages 

Story of Liberty

Cathedral, Castle, and Mosque by David Macaulay (both those books and the movie versions: Cathedral and Castle)

Beowulf, Seamus Heaney translation illustrated edition

Beowulf, James Rumford
It is totally worth it to seek out this edition.  The author only uses words derived from pre-1066 English! (For those of you wondering, that is when William the Conqueror invaded England and our language changed dramatically through the influence of French.)  The illustrations are also magnificent.

Canterbury Tales, Barbara Cohen

Chanticleer and the Fox, Barbara Cooney

Men of Iron, Howard Pyle

Otto of the Silver Hand, Howard Pyle

Robin Hood, by Pyle, Wyeth (illustrator), and/or Green (so many wonderful retellings!  I always love the Pyle stories, but I am also partial to Wyeth’s illustrations)

King Arthur and His Knights, by Pyle and/or Wyeth (illustrator)

Landmark book series: William the Conqueror, Joan of Arc, Crusades, Vikings, and King Arthur

Leif the Lucky, d’Aulaire

Norse Myths, d’Aulaire

Door in the Wall, de Angeli

Minstrel in the Tower, Skurzynski

Monks and Mystics, Withrow

Biographies of early church fathers by Simonetta Carr (like Athanasius and Augustine) will give a fascinating look into the development of Christendom.

Core for 7th and up (but don’t neglect the previous titles!):

We use an older edition of Dr. George Grant’s humanities lectures and curriculum to guide our older students through their history studies.  You can see a sample lecture here. (This is not an affiliate link, just passing on a delightful resource!)

There are several additional resources, however, that I have already or plan to incorporate in our upper level years.

Art and Beauty in the Middle Ages, Umberto Eco (a challenging read for your older highschooler)

Name of the Rose, Umberto Eco (also for older highschool students)

The Discarded Image, C. S. Lewis (This is not quite as challenging as Eco, but still complex, so probably also for an older highschooler.  It would be amazing to read Voyage of the Dawn Treader afterwards and discuss how Lewis incorporated elements of Medieval worldview into that story.)

Augustine’s Confessions

On the Incarnation, Athanasius

Beowulf, Seamus Heaney translation, bilingual edition (So much fun to see the Old English across from the modern translation!  A friend gave me a copy of this a few months ago and practically made my year.)

A Distant Mirror, Barbara Tuchman

Once and Future King, T. H. White

King Arthur and His Knights, Malory

Scottish Chiefs, Jane Porter

Divine Comedy (Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso), Dante (Sayers translation)

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

Song of Roland

Church History, by Kuiper and/or Sketches from Church History, by Houghton and/or Introduction to the History of Christianity, by Dowley

Creeds of Christendom and History of the Christian Church by Schaff (These are extensive, and most likely you will use these for reference, not reading straight through.  Although if you do read them straight through, I and my two multi-volume hardbound sets salute you.)

Supplemental Books

Often, I strew these supplemental books strategically around the house hoping to pique a child’s interest.  Also, because I teach chronologically, we cycle back through historical time periods when children are at varying ages.  So a title they enjoyed the last time around they may not want to read again.

Since I have 5 children that means today you get the benefit of a very large list of supplemental titles.  These are all actual books we have read over the past 2 cycles through the Middle Ages; every child did not read every title on this list both times, however!

Aside from the hopeful strewing, there have also been times when a child’s weekly assignment sheet has said something like, “read 1 supplemental title this week” or “read a supplemental book of your choice for 20 minutes each day” or “pick 3 of the following 5 titles to read this term.”  I do like for them to have some personal ownership and interest in the books they are reading!

Cultural Atlas of the Middle Ages

Arabs in the Golden Age

Augustine Came to Kent

Knights, Gail Gibbons

Medieval Feast, Aliki

Light Beyond the Forest, Sutcliff

The Apple and the Arrow, Buff

Golden Tales from the Arabian Nights, Tenggren

Odd and the Frost Giants, Neil Gaiman

You Wouldn’t Want to be in a Medieval Dungeon

Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!

St. Patrick- Pioneer Missionary in Ireland, McHugh

100 Things You Should Know about Knights and Castles

Kitchen Knight, Margaret Hodges

Merlin and the Making of the King, Margaret Hodges

Saint George and the Dragon, Margaret Hodges

Seven Daughters and Seven Sons, Cohen

The Emperor’s Silent Army, Jane O’Connor
We got to visit the Virginia Museum of Fine Art this winter and see some of the actual terracotta warriors from China.  It was epic!  If you’re within driving distance, it is worth the effort and expense.

Viking Adventure, Bulla

Book of Dragons, E. Nesbit

Time Trekkers visit the Middle Ages

Boy Knight, Henty

Discovery of New Worlds, Synge

Children of Odin, Padraic Colum

Art Resources

In my imagination, we are building elaborate to-scale castle models, trebuchets in the back yard, and intricately illuminated manuscripts.  In reality, the castles are built from lego and playmobile, the trebuchet is the fork shooting food across the table, and the illuminations happen in a coloring book.

I am so inspired and delighted, however, when I see the amazing projects other families do in their studies.  Please share them with me in the comments or on the Humility and Doxology facebook page!  It would be amazing for others to see possibilities.

That being said, if you, like me, are mom of many children or many responsibilities, or even just a mom who doesn’t want to clean up an extra mess, here are a few low-key art resources to make you feel like at least you tried. has an amazing Middle Ages themed video art lessons course!  You can see an example of what they have to offer for FREE on their YouTube channel:

Origami in King Arthur’s Court

Draw Medieval Fantasies, Reinagle

To learn about the printing press, which played a huge role in the transition period between medievalism and the renaissance, you could just use literal alphabet stamps and printer paper you have lying around the house.  If you wanted to take it a step further, you could make block prints from potatoes or sponges.

Although I have not yet discovered a local resource like this in my area that allows children to visit, when I was a child studying the Middle Ages we went to a local stained-glass shop.  There we actually were allowed to make our own stained glass art with real tools! I still have my sailboat today, more than two decades later.

There are also numerous coloring books that give examples of Medieval calligraphy and illuminations.

Audio, Video, and Beyond

The Anglo-Saxon World is an engaging collection of lectures of Dr. Drout.  We actually incorporated a mnemonic from one of these lectures into our morningtime memory work last fall.

Masterpieces of Medieval Literature is an intriguing collection of lectures by Dr. Shutt

I was blessed to have a local friend willing to share her experience with the Arabic language the last time we cycled through Medieval history.  She came to our home and taught us a bit of the basics of the Arabic alphabet.  We learned how to write our names in Arabic and a few numbers.  There is likely someone in your area who would be equally glad to share their knowledge.

I won’t apologize for loving the animated Robin Hood.  I have decided it “counts,” at least for the littles.

This fall, the kids and I loved watching the “Medieval Siege” episode from Secrets of Lost Empires.  The historians in the episode actually built a trebuchet to try to replicate Medieval warfare.  It was incredibly fascinating.

Great Kings of England: William the Conqueror was another documentary we enjoyed in our previous cycle through studying the Middle Ages.

This title is completely silly, but I do want to include it for the sake of moms who already have some history knowledge as well as older highschool students with a good grasp of history.  1066 and All That is a complete inside-joke for history students.  My brother gave this to me many years ago, and I still laugh whenever I open it to read a few pages!

Grab your FREE textbook-free history planning pages here.

Memory Work

I have found the Middle Ages to be an apropos time to copy maps of both Medieval Europe and modern Europe.  After all, the topography has not changed.  However, we can learn a lot from examining how the geo-political borders have shifted over time.  It is also helpful to gain a perspective on a time that was, in many ways, pre-national.  Medieval people were incredibly connected to their families, their communities, and their local region.  During the Middle Ages there was not a sense of belonging to a large nation or country the way we think of them today.  Map studies can help illuminate this issue.

For “blob mapping”:

Here is a helpful video demonstrating how to do a simple geography drill.

Along with drawing, copying, or labeling maps of Europe, we absolutely love puzzle maps.  This can be a useful task to keep hands occupied during read-aloud time.

{Want to join us in a Year of Memory Work?  52 weeks of free videos and printables!}

Other things we have incorporated into our memory work during morningtime include:

The 12 Chivalric Virtues

Integritas (Trustworthy)
Fidelitas (Loyal)
Succerrere (Helpful)
Benevolous (Friendly)
Benignus (Kind)
Urbanus (Courteous)
Referre (Obedient)
Hilaris (Cheerful)
Frugalis (Thrifty)
Fortido (Brave)
Abulere (Clean)
Sanctus (Reverent)

Nicene Creed

I believe in God the Father Almighty,
Maker of heaven and earth;
and of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God,
begotten of his Father before all worlds:
God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God,
begotten, not made; being of one substance with the Father,
by whom all things were made:
Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven,
and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary,
and was made man;
and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate.
He suffered and was buried;
and the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures,
and ascended into heaven,
and sits on the right hand of the Father.
And he shall come again with glory
to judge both the living and the dead
whose kingdom shall have no end.

And I believe in the Holy Spirit,
The Lord, and Giver of Life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son,
who with the Father and the Son
together is worshipped and glorified;
who spoke by the prophets.

And I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
I acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
And I look for the resurrection of the dead
and the life of the world to come.


Caedmon’s Hymn

Nu sculon herigean heofonrices Weard Meotodes meahte ond his modgepanc Weorc Wuldorfaeder, swa he wundra gehwaes Ece Drihten, or onstealde. He aerest sceop ielda bearnum Heofon to hrofe, halig Scyppend; Pa middangeard moncynnes Weard, Ece Drihten aefter teode Firum foldan Frea aelmihti ere Kroen.

 Now we must praise the heaven-kingdom’s Guardian
For the works of His hand
And the thoughts of His mind,
Work of the Glorious Father,
Eternal Lord.

He first created for the sons of men 
Heaven as a roof, the holy Creator,
Then Middle-earth the keeper of mankind,
The Eternal Lord, afterwards made,
The earth for men, the Almighty Lord.

Patrick’s Breastplate

This is the abbreviated portion we used:

I bind to myself today
The strong virtue of the Invocation of the Trinity:
I believe the Trinity in the Unity
The Creator of the Universe.

I bind to myself today
The virtue of the Incarnation of Christ with His Baptism,
The virtue of His crucifixion with His burial,
The virtue of His Resurrection with His Ascension,
The virtue of His coming on the Judgment Day.

 I bind to myself today
God’s Power to guide me,
God’s Might to uphold me,
God’s Wisdom to teach me,
God’s Eye to watch over me,
God’s Ear to hear me,
God’s Word to give me speech,
God’s Hand to guide me,
God’s Way to lie before me,
God’s Shield to shelter me,
God’s Host to secure me,
Against the snares of demons,
Against the seductions of vices,
Against the lusts of nature,
Against everyone who meditates injury to me,
Whether far or near,
Whether few or with many.

 I invoke today all these virtues
Against every hostile merciless power
Which may assail my body and my soul,
Against the incantations of false prophets,
Against the black laws of heathenism,
Against the false laws of heresy,
Against the deceits of idolatry,
Against the spells of women, and smiths, and druids,
Against every knowledge that binds the soul of man.

Christ, protect me today
Against every poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against death-wound,
That I may receive abundant reward.

Christ with me, Christ before me,
Christ behind me, Christ within me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ at my right, Christ at my left,
Christ in the fort,
Christ in the chariot seat,
Christ in the stern.

Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks to me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

I bind to myself today
The strong virtue of an invocation of the Trinity,
I believe the Trinity in the Unity
The Creator of the Universe.

King Alfred’s War Song (one of my favorite hymns!)

When the enemy comes in a-roaring like a flood
Coveting the kingdom and hungering for blood
The Lord will raise a standard up and lead His people on
The Lord of Hosts will go before defeating every foe; defeating every foe
For the Lord is our defense, Jesu defend us; for the Lord is our defense, Jesu defend. 

Some men trust in chariots, some trust in the horse
But we will depend upon the Name of Christ our Lord
The Lord has made my hands to war and my fingers to fight
The Lord lays low our enemies but raises us upright; He raises us upright
For the Lord is our defense, Jesu defend us; for the Lord is our defense, Jesu defend. 

A thousand fall on my left hand, ten thousand to the right,
And yet He will defend us from the arrow in the night
Protect us from the terrors of the teeth of the devourer
Imbue us with your Spirit, Lord, encompass us with power; encompass us with power.
For the Lord is our defense, Jesu defend us; for the Lord is our defense, Jesu defend.

 I had some trouble finding the music online, but here is a free recording if you’d also like to learn to sing the hymn, not just recite the ancient text:

A simple poem summarizing the English kings and queens after the conquest

Willie, Willie, Harry, Steve,
Harry, Dick, John, Harry 3;
1, 2, 3 Neds, Richard 2,
Harries 4, 5, 6—then who?
Edwards 4, 5, Dick the Bad,
Harries twain, and Ed the lad;
Mary, Bessie, James the Vain,
Charlie, Charlie, James again;
William and Mary, Anne, great gloria!
4 Georges, William, and Victoria,
Ned and George; repeat again;
And then Elizabeth comes to reign.

Prologue to the Canterbury Tales in Middle English
(My dad taught me this as a child by reciting it aloud on long car trips and at random moments. I think perhaps he had learned it in highschool.  It is actually one of the very few poems I ever memorized in childhood, and I tell my children it is an essential part of their familial heritage to declaim it with conviction.)

Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote,
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licóur
Of which vertú engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his swete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his halfe cours y-ronne,
And smale foweles maken melodye,
That slepen al the nyght with open ye,
So priketh hem Natúre in hir corages,
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,
And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes,
To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes;
And specially, from every shires ende
Of Engelond, to Caunterbury they wende,
The hooly blisful martir for to seke,
That hem hath holpen whan that they were seeke.

 It is helpful to read through a modern English translation as well for the sake of understanding, but I would stick with memorizing only the Middle English so as not to miss out on the lyricism.

Excerpts from Macbeth, Henry V, or any of Shakespeare’s other English history plays
Any excuse to memorize Shakespeare with the kids is good enough for me!
How to Teach Your Child Shakespeare is a good resource if you feel unsure about picking passages from Shakespeare by yourself.

And watch Henry V, too, if you have children old enough for the battle-scene violence!

Pam Barnhill has several prepared Morning Time resources if you want something more open and go.

What are your favorite Medieval resources?

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Amy Sloan and her husband, John, are second-generation homeschoolers by grace alone to 5 children ages 4, 7, 8, 11, and 13. Their educational philosophy is one of humility and doxology, and follows primarily a classical approach. Amy loves coffee, perseveres through half-marathons and weight-training, and starts getting nervous if the stack of to-be-read library books beside her bed is less than 2 feet tall. Get her started on Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Homer, or Hamilton the Musical and it might be hard to get her to stop. Mostly, though, she gets really excited about the Gospel. The Sloan family adventures in North Carolina.


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