The Ecclesiastical History of the English People offers a glimpse into English history from Caesar’s invasion in 55 BC to Bede’s life c. 731 AD. While Bede’s narrative documents English history, his primary focus is the conflict between the Christian Church and paganism. Bede tells how Augustine brought Christianity to the Anglo-Saxons in 597, how pagans opposed the spread of Christianity in the various regions, and how ultimately the Council of Whitby was a major turning point in English history. Bede typifies his era by demonstrating tales of the miraculous and heavily disputing the correct way to calculate the date for Easter. Bede also openly advances his own views on politics and religion throughout the book.
While this book was not light reading, I enjoyed Bede’s storytelling. He made the personal stories come alive. Reading Bede’s arguments over calculating the date of Easter helped me understand the medieval mindset better. While I appreciate Bede’s focus on the English church and various heresies, I wish Bede had included the secular history of kings for historical context. I believe Bede is a must-read for any historian desiring to learn more about the medieval era. Bede accurately portrays the mindset of the medieval world with its focus on miraculous events and the expansion of Christianity. I would definitely return to this work for historical perspective, anecdotes on the Middle Ages, and insight into period political and religious thought.
– Hannah S. Bowers
Bede. The Ecclesiastical History of the English People; The Greater Chronicle; Bede’s Letter to Egbert. Edited by Judith McClure and Roger Collins. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.