Category Archives: History

The first title in our Universal Reform series is just published

Posted by Hattie Wilson, Senior Marketing Executive

Transnational Networks and Cross-Religious Exchange in the Seventeenth-Century Mediterranean and Atlantic WorldsWe are delighted to announce that our new series, Universal Reform: Studies in Intellectual History, 1550-1700 has just published its first title. Transnational Networks and Cross-Religious Exchange in Seventeenth-Century Mediterranean and Atlantic Worlds by Brandon Marriott examines the claim by Antonio de Montezinos in 1644 that he had discovered the Lost Tribes of Israel in the jungles of South America, and how this news spread across Europe and the Ottoman Empire. Marriott reveals the importance of early-modern crises, diasporas and newsgathering networks in generating eschatological constructs and transforming them through a process of intercultural dissemination into complex new hybrid religious conceptions and identities.

The Universal Reform series, edited by Howard Hotson and Vladimír Urbánek, examines the attempts by a wide variety of Post-Reformation intellectuals to extend the reforming impulse from the spheres of church and theology to many different areas of life and thought.

Within these ambitious reforming projects, impulses originating in the Reformation mixed inextricably with projects emerging from the late-Renaissance and with the ongoing transformations of communications, education, art, literature, science, medicine, and philosophy.  Although specialised literatures exist to study these individual developments, they do not comfortably accommodate studies of how these components were sometimes brought together in the service of wider reforms. By providing a natural home for fresh research uncomfortably accommodated within Renaissance studies, Reformation studies, and the histories of science, medicine, philosophy, and education, Universal Reform pursues a more synoptic understanding of individuals, movements, and networks pursuing further and more general reform by bringing together studies rooted in all of these sub-disciplinary historiographies.

If you are interested in submitting a proposal for the Universal Reform series, please contact the publisher, Thomas Gray

Things Verbal and Things Herbal: Leah Knight’s Reading Green in Early Modern England receives the 2014 BSLS Book Prize

Posted by Beth Whalley, Marketing Executive

Reading GreenCongratulations to Leah Knight, whose book Reading Green in Early Modern England has been announced as the winner of the 2014 British Society for Literature and Science book prize.

Ranging across contexts from early modern optics and olfaction to horticulture and herbal health care, Knight’s study explores a host of human encounters with the green world: both the impressions we make upon it and those it leaves with us. Reading Green explores the physical and figurative potentials of ‘green’ as they were understood in Renaissance England, including some that foreshadow our paradoxical dependence on and sacrifice of the green world.

The BSLS prize panel was highly impressed by the style, method, adventure and innovation of the study. Knight, whose first monograph (Of Books and Botany in Early Modern England) won the prize in 2009, said:

I am of course delighted that Reading Green won the BSLS book prize. The support of my colleagues working at the nexus of literature and science means a great deal.

As to my motivation for Reading GreenAfter Of Books and Botany in Early Modern England, I had the nagging feeling of unfinished business in my exploration of the interrelations of plants and books. New angles and new evidence for their historical interplay just kept cropping up, even when I wasn’t looking.

Then again, some of my motivation in returning to the topic might be owing to my unsettled sense about the relations between the intellectual to the natural world. There’s something utopian about the paired settings of the library and the garden, but the predatory dependence of books on plants seems to stand for an insidious conflict. The chapters in Reading Green let me work through some of these complexities as they played out in early modern England, a time and place when the material and mental cultures of things verbal and things herbal were in tremendous flux. 

Malcom Barber and Keith Bate on letters from crusaders and pilgrims

Posted by David Cota, Senior Marketing Coordinator

Letters from the East presents translations of a selection of the letters sent by crusaders and pilgrims from Asia Minor, Syria and Palestine. There are accounts of all the great events from the triumph of the capture of Jerusalem in 1099 to the disasters of Hattin in 1187 and the loss of Acre in 1291.

In this guest blog editors Malcolm Barber and Keith Bate reflect on the letters they selected for their volume.


There are fascinating and vivid chronicles in the Ashgate series, many of which have been expertly analysed with the aims of determining the motives of the writers, the influences upon them, and the circumstances in which they were composed. We see the letters complementing these, since, even in the hands of a self-conscious author like James of Vitry, Bishop of Acre, they were subject to the more immediate pressures of life in a frontier society, whereas the chronicles were often polished and rewritten in order to demonstrate the literary accomplishments of the authors or to promote the cause of a patron. Letters from the eastAs with the chronicles we’ve tried to translate most of the letters in their entirety because we wanted to limit editorial steer as much as possible, and because future trends in analysis can’t easily be forecast. Parts of the text which might seem inconsequential today may well be the subject of study tomorrow.

Of course the act of selection is in itself an imposition not faced by the translator of a complete chronicle, but in the case of letters the quantity of material available makes this inevitable. It might be helpful to explain some of the considerations which lay behind our choices. Some letters are presented as stand-alone texts, but we have tried to group others in a variety of different ways: thus we have participants in a common enterprise like the First Crusade, the huge but ultimately fruitless effort to persuade Louis VII of France to lead a new expedition to the East in 1160s, and the collection put together by individuals such as James of Vitry. In the end, though, there’s no real consistency of approach among the writers themselves; indeed, this might be seen as part their attraction as sources. At one extreme there are pragmatic appeals for help, often in the wake of disasters; at the other, an extraordinary description of the fantasy land of Prester John, produced in Germany around 1165 as part of the imperial propaganda campaign against the papacy. Less elaborate but equally intriguing is a forged letter of 1193 purporting to be from Rashid al-Din, leader of the Syrian Assassins, emanating from the chancery of Richard I. Here, the Assassin leader assures Leopold of Austria that, despite allegations to the contrary, the king had nothing to do with the murder of Conrad of Montferrat in Acre in April the previous year. Other letters, while basically factual, may for different reasons not be quite what they seem: it’s been argued, for instance, that the two famous letters by Terricus, the Templar preceptor, apparently written in 1187 and 1188 after the battle of Hattin, are in fact compilations intended to excite a reaction in the West from which aid in the form of men, money and supplies might flow.

Particularly eye-catching are the personal touches. These men and women lived in a very different world, but their humanity still resonates. When, in 1097, Stephen of Blois described to his wife, Adela, daughter of William the Conqueror, the generosity of Alexius, the Byzantine emperor, one sentence reflects on what must have been a source of continual irritation between the two of them. ‘Your father, my love, gave many great presents, but he was almost nothing in comparison with this man.’ Stephen was not the only one whose thoughts turned to home. In 1120, Ansell, Cantor of the Holy Sepulchre, sent a cross made from wood taken from the True Cross to his friends at Notre Dame in Paris. In the accompanying letter, he recalled his time with them. ‘Although it is now twenty-four years since I left you and your church where I was nourished and educated, my love for you remains fervent and in my mind I still live in your church with you.’ Sometimes, though, the letters betray frustration and anger caused by the bitter experience of failure. Conrad III, King of Germany, who felt humiliated by the retreat from Damascus in 1148, believed he had been betrayed, apparently by local Franks, despite the fact that it had been ‘a unanimous decision’ to attack the city. Nor was the Muslim enemy the only hazard. In 1216, James of Vitry was on board a ship which was, accidentally, almost rammed by another vessel, causing panic among the voyagers. ‘And there arose a great cry from everybody; and there was heard crying and weeping, and people confessing their sins in both ships. Some people began jumping from one ship to the other, according to which they thought to be the stronger, while others took off their clothes and tied any silver and gold they had around their bodies in case they could swim to safety.’ In contrast, bravery, both mental and physical, is the outstanding impression left on the reader of the letter of John of Villiers, the Hospitaller Master, writing from Cyprus in late May, 1291, after Acre had disintegrated around him. He knew he had not long to live, having been ‘mortally wounded by a spear’, but had nevertheless escaped to Cyprus, ‘our heart heavy and our body in pain’.

Taken as a whole, the book is intended to provide a series of pegs on which to hang a general history of the crusade in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. To that end there’s an attempt at a chronological and thematic balance, enabling newcomers to the subject to use the letters in conjunction with good concise histories of the crusades such as Bernard Hamilton’s The Crusades (Sutton Pocket Histories, 1998). Key events – the First Crusade, the defeat at Hattin in 1187, the fall of Acre in 1291 – are all covered even though (indeed because) they are well known. The letters help to explain the enduring appeal of the crusades as an undergraduate subject; there are many more which could be mined.


Letters from the East was chosen by our editors as having played a significant part in the building and reputation of our History publishing programme. View the full list of History Editors’ Choices

Carol Sweetenham shares her motivations for translating Robert the Monk

Posted by David Cota, Senior Marketing Coordinator

I had three reasons for translating Robert.” Carol Sweetenham shares her motivations for translating Robert the Monk’s work in her guest blog.


As someone who works in government I think a great deal about what constitutes narrative. And so I have been fascinated for years by the blurring of historical and fictional in the accounts we have of the First Crusade. Latin chronicles by Benedictine monks contain themes and anecdotes from popular culture. Conversely the epic cycle of chansons de geste recounting the events of the Crusade draws on written history. I wanted to translate Robert’s chronicle because it sits at this intersection of history and fiction; and there are few better ways of getting into the warp and weft of a text than translating it.

Robert the monks history of the first crusade

The First Crusade was one of the most written about events of the Middle Ages. Within a decade it had spawned at least three eyewitness accounts and a further half dozen by non-participants. It was ultimately to create, uniquely amongst contemporary events, its own epic cycle in the thirteenth century, and its reverberations continued into the sixteenth century. One text in particular, the anonymous Gesta Francorum written from a Southern Norman perspective, was adapted by three Benedictine monks into separate but related accounts: Guibert of Nogent, abbot of St Germer de Fly; Baudry of Bourgueil, Archbishop of Dol; and Robert the Monk.

Of all these accounts Robert’s was by far the most popular. It survives in some one hundred manuscripts, more by a factor of ten than any other account. It was known across Europe. It continued to be read, translated and adapted until the sixteenth century. As such it has been hugely influential in shaping our perception of the Crusade. Yet it has been largely ignored by modern scholarship. Until recently the only published version was in the nineteenth century French compendium of Crusade texts, the Recueil des Historiens des Croisades. The only translation available was equally a nineteenth century one by Francois Guizot, long since out of print, and a German one; there was nothing for English speakers. As such it was virtually inaccessible to a modern Anglo-Saxon audience. Modern analysis was confined to passing comments in other works: there was no study available. And Runciman’s dismissal of Robert as “popular and somewhat romantic” in his magistral history of the Crusades still casts a long shadow.

I thought it was more than time for a modern audience to have easy access to Robert’s work, and was delighted that Ashgate agreed to publish an English translation. Whilst I had some misgivings about using the Recueil edition given its age, I had neither time nor inclination to do an edition myself. Since then Marcus Bull and Damien Kempf have brought out an excellent new edition of the text, and much to my relief the Recueil text – and hence my translation – have stood up well.

I had three reasons for translating Robert. The first was that he brought a particular perspective to his view of the Crusade. As a Benedictine he placed it in the context of the divine plan, rooting it firmly in the context of the Old and New Testament. He was well placed to have access to a range of source material, which he wove into his main source the Gesta Francorum. He brought a shrewd and sceptical eye to the course of events: I was particularly struck by his sardonic aside that “all [the leaders of the Crusade] spoke in favour of reconciliation without any suggestions as to how it was to be achieved.” And he also brought a wider cultural hinterland reflected in for example his use of the conventions of the chanson de geste and classical authors such as Lucan and Ovid. So by translating him I felt I gained an insight into the mind of an educated and shrewd twelfth-century observer.

The second was his importance in shaping later perceptions of the Crusade. As the most popular account he had a major influence on later descriptions: for example he was the obvious source to which the thirteenth-century compiler of the Chanson d’Antioche turned for material. So I wanted people to have access to an influential source and judge its impact for themselves.

The third and perhaps most important reason was his skill as a storyteller. Robert shapes the Crusade into a tight and logical narrative arc, culminating in a paean to Jerusalem and bookended by two major speeches: that of Urban II at the beginning of the Crusade and his opponent the emir Clemens at the end. His account is a vivid one full of drama, event, humour and pathos. And more than that, he has an ability given to few writers: to conjure up scenes in a few words which open a brief window to the twelfth century. Saracens cluster like flies round rotting meat. A heap of straw is blown apart by the wind. Peasants wait in dazed acquiescence to be slaughtered. For me Robert brings the Crusade alive in a way no other chronicler quite manages, and I wanted to share that freshness and excitement with a modern audience.

As translator you want above all for your author to be read and enjoyed. You are there as a medium to make him (rarely her) accessible to a modern audience rather than as an author in your own right. I wanted academics and in particular students to appreciate Robert. So I was delighted when I was approached at Leeds IMC with the words “I know who you are – you’re Robert’s translator! My students use him all the time.” Definitely mission accomplished, I felt.

Carol Sweetenham


Robert the Monk’s History of the First Crusade was chosen by our editors as having played a significant part in the building and reputation of our History publishing programme. View the full list of History Editors’ Choices

Prester John on BBC Radio 4

Posted by Hattie Wilson, Senior Marketing Executive

On Thursday 4th June, Melvin Bragg’s BBC Radio 4 show In Our Time will discuss the legend of Prester John. The story of the mysterious oriental leader Prester John, a ruler of a land teeming with marvels who may come to the aid of Christians in the Levant, held an intense grip on the medieval mind.

Keagan Brewer (University of Sydney, Australia) has translated a number of sources from which we have inherited our knowledge of Prester John. Published within the Crusade Texts in Translation series, Prester John: The Legend and its Sources presents each source both in their original language and in their English language translation.

Ashgate are also soon to publish the dramatic tales of fifteenth-century Ethiopian travellers on the road to Renaissance Italy. Matteo Salvadore tells a story of reciprocal acceptance and transcultural collaboration as it unfolded throughout the Mediterranean and Red Sea. Prester John and the Birth of Ethiopian-European Relations, 1402-1555 will publish in the Transculturalisms, 1400-1700 series in 2016.

In Our Time will be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 at 9am (GMT). You can listen again after the broadcast by visiting BBC iPlayer.

Prester John titles published by Ashgate:

Prester John: The Legend and its Sources Translated by Keagan Brewer, University of Sydney, Australia; Crusade Texts in Translation series.

Prester John of the Indies: A True Relation of the Lands of the Prester John, being the narrative of the Portuguese Embassy to Ethiopia in 1520, written by Father Francisco Alvares. Volumes I-II, edited by C.F. Beckingham and G.W.B. Huntingford; Hakluyt Society Second Series. (This is a print-on-demand title.)

June 2015 anniversaries: Magna Carta and Waterloo

Posted by Hattie Wilson, Senior Marketing Executive

With two important anniversaries coming in June, we thought that we should update you on the special events that are planned throughout the world to honour these landmark moments in European history.

Magna Carta

On the 15th June 1215, the Magna Carta was agreed by King John of England at Runnymede. This important document is now held by the British Library and the cathedrals of Lincoln and Salisbury. On 3rd February this year, the four original texts were displayed together by the British Library for one day only.

To celebrate 800 years since the signing of the Magna Carta, British artist Cornelia Parker has been commissioned to create a new piece for the British Library. This is to be unveiled on 15th May and displayed until July. Additionally, Lincoln Castle have built a new visitors centre which displays the original text from 1215 alongside the second issue of the Magna Carta: The Charter of the Forest.

Royal Holloway has built a Magna Carta themed app for the anniversary. Students made Runnymede Explored which explains the history of the Great Charter and the associated historical sites.

Magna Carta events include a range of diverse and exciting projects, from The Globe staging Shakespeare’s King John to a series of international lectures. You can find out more about the Magna Carta events by clicking here.

Ashgate publishes a range of titles exploring the history of law from the medieval period right through to the twentieth century. You can view the full list of titles here, or there are a few relevant titles listed below:

  • King John (Mis)Remembered
  • Ideas and Solidarities of the Medieval Laity
  • The Theory and Practice of Revolt in Medieval England
  • Rulership and Rebellion in the Anglo-Norman World
  • Imprisoning Medieval Women
  • Bridging the Medieval-Modern Divide
  • Law as Profession and Practice in Medieval Europe
  • The Profession and Practice of Medieval Canon Law
  • Conflict in Medieval Europe
  • Ritual, Text and Law
  • Bishops, Texts and the Use of Canon Law
  • Feud, Violence and Practice
  • Alternate Histories and the Early Modern Topical Cluster of King John Plays
  • Markets, Trade and Economic Development in England and Europe, 1050-1550

Battle of Waterloo

The Battle of Waterloo was fought on 18th June 1815, just south of Brussels. Commemorative events are taking place throughout Europe, including a large-scale re-enactment on the bicentenary itself, with thousands of actors, horses and canons. The English Heritage have a special ‘Waterloo 1815’ exhibition displayed at Wellington Arch, which includes handwritten orders from Wellington, his sword and a pair of original ‘Wellington boots’. The Royal Museums Greenwich, Windsor Castle and the National Portrait Museum are just some of those with special events devoted to the Battle, Wellington or Napoleon. To view a full list of the planned dedicated collections and events, simply visit the National Army Museum’s website.

Ashgate publish a number of titles on the Battle of Waterloo, and on Maritime History  generally. Below are a few suggested titles, or you can click here for more on Maritime History.

  • Inside Napoleonic France
  • Resisting Napoleon
  • Staging the Peninsular War
  • Naval Court Martial, 1793-1815
  • Representing the Royal Navy

Children and asceticism in Late Antiquity

Vuolanto Ville“He has children, he is not dead”

This is a guest post by Ville Vuolanto, author of Children and Asceticism in Late Antiquity. Continuity, Family Dynamics and the Rise of Christianity 


In Late Antiquity, asceticism challenged the traditional norms and practices of family life. The resulting discussions of the right way to live a Christian life provide us with a variety of texts with information on both ideological statements and living experiences of Late Roman childhood and children. Children and Asceticism in Late Antiquity. Continuity, Family Dynamics and the Rise of Christianity is the first major book-length study of the interplay between children, family and asceticism in Christian ideology; it is also the first to scrutinise in depth the roles of children in family dynamics for any area of the Roman World.

“Better than to have children is childlessness with virtue, for in the memory of virtue is immortality”  (Wisdom of Salomo, 4.1)

Children and Asceticism in Late AntiquityWhy did parents want their children to become ascetics instead of contributing to their family lineage and, thus, their own continuity? By taking this question as its starting point, the study contributes to the discussions on family ideology, role of children and family dynamics in Late Roman world; to the study of Christian asceticism in Late Antiquity; and to modern theories on family strategies and continuity. Christian authors of the late fourth and early fifth centuries challenged the traditional Greco-Roman view that family was the central means by which the immortality in the continuity of the name, lineage and memory was assured, pointing to the superiority of asceticism in safeguarding meaningful life. “‘I will give you an eternal name’ … what more do you seek?” (Augustine, On Holy Virginity 25).

In the book, childhood and children are approached both from the ideological and social historical perspectives: first, what was the place reserved for children in the emerging Christian family ideology; second, what was the place for children in the actual family dynamics and life course; third, what were the limits of children’s own action? In analyzing the ideological side, the stress is on Christian family rhetoric: evading death and striving for continuity through family life is shown to have been conceived as a basic component for good life in the Late Roman world. “Each day we die, each day we change, and yet we are convinced that we are eternal” (Jerome, Letters 60.19)

Indeed, old ways of life were deeply embedded in the culture. It is shown in the book how asceticism fitted into the upper class culture and mentality, and how it was put into practice on the family level and in the lives of children, with some promised to God at their birth, some others driven to conflicts with their parents. These processes are informative in showing how the late Roman elite families worked, and what was the role of children in the contemporary culture.

“Thus, happy are those who leave behind children to succeed them and take over their possessions. He has children, he is not dead”  (Augustine, Expos. on the Psalm 48, 1.14)


Ville Vuolanto is Research Fellow at the University of Oslo, Norway and Adjunct Professor of History at the University of Tampere, Finland. He has published a number of articles and book chapters on the history of family and childhood in Roman, late antique and early medieval contexts. He also maintains an extensive online bibliography Children in the Ancient World and the Early Middle Ages.

More information about Children and Asceticism in Late Antiquity.