No better introduction to the Anglo-Saxon age (c 450 to 1066) can be found than in Dorothy Whitelock’s The Beginnings of English Society (Penguin Books, London 1974). It provides a general outline of the life, mores, and institutions of Anglo-Saxons of all classes, and through Professor Whitelock’s extensive work with Anglo-Saxon wills and bequests, presents a relatively empowered female upper class of women who owned property in their own right both before and after marriage. This was one of many rights lost to women in Britain after the Norman Conquest (and for hundreds of years thereafter).
David M. Wilson’s Anglo-Saxon Art from the Seventh Century to the Norman Conquest (Overlook Press, New York 1984) presents stunning photographs of the rich diversity of Anglo-Saxon illumination, painting, silver and gold work, enamelling, architecture, carving, and textiles, as does The Anglo-Saxons (Penguin Books, London 1991), edited by James Campbell.
The English scholar Stephen Pollington’s many books are a mine of information, and are highly recommended. Pollington brings to bear not only long scholarship but original thinking in every topic he undertakes. The English Warrior from Earliest Times to 1066 (Anglo-Saxon Books, Norfolk, England 1996) is by far the most complete treatise on the subject of the warrior’s life, role, equipment and tactics. Leechcraft: Early English Charms Plantlore and Healing. (Anglo-Saxon Books, Norfolk, England 2000) is the ultimate guide to early herbalism and healing, magic, shamanism and tree lore. It includes the Old English text of the Leech Book of Bald and other early medical texts alongside Pollington’s translations into Modern English.
The Sword in Anglo-Saxon England (Boydell Press, England 1994) by H. R. Ellis Davidson is a detailed study of the history and lore of that supreme Anglo-Saxon weapon, including the results of successful experiments by John Anstee, 20th century iron worker, to duplicate the forging of a pattern-welded sword, an art lost for many centuries. Pattern-welding was the technique of laminating several layers of iron together, creating a sword of outstanding flexibility and strength.
The Warrior Kings of Saxon England, by Ralph Whitlock (Dorset Press, New York 1991), A.V. B. Norman’s The Medieval Soldier (Barnes & Noble Books, New York 1993) and A. V. B. Norman’s and Don Pottinger’s English Weapons and Warfare, 449-1660 (Barnes & Noble Books, New York 1992) provide detailed information on leadership, weaponry, and tactics.
Those interested in food should consult A Handbook of Anglo-Saxon Food: Processing and Consumption (Anglo-Saxon Books, England 1992) by Ann Hagen, and the more general but very useful Food and Drink in Britain From the Stone Age to the 19th Century (Academy Chicago Publishers, Chicago 1991) by Anne C. Wilson.
Interest in Vikings is undergoing a resurgence, due partly to recent archaeological finds, and to large European museum exhibitions such as is documented in From Viking to Crusader: The Scandinavians and Europe 800-1200 (Nordic Council of Ministers, Sweden 1992), Else Roesdahl and David M. Wilson, editors. This exhibition catalogue contains photos of thousands of Viking artefacts, augmented by essays on religion, dress, weapons, domestic life, trading, and warfare. The all-colour Viking by Susan M. Margeson (Eyewitness Books/Alfred A. Knopf, New York 1994) showcases fine examples of Norse art, weaponry, and shipbuilding, and includes excellent recreations of dress. Bertil Almgren’s The Viking (Crescent Books, New York 1991), Anna Ritchie’s Viking Scotland (B.T. Batsford Limited, London 1993), and Else Roesdale’s The Vikings (Penguin Books, London 1991) all provide drawings of reconstructions, photos of a myriad of artefacts, and insightful text. Kings and Vikings by P.H. Sawyer (Barnes & Noble, New York 1994) traces the development from small raiding bands to ruling forces in England, Ireland, Russia, and Scandinavia.
Alfred the Great: Asser’s Life of King Alfred, and Other Contemporary Sources (Penguin Books, England 1983) presents the fascinating biography written by Asser, a Welsh monk in Ælfred’s retinue from about 885 onward, along with excepts from Classical texts which Ælfred translated from Latin to Anglo-Saxon, including Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy, Augustine’s Soliloquies, and Gregory’s Pastoral Care. Also included are excerpts from the great King’s laws; the treaty between Ælfred and Guthrum, the Viking warlord; and Ælfred’s own will (d. 899).
Translations of Beowulf are legion; my favourites are Burton Raffle’s highly readable 1963 version (New American Library, New York) and John Porter’s Beowulf: Text and Translation (Anglo-Saxon Books, England 1991). The latter presents the Anglo-Saxon original on the left page, and Porter’s word-for-word translation on the right. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, the official history of the island begun in Ælfred’s day and continued past the Conquest, is also filled with vividly beautiful language. A handsome facsimile edition available currently is The Saxon Chronicle, translated by J. Ingram and published 1823 (Studio Editions, London 1993). The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, translated by G. N. Garmonsway (J. M. Dent & Sons, London 1972) usefully compares versions by different scribes and maintained by different religious houses through the centuries.
The Earliest English Poems, by Michael Alexander (Penguin Books, London 1991) presents in skillful translation Anglo-Saxon masterpieces such as Widsith, Deor, The Ruin, The Wanderer, The Wife’s Complaint and many others, nearly all of which survive as fragments. Anglo-Saxon Verse Charms, Maxims, & Heroic Legends, translated by Louis Rodrigues (Anglo-Saxon Books, London 1993) contains many of the same fragments, along with pagan/Christian magic rituals and spells, all presented in both the original Old English and in Modern English.