I enjoyed reading this:
What we know about events in the Middle Ages depends upon a surprisingly narrow source base. We need to imagine a stage with ninety per cent permanently in darkness. An occasional spotlight flickers upon this corner or that, suddenly revealing details and colours that we might not otherwise imagine existed. A vague half-light enables us to discern some broader outlines, a few darker and lighter shadows. For the most part, however, we depend upon inference and imagination to establish what is there. It is no coincidence that those trained as medieval historians have occupied a disproportionately significant role in both MI6 and the CIA, precisely because the medievalist’s training ensures that the bare minimum of detail is employed to the maximum effect in intelligence gathering.
That comes right near the start (page 3) of A Brief History of Britain 1066-1485 by Nicholas Vincent. Whenever I read something that interesting at the start of a book, I am encouraged to continue. Dipping around in other parts of it suggests that there is much else in this book of interest. I was especially held by the bit I happened to read about how William the Conqueror and his heirs turned vast swathes of England into royal forests for their own hunting pleasure, the previous owners just being turfed out. That King William Rufus, son of the Conqueror, died in a hunting accident, caused much satisfaction among the conquered Anglo-Saxons.
Changing the subject somewhat, but only somewhat, from the disaster that engulfed Anglo-Saxon England to an earlier disaster that seems to have deranged the entire world, I see that Instapundit today linked to an article about a lady geophysicist called Dallas Abbott. Ten years ago, she had the bright idea of looking for evidence of asteroid strikes under the sea. She concluded from her investigations that a big asteroid splashed into the Gulf of Carpentaria (the big bite out of the north coast of Australia) in the year 536. I wrote about this event in an earlier posting here. The book I was reading then was by a certain David Keys, and he reckoned that the various climatic horrors fitfully reported around the world at that time, horrors also noted by Ms Abbott, were triggered by a volcanic eruption, in 535. But they are quite clearly both talking about the same disaster.
It is not surprising that we can’t even be sure that such a thing even happened, let alone what the details were. By the nature of such events, not a lot of written evidence survives about catastrophes. The people at the time were concentrating on trying to stay alive. Keeping us fully informed of the details of their difficulties was not their top priority.