On the Spot: David Carpenter

‘Looking at medieval history through the prism of Max Weber is challenging.’

King John and Magna Carta. Wiki Commons.

Why are you a historian of the Middle Ages?

I was drawn to it by studying various versions of Magna Carta in Bishop Stubbs’ Select Charters.

What’s the most important lesson history has taught you?

That studying the past is fun.

Which history book has had the greatest influence on you?

J.C. Holt’s The Northerners.

What book in your field should everyone read?

English Historical Documents 1189-1327.  

Which moment would you most like to go back to?

Runnymede in 1215 or Oxford during the revolution of 1258.

Which historian has had the greatest influence on you?

Margaret Howell’s 1998 biography of Henry III’s queen, Eleanor of Provence.

Which person in history would you most like to have met?

John Kechel, who led the peasants of Brampton, Huntingdonshire in a revolt against their lord in 1242.

How many languages do you have?

English, Latin and French. 

What’s the most exciting field in history today?

They are all potentially exciting.

What historical topic have you changed your mind on?

The battle of Evesham in 1265, where Simon de Montfort was killed. The discovery of a contemporary account showed I had got it quite wrong!  

Which genre of history do you like least?

Looking at medieval history through the prism of Max Weber is challenging.

Is there an important historical text you have not read?

I wish my knowledge of the Latin Bible was better than it is.

What’s your favourite archive? 

Westminster Abbey Muniment Room.

What’s the best museum? 

I love the medieval collection at the V&A, but, of course, there are many other great museums.

Normans or Anglo-Saxons? 


Rome or Athens? 

I wish my knowledge of classical history was sufficient to give an answer. 

Braudel or Gibbon? 

I have never read Braudel. I admire Gibbon’s style. I dislike his cynicism.

Michelangelo or Frida Kahlo?

I find Michelangelo overwhelming. I am unfamiliar with the work of Frida Kahlo.

What is the most common misconception about your field?

The brutality of politics. In the 12th and 13th centuries hardly a single member of the English nobility was executed for a political crime. 

What will future generations judge us most harshly for?

Brexit may be regarded as a great mistake, but I respect those who take another view.  


David Carpenter is Professor of Medieval History at King’s College London and the author of Henry III 1207-1258: The Rise to Power and Personal Rule (Yale, 2020).