Here’s my serious reading for the year – one of the first primary sourced histories written out of England.
Bede was a monk who lived nearly his entire life between two monasteries in Northumberland, so there’s a decided religious slant to the narrative, but he’s very careful to give as well rounded a picture of the various secular doings of the age as well. (It’s mostly Saxon kings, because let’s face it – kings always get the most press where anything historical is concerned.)
This book does concern the time before England was truly England – we’re talking after the Romans left, when the Britons and Saxons were still wrestling for control over land (non-spoiler spoiler if you’ve ever paid attention in history class – the Saxons won). So we’re talking about various kings of smaller lands. Bede being from Northumberland, there’s perhaps a bit more about the kings from northern England. As well as plenty about St. Cuthbert – the local exulted saint.
It’s an interesting read – he did get as many primary sources as he could get his hands on – letters from the Pope to bishops in England, and the like. There’s also a lot of flavor for the day – the thing that sticks out in my mind the most is that the Celtic church (up in Scotland), had apparently gotten it into their head that they were going to hold Easter two weeks later than the regular Catholic church, and Bede Did Not Approve. Seriously, some note of disapproval is in almost every other chapter for a stretch. There’s even a full chapter where the pope explains to one of the Scottish kings why their way of calculating Easter is correct. (I skimmed. It was detailed. Very detailed.) It’s all very distant and quaint in its own way.