Two library finds:
Life on a Medieval Barony by William Stearns Davis (Harper & Brothers, 1923). Suprisingly good information — I’ve seen far, far worse in more modern works. Non-fiction, but uses a fictional barony in northern France circa 1220 to ground the descriptions of medieval life in a cast of characters. Much of the narrative material is pulled from period sources, ie the telling of our baron’s hunt is actually borrowed from a medieval hunting account. Makes for a very dashing baron — bit larger than life, as will happen with hunting stories.
–> The narrative style packs in a lot more detail than you could get away with otherwise and still keep readers awake and even flipping pages to find out what happens next.
Given the amount of information (400 pages) and the references to mature topics, I’d say this fits better for teens and above. Would make a good parent-teen book to read together, as it raises all kinds of theological and moral issues for discussion fodder, and using someone else’s era maybe helps take a step back and see things more clearly?
Fine as an introduction to medieval life for a teen or adult reader, but enough good details to be worth a look for any amateur medievalist. A knowledge of catholicism in general would be helpful, since there is a quite a lot of describing medieval religious practices.
My second lucky find was an audio lecture series, Heaven or Heresy: A History of the Inquisition by Thomas F. Madden. If you are catholic, sooner or later someone’s gonna bring up the inquisition. This set of does a good job of distinguishing the facts (sometimes sordid, sometimes not) from the legend. Gives you enough detail that you could reasonably hope to explain not just the differences between the different inquisitions (Spanish versus Roman verus medieval Papal verus medieval local, etc etc), but also how, say, the Spanish inquisition changed over time.
SuperHusband has listened to some of his other lectures in the series, and found them informative and balanced. (Recall: SuperHusband = SuperProtestant. Not a guy who would go in for catholic propaganda.) I found this to be the same way. If you are Torquemada, well, your reputation isn’t helped.
Pre-requisites: It is expected that you are familiar with the basics of the catholic faith, including vocabulary like “Dominican” “mendicant” “encyclical” “anti-pope” etc. Madden generally offers a brief definition of these types of words, but you’ll be on much firmer ground if you aren’t hearing them for the first time. You’ll also want a general idea of the outline of European history from the time of Christ forward.
I’d give this one a ‘buy’ recommend if your budget allows. Though I wish the man would write a book on the topic.