This is the textbook you wish you'd had when you studied history in school. Maurice Keen presents a thouroughly researched and well thought out overview of the primary social and political events of England from the reign of Edward I to that of Richard III. He starts with the death of Alexander III of Scotland and the political crisis that ensued, leading England into the wars of Scottish independence. He analyzes the wars from an economic as well as a political and social perspective, and presents convincing arguments for why Edward II was an unsuccessful king and Edward III more effective. He examines the role of the church during the later middle ages and sets the stage for England's eventual reformation of the church in the Tudor era. The Hundred Years War is examined not in the details of its battles, but in its effect on English politics and society and how its cost changed the relationship between the king and English nobility. In every chapter Keen takes the reader through how the acts of the various rulers during this time period had a profound and lasting effect on all segments of English society, from the nobility to the clergy to the merchants to the peasants.
Although some of the economic arrangements are difficult to follow in places, at least for someone without a background in economics, Keen's prose is highly readable, grammatically correct and eloquent, and the chapters are divided into manageable and logical chunks. Keen's footnotes are largely references to his considerable source material and can be safely ignored except by those interested in the specific backup for a point of reference. Keen doesn't seem to have a political agenda, which is a refreshing change from most books on the period.
I suspect this book might be a little bit difficult for someone without at least a basic knowledge of the time period, but much less so than many of the scholarly and even some of the less scholarly works covering this period. This is, in short, a book that is highly readable from cover to cover, and a great straightforward examination of the political, social and economic changes that occurred in England between the end of the thirteenth century and the beginning of the Renaissance.