In Search of the Dark Ages

Michael Wood

Revised edition with a new introduction and two new chapters by the author

Richly illustrated and newly revised for The Folio Society, In Search of the Dark Ages is Michael Wood’s thrilling account of the age of Beowulf, Sutton Hoo and the Vikings.

‘They had uncovered things that had hitherto only existed in the world of myth and stories ... here, out of the blue, was a window on the Heroic Age.’
  1. from In Search of the Dark Ages

In Search of the Dark Ages is Michael Wood’s classic account of England’s turbulent history during the years between the end of Roman rule and the Norman Conquest. During these dynamic and formative centuries, English was used for the first time, the last vestiges of paganism disappeared as Christianity was established, and the foundations of the kingdom of England were laid down. Settlers, traders and invaders – Angles, Saxons, Vikings – crossed the land, each shaping the landscape, culture and language. Between Boudica and William the Conqueror, Michael Wood breathes life into the great Anglo-Saxon kings Offa, Alfred the Great and Athelstan, as well as the shadowier presences of King Arthur and the mysterious nobleman buried at Sutton Hoo. This Folio edition has been extensively revised and expanded, with a new introduction and extra chapters on Aethelflaed, Lady of the Mercians (a crucial but largely forgotten figure of the Viking Age) and the pagan king Penda. The book features 24 pages of colour illustrations, including jewellery, coinage and manuscript illuminations, as well as integrated black-and-white photographs and two hand-drawn maps.

Bound in gold blocked and printed paper

Set in Stone Serif and with Phalanx as display

344 pages

24 pages of colour plates

2 maps plus 7 full page integrated black & white photographs

Plain slipcase

10˝ x 6¾˝ 

‘A lively and engaging examination of an eventful and formative but elusively documented period in British history.’
  1. Reader’s Digest

Since 1981, when In Search of the Dark Ages was first published, our understanding of the era has been transformed. Michael Wood writes in his introduction that ‘this book has long called for a substantial rewrite’, and he fulfils that ambition in this exclusive Folio edition with two new chapters. His much-expanded text takes account of recent archaeological evidence – the new excavations at Sutton Hoo, the mass Viking tomb at Repton, and the glittering treasure hoards in Staffordshire, Harrogate and Watlington – and the rediscovery of lost manuscripts. Advances in historical scholarship underpin fresh insights into the lives of medieval queens, including Offa’s consort Cynethryth, Eadgyth of Germany and Emma of Normandy. In his two additional chapters, Wood reconstructs the life of Aethelflaed, daughter of King Alfred and the only Anglo-Saxon woman to rule a kingdom in her own right, and Penda, whose reign as the last pagan king of Mercia bridges the heroic age of Beowulf and the emerging Christian era.

In its 24 pages of colour images, In Search of The Dark Ages captures the rich artistic achievements of the age, with treasures from Britain’s most spectacular archaeological finds. Highlights include an intricate gold buckle and purse from the Sutton Hoo Ship Burial, the silver Vale of York Cup, found packed with more than 600 coins, and the enigmatic Fuller brooch, engraved with depictions of the five senses. A page is devoted to sword-hilt decorations from the Staffordshire Hoard, which also supplies the beautiful gold horse motif that graces the cover. Wood’s cast of kings, queens, clerics and warriors are brought to life in manuscript illuminations, coins (including those from the Viking Cuerdale Hoard) and tapestries. Two new hand-drawn maps and superb landscape photography – both in the colour plates and as black-and-white images within the text – evoke the land they inhabited.

Michael Wood is a historian and broadcaster who was educated in Manchester and Oxford. After graduating from Oriel College, he spent three years researching Anglo-Saxon history before a career in journalism for ITV and the BBC. In Search of the Dark Ages, the series he wrote and presented from 1979 to 1981, is a landmark of TV history. Recorded entirely on location, in an authoritative yet accessible style, it was the first of many films made by Wood for TV in the years since. These have included In Search of the Trojan War, In the Footsteps of Alexander the Great, Conquistadors, Michael Wood’s Story of England and The Story of China. He was awarded the OBE in 2021 for services to public history and broadcasting. Many of these documentaries have been accompanied by books; In Search of the Dark Ages was published in 1981 and has been revised and updated several times since, ensuring its continued popularity.


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