Rebellion Made a YouTube Series About Medieval History, and it's Brilliant

By Rich Stanton on at

Rebellion is the British developer best-known these days for the Sniper Elite and Zombie Army series, and CEO Jason Kingsley is an interesting dude, to say the least. While his public profile is down to running the company he co-founded with brother Chris, he's also an Oxford Zoology graduate and, as anyone who's bumped into him will attest, a bit of a medieval obsessive. As I've just discovered, a couple of years ago he began a project that pretty much combines all of the above.

I have no idea why the algorithm recommended it, but Modern History TV is a Youtube channel about medieval stuff and it is brilliant. Here's one example of why. We get to an episode about an animal central to medieval life that's a little overlooked: the humble mule. Jason Kingsley starts off by chatting about how important the mule was, then casually mentions he's decided to buy one from Spain.

And he has! Bring out the mule! At which point it becomes clear Kingsley is expert with animals, mules are adorable, and this is an amazing way to learn about aspects of medieval culture.

Rebellion's success means Kingsley is obviously a rich man and, while I have no special knowledge, it's not too much of a stretch to speculate Modern History TV is a passion project. What sets it apart from a lot of history shows is the hands-on approach. In the episodes about medieval food, they get some brilliant lady who knows how to cook up the typical fare for different social strata of the time, and then Kingsley scoffs it on-camera with commentary (spoiler alert: the richer you were, the more gross your food).

When it's time to see how plate armour's made, he wheels out a metalsmith. Would that armour defend against medieval bullets? Let's get two old boys in with their 15th century guns and have them shoot at a breastplate. Just how effective was a pollaxe at cracking heads? Don't you worry: big Jase will ride a horse past a replica skull and smash it in slow-motion. For SCIENCE.

There's lots to love about Modern History TV: the production values are great, Kingsley's a hugely knowledgeable host who's also delighted to learn from the various experts, and everyone loves to see a blade cleave through a fake jellied brain. What makes it compelling is the sheer passion for this era that shines out of every frame. In one episode there'll be a convincing comparison between a medieval trend for rolled-back hoods and modern baseball caps ("people don't change much, do they?"), then it's on to the niceties of longbow combat, or it might be a dissection of cinematic swordfight choreography, a live translation and demonstration of a Latin fighting manual, basic table manners, brushing your teeth with a stick... this magpie-like approach to topics is winning, and Kingsley's enthusiasm means he spies treasures everywhere.

The best teachers enthuse you about their subjects, inspire the student to go further on their own. Kingsley has that quality: you simply can't watch this guy talking about knights, and not be more interested in knights afterwards. In one episode Kingsley's mounted on horseback in a big barn, when his attention is drawn for a moment to a bird that flies in and out. It's almost a Bob Ross moment though, even if this era's a little too early, for me it echoed Bede's parable of the sparrow:

This sparrow flies swiftly in through one door of the hall, and out through another. While he is inside, he is safe from the winter storms; but after a few moments of comfort, he vanishes from sight into the wintry world from which he came. Even so, man appears on earth for a little while; but of what went before this life or of what follows, we know nothing.

True that may be. At least in our times we know some little of what came before, even if there's always more to learn. Modern History TV is a high quality production, but that's not why it's great. It is something that's been made with enthusiasm, knowledge, a whole lot of love, and is simply a pleasure to watch and learn from.

Related: An interview with Jason Kingsley – Putting the Rebel in Rebellion