Lost Realms: Histories of Britain from the Romans to the Vikings

By Thomas Williams

‘A beautiful, beautiful book . . . archaeology is changing so much about the way we view the so-called Dark Ages … [Williams] is just brilliant at bringing them to light’ Rory Stewart on The Rest is Politics

From the bestselling author of Viking Britain, a new epic history of our forgotten past.

As Tolkien knew, Britain in the ‘Dark Ages’ was a mosaic of little kingdoms. Many of them fell by the wayside. Some vanished without a trace. Others have stories that can be told.


In Lost Realms, Thomas Williams, bestselling author of Viking Britain, uncovers the forgotten origins and untimely demise of nine kingdoms that hover in the twilight between history and fable, whose stories hum with saints and gods and miracles, with giants and battles and the ruin of cities. Why did some realms – like Wessex, Mercia, Northumbria and Gwynedd – prosper while these nine fell?

From the Scottish Highlands to the Cornish coastline, from the Welsh borders to the Thames Estuary, Williams brings together new archaeological revelations with the few precious fragments of written sources to have survived to rebuild a lost world; a world where the halls of farmer-lords survive as ghost-marks in the soil, where the vestiges of hill-forts cling to rocky outcrops and grave-fields and barrow-mounds shelter the bodies of the ancient dead. This is the world of Arthur and Urien, Bede and Taliesin; of the Picts and Britons and Saxon migration; of magic and war, myth and miracle.

In riveting detail, Williams uses Britain’s ancient landscape to resurrect a lost past where lives were lived with as much vigour and joy as in any other age, where people fought and loved and toiled and suffered grief and disappointment just as cutting as our own. In restoring some of these voices, he raises questions matching many we face today: how do nations form and why do some fail? How do communities adapt to catastrophe, and how do people insulate themselves from change? How do we construct the past, and why do we – like the people of early medieval Britain – revere it, often finding in the tales of those long-gone a curious sense of belonging?

Format: Hardback
Release Date: 18 Aug 2022
Pages: 432
ISBN: 978-0-00-817196-4
Thomas Williams is author of the bestselling and critically acclaimed Viking Britain. He was a curator of the major international exhibition Vikings: Life and Legend in 2014 and is now Curator of Early Medieval Coins at the British Museum. He undertook doctoral research at University College London and has taught and lectured in history and archaeology at the University of Cambridge.


‘Sceptical, scrupulous, written with wit and flair’Financial Times -

”'This brilliant history of Dark Age Britain mixes serious scholarship with nods to pop culture, from Tolkien to The Wicker Man… Lost Realms is a joy to read” - The Telegraph, FIVE STAR REVIEW

”'Williams makes a compelling guide as he steers us through the darkness” - Spectator

”'Williams has a fine command of the literary, administrative, religious and archaeological sources of early medieval Britain. He is a diligent scholar and a likeable writer” - Sunday Times

”'Rich and captivating” - TLS

”'The book is beautifully written, pushing at the very limits of our ability to understand the early medieval world” - British Archaeology

”'In recovering what he can of the near-vanished histories of Britain’s lost realms, Williams has done an admirable job, evoking the spirit of an age that was both chaotic and creative, from the ferment of which England and ultimately Britain emerged. It is a gift indeed to be reminded that Dumnonia, Lindsey, Fortriu, Hwicce, Elmet and Rheged - faint ghosts of places though they may now seem - made their own contributions to what we are today” - Literary Review

'Thomas Williams has blended a potent brew of mythic and material fragments to raise forgotten kings & queens (and their stories) from the grave. An historian not afraid of the dark and with eyes adapted to it - what he sees is assessed sagely and described beautifully'Christopher Hadley, author of Hollow Places -