The Time-Traveller's Guide to Medieval England, by Ian Mortimer

This book promises to give you the real skinny on what it would have been like to live in Medieval England: focusing on the everyday lives of "ordinary" people, rather than a history lesson about kings and queens.

It's a nice conceit, and starts interestingly enough "You find yourself walking towards a town..." etc., taking you through the sights and sounds and smells that you might expect if you turned up in Exeter in the 14th century. But he can't really keep that up, and so most of the book isn't written in that way. And part of the reason for that is that quite a lot happened in the 14th century, and some things were significantly different in 1400 than they had been in 1300. So I'm left with the impression that the "time traveller" bit was either tacked on as an afterthought.

But that quibble aside, it was a pretty interesting book, and did tell me quite a lot about the period that was new to me. I was a bit surprised that he didn't mention (in the opening section) that you'd have trouble understanding what people were saying. He does allude to differences in dialect etc., but I would have thought that spoken English of the time would sound quite a bit different to what we're used to now.

He makes an interesting distinction when dividing different classes of people, into "those who work" (labourers etc.), "those who fight" (knights) and "those who pray" (monks and clergy). That doesn't cover everyone, but it does emphasis what a significant role was played by the church.

What else... the age profile was a surprise: most of the population would have been no older than 25, and so people had to grow up fast, and by-and-large not have much in the way of experience and wisdom from their elders; they didn't have buttons, and so some of the upper classes would be sewn into their clothes at the start of the day, with the stitching being unpicked when they wanted to be undressed; blackbird pie was baked before the live blackbirds were put into it, so that they really did begin to sing/fly when the pie was opened.

There's another guide to Elizabethan England, so that would be worth a go.

Completed : 23-Jul-2013 (audiobook)

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