388 of 392 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Essential Guidebook for the Medieval Time Traveller!
I think that I can safely speak for many of us in the historical community (both writers and readers) when I say that we are - in the nicest way of course - rather nosy. That is, we want to know all about people from different times: what they looked like; what they did; how they did it. For instance, have you ever wondered whether people in the fourteenth century wore...
Published on 26 Oct 2008 by Jules of Gloucester
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars More than just a travel guide
What I liked most about Ian Mortimer's book was his last chapter, Envoi. In this one chapter he suggests a "new" way at looking at history, "experiencing" history rather than just reading about it and by so doing, appreciating history and our changing selves. How can we know who we are now if we don't know from where and who we've come? It's a nice change from the general...
Published 17 months ago by R Helen
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388 of 392 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Essential Guidebook for the Medieval Time Traveller!,
This review is from: The Time-traveller's Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century (Hardcover)I think that I can safely speak for many of us in the historical community (both writers and readers) when I say that we are - in the nicest way of course - rather nosy. That is, we want to know all about people from different times: what they looked like; what they did; how they did it. For instance, have you ever wondered whether people in the fourteenth century wore nightdresses or what the well off used to wipe their behinds with (I have!)? How about their pastimes, sense of humour or the difficulties of travelling?
Ian Mortimer's latest book: The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England - A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century certainly satisfies that craving for knowledge of the minutiae of daily life in the Middle Ages. The book is lovingly researched and well written with a light sprinkling of humour that makes it very easy to read. The style in itself is very original for a non-fiction historical book, using a `guidebook' approach that is a million miles away from the stuffiness of many `academic' books. Yet, happily, the book does not suffer from a lack of sincerity or historical integrity in any way.
The topics cover a broad range of subjects for the `traveller' from what the landscape will look like to what to wear, where to stay when travelling, and how to address different kinds of people that you will meet along the way. And then, of course, when they invite you to eat with them, you will know what food to expect. And then, of course, there is always the danger of falling ill. The Time Traveller's Guide is once again at hand to tell you not only what may be wrong with you (hopefully not the plague, or leprosy!) and what medicine is available to help cure it.
This book, then, is a wonderful read. To be fair, I could not find fault either with the style or the information it offered (much to my frustration - as I always like to find at least a little criticism to balance things). To anyone who loves this period it will open up new doors to understanding the social history of the time. For writers of Medieval fiction, it is a valuable sourcebook - full of the little details that we need to make our stories come alive.
So yes, I heartily recommend this book as worth every penny
118 of 120 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Totally engaging,
This review is from: The Time-traveller's Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century (Hardcover)Having read 'The Perfect King' and become interested in the 14th Century (previously my passion was the Tudor Age)I decided to expand my knowledge of the period by picking out this book purely by chance. It is absolutely rivetting and I completed it in just 2 days. There are so many books on the period, most as dry as dust, but the world comes alive through Mortimer's pen. I do not feel it was 'dumbing down' in any way by writing this as a 'guide book' - quite the contrary. The world truly came alive from page one, and my attention was hooked. Mortimer reaches across the centuries into the hearts and minds of people not so very different from ourselves. We learn about their working lives and their leisure. We find out what they eat and what they wear. We can almost feel the horror of parents as they can only stand and watch their whole families being wiped out by plague. The greatest writers of the period are mentioned, not just Chaucer but other authors such as the Gawain poet, writing such poignant verses with emotions that feel just as relevant today. Not only is it a rivetting read, it is truly a handbook to be read in conjuction with other history books of the period. The past is not something long-dead and buried, but has a life all its own and is why we are who we are. A very easy, fascinating read.
127 of 133 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply superb,
This review is from: The Time-traveller's Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century (Hardcover)At school I hated history mainly because it was learning boring dates and events.
This book changes all of that; it tells me what I wanted to know in an easy to read and extremely enjoyable way.
What will I see in a 14th Century street, who will I see, what des it smell like, what will I eat, how do I address people I meet? All of this and more is covered in this excellent book. Each chapter deals with a different aspect of the period such as the city, the town, the village etc. Very clear and very informative; ideal for casual interest, school pupils, university history reading and so on.
I won't go into the details because that would simply spoil things for you so I suggest you get this book and be transported back some 700 years.
It simply brings history to life.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Wilt thou come travelling too?,
For anyone looking for a lively introduction to the period this is certainly it. The only things lacking in my view was a glossary which would be helpful for people reading the book who had little or no prior knowledge of the period. I cannot begin to describe how useful this book is if you are interested in social history. It gives vivid and realistic glimpses into the lives of different people from every area of society. From knights and nobles, to humble villains and labourers.
Currency, law, travel, entertianment, social conventions, fashion even sanitatary conditions.It is all here, everything a traveller needs to know, and perhaps a little they don't.
The use of technical or period phrases which many people may be unfamiliar with and no explanation of their definition or what they referred to can make it seem as though the author might simply have forgotten that his audience are not all historians, and so might not know what he is taking about. Some maps might also have been in order.
One of the major issues I had with this book was the way that Mortimer sometimes allowed his own opinions and beliefs to colour the narrative, and perhaps to an extent that they might influence those of the readers.
Of course, it is scarcely possible for any historian or writer to be totally objective a removed all the time, but is an account of 14th century entertainment or changing tastes in fashion punctuated by Mortimer's apparent hostility towards what the author perceives as religious and moral `prudishness' really necessary?
At times, Mortimer comes across as downright arrogant and condescending when he asserts that only old, fat and/or or religious people would express disapproval of certain things.
In the historical context the final designation seems almost meaningless as almost everyone was `religious' to varying degrees at this time- and the logical implication appears to be that either that religious people were in the minority- which likely was not the case, or that the majority of the population of England would not have approved to tight fitting or revealing fashions, and flirtatious dances which Mortimer himself claims was not the case either.
This pervasive prejudice does little to enhance the reader's understanding of the era, and adds little to the book. It is possible to get past this and to enjoy and learn something from the book nonetheless but this may be something of an issue.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A very interesting read,
This review is from: The Time Traveler's Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century (Hardcover)At some time or other, we have all asked the question "I wonder what it would be like to live in those days?". Well for the medieval period at least, this book provides an absorbing insight into day-to-day life. It covers anything you care to mention: the cleaning of clothes, food, health, housing, the judicial system, medicine, religion, social customs and manners, transport. Ian Mortimer's writing style is easy to read and you really do feel as if you are going on journey with him as he takes you through the various aspects of medieval living. All in all a thoroughly educational and enjoyable read.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Time Traveller's Guide To Medieval England, by Ian Mortimer,
This review is from: The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century (Paperback)This is exactly what it says on the cover; read it, and you will be ejected in a heap from your time machine, and will land sprawling on the ground amid the noise and smells of the main road into medieval Exeter. From there you will be whisked, willy-nilly, from fashionable quarter to repulsive back-street hovel, and will meet some of the people with whom you will now have to associate. Much of what you discover will make you want to crawl back to the twenty-first century as fast as you can, but unfortunately you are stuck, and will just have to make the best of a bad job.
Luckily, you have Ian Mortimer's incredibly comprehensive guide to help you; you will find out how to behave, think, eat, shop dress, find work, and will be able to access countless other hints and tips necessary for survival, for death, punishment and criminal deception lurk at every turn, and he or she who ignores the advice given will find it very hard indeed to manage in this alien landscape. Everything is carefully explained in detail; illustrations are quite unnecessary.
This is no adult version of "Everyday Life In Medieval Times". It is a skilful and brilliantly executed distillation of heaven knows how many original manuscripts, extracts, books and pieces of research, all boiled down into a disturbingly real experience of fourteenth century England. You are there; it's as simple as that.
Anybody genuinely interested in the medieval period would do well to read this, and it will be a complete delight for those who are tired of reading turgid studies filled with maps and time-lines, or simplistic overviews written for sensation-seekers.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How churches did division when 'men were men' and other mediaeval nuggets,
This review is from: The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century (Paperback)Ian Mortimer's Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England is a lot of a fun. It's a very refreshing take the social history of a time and place, offered in the guise of a Michelin guide to the 14th Century. This is not to say that it is trivialising or populist in the worst sense. Much though I and the children enjoy the zaniness of Horrible Histories, they are necessarily slight and far too oversimplified.
This book is, thankfully, by no means a horrible history - although it is clear that the history of the period could certainly be horrible. It is a scholarly but wittily written book that opens eyes and even stimulates all the senses to evoke what life was really like in an unimaginable age. As befits any time-traveller's guide, it is all written in the present tense, and thus full of possibility (like any good DK or Lonely Planet guide). It is an irresistible invitation for readers to be fully immersed in an alien culture.
I was especially taken by this thought, from his introductory apologetic for his whole approach:
"W H Auden once suggested that to understand your own country you need to have lived in at least two others. One can say something for periods of time: to understand your own century you need to have come to terms with at least two others. The key to learning something about the past might be a ruin or an archive but the means whereby we may understand it is - and always will be - ourselves." (p5)
It is as good an argument for learning history as any - a great way to broaden perceptions and perspectives.
As might be expected, the book covers all aspects of 14th C. life - which means that the church features a great deal - for good and ill. Mediaeval society was divided into 3 so-called `Estates' - `those that fight' (the aristocracy), `those that pray' (the church) and `those that work' (the peasants) (p38f). Contra many atheistic apologists today, there were many, profound and valued benefits to society as a result of the church. And the book doesn't skimp on these. However, these less than savoury or positive illustrations did rather stand out.
HOW BISHOPS ARGUED AND PROFITED
The contradictions of the age were many - the age of courtly love and chivalry was simultaneously a violent and brutal age. Here was one striking insight about punishment:
"In the modern world we understand that the greater the severity of a crime, the longer the punishment should be. In the medieval world the worse the crime, the more extreme the nature of the punishment" (p60).
Does this help to explain the following rather charming episode? Perhaps. But does it necessarily excuse it...?!
"One one occasion in 1384, after the bishop of Exeter has refused to let the archbishop of Canterbury visit his diocese, three of his household esquires force the archbishop's messenger to eat the wax seal of the letter he is carrying. Several members of the archbishop's household exacted revenge by seizing one of the bishop's men and making him eat his own shoes. It is not exactly behaviour appropriate for the servants of the highest-ranking clergy in the realm." (p61)
I suspect contemporary ecclesiastical disputes would be sorted out far quicker if there was the ever-present threat of some shoe-ingestion...
Then there was the rather inconsistent compromises, or even corruption, of senior clerics to take into account. Take this illustration from the `stews' or public baths south of the Thames, notorious for the `services' available there. [I've always had my suspicions about Southwark, or anywhere south of the river for that matter... now I can begin to see why]:
"Contrary to what you might expect, there is little or no stigma attached to those who frequent the stews; there are few sexually contracted diseases and the marriage vows only require the fidelity of the female partners; the man may do as he pleases. Some clergymen rail against such immorality, of course; but few directly allude to Southwark. Most of the bath houses are rented from the bishop of Winchester." (p21)
Well, I never! William of Wykeham, Bishop of Winchester (picture above), had been someone I was taught to revere, having been founder of my old Oxford college. So it seems that the foundation was built on the proceeds of the Southwark stews!). How disappointing...
THE LEGAL AND ARTISTIC LEGACY
For all the alienness of this world, there are many aspects that survive into the present day. Here is one brief survey of the legal legacy of the era
"But a few Acts are of vital importance. For example, there are officially two races - the English and the Normans - until this law of `Englishry' is repealed in 1340. The Act of 1362 which enables to plead in court in English is a similar milestone in the history of the nation. Some important Acts are still in force in the modern world. The main clauses of the Treason Act of 1351, by which Edward III establishes exactly what constitutes `high treason', are still on the statute books. One can saw the same for Acts forbidding men to come to parliament armed, and the Act of 1383 forbidding maintenance (where lords protect their criminal retainers). Also still in force in the modern world are an Act of 1331 making it illegal to arrest someone contrary to the terms of Magna Carta, and an Act of 1381 making it treasonable to begin a riot (passed in the wake of the Peasants Revolt). Interestingly, an Act of 1354 is also still in force, making it illegal for a man to be deprived of his lands or property, or executed, without first having had the chance to answer the accusations against him in court. Sadly, recourse to this law is normally made posthumously, when an heir is trying to clear his executed father's name and reclaim his inheritance." (p234)
And then take the scientific contributions of Roger Bacon (right)- though I fear the terms with which he's introduced are not as nuanced as James Hannam is in his excellent God's Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science...
"There are rationalists and scientists in medieval society but you will find their writings even more outlandish than the prophecies. The most extraordinary and famous example of this is a passage in the works of the great thirteenth-century scientist and philosopher, Roger Bacon. In a text in which he tries to show how so many supposedly magical things are really quite normal, he writes:
Ships may be made to move without oars or rowers, so that large vessels might be driven on the sea or on a river by a single man, and more swiftly than if they were strongly manned. Chariots can be built which can move without any draught animal at incalculable speed. Flying machines might be made in the middle of which a man might sit, turning a certain mechanism whereby artfully built wings might beat the air, in the manner of a bird in flight. Another instrument could be made which, although small, will lift or lower weights of almost infinite greatness... Again, instruments might be made for walking in the sea, or in rivers, even to the very bottom, without bodily danger... And very many things of this sort might be made: bridges which cross rivers without pier or prop whatsoever, and unheard-of machines and engines.
It is not what you expect of a Franciscan friar living in superstitious medieval England. We might even wonder whether some other cranes, diving suits and suspension bridges. But think about this passage, as you pour scorn on the credulousness of the people. It is from the same belief that anything is possible that the greatest discoveries are made. "What others strive to see dimly and blindly, like bats in twilight, he gazes in the full light of day, because he is a master of experiment", says Bacon, praising a contemporary. The same could be said of Bacon himself: when anything is possible, experiment is essential. As for his flying machine and diving suit - if Leonardo da Vinci's drawings come to mind, it is not surprising. Roger Bacon's name appears in Leonardo's notebooks." (p76)
All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable romp. I could have done without some of the more exhaustive lists of household contents, for instance. But the quality and expectations of mediaeval life are clearly realised - and this is as close to a time-machine any of us will ever get. Who could forget the descriptions of the utter misery and filth of sea-travel, mediaeval medicine or the reality of judicial insecurities?
So, for all my immersion into and fascination with the 14th Century, it made me thoroughly pleased to live in the 21st Century!
22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Marvellously Entertaining,
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An absolute joy,
My only quibbles were that I would have liked some information on (admittedly probably the ONLY subject the author has missed out!) the visual arts and that I was puzzled by his cursory assumption that the Medieval church would have objected to the ubiquitous reliance on astrology. This is, in fact, a relatively modern separation, as evidenced by the numerous astrological symbols to be found on Medieval churches.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Chatty Reference Book,
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The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century by Ian Mortimer (Paperback - 1 Oct 2009)