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The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England - Ian Mortimer
Member Name: Renza_e
The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England - Ian Mortimer
Date: 23/04/12, updated on 23/04/12 (39 review reads)
Advantages: Interesting historical perspective, very well-written and engaging read.
Disadvantages: The fact that I can't actually go back in time. Possibly a good thing. The Black Death an' all that.
*~LIVING, BREATHING HISTORY~*
If you had asked what life was like for a medieval yeoman, my mind would have been cast back to a few of the dull and uninspiring lectures which I endured in social and economic history (otherwise a thoroughly engaging area of history). These were lectures which detailed statistics of grain yields, population figures and agricultural methods. 'Help! Help! I'm being repressed.' Monty Python's 'The Holy Grail' may have had more to do with modern parody than history but at least they breathed some sort of life and colour into their peasant characters. In my historical studies, a medieval serf often seemed to be no more than a statistic - something that was born, sowed the land, possibly gave birth or sired a number of children and then died at a relatively young age.
In Mortimer's book the reader becomes a time traveller but this is no piece of science fiction. It is a real historical study with a unique perspective. Instead of thinking about the past as having happened he thinks about the past as actually happening. By looking beyond graphs and statistics, he looks at what it meant to experience 'the sensations of being alive' in this age, examining the medieval people in a more personal and 'sympathetic' way. By looking at medieval people as a living, breathing individuals with feelings, an exciting and invigorating way of approaching history begins to emerge...
*~WOT? NO POTATOES?~*
'A Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England' is one of the most interesting history books I have read. Very well written and engaging, Mortimer provides a vivid account of what life could have been like in the 14th century without compromising and fabricating historical detail. Chapter after chapter, he builds a picture of a society which increasingly feels very tangible and real.
He covers a whole host of topics, topics you would expect to research if you were off to visit an exotic clime. These topics are as follows:
* LANDSCAPE - What type of surroundings do we expect to come across on our escapade? The novel opens with a colourful and detailed description of what it was like to walk into the city of Exeter. We also gain a top ten list of places to visit in London to rival Time Out's publications.
* THE PEOPLE - What are the locals like? In this chapter, he describes medieval English society as very young and as a place where women faced much sexual prejudice.
* MEDIEVAL CHARACTER - What type of people are they? As it turns out, it seems that society at this point in time was violent, religious and had a rather skewed knowledge of the wider world. This is probably not a place to voice any atheist point of views.
* THE BASIC ESSENTIALS - This describes everything you need to know to survive your visit including language, time, greetings and money. You won't need no travellers cheques where you're going and good luck understanding the local lingo...
* WHAT TO WEAR - What attire should we adopt? God forbid we turn up in our hot pants in the year 1300.
* WHAT TO EAT AND DRINK - We all know about the horrors of dodgy bowels on our holiday travels. What should we expect to eat in medieval England? What do you mean they don't have any tomatoes and potatoes?!
* HEALTH AND HYGIENE - Are the medieval people quite as smelly and disgusting as we might think? Shall we take a clothes peg for our nose? Maybe a gas mask?
* THE LAW - Lets face it, no one wants to end up banged up in ye olde gaol on our trip. How do we keep on the right side of the authorities? Let's try and stay out of the stocks and as far away as possible from the scaffold.
* WHAT TO DO - A spot of dancing, singing, jousting... perving at Heath Ledger in some chain mail armour? What DO the medieval people do for fun?
By examining the past as if we were actually living it, Ian Mortimer explores details of the past which I did not read about when I studied medieval history at university. I finished this 300 page book feeling rather enlightened. One thing that blew my mind was the thought that Anno Domini was not in used back then but that time was recorded using the regnal year. In my two semesters of medieval history, I did not pick up or read about this concept and yet it seems so obvious that this is something I should have known. This is a world where even dates were different, mechanical clocks had only just been introduced and people were woken up by and beckoned to bed by church bells.
Throughout his chapters, Mortimer paints a picture of a society that is very different to our own. Here we are living in a world where we are worried children are growing up too fast and in the 1300s people could be respected leaders in their twenties. This was a time when Edward III led his army into battle against the Scots at the tender age of 20.
It was also a world where people had really skewed ideas, particularly about what constituted reality and fiction. They believed that no men could go to the Southern parts of the world, the Antipodes, as they believed it was too hot and could only be inhabited by strange races such as the Amazons (fierce one-breasted women) and Sciopods (people with one big large foot). For medieval people it was all about the 'quantity of their knowledge, not its quality and correctness.' Logic quite often was banished altogether.
This is a book that really does allow you to envisage what it may have been like to live in the 14th century. You are advised on what to do and what not to do, what to wear and what to eat. As I have suggested, ladies like myself wore wimples. There was then the introduction of tailored clothing around 1330 but I had to laugh when Mortimer referred to this 'new figure-hugging sexiness'. There was no limb flashing for women like me in this day and age.
As a woman, I would have to make sure I covered my limbs, bagged myself a husband and remembered my position within society. Should I be looking for a spot of entertainment, maybe I could catch a jousting tournament.
The chapter which details information about jousting is one of my favourite parts of the book as it opened my eyes up to the fact that jousting was highly dangerous. The reality of the pastime was a lot more brutal than the sanitized Hollywood versions would suggest - It's not very often you see knights crashing to their deaths in one of those films. In the eyes of medieval society, jousting was a form of expression of masculinity for noble men (an expression interchangeable with stupidity in my opinion). A man hadn't really proved himself unless he had bled in battle and many knights could be killed in just one tournament. Even 'jousts of peace' using capped lances could be fatal. Before a noble man had even stepped on a battlefield, he could end of perishing in the jousting arena...
*~HUMANIZING THE MEDIEVAL PEOPLE~*
Should I have been planning to travel back to England in the 1300s any time soon I would certainly have given this a read first. This is a rich piece of history written in a fun and entertaining style. Even those with just a passing interest in the medieval period should find this book easy to digest as it isn't weighed down by umpteen facts and figures.
Mortimer understands that statistics may be important in historical studies but he also understands that there is more to history than just facts and figures. History is not history if we cannot understand its people and the way they lived their lives. By humanizing medieval people, Ian Mortimer has produced a history book that is refreshing and engaging to read and one which I highly recommend.
*~PORTRAITS AND PICTURES~*
I particularly enjoyed the inclusion of a number of contemporary pictures within this book. One illustration the burning of the Templar's made me giggle a little - 'Images of extreme cruelty provide an opportunity to study men's underwear'. Never mind the execution of these men, look at the pants they've got on. Another illustration which made me smile was one of a surgeon named John of Arderne, performing a 'fistula' operation (a rather painful procedure involving the anus). John of Arderne states that 'Surgeons should be able to make their patients laugh'. 'Not easy, in this situation' states Ian Mortimer.
*~WORTH A GROAT OR TWO~*
In a world where books are not quite as expensive as in the 14th century, you'll be pleased to know you can find this book for as little as £4.69 including postage and packaging.
*~ Thank you for reading my review : - ) )~*
*~Also published on Ciao under Renza - April 2012~*
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