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The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England - Ian Mortimer
Member Name: anwar7
The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England - Ian Mortimer
Imagine you could travel back in time to medieval England. What would you see and hear and smell? This really sums up what the book is about and how it is written. The introduction starts by asking the reading what the term *medieval* conjures up. It goes on to dispel commonly held views that medieval England was all about knights and castles. Mortimer asks you to imagine that you have travelled back in time to the 14th century and find yourself in a dusty London street. He describes how a servant opens an upstairs window and starts beating a blanket. The description continues painting the scene vividly so the reader really does feel they are part of the scene.
Having given the reader an overview of Medieval England, the first chapter describes the landscape and takes the reader to both large towns and rural villages. As you journey along the road towards a city you will first notice the cathedral. ' Despite the wooden scaffolding at its west end, the long 80 foot high pointed lead roof, with its flying buttress and colossal towers, is simply the wonder of the region'. The chapter includes an easy to read list of town populations and how many of the resisedants were tax payers. London is given several pages and is bought to life brilliantly. I really enjoyed reading about the contrast between living in a large city compared to a small rural village.
The second chapter deals with the people. I find it fascinating that there ware no clear records telling us how many people actually lived in England in this period. A rough estimate puts the population at around 2.5 million. It is a shocking fact that the population had shrunk by about 50% by the end of the century. This is due to several factors such as plague and high levels of child mortality.
The chapter explains how social hierarchy worked and the type of work that would have been common. There is a section dealing with women showing that they were categorised not in their own right, but as wives, mothers, nuns and widows. Some things are pretty similar in my view!
The third chapter deals with the medieval character and by now I could really start to understand why my ancestors behaved the way they did! I enjoyed reading about the medieval sense of humour and how things we would today find brutal would be accepted as amusing. The book gives the example of a servant being unwell and falling off his horse several times. His master finds this very amusing, so much so that he gives the servant a years wages for making him laugh!
The next chapter tells you about the basic essentials necessary for living in the period. You will need to understand the language and know when the New Year starts for example. You will also need to have knowledge of measurements and money. It is also important for you to know how to behave and what is considered polite and what is taboo. I really enjoyed learning about shopping and the cost of everyday essentials.
Next we learn about clothing. This chapter has several pages of coloured illustrations. I have read many books about this period, but none have informed me about what was worn under the outer garments! I was also interested to learn that what you were allowed to wear depended upon your social status.
Chapter 6 is all about travelling. Roads were dusty and often dangerous. Reading this chapter I could really imagine the difficulties encountered on making even the simplest of journeys. There were few bridges for example, so crossing rivers or streams would be difficult. This chapter also looks at life at sea; not a pleasant experience by modern day standards!
Whist travelling you will need somewhere to stay and the next chapter deals with your options. You could stay at an inn. These are nothing like the pub accommodation of today however! They are usually rough and ready places that smell of the cess pit and mouldy food. They often have to deal with drunken, rowdy guests and fights were common.
Following this chapter is an explanation of what you could expect to eat and drink. The most interesting chapter for me, is the one dealing with health. This was a far more violent society than the one we live in today. There was a high chance you would be struck by an arrow or attacked in the street. If you were lucky enough to avoid any violent acts, then you still had a high risk of suffering injury through illness. The plague killed hundreds, sometimes wiping out whole families. When I have read about this episode in the past I have not really connected with the people who suffered. However this book really does involve you in the horrors of this awful illness. Leprosy was another serious threat to your wellbeing. The treatment of anyone suffering this disease is descried in vivid detail.
The chapter also deals with the treatments available at the time; not all are useless either!
Finally the book shows us what we can do to with our time.
I absolutely loved this book! I really felt I was in another time and learnt far more than I have ever done from any other book. The book is well researched with numerous references to the sources Mortimer has used. It is a very different way of learning about our past and one that works brilliantly. I like the fact that this is a book that you can dip into without having to read it from cover to cover. However reading the 300 pages that make up this delightful book was a real treat for me!
I borrowed my copy from the library, but will be buying a copy from Amazon. The list price is 8.99 but it can be found for around a fiver. It is p-published by vintage books.
Summary: book about Medieval England by Ian Mortimer
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