Wow, this was not only an informative book to read, but a fun one as well! For anyone who loves historical fiction as much as I do, discovering new insights into the past is just as entertaining as a good story. The Time Traveler’s Guide to Medieval England has much to offer.
We learn the life expectancy is much shorter in the 14th century. Throw in the Plague, and you have half of the population under 21 years of age.
When you consider that societies with youthful populations are more violent, tend to be supportive of slavery, and see nothing wrong with holding brutal combats in which men fight to the death for the sake of entertainment, you realize that society has changed fundamentally.
The book goes on to describe the types of people who live in the 14th century, the class system, the work, and how they conduct their economy. I found of particular interest the clothing, as advances technology allowed for buttons and different fabrics, (not to mention foreign trade, which introduced fashions from abroad) which changed the clothing dramatically. From a loose tunic in the early century, clothing styles changed greatly to be more form-fitting, with shorter hemlines for the men.
No wonder monastic chroniclers feel obliged to pass comment; they blame the men for displaying very short skirts and well-packed hose, and they blame the women for being delighted by what they see.
It certainly gives credence to the saying “what goes around, comes around,” doesn’t it?
Other chapters in the book cover subjects such as traveling, where to stay, and what people eat and drink in that era. Imagine you are a weary traveler, and need to find an inn for the night. Mortimer lets you know that if you are not on horseback, you don’t stand a chance of getting a room. If you have a horse, and are lucky enough to secure a room, you will find several beds in each room, and you will share your bed with one or more persons.
And don’t get me started on health, hygiene and medicine. Let’s just say that if the disease doesn’t kill you, the remedies of dung beetles, crickets and bats heads aren’t likely to make things any better. Can a person die from being overly grossed out? I’m sure that would have happened to me had I been subjected to 14th century medical practices.
There’s much more, but I’ll leave that for you to read yourself. At times the information was a little dry – as when Mortimer discusses the landscape and seafaring vessels, so I’m taking off a half star for the sleepy passages.
3 1/2 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2008