Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Time Traveler's Guide to Elizabethan England

I've had a copy of Ian Mortimer's The Time Traveler's Guide to Medieval England for awhile now.  I got it as a reference, not really intending to read it cover to cover, but happy to know I had a good source of info.

However, since I was offered and accepted a preview copy of Mortimer's The Time Traveler's Guide to Elizabethan England, as part of the publicity campaign for the release of the U.S. edition, I thought I better read it cover to cover.

While this is really the kind of book I most enjoy spread out over a period of months, I did focus and read it pretty quickly and enjoyed it.  Mortimer is easy to read, not as funny or snarky as Bill Bryson, who covered some of the same ground in his wonderful book, At Home, but still willing to point out inconsistencies between what the Elizabethans seemed to value and what they actually did.

The book is essentially an examination of life in Elizabethan England, with topics ranging from food, housing, transportation, disease, and religion to social structure, social and physical landscape, politics, and international relations.

I liked the premise of the book being a "Time Traveler's Guide," and my only real quibble is that I wish Mortimer had gone a bit farther with this.  He frequently wrote things like "if you were to contract small pox here's what you could expect..."  That's a nice enough effort, but as someone who plans to visit Elizabethan England as soon as Leonard and Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory get their time machine built, I want a real guide. I'm pretty sure that given my age and gender, I might be seen as a witch.  Well, what do I need to do to avoid that? Should I learn French and Latin?  What skills should I acquire so that I can easily find work to support myself?  I was hoping for a "Ten Tips for the First Time Visitor to Elizabethan England."  Don't get me wrong--I enjoyed the book, and learned a lot...maybe enough to adequately answer my top-of-mind questions as I prepare for my time travel adventure.

I did learn some cool facts too.  For example, did you know that Elizabeth had very few dukes to contend with? Actually, she had none after the Duke of Norfolk was executed for treason in 1572.  Being a woman monarch, she didn't have those pesky brothers that plagued so many kings.  I knew that but didn't really get what it meant until Mortimer pointed it out.  He also pointed out that "Elizabeth has a policy of of not creating any new marquesses or viscounts, and she creates very few barons and even fewer earls.  The reason is to limit the power of her subjects and thus strengthen the authority of her government....Elizabethan England is thus devoid of private armies, royal dukes, and political bishops. Those considering revolt against Elizabeth have no one to turn to for leadership."  Ah, I get it!


  1. I remember coming across his Guide to Medieval England at the library. I brought it home but just dipped in & out, rather than reading it cover to cover. I'll keep an eye out for this one. When they do get that time-travel machine going, where do you want to go first? I think the (US) Civil War for me, and then maybe Edwardian England.

    1. Where to first? I think the Civil War as well--I've read so much about this timeframe that it would be pretty incredible to witness. I wouldn't want to go too far back initially. I'm a bit of a cautious traveler myself.

  2. I have had my eye on The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England but have not read it yet. The concept behind these books is fantastic!

    Your witch comment really made me laugh!

  3. She was a smart woman.