The Time Traveler's Guide to Elizabethan England

The Time Traveler's Guide to Elizabethan England

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by Ian Mortimer

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The author of The Time Traveler’s Guide to Medieval England takes you through the world of Shakespeare and Queen Elizabeth I

From the author of The Time Traveler’s Guide to Medieval England, this popular history explores daily life in Queen Elizabeth’s England, taking us inside the homes and minds of ordinary citizens as


The author of The Time Traveler’s Guide to Medieval England takes you through the world of Shakespeare and Queen Elizabeth I

From the author of The Time Traveler’s Guide to Medieval England, this popular history explores daily life in Queen Elizabeth’s England, taking us inside the homes and minds of ordinary citizens as well as luminaries of the period, including Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe, Sir Walter Raleigh, and Sir Francis Drake.

Organized as a travel guide for the time-hopping tourist, Mortimer relates in delightful (and occasionally disturbing) detail everything from the sounds and smells of sixteenth-century England to the complex and contradictory Elizabethan attitudes toward violence, class, sex, and religion.  

Original enough to interest those with previous knowledge of Elizabethan England and accessible enough to entertain those without, The Time Traveler’s Guide is a book for Elizabethan enthusiasts and history buffs alike.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Rarely does a travel guide stand the test of time quite like this colorful and hypothetically practical portrait of Elizabethan England. Historian Ian Mortimer, a former fellow of the Royal Historical Society, escorts the Anglophile on a tour of his native country five centuries ago, where 3s could buy you a personal tour of the Tower of London's dungeons. Disguised as a trip-planner, this lively historical account stays true to form offering readers travel advice such as fashion trends (ruffs and ruffles rule), diet tips (avoid tomatoes), and much-needed safety notes such as why bathing is unhealthy and how many arrows to keep on hand. On the topic of good manners, it is customary to remove your hat when in the presence of public urination and true gentlemen greet women with a full-on kiss on the lips, a custom that possibly explains why in 1563, over 17 thousand people succumbed to the plague. Motimer explores many facets of England's "Golden Age" with intricate detail yet a lightness in tone. He riffs off fellow scholars to fill the gaps in this upbeat and in depth account. Wildly entertaining, Mortimer fresh approach to history will draw in many types of readers. Agent: George Lucas, Inkwell Management. (June)
Library Journal
★ 09/15/2013
Presenting delightfully constructed vignettes, rich in detail, Mortimer (A Time Traveler's Guide to Medieval England) comes as close to transporting readers to another time and place as is possible without an actual time machine—significantly aided by his use of the present tense (e.g., "…people mix Spanish sleeves with French gowns and Dutch cloaks"). This is a meticulously researched, comprehensive journey through Elizabeth I's reign, illuminating the ins and outs of everything from food and clothing to proper forms of address and the varieties of script used in writing, all covered within 12 thematic chapters. Mortimer includes information not generally known among most readers or misconstrued in popular culture. For example, unlike under Henry VIII, from 1547 to 1563 the practice of witchcraft was not against the law. The writing is succinct yet all encompassing, incorporating contemporary statistics, quotations, and even authentic Elizabethan dialog to illustrate the complexity and intrigue inherent in the era. VERDICT The perfect book for those new to the subject, interested in learning more about Elizabethan England, whether for academic grounding or purely for entertainment. Recommended.—Kathleen Dupré, Edmond, OK
Kirkus Reviews
Having made a splash with The Time Traveler's Guide to Medieval England (2009), popular British historian Mortimer delivers an equally authoritative, amusing bottoms-up account of life during Queen Elizabeth's 1558-1603 reign. The average Elizabethan paid little attention to politics but a great deal to domestic technology. Thus, bricks and clear glass became cheaper. Cheap bricks meant cheap chimneys. Without a chimney, smoke can only escape through the roof, making upper stories impossible, so multistory buildings spread throughout Elizabethan towns. Formerly available only to the rich, glass windows began appearing widely. Elizabethan professions could be as professional as today's but not always: An Elizabethan lawyer would deliver useful legal counsel, but you would be unwise to follow the advice of an Elizabethan physician. Preparing a hot bath was a major undertaking. In any case, bathing was considered a health risk. This did not mean that Elizabethans ignored personal cleanliness, but a time traveler would have noticed the general body odor. However, even Elizabethans disliked the smell of excrement. Privies took care of this in the country; the rich built expensive cesspits and even primitive water closets, but the urban poor had few options, so cities stank. We understand the English of Shakespeare's time with a modest effort, although many words have changed meaning. Ecstasy meant insanity. Mean meant impoverished ("of mean parentage" didn't mean child abuse but poverty). "Puke" was a bluish-black color. Readers accustomed to Hollywood's portrayal of people in earlier times (just like us, except for the funny clothes) are in for a jolt as they encounter plenty of new, often unsettling, occasionally gruesome but always entertaining information.

Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
8.30(w) x 5.40(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Meet the Author

Ian Mortimer, ph.d., is the author of The Time Traveler’s Guide to Medieval England. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society in 1998 and was awarded the Alexander Prize (2004) by the Royal Historical Society. He lives with his wife and three children on the edge of Dartmoor, in the southwest of England.

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The Time Traveler's Guide to Elizabethan England 4.3 out of 5 based on 1 ratings. 6 reviews.
TheReadingWriter More than 1 year ago
We all know why Elizabethan England fascinates us and Ian Mortimer is a wonderful guide. His sense of humor and level of detail bridges any gaps in understanding why Elizabethan England may not be a place we would want to live. Mortimer expects us to have pre-conceived notions and questions that develop as we read. We may, for instance, ascribe to the notion that Elizabethan England was a period of the flowering of art and language, and it was…to a point. By carefully going through all the contingencies of leadership, life, and labor, he shows us that it was difficult at best—the early, and not quite thought-out beginning of city living. Cleanliness and sanitation were two of the most off-putting descriptions Mortimer shares, but we also shrink at “medical care” and the somewhat arbitrary nature of punishment and death. On the pro side, world-wide exploration was in its infancy, and it must have been thrilling to discover new products coming in from overseas, changing the way people thought about their own culture. People were reading—even women—and while much of what was available to them were religious tracts, there began to be something more as the period (1550-1600) wore on. Mortimer gives us statistics on how many books were being published and the results are startling. My greatest interest in the period had been language: there are so many words no longer in use which seem to capture something unique in the lives of people at the time that I find them fascinating. Mortimer is likewise taken, for he spends some time explaining words, even words we use now for their meanings might well have changed since the sixteenth century. Just the list of tradesmen and merchants brings on a long period of daydreaming: tucker, tailor, baker, victualer, cutler, draper, cooper, currier, glover, hatter, hosier, cordwainer, costermonger, needlemaker, ostler, scrivener…the list goes on. Mortimer tells us “you won’t find the answers to [how to behave at table or how to tell the time] in traditional history books” so he attempts to address those gaps in our knowledge about everyday life. One of things I liked most about this non-traditional history was Mortimer directly addressing his readers: in the section on religion, he explains how Queen Elizabeth established a Protestant state and outlawed Catholicism. There was a long period of debate and discussion in the parliament before each infringement on the rights of Catholics to practice is enacted. The punishments for those found violating the strictures is profound and ugly, and Mortimer does not allow us to turn away. At the end of the chapter he exclaims in a one-sentence paragraph, “For the love of God.” Nearing the end of the book, Mortimer indulges us with a discussion of the theatre—who was writing, who was acting, who was watching. In other books (Imagine: How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer), it is suggested that Shakespeare reached the height of skill and brilliance that he did because he had competitors for the affections of theatre-goers. Mortimer tells of the other great playwrights of the time and their successes, pushing Shakespeare to craft the most daring and innovative scripts for the greatest stage actors. He suggests that part of the thrill of watching a Shakespearean drama was the mirror-like action that reflected the lives of watchers…something that was new and innovative. Passion plays, or morality plays common at the time had morphed into theatre that showed human endeavor and failings and did not just teach but explained. No, perhaps I do not want to live there, but I am better prepared now for a visit. This is a great read for high school or college students because Mortimer does not neglect details and reminds us to think in a wholistic way about the life Shakespeare must have led. Mortimer anticipates questions we generate as we read and answers them thoroughly. It is a wonderful, absorbing history and if you don’t come out with a few new deliciously barbed and pointed swear words, I’ll be surprised.
DesC 3 months ago
Anonymous 8 months ago
Quite an interesting read. Kept me interested throughout the book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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