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)
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
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.