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The Time Traveler's Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century Hardcover – December 29, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this compelling volume, Medieval history expert Mortimer (The Fears of Henry IV) transports readers to jolly, squalid old England for a thorough survey of everyday 14th century life. Going beyond the "nasty, brutish and short" of it, Mortimer's immersive visitor's-guide approach to popular history gives readers a seamless sense of being there. The population is young-"Half of the population is aged twenty-one or less"-but incredibly diverse. The idea that social classes were distinct and few-fighters, prayers, and farmers-gets exploded in Mortimer's examination society and the Medieval character, including everything from humor and juggling to mariners to doctors. Mortimer even argues, convincingly, over relative standards of hygiene ("to regard a medieval kitchen as 'dirty' because it has not been wiped down with modern detergent is to apply our own standards inappropriately"). He also looks at the role of period's four greatest writers of the time , and reveals the horrors of contemporary medicine (with terrifying descriptions of the plague) and law (the outskirts of every town were decorated with the hanged corpses of minor criminals). Mortimer's toungue-in-cheek vistor's guide is an impressive accomplishment, turning 600 years of history transparent to give 21st century audiences a clear view on Medieval life.
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" incredible tour de force." -- Alison Weir

"An amazingly detailed social history...From wages to wardrobes, [Mortimer] reconstructs what everyone from all walks of life did on an everyday basis and speculates about what they were thinking while they were doing it. A gem for history buffs as well as travelers." -- BOOKLIST

"[Mortimer] sets out to re-enchant the fourteenth century, taking us by the hand through a landscape furnished with jousting knights, revolting peasants, and beautiful ladies in wimples. It is Monty Python and the Holy Grail with footnotes and, my goodness, it is fun." -- KATHRYN HUGHES, THE GUARDIAN

"After The Canterbury Tales this has to be the most entertaining book ever written about the Middle Ages." -- SUE ARNOLD, THE GUARDIAN

"Perhaps the most enjoyable history book I've read all year." -- PROFESSOR STEPHEN HOWE, THE INDEPENDENT

"The resulting portrait of the era is as lively as it is informative. His work of speculative social history is eminently entertaining but this doesn't detract from the serious and thorough research involved." -- ANGEL GURRÍA-QUINTANA, FINANCIAL TIMES

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Touchstone; 1 edition (December 29, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1439112894
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439112892
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (214 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #178,949 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Dr Ian Mortimer is best known as the author of 'The Time Traveler's Guide to Medieval England', which was a Sunday Times bestseller in the UK in 2009 and 2010. Its Elizabethan follow-up was a Sunday Times bestseller in 2012.

He is also the author of a series of four sequential medieval biographies, 'The Greatest Traitor: The Life of Sir Roger Mortimer' (covering the years 1306-1330), 'The Perfect King: The Life of Edward III' (covering 1327-1377), 'The Fears of Henry IV: The Life of England's Self-Made King' (covering 1377-1413) and '1415: Henry V's Year of Glory' (covering 1413-1415). A volume of scholarly essays, 'Medieval Intrigue: Decoding Royal Conspiracies' provides several of the in-depth pieces of research that support the more difficult and contentious aspects of these books, and includes his important essay on understanding historical evidence.

He was awarded the Alexander Prize (2004) by the Royal Historical Society for his work on the social history of medicine. His PhD was published by the Royal Historical Society in 2009 as 'The Dying and the Doctors: the Medical Revolution in Seventeenth-Century England'. He is also the author of two volumes of early modern manuscripts and numerous articles in the scholarly press on subjects ranging from the fourteenth to the twentieth centuries. He is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries.

He also writes poetry and fiction, the latter using his middle names 'James Forrester'. The Clarenceux trilogy of novels, set in the 1560s, is published by Sourcebooks in the USA.

He lives with his wife and three children on the edge of Dartmoor. For more information, see

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

157 of 161 people found the following review helpful By Stephen J. Davey on January 1, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I have been to medieval England by immersion in the writing of Ian Mortimer. The smells, the sites, the attitudes of the time have surrounded me. As the reader you become part of the fabric of the place. His writing leads the you through the homes and halls, the churches and landscape of the time. The reading is easy, not cold and academic, but warm and compassionate. For those of us that have only experienced a brief, school based, introduction to history, life in medieval England was probably described as 'nasty, brutish and short'. This is far from a complete picture. Ian brings the time and place to life. You will find that the book not only expands your understanding of the time, but when you finish reading it, you may be left with the feeing that you are leaving old friends behind.
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116 of 118 people found the following review helpful By Bruce Trinque VINE VOICE on January 6, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Ian Mortimer's "The Time Travelers' Guide to Medieval England: A Guidebook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century" is a highly detailed look at life in England several centuries ago, related as if the reader were preparing for an actual journey back in time, studying on what to do (and how to survive) in a vastly different world. The benefits of such an approach are large. The author explains: "As soon as you start to think of the past happening (as opposed to it having happened), a new way of conceiving history becomes possible ... You start to gain an inkling as to why people did this or that, and even why they believed things we find simply incredible."

The book covers virtually every aspect of life and death in Fourteenth century England, from the highest royalty to the lowest peasant (peasants, Mortimer explains, did not call themselves "peasants", but instead would have conceived themselves as members of some subset of society as "rustici" -- countrymen -- or "villani" -- villeins). Social hierarchies, food, clothing, housing, law and order, medicine, travel ... Mortimer seemingly touches upon and describes every aspect of life. He deliberately limits himself to a single century as "medieval" actually covers too extensive a slice of time for accurate summary and even so the author frequently addresses changing behavior over the course of that single century.

A vast amount of information is conveyed in an engaging, lively style. In the very first chapter Mortimer emphasizes his approach to social history by submerging the reader in an ocean of sensory imaginings, descrbing sights and sounds and especially smells of a visit to a medieval English city. And repeatedly thereafter the author reinforces this "you are there" experience. All in all, this is an excellent and highly vivid look at a past era.
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81 of 86 people found the following review helpful By Ellis Bell VINE VOICE on January 8, 2010
Format: Hardcover
The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England is just that--a comprehensive traveler's guide to the fourteenth century in England. It covers pretty much anything and everything of day-to-day life, from the people you would have encountered, to the clothes you would have worn, to the kind of medical treatment you would have received if you had gotten sick, and much, much more.

There's a lot here I already knew, but a lot I didn't--for example, that pockets were introduced during this century, as were differentiated shoes (left foot versus right, in other words). It's details like this, that you wouldn't normally think are important, that really are important in daily life. At first, the present-tense writing threw me off; but, as Mortimer says in his introduction, once you begin understanding history as happening rather than as has happened, then you'll better understand the complexities of fourteenth-century life.

As the back of the book paraphrases LP Hartley, "the past is a foreign country, they did things differently there..." It's not that things were bad or wrong with the way that people lived six hundred years ago; it's just that people back then had different ways of seeing the world. Take, for example, the chapter on health and medical practices. It's not that medical physicians and surgeons (two different things, up until the 17th century) were ignorant in the sense that we mean it; it's just that they used different areas of knowledge to make a diagnosis and treat a patient. Doctors and surgeons in the fourteenth century probably had as much knowledge as doctors do today--they just used things such as astronomy, religion, and blind faith in their practice. I wish the author had focused a little more on religion and education, however.
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39 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Cindyash on July 15, 2010
Format: Hardcover
As other reviewers have said, this is a very good overview of the 14th century in England, in terms of the social history (not a place to go if you are looking for political history. I think Barbara Tuchman's Distant Mirror would fit that bill, and would be a fascinating companion read). He has an easy going style that is readable, without the 'lets make this really funny' kind of trap that some popular historians fall into. I felt that he made it interesting and accessible enough for readers with little background, and yet was novel enough for those of us who have some background with the time and place. I liked how much day to day details he found for us, and brought us to what life was like for the 'peasants' (interesting that they were not called that at the time). I did think some of his details were overdone. While I enjoyed looking at some of the lists of household items and such, putting costs weren't that necessary. But his sections on clothing, food, and housing were excellent.

There were a few glaring omissions: maps!!! There should have been a general English one, as well as a map of London and other places mentioned, as well as drawings of the houses and such that he describes. There was also nothing about child rearing or discipline, schooling or apprentiship. I was very surprised to see that he left out midwives and herbalists from the section on medical practitioners. Otherwise, this is a very written book that I would recommend to others.
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