THE TIME TRAVELER’S GUIDE TO MEDIEVAL ENGLAND: A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century, Ian Mortimer, Simon & Schuster, NY 2008, photo inserts, index, bibliography
If you want to get a good mental image of the 14th Century and how people live, this is the book to read. You can get dates and figures and bits and pieces elsewhere. here, author Ian Mortimer assembles it into a fabric that reveals the day-to-day lifestyle of lords and ladies as well as peasant.
This handy guide discusses everything from currency and weights and measures to the medieval view on medicine, it’s strengths and it’s numerous, often fatal, weaknesses.
Ideas of fashion changed more often in the 14th Century than any other ancient time, although women were required by continuing custom to keep their hair long but not loose, and limbs were concealed. Married women wore a wimple that covered all but their faces.
There were no police in the 14th Century, but there were the king’s subordinates who were in charge of keeping the peace. The Sheriff of Nottingham, as you remember from the Robin Hood stories, was the law in his county, one step down from the king (Prince John, to quickly become King John as the recent Robin Hood movie finally makes clear — despite all the other Robin Hood stories that make a big deal of Richard’s return, Lionheart was only in England six months throughout his entire reign).
This was, of course, the era of Robin Hood and the author spends a few pages discussing that. This is also the century of the Black Death, which had tremendous impact on Europe and that is also discussed.
Justice, by the way, often involved capital punsihment. Medieval justice distinguished not so much between what was and what was not a capital crime (because so much was), but the brutality of the execution. As Braveheart shows, traitors faced the worst punishment, in the movie meted out to Scottish hero William Wallace. Hanging was acceptable and in some places handled practically on an assembly line basis.
A myth about medieval people had to do with cleanliness. Actually, they tried to remain as clean as possible. The problem was, the lower classes often lived in dirty surroundings, for example, huts with packed dirt floors. Also, to bathe one had to boil a huge amount of water.
Spot bathing was therefore common and people frequently washed hands during the day. Ironically, the plague of the 14th Century led to a population reduction and the rise of a middle class as peasants began to acquire value. The century actually ended with a smaller population that it began due to the plague.
An excellent book for anyone who has curiosity about the era and would like a real feel for it. The book delivers.