I read this book directly after reading Mortimer’s previous Time Traveler’s Guide to Medieval England. That one covered the 14th century. This one “represent(s) England as it existed between Elizabeth’s accession on November 17, 1558 and her death on March 24, 1603.” Two centuries separate the times they describe, and although there have been changes, the culture and the lives of most people seem remarkably (almost disturbingly) similar. It remains a period of superstition, oppression, injustice, poverty, violence, and disease. That’s in comparison to our point in space-time, of course. Two hundred years from now, people reading about our times may regard them much the same way. We may not draw and quarter criminals the way Elizabethans did, but many nations still execute them. Bearbaiting and cockfighting are no longer popular forms of entertainment, but our movies often portray fictionalized acts of violence that are no less brutal. Maybe we haven’t progressed as far as we might wish to believe.
But I digress. This book attempts to provide the reader with a feeling of what it might be like to visit Elizabethan England, and to the extent possible, I think it largely succeeds. Unlike the previous book, this one has no color plates or pictures or any kind. These would have been helpful, especially to illustrate the clothing of the well off, which sounds incredibly impractical, uncomfortable, and outrageously expensive. The primary function seems to be as displays of social status, but I suppose people still do that in our time with designer handbags and whatnot.
I’m tempted to go on about how histories like this demonstrate the foibles our species, and that we and our ancestors are much the same, subject to the same types of irrational beliefs and behaviors. But I won’t. I’m only writing a short book review, after all, and I have other things to do today. Still, I can recommend this book, not just for the history it provides about a specific time and place but also as a means for encouraging a higher perspective about the human species and its cultural evolution.