Author: Ian Mortimer
This book is a true masterpiece that allows people to experience the past as living history in all its vivid glory. Mortimer takes us through an industry free landscape furnished with heraldic knights, pitiful peasants and melancholic monks. The author puts across complex processes such as the feudal system with simplistic language allowing readers of all abilities to comprehend such processes. There is a thread of humour running throughout the pages of this book, that makes it truly a joy to read. Perhaps the part that made me giggle most was the twisted meaning quite apart from chivalry, of the phrase ”women and children first’ used in such a way as to describe the quickest way to lighten a sinking ship. Mortimers approach allows people to see the facts not merely as cold statistics but personified, clothed is flesh and bone, as real people! We can only assume at the hours upon hours the author has spent in dusty archives searching for the personal experiences of medieval people, so that we are no longer distanced from the past. Most people have heard of the terrible disease that is leprosy and how it putrefies and deforms a person, but when we hear that in Medieval England people with the disease were forcibly excluded from society and treated with open hostility wherever they wandered, we as readers feel we know them and feel such pity for their plight. But Mortimer goes one step further actually naming a sufferer of the ‘living death’ London baker, John Mayn who refused to leave the city when ordered to do so by the mayor in 1372, and its no surprise he refused asked to leave his home, possessions and livelihood.
‘Amazing’ – Alison Weir
It is indeed a marvel that Mortimer has managed to scavenge such imagery from the eddies of time, particularly when you consider the lack of official documents to provide backbone to his gripping narratives. Though it is perhaps unsurprising when you take into account the rich resource of literature from the period. Namely William Langland and Geoffrey Chaucer, both their masterpieces adding rich texture and perspective of Medieval England with their richly detailed characters portraying a diverse range of echelons. Throughout the text second person and present tense is used making the reader truly a part of living history so that you are the one fearing for your life when the black death spreads rampantly through the country and you are the one seated in the place of honour in the main hall of a noble household. Everyday life is described with great zeal from peasants pottage to the meat-rich diets of nobles and kings. However beware this jovial journey is seldom peaceful, your life is not your own if you are below the rank of tradesman and especially not if you are a woman. As you walk down the muddied streets of Medieval England, know that you are constantly watched, because although sparsely populated there is no shortage of travelers keeping pace with you, whether they be on pilgrimage or simply journeying to trade.
‘After The Canterbury Tales this has to be the most entertaining book ever written about the Middle Ages’ – Sue Arnold Guardian
There is many an insightful gem of advice making this a valuable travel guide, of particular interest to me was the ‘Ten places to see in London’ from the marvel that is London Bridge to the solemnity of the permanent gallows at Tyburn. Each chapter within this archive of a book has a specific purpose, the chapter on Medieval Character allows you to know those you travel with better and understand both the injustice and the beauty of medieval society. In the Medieval world ‘a streak of violence runs through the whole population’, so beware!
Though we are then assailed by sentimentality with ‘The Warrior’s Love Of Flowers’, so you see there is more to the medieval people than violent humour and brutality, they were as multi faceted as we are today and we have them entirely misunderstood. A hero’s tale told alongside that of a thief’s, a knight’s alongside that of a fair maiden’s and a medieval world we adore, it could almost be fiction… but its not, its HISTORY!
In short, read the book!