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.