The Time Traveller's Guide to
Elizabethan England

Reviewers' comments

'This is even richer than his medieval guide. You can almost feel the texture of the times, and you can imagine exactly how its men and women might think... What emerges is an astonishingly colourful portrait of an astonishingly colourful era, one sophisticated enough to include, and make sense of, all its contradictions. It is as if Mortimer has restored an old painting, stripping it of its cloaking layers of brown varnish to reveal its vitality and life afresh.' (Toby Clements, Daily Telegraph, 25 February 2012)

'With Shakespeare on hand to give us extra insight into how Elizabethans saw themselves (and what they - often, to our eyes inexplicably - found funny), and a society playing out its growing sense of self-awareness as it tiptoes towards the modern age, the stage is set for a fresh and funny book that wears its learning lightly. After all, despite the plagues and the burnings, the prejudice and the hair-raising medical care, "Elizabethans are not some distant, alien race, but our families - they are us". Who doesn't love to read about themselves?' (Rebecca Armstrong, The Independent, 2 March 2012)

'The Time Traveller's Guide to Elizabethan England is full of moments such as these: scenes in which you, the modern Time Traveller, are left confused, shocked and occasionally delighted at what is unfolding before you. To make the experience more vivid, historian Ian Mortimer uses the present tense, and addresses the reader with a sleeve-tugging 'you'. It's an approach that worked brilliantly in his previous book, a time-travelling guide to the middle ages. Now he is twisting the dial forward a couple of notches and setting out to show us what life was really like under Good Queen Bess... Mortimer is excellent here at dispelling a few myths. Elizabethans may not have bathed but that did not mean they were dirty. Convinced that a bath might kill you (who knew what poisons floated in water that was drawn from a river in which excrement floated), you started the day with a brisk rub down with clean linen... As Mortimer puts it, "sometimes the past will inspire you, sometimes it will make you weep". What it won't do, thanks to this enthralling book, is leave you unmoved.' (Kathryn Hughes, The Mail on Sunday, 4 March 2012)

'Having pioneered the time-slip guide book with a virtual tour of the fourteenth century, Mortimer brings the same depth and flair to the age of Shakespeare and the Virgin Queen. From dental hygiene to table manners, the findings fascinate.' (i, 6 March 2012)

'This fascinating account of everyday life in Elizabethan England strips away the sanitised, glamorised version presented on celluloid and in novels, and gives us the startling and often disgusting truth.' (Press Association syndicated review, 11 March 2012)

['Book of the week' review] 'Mortimer's slick book bristles with alarming facts, hilarious episodes, glorious pageants and apocalyptic horrors.' (Roger Lewis, Daily Mail, 16 March 2012).

'Mortimer's subject-by-subject guide is studded with such gems, from explanations about hygiene (the better sort 'wash' by rubbing themselves with linen towels rather than using soap and water) to asides on men's facial hair (beards grow much later than in the modern world, and 22-year-olds will often still have only a few wisps)... Mortimer's gift is to turn such unburnished material into observational gold. He is particularly good, and serious, on the place of women in 16th-century society... Mortimer excels, too, at describing the drip-drip way in which the Protestant settlement is imposed, and how the noose slowly tightens around Catholics as Elizabeth's reign proceeds... Such serious notes add weight to what is a delightful book, full of busy research lightly worn, that is as accessible and entertaining a guide as you will find to living in past times.' (Andrew Holgate, The Sunday Times, 18 March 2012).

'This is a scholarly and accessible book: Mortimer's research is wide and deep. He is good at challenging common misconceptions about the period, whether on life expectancy, policing, or the idea that Elizabethans were less sensitive to bad smells and more tolerant of filth. His laudable mission is to convince us that our 'ancestors are not inferior to us; they do not lack sophistication, subtlety, innovation, wit or courage...' Mortimer is entertaining and informative. He is, unsurprisingly, particularly strong when it comes to early modern illness and medicine...' (Suzannah Lipscomb, History Today, 19 March 2012).

'Mortimer has again written a vivid and highly entertaining book. Echoing the view of the social historian Christopher Dyer that to know of past societies is to understand ourselves, he has found an attractive formula with which to present the lives of ordinary people in history, and to bring history to life.' (Thomas Penn, The Guardian, 24 March 2012).

'Mortimer's book has something for everyone, from slang terms for the hierarchy of the criminal fraternity to cures for bad breath. His curiosity is boundless and his profound scholarship is leavened by a sense of fun.' (Christopher Silvester, Daily Express, 6 April 2012).

'Fascinatingly readable' (John Ure, Country Life, 30 April 2012).

'It is with this approach that Ian Mortimer triumphs. Using a heady mix of historical fact, original documents and intelligent guesswork, he pieces together not just how the Elizabethans lived but how they thought... All you have to do is climb aboard his time machine and enjoy a fascinating journey.' (Nigel Nelson, Tribune Magazine, 6 May 2012).

'Superb... The stroke of genius is writing it in the present tense so the stories really grab you.' (SJC, The Sun, 25 May 2012).

'Lively, imaginative and very accessible... Ian Mortimer's engaging manner conceals his scholarship, the scope of which I cannot hope to convey here. He makes the past live. What more could you ask of a historian?' (Michael Barber, The Oldie, 1 July 2012).

'If your understanding of Elizabethan England is based on TV dramas or Shakespeare's plays, then the intimate detail in Mortimer's fabulously colourful book will make you realise what you're missing... Absolutely fascinating and great fun.' (Sally Morris, The Daily Mail, 22 March 2013).

'Splendidly entertaining... It's like Horrible Histories for grown-ups, and I mean that as a compliment.' (Brandon Robshaw, The Independent, 24 March 2013).

'A magnificent social history, rich and scholarly, but with the verve and intrigue of a great novel.' (Rory Clements).

Last updated 24 March 2013