Brit Books: The Time Traveler’s Guide to Elizabethan England by Ian Mortimer


Suppose you were able to travel back in time to Elizabethan England. You might be lucky to catch a glimpse of William Shakespeare, Sir Francis Drake or Christopher Marlowe, but what would your life look like day-to-day. What would you eat? What would you wear? What would be a few of your pressing concerns?

Historian Ian Mortimer has written a lively book to answer these questions and many more. “The Time Traveler’s Guide to Elizabethan England” is a 393-page study of life as it was in 1500s England. Its twelve chapters run the gamut from The Landscape to Basic Essentials, from Where to Stay to Entertainment.

Ian Mortimer has an extensive academic background in history research and archives. Mortimer previously penned the successful “Time Traveler’s Guide to Medieval England” which transported readers to the 14th Century. Now he takes readers to the 16th Century to view the time of Queen Elizabeth, from her accession on November 17, 1558 to her death on March 24, 1603.

Quite often history can often be romanticized, particularly when so many of Shakespeare’s plays are performed in beautiful theaters with gorgeous actors. Mortimer peels back the drama and grandeur in order to patiently explain how life in Elizabethan England differed so greatly from our own. As he writes in the introduction, “Welcome, then, to Elizabethan England, and all its doubts, certainties, changes, traditions, and contradictions. It is a jewel-encrusted muddy kingdom, glittering and starving, hopeful and fearful in equal measure – always on the point of magnificent discoveries and brutal rebellions.”

While the entire book is fascinating, I particularly enjoyed reading the chapter, Hygiene, Illness, and Medicine. Quite honestly, my 21st Century sensibilities rendered parts of this chapter utterly repulsive, yet completely fascinating. Mortimer carefully explains the thought processes of Elizabethan citizens, then compares them to modern ideas and beliefs. I found the Elizabethan idea of “humours” and “airs” to be fascinating, as well as the notion of rinsing out ones mouth with “white wine and “spirit of vitriol” (sulfuric acid).  Likewise, Mortimer’s discussion of diseases such as small pox, which were genuine threats of the time, made me very thankful to be living in the times we share today.

Consider this book to be an insider’s look behind the headlines. “Time Traveler’s Guide to Elizabethan England” gives readers the information beyond the history books. It explains more than what the people were eating and wearing. This book details what life was truly like in Elizabethan England. For fans of Shakespeare and Elizabethan times, this book is a definite must have.

Read More at Anglotopia


  1. avatarPaul says

    I actuall6y read this book last year and thoroughly enjoyed it.The style in which it is written makes it so much more interesting than the ‘ord8inary’ history book.

    • avatar says

      Glad to hear you enjoyed it as much as I did! I found the style to be so engaging that I actually remembered a lot of facts, as opposed to learning history the old fashioned (boring) way.

  2. avatar says

    Thanks for this review. I was fortunate enough to be able to attend a talk given by Ian Mortimer while he was visiting family in Germany last year (I didn’t even know he had family in Germany, let alone in my city). The talk was basically an A-Z of Elizabethan England in which he talked about one aspect of Elizabethan life for every letter of the alphabet. The whole thing went on for about 90 minutes and he spoke the whole time and didn’t use any kind of notes or whatnot. He has a great sense of humour and he’s a fantastic public speaker so it really was a pleasure to listen to him. I bought the book at the event (I already had his “guidebook” for medieval time travellers at home as well) and had him sign it but haven’t had a chance to read it yet. Will definitely try to get around to it this year!

  3. avatarMary says

    I read his guide to Medieval England last year and it fantastic. It made it so interesting the way he wrote it like a travel guide. I can’t wait to read this one!

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