12 November 2010

Review: The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England

This is a unique piece of non-fiction and claims to be 'A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century' and that's exactly what it is. With chapters on: the people, what to wear, what to eat and drink, health and hygiene, where to stay, what to do and more it's a comprehensive guide to the times. The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England was illuminating, fascinating, shocking and at times even funny.

I'd like to share with you the medicinal remedy for quinsy, which is an abscess in the throat developed after untreated tonsillitis:
Take a fat cat, flay it well, and draw out the guts. Take the grease of a hedgehog, the fat of a bear, resins, fenugreek, sage, honeysuckle gum and virgin wax, and crumble this and stuff the cat with it. Then roast the cat and gather the dripping, and anoint the sufferer with it.
Such a shocking remedy, it's hard to believe how they thought this could possible heal the patient. It was interesting to learn that the milling process to create flour often left small pieces of the mill stone behind which would be baked into the loaves of bread. These small pieces of gravel and stone dust naturally took their toll on the teeth of the people consuming the bread.

I didn't realise that the clothing people were permitted to wear was strictly regulated according to their annual income and land holding. For example:
Yeomen and their families weren't able to wear jewels, gold, silver, embroidery, enamelware or silk; no fur except lamb, rabbit, cat or fox; and women were not permitted to wear a silk veil.
It was also quite interesting to read about how the simple button would come to transform the clothes of this era enabling a movement away from the tunic that had to be placed over one's head to what we now know as a jacket or coat.

The author had me laughing at several points and in particular his description of a brook 400 yards from the city gate:
Along the banks you see piles of refuse, broken crockery, animal bones, entrails, human faeces, and rotting meat strewn in and around the bushes. A small brown pig roots around on the garbage. It is not called Shitbrook for nothing.
An extremely entertaining and informative read, I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in learning about what life was like 600 years ago.

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum!

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