Posted By Claire on July 4, 2014
Ignore the back cover blurb on Everyday Life in Medieval London from the Anglo-Saxons to the Tudors, which makes it sound like a book which examines history trivia questions like “How should you use an owl to cure gout?” etc., this is not that kind of book at all. Such questions are answered, but within a book which is a detailed history of the city of London from AD 400 to 1500.
History teacher Toni Mount knows her stuff and, more importantly, knows how to convey her knowledge in an interesting way, bringing history to life. Everyone should have a history teacher like her. I have a tendency to turn down corners of pages in books – sacrilege I know – so that I can go back to them later, either for research reasons or because there’s one of those golden nuggets that I want to share with my husband and kids. Well, by page 172 of this book, I had turned down 19 corners – so many interesting facts!
I thoroughly enjoyed Toni Mount’s book. Although the focus is on London, the reader gets to learn about medieval life in general – religion (from paganism to the acceptance of Christianity), financial aspects such as taxation, disease and health, shopping, food (brewing ale etc.), the religious calendar, sports, laws, fashion and clothing, books and printing… all sorts. Although I’ve read books on medieval life before – I love social history – they didn’t go into as much detail as this and Mount has done extensive research, referencing all the primary sources she used in her chapter notes. One of my favourite parts of the book is the section of “The Real Dick Whittington”. Dick Whittington is one of those characters from childhood fairytales and pantomimes, the boy who left country life to make his fortune in London, with its streets paved with gold. Mount tells us about the real Dick Whittington, Richard Whittington who left rural Gloucestershire and rose to become a wealthy mercer in London, with one of his best customers being Henry IV. Whittington became Lord Mayor of London and was a popular man who was known as just and a helper of the poor. He didn’t squander his wealth, he gave back to London and its citizens. I found it fascinating that the money he gave to the Bridge Wardens of Rochester in Kent is still paying for the upkeep of Rochester Bridge today, 600 years later – what a legacy and impact!
Everyday Life in Medieval London from the Anglo-Saxons to the Tudors by Toni Mount is the perfect book for anyone interested in the medieval era, and particularly its social history, and the detailed notes and bibliography mean that readers can check things for themselves or do further research. It would also be a fantastic book for teachers who want to bring the period to life for their students, and for historical novelists depicting this period in their books.
I can’t say enough good things about this book and I hope that Toni Mount will write more. Her skill is conveying a huge amount of detail in a readable way. It was never a chore to read this book, I loved it.
Our capital city has always been a thriving and colourful place, full of diverse and determined individuals developing trade and finance, exchanging gossip and doing business. Abandoned by the Romans, rebuilt by the Saxons, occupied by the Vikings and reconstructed by the Normans, London would become the largest trade and financial centre, dominating the world in later centuries. London has always been a brilliant, vibrant and eclectic place Henry V was given a triumphal procession there after his return from Agincourt and the Lord Mayor s river pageant was an annual medieval spectacular. William the Conqueror built the Tower, Thomas Becket was born in Cheapside, Wat Tyler led the peasants in revolt across London Bridge and Chaucer s Canterbury Tales was the first book produced on Caxton s new printing press in Westminster. But beneath the colour and pageantry lay dirt, discomfort and disease, the daily grind for ordinary folk. Like us, they had family problems, work worries, health concerns and wondered about the weather.