Sunday 17 June 2018

Guest Review: The Time Traveller's Guide to Restoration Britain By Ian Mortimer

Happy Fathers' Day! To celebrate I had my Dad write this review for me! Time for another in my series of guest reviews for sport/history books. This one actually sounds like one I'd love to read myself!
The past is a foreign country: this is your guidebook.
If you could travel back in time, the period from 1660 to 1700 would make one of the most exciting destinations in history. It is the age of Samuel Pepys and the Great Fire of London; bawdy comedy and the libertine court of Charles II — the civil wars are over and a magnificent new era has begun.
But what would it really be like to live in Restoration Britain? Where would you stay and what would you eat? How much should you pay for one of those elaborate wigs? Should you trust a physician who advises you to drink fresh cow’s urine to cure your gout? Why are boys made to smoke in school? And why are you unlikely to get a fair trial in court?
The third volume in the series of Ian Mortimer’s bestselling Time Traveller’s Guides answers these crucial questions and encourages us to reflect on the customs and practices of daily life. This unique guide not only teaches us about the seventeenth century but makes us look with fresh eyes at the modern world.

Review: I listened to this book, which is a guide to living in the latter part of the 17th century, in its audio version. It describes events from 1660 to 1700, from the restoration of the monarchy, following the period of the Commonwealth under the puritans, until the end of the century.

Three monarchs ruled the kingdom during this period. Firstly, there was Charles II. He was very conscious of the fact that his father Charles I had been tried for treason and executed in 1649, resulting in the Commonwealth until the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, so was mindful that he had to rule with the co-operation of parliament. He was succeeded in 1685 by his brother James (James II of England and James VII of Scotland). James had converted publicly to catholicism. Although he was welcomed initially as king, he gradually came to be perceived as favouring catholicism too much in his various appointments and was ousted in the so-called Glorious Revolution of 1688 when the throne was offered jointly to his daughter Mary and her husband William of Orange (William III). In practice, and in keeping with the times, the power rested with William, although parliament passed statutes to ensure that the monarchs could not rule without its consent.

The forty-year period described by the book was one of great changes. Initially, the restoration in 1660 brought to an end an era of puritan rule in which traditions such as dancing around the maypole on May Day, going to the theatre or horse racing were banned. These resumed following the restoration. The following years saw many events taking place, including wars and riots. This was also a period in which many innovations took place, including advancements in science. It was during this period that the Royal Society was founded. However, it is the details of everyday living covering such things as food, drink, clothing, health, shopping and entertainment, that the book is mainly concerned with.

Two famous diarists of the period, Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn, provide a lot of source material for the book, writing as they did about everyday life as well as the major events of the day such as the Great Plague of 1665 and the Great Fire of London in 1666. Although the title of the book states that it is a guide to Restoration Britain, and Wales and Scotland are mentioned briefly, the two above diarists both lived in London and, therefore, much of the book deals with London.

I found the book provided a fascinating window into this period. One criticism I would make is that, too often, the description relies on a series of lists. Whether this was a consequence of my listening to it as an audio book and the lists would not be as apparent when reading the text, I cannot say. I would also add a cautionary note that there are some passages that are definitely not for the squeamish. One example is the operation that Pepys underwent to remove a bladder stone (remember, this was an era before the invention of anaesthetics). Happily for him, the operation was successful and he held celebratory dinners on its subsequent anniversaries.

To order your copy now, just click the link: UK or US

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