Most people who received a traditional education have some idea of life in the fourteenth century, since they are likely to have read the Prologue to The Canterbury Tales for either O or A Level, and may also have read a couple of the Tales themselves. So, while the past is indeed a foreign country, England in the late fourteenth century is less foreign than at some other periods. Nevertheless it is still decidedly unfamiliar and anyone who wants to know more about it now has the means to hand. Ian Mortimer, author of biographies of Edward III and Henry IV, as well as of the traitor Roger Mortimer, has given his guide the subtitle: ‘A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century’. Social history is popular enough, but I have read nothing quite like this.
It is written in the manner of an extremely well-informed but chatty guidebook, more Lonely Planet or Rough Guide than Baedeker. The reader is addressed in the second person, as if he had just packed his bags for the journey and was ready to set out. The first chapter is