'Reading this book is like taking a ride on a marvellously exhilarating time-machine, alive with colour, surprise and sheer merriment' Jan Morris
Elizabethan London reveals the practical details of everyday life so often ignored in conventional history books.
It begins with the River Thames, the lifeblood of Elizabethan London, before turning to the streets and the traffic in them. Liza Picard surveys building methods and shows us the interior decor of the rich and the not-so-rich, and what they were likely to be growing in their gardens. Then the Londoners of the time take the stage, in all their amazing finery. Plague, smallpox and other diseases afflicted them. But food and drink, sex and marriage and family life provided comfort. Cares could be forgotten in a playhouse or the bull-baiting of bear-baiting rings, or watching a good cockfight.
Liza Picard's wonderfully skilful and vivid evocation of the London of Elizabeth I enables us to share the delights, as well as the horrors, of the everyday lives of our sixteenth-century ancestors.
Picard's latest historical guided tour, of 16th-century London, entertainingly rounds out her trilogy (with Dr. Johnson's London and Restoration London) revisiting the great city's past. Although Elizabethan London boasts no single great diarist like Samuel Pepys or James Boswell, Picard ably sifts through an enormous variety of records, letters, books and other accounts to re-create the urban expanse. Starting with topography and architecture, Picard takes her readers across the Thames and through the neighborhoods of the emergent metropolis, noting the housing and development boom touched off by Henry VIII's appropriation of papal real estate. Her tour continues through every aspect of Elizabethan life, from clothes and food to family and education, from crime and law to jobs and welfare. In such a wide-ranging scheme, the theater, along with other entertainments, is only one aspect of a flourishing society. Picard's discursive, conversational tone prevents even the topic of the water supply, with its newly engineered pipes, from seeming too dry, and her eye for facts (and factoids) can spot intriguing details in even immigrant census data. Despite the book's comprehensive structure, Picard's impressionistic style leads to the occasional oversight. Her section on religion is comparatively brief (though still interesting) for the era's most important political and social issue. Although she discusses the endemic smallpox, which scarred even the queen, she hardly touches on "the French pox," i.e. syphilis, which had been recently introduced. Nonetheless, this vibrant social history makes the city of five centuries ago seem as alive as today's, if not more. 32 pages of color photos, maps.