Ian Mortimer


 

Forthcoming Books

Medieval Horizons

Many people regard the European Middle Ages as a long, unchanging period characterised by war, religion and disease in which not much happened to compare with the astonishing changes of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Historians have rarely challenged this idea. Why? The reason, as this book makes clear, is an obsession with technology. In short, people in all walks of life equate social change with inventions. Looking at their phone is such a striking metaphor for change that it seems nothing could possibly rival it.

This is fundamentally wrong. We often say that 'Shakespeare speaks for us' even though he knew nothing of all the inventions that have taken place over the last 400 years. The ways we think and act today have a lot in common with the ways our sixteenth-century ancestors thought and behaved. The same cannot be said for our eleventh-century ancestors. In short, the greatest changes in daily life were not experienced in the four hundred years since Elizabeth I died but in the six hundred years before.

Over the years 1000-1600 we saw a society in which war was normal develop into one in which peace was normal. Slavery was abolished, then serfdom followed it into obsolescence, giving ordinary people greater freedom to make their own life choices. The law became a constant aspect of daily life. Murder rates collapsed. People travelled further, faster and more regularly. Their homes went from turf-walled or wooden-framed huts to stone buildings several storeys high with glazed windows, handsome furniture and comfortable fireplaces. Public structures grew hundreds of feet higher; towns grew larger and the collective memory grew longer and more reliable with the spread of schools and writing. A sense of individualism spread throughout society, explorers sailed around the world, and trade encompassed the globe.

This books outlines all these major changes and many others that took place between 1000 and 1600. It thereby shows how much we owe to the Middle Ages. Indeed, if we really want to understand why society is the way it is today, we need to look back not just at the last few hundred years of technological change but much further, for the modern patterns of society were formed way back in our medieval past.

  

The History of England through the Windows of an Ordinary House

How would the history of England appear if it was presented from a single viewpoint? We often express our national history as a series of stories dotted around the country - the South East for the Battle of Britain; London in the time of Samuel Pepys; the north in the Industrial Revolution. But this results in a patchwork quilt of a narrative - a history of nowhere in particular. Instead, how would it have appeared to the people living in my house in rural Devon - or a house on this site - since the eighth century? What would be different? What would be more important and what less important? Moreover, how would those people living here strike us if we could see them? This experimental book is thus both a national history and a local one. At the same time it is a social history of the English with a southwestern emphasis. It won't be like your normal history book, least of all like a traditional house history. What was the importance of the murder of Thomas Becket here? Did Magna Carta matter to the people here in 1215? How many other house histories can claim the property was lived in by a thirteenth-century priest who was pardoned for murder, and connect the owner with a judge at the trial of Mary, Queen of Scots? Or refer to a seventeenth-century resident carving his initials in the woodwork. And point to the still-visible damage from the winter of 1740? As for the garden walls being laid out in the Bronze Age, suffice to say, this house is on a long, magnificent journey through time - and so is England - and so are we.


Warrior of the Roses

The life of Richard Plantagenet (1411-1460), duke of York, father of Edward IV and Richard III. This book has been under contract with The Bodley Head since 2006 but has had to be put back a number of times. The closure of archives and libraries due to Covid-19 did not help. Who'd have thought it - medieval history held up by a modern plague. It will probably be published in... oh, heavens, I don't know. I've given up trying to guess.