Book Review: “How to Behave Badly in Elizabethan England” by Ruth Goodman

38212150._SY475_In many books about the different mannerisms and routines of different dynasties, we tend to see how the average person lived in the most prim and proper manner. How they avoided trouble at all costs to provide the best life that they could for their families. Yet, we know that there were those who did not adhere to the rules. They chose to rebel against the natural way of life. Every social echelon had their own rule-breakers, but what were these rules that they chose to break? How are these troublemakers of the past similar and different from our modern-day rebels? Famed experimental archeologist and historian Ruth Goodman takes her readers on a journey through the Elizabethan and the early Stuart eras to show how the drunkards, thieves, and knaves made a name for themselves. The name of this rather imaginative book is “How to Behave Badly in Elizabethan England: A Guide for Knaves, Fools, Harlots, Cuckolds, Drunkards, Liars, Thieves, and Braggarts”.

I have enjoyed Ruth Goodman’s books in the past and her knowledge about how those from different periods of history lived. When I saw this particular title on the shelf at my local bookstore, I knew I wanted to read it. The title was so compelling to me as it seems to break the mold of what normal “How to Live in (certain time period)” books are supposed to be like.

Goodman’s structure for this book is very unique. She takes a look at different aspects which made a person a lawbreaker in the Elizabethan and Stuart eras. Things like insulting language, gestures that could be taken out of context, the way someone mimicked their betters in society, drinking too much or too little, and their cleanliness. To understand why certain behaviors were considered bad during these times, Goodman examines what was deemed acceptable in every level of society. Some of the rules and regulations seem rather self-explanatory, while others will be a bit foreign for modern readers.

What makes this book truly special is Goodman’s experiences with the different mannerisms. As an experimental archeologist, Goodman has practiced as much as she could to give the readers a bit more depth to what they are studying. It is one thing to study the actions of those who lived the past, but to act out those actions gives you a new appreciation of the time period you are studying. I actually took my time to copy the different bows and walks that Goodman outlined, which felt a bit awkward at first, but it gave me a different level of respect for the past.

The one problem that I had with this book is with the US title of this book. It is a bit misleading since it is not solely about Elizabethan England. It does dive into the complex nature of the Stuart dynasty, including the English Civil War between the Roundheads (the Parliamentarians) and the Cavaliers (the Royalists). As someone who mainly stays with medieval and Tudor England, I did have to take my time when Goodman mentioned the Stuarts to make sure I understood fully the transition from the Elizabethans in the way of mannerisms.

I found this book quirky, educational, and just pure fun to read. It’s one of those books that you can tell Goodman has wanted to write for a very long time. Goodman captures her audience’s attention with such an engaging writing style and vivid details. It is a wonderfully imaginative read for academics and novices alike. If you want to know what could get you into trouble in the past, check out Ruth Goodman’s latest nonfiction triumph, “How to Behave Badly in Elizabethan England”.

Book Review: “How To Be a Tudor: A Dawn-to-Dusk Guide to Everyday Life” by Ruth Goodman

91Fs0VzQnKLThe Tudor era has enchanted generations of history lovers with its interesting monarchs and scandals. The beautiful outfits, the political drama of the age, the legendary marriages of King Henry VIII, the children of Henry VIII, and how England grew into a dominant force in European politics. These are the things that people tend to focus on when studying the Tudors, yet this is a very narrow view of the time period. We tend to focus on the inner workings of the court system, but we don’t focus on the common people who lived in England during this time. What was it like to live in Tudor England for the common people? This is the question that Ruth Goodman explores in her book, “How To Be a Tudor: A Dawn-to-Dusk Guide to Everyday Life”.

In her introduction Ruth Goodman explains her journey into studying the lives of ordinary Tudors and why she chose to write this particular book:

There are many books and studies based on the lives of the Tudor elite, upon the powerful and well-documented, but my interest has always been bound up with the more humble sections of society. As a fairly ordinary person myself who needs to eat, sleep and change the occasional nappy, I wanted from the beginning to know how people coped day to day, to know what resources they really had at their disposal, what skills they needed to acquire and what it all felt like. Twenty-five years ago I could find no book to tell me, and even now when social history receives far more academic attention than before, information is still thin on the ground. So I set out to try and work it out for myself: hunting up period recipes and trying them out; learning to manage fires and skin rabbits; standing on one foot with a dance manual in one hand, trying to make sense of where my next move should be. The more I experimented, the more information I began to find within the period texts that I was looking at. Things that I had just skimmed past in the reading became quite critical in practice, prompting more questions and very much more intense research. (Goodman, xii-xiii).

Goodman has taken her research and her adventures in trying to live like a common Tudor and has written a book that everyone can enjoy. This book explores daily activities of the ordinary Tudor family, from morning to night, in order to give her readers a better understanding of this remarkable time period. It is a book that provides a plethora of information from which Tudor bed is the most comfortable to how normal Tudors bathed, to how to brew your own ale and how to make your own bread and cheese.

All of this information is rather interesting, but Goodman takes it a couple steps further. First, she explains her own experiences attempting to replicate what she found in manuals and sources from the Tudor time period. It is one thing to read primary sources, which Goodman does include, but by including experiences from the author herself, it adds another level of depth and credibility to the book and to her research. Another step that Goodman takes in her book to add depth is explaining the reasoning behind why the average Tudor did what they did. Some of it is because of religion and some had to do with how they understood how the human body operated through the four humours. By taking the time to understand these elements, the reader can understand why the Tudors did things a certain way, which may seem a bit foreign to a modern audience.

Ruth Goodman gives the lives of ordinary Tudors the attention they deserve. The Tudor dynasty was not just about the flashy monarchy. The majority of the people were common farmers and craftsmen. In order to understand this period of time, one has to look at the lives of the royalty and the regular people. “How To Be a Tudor: A Dawn-to-Dusk Guide to Everyday Life” by Ruth Goodman is a stunning example of how living history can help explain the past and should be on anyone’s booklist who is interested in seriously studying the Tudor dynasty.  This book is an absolute delight to read.