The Time Traveler's Guide to Elizabethan England, by Ian Mortimer
My mom gave this excellent book to one of my daughters for Christmas (which was pretty prescient of her, since we hadn't planned our UK trip yet), and I promptly stole it to read myself. It was my lunchtime book for weeks! This is such a fun and informative book; I loved it.
If you were going to time-travel to the Elizabethan era, there is a lot of everyday stuff that you would need to know. Luckily, Ian Mortimer is here to help, with a handy guide! Really, of course, it's just a fun way to describe a book about everyday English life in the late 1500s.
Mortimer gives excellent explanations of the people, landscape, religion, clothing, and everything else. How to travel, where to stay, what to eat, it's all here and it's very well described. He gives rundowns of the political climate and the pros and cons of various new laws.
I learned a lot! I hadn't realized before that at the beginning of the Elizabethan era, the country had not really recovered from the Black Death and the wars and everything. The long period of relative peace, and the lucky break from epidemics, meant that the population exploded over the years of Elizabeth's reign, and nobody was quite sure what to do about it. Housing was extremely tight. The result was far more homeless people on the roads, and no relief for them. Eventually the Poor Law was established, which brought workhouses into existence, but that was actually a huge improvement.
Mortimer does a great job at showing us that our stereotypes about unwashed historical people are vastly overdone. As far as I can tell, throughout history, people have tried to be as clean as they can, and usually wealth has a lot to do with it. Country people could bathe in rivers, but the poor in cities usually had a hard time getting enough water to wash well; clean water was in short supply for everyone. People were as clean as they could manage, but they didn't usually take baths; baths were medicinal. Thus the famous line about the queen bathing "once a month whether she needs it or not" is a comment on the care she took for her health, not her hygienic habits. She was a very fastidious person.
This is a really fun book of history, and good for either reading straight through or dipping into occasionally as the mood hits. Lots of direct quotations and references to primary sources too!