The Writer’s Guide to Everyday Life in the Middle Ages:
The British Isles from 500 to 1500

by Sherilyn Kenyon
Writer’s Digest Books

Review by Cathleen Myers

Yet another in the series of Writer’s Guide books, Sheilyn Kenyon’s book might well be subtitled "The Middle Ages for Dummies." It’s a useful introduction to Medieval English cultural history for those of you planning to attend next January’s Canterbury Tales Feast. Especially useful are her checklists for quick reference: lists of the Kings and Queens of the British Isles; lists of the major Medieval battles; of Popes and Anti-Popes; of the major Religious Orders and heresies; and of the various Crusades; her glossaries of Heraldry and of Weapons and War and her time table of church history and religious holidays. At times Ms. Kenyon is obscure, throwing around terms like "watchet" (a light blue) and "estampie" (a Medieval stamping dance) without defining them. On the other hand, her glossary of Medieval servants is often superfluous. Do we really need to be told that an acrobat "performed feats of agility" or that a juggler "juggled"?

Her chapters on The Rights of Women and on Medieval Medicine (which was not as backward as commonly believed) are nicely balanced. On the other hand, her history of Medieval costume is riddled with errors. Instead of period costume illustrations, her book is filled with photos of modern SCA and Faire folk in reproduction clothing - some of it very anachronistic - and many of her male models are wearing pants instead of hose. The sheer cheekiness of the photos is amusing (two of the models don’t bother to remove their modern glasses and one bespectacled monk simpers demurely at the camera) but not the best introduction to Medieval costume. And, while it’s certainly useful to list sumptuary laws, it’s equally important to point out that wealthy middle class citizens tended to ignore them.

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