Interview with Toni Mount

I am honoured today to have author and historian Toni Mount stop by and answer a few questions about her books. Toni Mount is an author, historian, history teacher and presenter who is also a member of the Richard III Society. She gained her research MA from the University of Kent in 2009 as well as a BA (with First-class Honours) and a Diploma in European Humanities from Open University. Toni Mount also has her Cert. Ed (in Post-Compulsory Education and Training) from the University of Greenwich and a Diploma in Literature and Creative Writing also from Open University. She also runs her own history groups in Rochester and Gravesend as well as participating in re-enactment activities from the Medieval period.

Toni has written a brilliant book entitled “Everyday Life in Medieval London” in which she explores the development of London from the time of the Anglo Saxons to the Tudors, giving fascinating examples of everyday people and how they lived. Toni just also just released her second book “The Medieval Housewife” in which she explores what it was like to be a woman and a wife during the middle ages. Below Toni discusses both of her books as well as what is next in her busy schedule.

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What inspired you to write a book which explores the development of London from the time of the Anglo Saxons to the Tudors?

I’ve been teaching history to mature students and giving talks to various societies for nearly twenty years. The best comments that I receive are along the lines of ‘I wish they’d taught history like that when I was at school’. I think the trouble with school history lessons in the past was that it was all about dates and acts of Parliament when what we are really interested in are the people – what were they like and how did they live?

So I wanted to write a book that answered these questions, to bring alive and flesh out the Anglo-Saxons, the Vikings and the people of Plantagenet London. We all like to read about what other people are doing in the newspapers – the intrigues, the anecdotes, the bizarre incidents and even what they have for dinner – so I tried to focus on that kind of information.

How did you go about researching your book?

I had already put together much of the academic research in preparation for previous classes that I’ve taught, but to bring the people of the past to life I visited museums to look at objects they had used or admired. The reconstructed Anglo-Saxon villages at West Stow in Suffolk and at Wychurst in Kent were a revelation – no poky dark hovels but light airy buildings and a mead-hall of huge dimensions at Wychurst, built to exact Anglo-Saxon specifications by the Regius Anglorum team of enthusiasts. The Weald and Downland Museum was another inspirational place to visit. We also took part in a number of medieval re-enactment weekends, wearing full costume to really get a feel for the period – linen and wool are extremely comfortable, whether the weather is hot or cold.

What was one story/person that you discovered through your research that you found most interesting/touching?

William Hobbys is one of my favourites. I knew of him as Richard III’s doctor and a military surgeon but it was revealed that Hobbys had a darker side. Faultlessly loyal to the Yorkist kings, he took advantage of an army campaign in northern France to visit French brothels and was caught in the act by his son-in-law. His behaviour was no better in England where the Master of the Barber-Surgeons’ Guild saw Hobbys visiting the Southwark brothels, bringing the profession into disrepute. His wife Alice knew nothing until her son-in-law told her. The couple had been married for twenty years. There was no chance of a divorce in medieval times but the court allowed Alice to live apart from her husband – almost unheard of – he was forbidden to have sex with her ever again, but neither of them was permitted to marry anyone else. Hobbys life as a medical men made him seem so virtuous… until the truth came to light. Here was a real flesh and blood person.

How have the Vikings impacted the development of London?

At the time of the Viking invasions, their impact on London was immense because they destroyed London Bridge – then the only bridge in the city – and terrified the citizens, killing and pillaging. More subtly, they influenced the way the city organised itself for defence, the fact that each London ‘ward’ had an alderman to lead the men of the ward in battle and each ward was responsible for the maintenance and guarding of a specific section of the city wall. The wards and aldermen still exist today. St Clement Danes church was built for those of the Vikings who converted to Christianity. They even influenced the English language, not only introducing new words but forcing our language to become more simple. The Anglo-Saxons and the Danes both spoke a language that was gender specific – like French or German, where things are masculine, feminine or even neuter. The trouble arose in trying to speak to each other when the two languages disagreed over the gender of so many things. The matter was settled by doing away with gender in English grammar – what a great idea that was.

Which English King do you personally find most interesting/fascinating? And why?

It has to be Richard III, of course. He was the reason I became interested in history back in the 1980s. I’d heard Shakespeare’s version of Richard as an arch-schemer and murderer but, by chance, I picked up a book by Elizabeth Jennings in which Richard was unrecognisable, more of a saint than a villain. I was intrigued and wanted to find out which was the true Richard, so I joined the society that bears his name. I’m still searching for more about him and the finding of his skeleton in the Leicester car part was a huge step forward, followed by DNA profiling, isotope analysis and all the other science, telling us so much more about the king. But did he kill his nephews, the Princes in the Tower… the truth is still out there…

How did the development of the Church and religious beliefs influence the lives of everyday people?

The Church influenced every aspect of life, from birth to death and every day in between. Holy days and Sundays gave people time off from their hard work and church bells rang to tell them what the time was – when to get up, when to eat the midday meal and when work ended for the day, after all, nobody had a watch and only the churches could afford clocks. Everyone was christened and lived in fear of dying unshriven – without having their sins forgiven by a priest – and spending eternity in hell. On the other hand, the more you suffered in this life, the quicker your route to heaven – at least, that’s what the rich told the poor and sick. Going on a pilgrimage was recognised as being not only good for the soul but a medicine for those who were ill or disabled. Everyone was supposed to say their prayers at least three times a day even if they couldn’t attend church. Perhaps the surprising thing is that people did NOT have to go to church to get married! Just saying: ‘I John take thee Mary to be my wife’ and I Mary take thee John to be my husband’ and that was it. Involving God by going to church to have the marriage blessed was optional. However, verbal business contracts would be sealed with a handshake at the local market cross where God could oversee the deal and woe betide the one who broke it.

Could you tell us a little about your new book, “The Medieval Housewife”?

Amberley Publishing saw my self-published book of the same title and wanted to produce it as a full-colour illustrated edition. The original work was a collection of my lesson notes from a short course I taught a few years ago, all brought together for my students who wanted a detailed record of the course on Medieval Women. I rewrote it and added some new material, particularly on the discovery, made in 2012 at a castle in Austria, that fifteenth-century women wore bras and, possibly, briefs as well – a great relief to all us female re-enactors. The new book is illustrated with both manuscript miniatures and modern photographs from re-enactments. I think Amberley have produced a lovely paperback, on sale from November 2014, the perfect Christmas stocking filler.

Often when we think of women in the middle ages we think of repression by men, but what would you say is one thing about the rights of women in the Middle Ages that would surprise us in today’s times?

The right to have a job and own property. In no way were women seen as being equal to men but neither were they tied to the home. They could run their own businesses and, by agreement with their husbands, if they were married, could claim the profits, although they would also be responsible for any debts they ran up. Widows often took over their husbands’ businesses, even heavy duty jobs like bell-founding and blacksmith’s work. Women crop up in the records as anything from artists, book-binders, carpenters and dyers to silk-workers, tanners of leather and even wardens of London Bridge – and every trade in between. Only in the Tudor period, when there was high unemployment, did the authorities begin to legislate against women workers in jobs that were suitable for men.

What’s next for Toni Mount?

I am currently fast approaching the January deadline for my next Amberley hardback: Dragon’s Blood and Willow Bark – unravelling the mysteries of medieval medicine. Like my previous books, I hope this will be a popular history book but with academic references for readers who wish to dig deeper into this intriguing subject. After that, I’m hoping to do an e-book of short stories and maybe even polish off one of my medieval ‘who-dunnut’ novels, lying in the drawer for the past three years. Otherwise, magazine articles and… who knows what else.

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A big THANK YOU to Toni Mount for stopping by and taking the time to answer some questions about her books. Toni Mount’s book on Medieval London is an absolutely fantastic read. For a book that spans from the time of the Anglo Saxons to the Tudors Mount is able to write in a style which provides wonderfully detailed images so that when reading it feels as though you are standing within medieval London, seeing, smelling, touching, hearing and tasting all the sights and wonders long lost to time. I would strongly recommend getting a copy of Toni’s book as soon as possible!

To learn more about Toni please visit her website.

To purchase her books please visit Amazon.

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