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Brexiteers evoked memories of the past: of England - and by extension Britain - standing strong on its own.But when England led the largest Empire in history, it was inextricably linked to the wider world.Yet at the moment of attack, everything was up in the air...Our view of the event as a thing of the past restricts our understanding of contemporary doubts, hopes and reality". After the upheavals of her father's, brother's and sister's reigns, Elizabeth's England was broke, religiously unstable and littered with starving subjects."It also allowed the companies to raise a significant amount of capital to be used in setting up long-distance commercial adventures."The Muscovy Company, incorporated in 1555 as the first English joint stock company, traded with Russia and Persia.Similar companies created during Elizabeth I's reign included the Levant Company and East India Company, which eventually ruled large parts of India.Elizabethan England is often described here by way of comparison with the medieval period.This is a conscious decision on Mortimer's part and a sensible approach, if one that takes a bit of the fun out of his smart concept and edges it a little nearer to "straight" history. With Shakespeare on hand to give us extra insight into how Elizabethans saw themselves (and what they – often, to our eyes inexplicably – found funny), and a society playing out its growing sense of self-awareness as it tiptoes towards the modern age, the stage is set for a fresh and funny book that wears its learning lightly.

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The Pope excommunicated Elizabeth as a "heretic" in 1570.But though, inevitably, Elizabeth looms large, the man in the street and gentlewoman in her solar are just as important: whether you want to know how they keep their teeth clean ("try picking your teeth with a toothpick made of a piece of quill or wood"), what men carry in lieu of today's mobile phone and wallet (a comb, a sharp knife "for eating and other day-to-day tasks", and a purse for coins), and what state the economy's in: "there are increases in long-term inflation in the 16th century".In the 1550s, prices are approximately 50 per cent higher than they were 10 years earlier.The capital funded the costs of commercial voyages and the profits were divided among shareholders."This enabled the crown to support initiatives among London's merchants without spending any money," says Professor Brotton.

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