I’m so excited that A WOMAN’S LOT, the second “Meonbridge Chronicle”, is going to be published next Monday, 4th June.
Brook Cottage Books (https://brookcottagebooks.blogspot.co.uk) is arranging a blog tour throughout publication week so, if you’re on Facebook or Twitter, do follow the tour, especially to see what the bloggers who’ve already read an advanced copy of A Woman’s Lot have said about it…
Of course, I’ve been posting quite a bit about my new book already on Facebook and Twitter, and here on my website. But, as we’re so close to publication day, I thought I’d whet potential readers’ appetite with an extract…
But first, a little background…
If you’ve read Fortune’s Wheel, you’ll know that, after the devastation wrought by the Black Death in 1349-50, society (in Meonbridge, and in England as a whole) began to change, as feudal lords lost their former power in the face of resistance from their tenants, who weren’t willing any longer to be confined to a single manor or to be paid lower wages than they could obtain elsewhere. It seemed as if women’s lot might change as well. When so many people – perhaps as many as a third, or even a half, of the country’s population – had died in the plague, I thought it likely that everyone, including women, would have had to turn their hand to whatever needed to be done. Women might well have seen opportunities to break out of the old mould and take on new occupations, and perhaps to be a little more independent of their menfolk. And, in A Woman’s Lot, it is this theme that is developed.
The story of A Woman’s Lot starts about two years after the end of Fortune’s Wheel, in the spring of 1352. Like Fortune’s Wheel, the storylines (for, again, there are several threads) are about the tensions between the poorer in society and the richer, and the ups and downs of rural life in mediaeval Hampshire. But it is also about marital discord, women’s ambitions, and the quest for love. And central to the story is the somewhat “misogynistic” attitude held by mediaeval men – or by some of them at least. In the Middle Ages, men as a rule wielded considerable control over their wives, daughters and female servants, sometimes directly in the form of overt misogyny, sometimes in less overt but nonetheless powerful assertions of male authority. This is by no means to suggest that all mediaeval men were misogynistic, and I certainly mustn’t overstate the case.
But women were generally considered to be “second class”, expected to devote themselves to their domestic functions, and refused any sort of public office or, mostly, any access to education. The restriction of women’s rights was, apparently, justified on the basis of their limited intelligence, wiliness and avarice. Indeed all sorts of weaknesses might be ascribed to women as a class, including vanity and greed, wantonness and volatility. (According to the theory of the four humours, women’s cold, wet humour was thought to make them inferior – physically, emotionally, intellectually and morally – to hot, dry men… Thus biological theory reinforced the Church’s view of the rightness of women’s subordinate role.)
It is perhaps not surprising, then, that some men despised, or feared, women, as the dangerous “daughters of Eve”. Others perhaps simply accepted the “learned” theories that women were neither strong nor bright nor trustworthy, and were best kept in their lowly place. (Still others, of course, in contemporary chivalric literature, revered women as idealised noble ladies, based on the cult of the Virgin Mary, but there is nothing of this in A Woman’s Lot!)
There’s little doubt that the function, role and social position of women in fourteenth-century England was influenced by religious dogma and the teachings of the Church, and all men of every class would probably believe in their “God-given” right to dominate and chastise their wives. Yet, I somehow doubt that most, or even many, men actually held women in contempt, for their households couldn’t function without the wives, daughters and servants who kept them running.
I suppose it’s likely that mediaeval women generally accepted their lot in life, and perhaps even the “truth” of men’s superiority, for that is what the Church had taught them. That’s not to say that women believed themselves to be either wicked, stupid or frail, but perhaps it didn’t occur to most that there was much they could do to change the status quo. But, in A Woman’s Lot, my female protagonists do recognise that the world has changed, and not only for the men. Perhaps their lives too can be a little different…
So, A Woman’s Lot is another everyday story of ordinary folk, but very much of its time. Of course, the misogynistic attitudes I portray are not without parallels in our own time, but I’m not attempting to draw comparisons. My tale is one of the fourteenth century, one that doesn’t try to make Meonbridge’s women “feminists”. Their stories aren’t about women’s rights and liberation, but about making the best of opportunities within the context of the society they live in. Although she’s a successful farmer, Eleanor isn’t happy about being unmarried: she has the usual desires for love and family life but, more importantly, she believes that social mores, as well as practicalities, really do require her to be wed. Susanna’s a good mediaeval wife – she doesn’t wish to throw off the bonds of marriage but wants to make her marriage better, in the mediaeval way she understands. Agnes and Emma, too, are not seeking to overthrow society, just to make, in their eyes, a more worthwhile contribution…
I do hope that you’ll want to read the latest chronicle of life in Meonbridge. It’ll be available on Amazon before too long…
And now for an extract…
It was such a clear, bright morning that Eleanor rose earlier than usual and reached the crest of Riverdown before her shepherd, Walter, had even emerged from the two-room cottage that nestled against a stand of tall beech trees with a good view of the pastureland where Eleanor ran her flock.
She was surprised to find Will already up there, moving amongst the flock of ewes, lifting heads and inspecting faces.
She waved at him, and ran over. ‘Will? What are you doing here so early?’
He took off his cap and nodded in greeting. ‘Just checking if the missing dams are back.’
‘And are they?’ said Eleanor, wondering quite how Will would know which ones they were. She had discovered two days past, when they did a head count, that three of her ewes seemed to have disappeared, but she was not sure she would recognise them amidst the flock even if they had returned. It was a blessing both Will and Walter seemed to know each animal as an individual.
But Will shook his head. ‘No, missus, they’re not.’ He scratched at his head.
‘So what do you think has happened to them?’ said Eleanor. ‘Just wandered off, or taken by a fox?’
‘Too big for a fox.’ He shuffled his feet, then carried on inspecting faces.
Eleanor thought Will looked unsettled, and said so. When he looked up at her again, the skin on his face was taut, and his brow was creased.
‘Do you know something, Will?’ she said.
He pushed out his lips and came forward, his cap still in his hand. ‘I got summat to tell you, missus.’
Eleanor felt a quickening in her breast, thinking that, perhaps, he knew her ewes were dead.
She let out a long breath when he denied it. ‘But I do know who took them, missus, an’ why.’ And he told her all he had learned in the ale-house.
‘They promised to bring them back last night,’ he said, then knit his brow. ‘But they ’aven’t.’
Eleanor’s heart was thumping now, her fists clenched so tight her fingernails were digging into her palms.
‘Losing sheep’s a serious matter, Will, especially when we’re trying to build a purebred flock.’ She wanted to march right back down the hill and beat on Matthew’s door, demanding that he and his errant son give back her sheep.
‘I know that, missus.’ Will passed his cap through twitchy fingers. ‘But it’s tricky now—’
‘’cause Ralph agreed with the lads’ fathers not to raise the hue an’ cry, and let them go on the understanding they brought back the sheep—’
Eleanor gasped. ‘But Ralph had no right to do that. Boys or not, they must be brought to justice—’
‘I said that, missus. But little Arthur’s ’specially sorry for what he done, and it’d be a shame for the lad to lose his hand, if the beasts can be returned wi’ no harm done.’
Eleanor lifted her eyes to Will’s. ‘Do you truly think that, Will?’
He pursed his lips. ‘I didn’t last night. An’ now the sheep aren’t back, I’m still of a mind to bring the lads to justice. But then…’
‘Arthur’s still a lad, missus, as well as simple. I warrant he were led astray by Luke. And John’s a good man. He don’t deserve to lose his only son, or have him maimed.’
Eleanor was angry, of course she was, but retribution would not have been her father’s way, and she knew it should not be hers. Better to be generous to those less well-off than herself. Especially when they were children.
‘But what of Luke?’ she said. ‘He’s hardly a child.’
‘True enough. But Matthew’s got problems enough wi’out him losing his livelihood.’
Eleanor opened her mouth, about to say that Matthew Ward was well-known as a drunk and a wastrel, and hardly deserved consideration. But she stopped herself, remembering another drunken wastrel who, like Matthew, had been lazy and work-shy, yet was loved – if not respected – by most folk in Meonbridge, and adored by the woman who would shortly be climbing up the hill to Riverdown to bring her lambing skills to Eleanor’s aid. Eleanor admired Emma for the way she had stuck by her handsome, idle Bart. It may be true that no one loved Matthew the way Emma had loved Bart, but, surely, even he was not an evil man? If she had it in her power to give him – or at least his son, and certainly young Arthur – another chance, then should she not do so?
‘I agree,’ she said at last. ‘Let’s wait another night, to see if they come back.’
If you enjoy my writing, perhaps you’d like to join my Meonbridge Supporters’ team? Everybody needs a little moral support and authors need all the help they can get! In return for your support, I’ll send you updates on my books, and periodically ask for your help or feedback. As a small “thank you” for joining the team, I’ll send you occasional unpublished short stories or novellas featuring some of the Meonbridge characters. (Maiden’s Chance is currently available, and a second will be ready in a couple of months or so.)
I look forward to your company!