Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Book Review: Medieval Women: Village Life in the Middle Ages by Ann Baer

Medieval Women: Village Life in the Middle Ages by Ann Baer
304 pages ISBN: 9781782438984

‘In spite of death and fear, life must go on and it was usually a woman’s job to see that it did.’ - p122

Medieval Women is a little out of period for me but I couldn’t resist reviewing this hist-fic novel which Philippa Gregory (the queen of historical novels herself) described as ‘Completely persuasive and ringing with truth’. So after wrestling my daughter for the book (pretty sure she just wanted to eat it) I proceeded to read with great interest.

Originally published in 1996 (when the author was 82 years old) this book is the result of years of her meticulous research and interest in the medieval period. Baer, who attended the Chelsea School of Art, even hand illustrated the book herself including a little map of the village. Medieval Women follows a year in the life of a woman and her family with each chapter taking on a different month. The story focuses on the everyday ins and outs (quite literarily, toilet breaks included) of medieval English village life. It doesn’t commit to a precise year but I believe this was intentional to present Marion as a kind of ‘everywoman’ of the Middle Ages.

The narrative provides a sensitive portrayal of the ordinary lives of Marion Carpenter, her husband Peter and their children Peterkin and Alice. In telling Marion’s story Baer illustrates the hierarchical set up of rural communities in medieval England. You feel for her as she has to pass on her hard earned produce to Sir Hugh, the Lord of the manor and you agree with her when she decides to keep something for herself.  Although her life is full of hard manual work and pain, through her eyes we also see the beauty of her village and the small pleasures in her life. It also gives an insight into Marion’s innermost thoughts as she ponders her own existence (‘this is my life…my only life’ p.83) and remembers her lost children (‘If she had kept him warm, he might not have died’ p.6.).

It’s hard to imagine bringing up a baby without the conveniences of modern life (washer/dryer/central heating/electric lighting) or even (for me anyway) without the luxuries of books, beauty and home dΓ©cor. However, Baer manages to paint an intimate picture of what life would have been like for many ordinary women without all the things we take for granted. Though this isn’t the type of book I normally read I found I did enjoy it and would recommend it for giving a flavour of how ordinary medieval people may have lived, thought and talked. 

Copyright © 2018 E.JH

Thursday, 1 March 2018

Historic Places: King Charles Tower, Chester

Steps up to the tower which at the time of visiting was locked

I'm trialling this new 'Historic Places' blog series, I just thought it would be fun to share some of the sites I've visited recently. Hopefully I'll have time to add a few more posts in the coming months (and visit some new places too!). 

I frequently find myself in Chester for work which I do not mind at all, its a lovely city full of history. It usually markets its Roman history (what with the amphitheatre and all) but there is lots from the early modern era to keep me interested too. Last year I went for a lovely wander on the city walls and that's when I came across the King Charles Tower (also known as Phoenix Tower and Newton Tower). The plaque regarding Charles I caught my attention, the tower is famous for being the spot that King Charles I (allegedly) stood on the 24th September 1645, while watching his army being defeated by Parliamentarians in the battle of Rowton Heath. However it isn’t actually possible to see Rowton from this spot, it’s more likely that Charles stood there and saw his army returning from the battle to the safety of the city. Maybe there wasn’t enough room on the plaque to add this disclaimer J  
As with many sites the tower has had one or two makeovers over the years. It is thought to be of thirteenth century origin but was altered in 1613 when a carved phoenix was added to signify it as a meeting place for City Guild of Painters, Glaziers, Embroiderers and Stationers. Later in 1658 the tower was rebuilt following Civil War damage. It was in a state of disrepair again in the 19th century but was repaired due to the popularity of the aforementioned Charles I story. I suspect that's when the plaque was added. More recently in 2012 it was again restored to make it safe for visitors to access a viewing platform. As far as I know there’s currently no access to the interior of the tower which I believe once housed a civil war exhibit. If you’re interested in visiting the site it is totally free and is part of a lovely walk around Chester’s walls.
Join me on Twitter! @emhistblog
'King Charles stood on this tower Sep 24 1645,
 and saw his army defeated on Rowton Moor'

More info:
‘The King Charles’s Tower on Chester’s city was have been revamped’ https://www.chesterchronicle.co.uk/news/chester-cheshire-news/king-charless-tower-chesters-city-5173761
Photos taken by me J in 2017. 

Copyright © 2018 E.JH