After a ten year break from writing crime fiction, Minette Walters has produced a book about the Black Death. She discovered she lived a short distance away from where the plague first broke out in England, becoming aware that her house was surrounded by plague pits, where numerous bodies were buried. This sparked an interest about the period in the 1300’s when the plague struck. She felt a sense of sadness that hundreds of bodies were buried hurriedly and without being named.
The author has researched this period with the help of the Dorset History Centre to authenticate her story. The book begins with a map of the area in 1348, and quotes from various people such as Agnolo di Tura, who said “And there were those who were so sparsely covered with earth that the dogs dragged them forth and devoured many bodies throughout the city.” This was indeed a time for change.
Lady Anne, wife of Sir Richard of Develish, is the main character in this story. Her husband was an ignorant, self-satisfying man who would have run his estate into the ground, if not for the fact that Lady Anne could read. Being educated, she also wrote many edicts for the running of the estate, which her husband signed unknowingly. She organized for latrine pits to be dug so that waste was covered and away from the people. She also organized for the serfs to keep a percentage of their crop, so they could sell it and barter for things they needed. As well, Lady Anne taught the children to read, and promoted education among her people.
It was a terrible shock when news of the Black Plague first broke, but Lady Anne ordered the castle gates to be closed, and all the people from the outlying area to come into the walled area of the estate. Unfortunately her husband was away, and when he returned home it was only to be denied entrance. He died shortly afterwards from the plague and was buried nearby. This left Lady Anne to run the entire estate. A serf she had befriended as a child and had taught to read and write was to become her steward, a trusted position of great responsibility. Together they negotiated the lives and day to day supervising of the serfs. After some time it became clear that they would run out of food, so Thaddeus, the steward volunteered to take some lads and find out what the situation was outside the walls.
The story is told in such a way that individuals are recognized and respected for the roles they played during this time. People of everyday lives are given a voice, with characters given perspective, something that has been missing in other recounts of the Black Death. The author has made an effort to give people names, occupations, and beliefs, which brings this tragedy closer to us. The Church is seen to be active at this time, although some priests maintained that the plague was God’s punishment.
This is the first book in a set of two. Lady Anne continues the care and protection of her people and will no doubt see them through the terrible times.
|Publisher||Allen and Unwin|
|Distributor||Allen and Unwin|