Book Title: Squire’s Hazard, The Fifth Meonbridge Chronicle
Series: The Meonbridge Chronicles
Author: Carolyn Hughes
Publication Date: 6th October 2022
Publisher: Riverdown Books
Page Length: 360
Genre: Historical Fiction
Twitter Handles: @writingcalliope @cathiedunn
Hashtags: #Medieval #HistoricalFiction #BlogTour #TheCoffeePotBookClub
Blog Tour Schedule page: https://thecoffeepotbookclub.blogspot.com/2022/09/blog-tour-squires-hazard.html
How do you overcome the loathing, lust and bitterness threatening you and your family’s honour?
It’s 1363, and in Steyning Castle, Sussex, Dickon de Bohun is enjoying life as a squire in the household of Earl Raoul de Fougère. Or he would be, if it weren’t for Edwin de Courtenay, who’s making his life a misery with his bullying, threatening to expose the truth about Dickon’s birth.
At home in Meonbridge for Christmas, Dickon notices how grown-up his childhood playmate, Libby Fletcher, has become since he last saw her and feels the stirrings of desire. Libby, seeing how different he is too, falls instantly in love. But as a servant to Dickon’s grandmother, Lady Margaret de Bohun, she could never be his wife.
Margery Tyler, Libby’s aunt, meeting her niece by chance, learns of her passion for young Dickon. Their conversation rekindles Margery’s long-held rancour against the de Bohuns, whom she blames for all the ills that befell her family, including her own servitude. For years she’s hidden her hunger for retribution, but she can no longer keep her hostility in check.
As the future Lord of Meonbridge, Dickon knows he must rise above de Courtenay’s loathing and intimidation, and get the better of him. And, surely, he must master his lust for Libby, so his own mother’s shocking history is not repeated? Of Margery’s bitterness, however, he has yet to learn…
Beset by the hazards these powerful and dangerous emotions bring, can young Dickon summon up the courage and resolve to overcome them?
Secrets, hatred and betrayal, but also love and courage – Squire’s Hazard, the fifth MEONBRIDGE CHRONICLE.
Guest post by author:
The lot of medieval women…
The Meonbridge Chronicles series is set in the second half of the fourteenth century, in the fictional village and manor of “Meonbridge”, in southern England. The first Chronicle, Fortune’s Wheel, follows the lives of the folk of Meonbridge in the immediate aftermath of what we call the Black Death, the terrible plague that, in 1349/50, killed up to half of all people in England (and Europe and Asia too), causing enormous social upheaval throughout the country.
Times of social change are always interesting, and the great turmoil brought about by the plague was the inspiration for that first book. However, although the main conflict is between the men of Meonbridge, I wanted to reveal the story mostly through the voices of women, partly because women in history often don’t get much opportunity to “speak”, and also because it was their lives that interested me most. Women are the main voices in all the Chronicles, although one or two men do get a look in as well.
The principal women characters include several “ordinary” peasant women, amongst them Alice, the middle-aged widow of a moderately affluent peasant; Eleanor, a young free woman, orphaned by the plague and thrown onto her own resources; Emma, on the lowest rung of the social ladder, scratching a living from whatever work she can get; and Agnes, a carpenter’s wife, who thinks the social upheaval brought by the plague might give her the chance for “more”…
Generally, peasant women had little status in fourteenth century society. If they were married, they had no say in village life, for their husbands spoke for them, though if they were landowners and widowed or unmarried, they had more control over their own affairs. All unfree peasants were tied to the manor, owing not only rent but also regular week-work, and a woman fully shared in this burden. As today, ordinary women had to work: married women needed to contribute to the household budget, and single women had to earn a livelihood. Rates of pay for women were generally lower than for men, though the general shortage of labour after the Black Death gave women more power to claim higher wages, just as it did for men. The social and economic changes brought about by such a huge loss of life must have had an impact on everyone but, as I understand it, many women benefited from the changes, and did to some extent throw off their “shackles”.
The other main female character in the Chronicles is Lady Margaret de Bohun, the wife of the lord of Meonbridge, and the grandmother of the eponymous squire in Squire’s Hazard, Dickon.
In some ways the status of the wealthy woman was little better than that of a peasant: she was still the chattel of her father, and then her husband, and often had little control over her life, even if it was relatively comfortable. She might be married as a child to someone she didn’t know, in order to seal an economic deal, and might be sent away from home at an early age. However, many of these women were far more active and competent than the “chattel” status might imply. Some fourteenth century literature might suggest she was the romantic, lovely and capricious lady of chivalry, but she was, in practice, more often an extremely hard-working woman. The real fifteenth century Margaret Paston, who lived in Norfolk, was a “lady of the manor” who was often left in charge of the manor whilst her husband was away. She managed his property, collecting rents, keeping accounts and even outwitting enemies. Lady Margaret de Bohun is modelled on such a lady.
Even though women were undoubtedly “second-class citizens” in the fourteenth century, there’s considerable evidence that many women were not down-trodden but, like the doughty ladies-of-the-manor, competent peasant housewives and efficient business women, were strong and capable. So, my Meonbridge women are strong too but nonetheless, I hope, clearly “medieval”.
In all the Chronicles, the lives of women from different positions in Meonbridge society, rich and poor, young and old, free and unfree, are woven through, and central to, the stories.
One aspect of the lot of medieval women that I find of particular interest – as well as exasperating! – is the somewhat “misogynistic” attitude held by medieval men – or by some of them at least. This attitude is central to the story of the second Chronicle, A Woman’s Lot, and it looms again in Squire’s Hazard.
In the Middle Ages, as a rule, men 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 medieval men were misogynistic, and I certainly mustn’t overstate the case.
But women were generally expected to devote themselves to their domestic functions, and were refused any sort of public office or, mostly, 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’s 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.
There’s little doubt that the 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 medieval women generally accepted their lot in life, and perhaps even the “truth” of men’s superiority, for that’s what the Church had taught them. That’s not to say women believed themselves to be either wicked, stupid or frail, but perhaps it didn’t occur to them they could do anything to change the status quo. In A Woman’s Lot, however, my female protagonists do recognise the world has changed, and not only for the men…
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 medieval wife – she doesn’t wish to throw off the bonds of marriage but wants to make her marriage better, in the medieval way she understands. Agnes and Emma, too, aren’t seeking to overthrow society, just to make, in their eyes, a more worthwhile contribution…
And so we come to Squire’s Hazard, and my character Margery Tyler. When we first meet Margery, in Fortune’s Wheel, she’s the elder daughter of the Meonbridge bailiff, Robert, a reasonably well-off villein (a peasant, but one with land and influence). He’s been “social climbing” and acquiring goods and wealth for some years in anticipation of providing a decent future for his daughters. He has them educated a little, ensuring they can read and write, manage a household, and be proficient at the social skills that might win them the hand of a man who’s upwardly mobile in Hampshire society. So, as a girl, Margery expects to marry reasonably well and become mistress of a prosperous man’s house.
Instead, Robert’s world turns upside down and he goes mad, forcing a cruel punishment upon his younger daughter Matilda, and commissioning the murder of her lover. At length he dies ignominiously and, because of his misdeeds, his property is forfeit to the Crown and his family loses everything. None of that of course is Margery’s fault. Yet, as we see in Squire’s Hazard, she has to suffer for her father’s crimes. Everything she’d expected is taken from her, compelling her to become a servant to a mistress of the very sort she’d imagined she might be herself. It’s a cruel blow and, by the time of Squire’s Hazard – fifteen years after her family’s initial downfall – she’s still harbouring a terrible resentment for it all.
Margery is a single woman, and not attractive. I imagine her plain, with a rather bony frame, who even as a girl always wore a sour expression. She’s not perhaps much of a catch appearance-wise, but her skills and proficiency as a housekeeper might have enabled her to marry well. But it was not to be. As a servant, and a down-trodden one at that, her lot never improves, and, by the time of Squire’s Hazard, though she’s only in her early thirties, she looks much older.
She’s also the object of men’s misogyny. Her master assaults her regularly – not because he’s attracted to her but because she’s available. (She never does get pregnant, which she puts down to the medieval idea that, to conceive, a woman had to enjoy her union with a man. For Margery that’s both a relief and a source of sadness.) Also, labouring men on the farm regularly abuse her verbally, scorning her unattractive looks and her, admittedly, disagreeable disposition.
At one point in the story Margery meets another singlewoman, a healer, Ursula, who many in Meonbridge believe to be a witch. Ursula tells her: ‘When I was younger, I was often the object of men’s abuse. As a singlewoman, without the crutch of a man to lean upon, I was prey to their insults.’ Margery deduces it’s probably always the lot of single women to be insulted and abused.
According to the Church of the time, women were “supposed” to be married (unless they were in a nunnery), so those who weren’t were considered “unnatural” and objects of suspicion. Though, surely, there must have been many, many unmarried women in the fourteenth century, trying to make a life for themselves?
Seven hundred years later, women are of course still subject to misogyny, but at least if, for whatever reason, they are “singlewomen”, they now have the freedom and opportunity for living a fulfilling and successful life. And thank goodness for that!
This book is available to read on #KindleUnlimited.
Universal Link: https://books2read.com/u/bW5yJz
The paperback is available to buy at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Waterstones.
CAROLYN HUGHES has lived much of her life in Hampshire. With a first degree in Classics and English, she started working life as a computer programmer, then a very new profession. But it was technical authoring that later proved her vocation, as she wrote and edited material, some fascinating, some dull, for an array of different clients, including banks, an international hotel group and medical instruments manufacturers.
Having written creatively for most of her adult life, it was not until her children flew the nest several years ago that writing historical fiction took centre stage, alongside gaining a Master’s degree in Creative Writing from Portsmouth University and a PhD from the University of Southampton.
Squire’s Hazard is the fifth MEONBRIDGE CHRONICLE, and more stories about the folk of Meonbridge will follow.
You can connect with Carolyn through her website http://www.carolynhughesauthor.com and on social media.
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Amazon Author Page UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Carolyn-Hughes/e/B01MG5TWH1/ Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/16048212.Carolyn_Hughes