Rosie Amber's Reviews > Fortune's Wheel

Fortune's Wheel by Carolyn  Hughes
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really liked it
bookshelves: historical-fiction

Fortune’s Wheel is a historical novel set in Hampshire in 1349. I chose to read this because Hampshire is my county, so I was delighted that many of the place names were familiar. The story revolves around a year in the life of the villagers of Meonbridge.

So what was life like in 1349? Bubonic plague had just swept through Britain, and Meonbridge lost at least half of its residents. The village was overseen by Lord and Lady de Bohun of the manor, who owned lands rented to tenants. I was very interested to learn that the village consisted of a mix of villeins (peasant farmers legally tied to the manor), cottars (lowest form of peasant) and freemen and women. There was also the miller and blacksmith. The author showed us how the villagers were expected to pay the manor rents for land, businesses and death duties. They were also expected to work for the manor; boon work, giving time freely to bring in the harvest. During the week they would do ploughing, hedging etc. The manor in turn provided housing, a court to oversee disputes, and elected men to carry out duties within the village: a reeve, a bailiff and constables.

There was a large cast of characters which at times were hard to keep track of. However, the main story weaving its way back and forth is about the mysterious disappearance of Agnes atte Wode. Agnes is the daughter of Alice, a villein friend of Lady Margaret de Bohun and well respected village woman. Her son, John, is held back from searching for Agnes by his new appointment of village reeve. Both John and Alice are sure the Lord’s children knew more about the disappearance of Agnes that was first thought.

A second strong theme runs through the story, that of the potential for a peasants' revolt. There were now fewer people to work the land, the workers were needed for longer hours to fulfil the jobs. There were calls for higher wages and or land offered to the cottars to farm. Both the bailiff and the Lord were against this, quoting laws from the King to cap wages, but with few “free” farmers in the country to invite to the manor lands, a stalemate occurred. Unlike today, when most of us can change our jobs as and when we please, in medieval times peasants were “tied” to the manor of the village they were born into, the law forbidding them to leave.

I liked this story, as it covered a time period where less is known about the everyday life of ordinary people; it created a picture in a way a modern reader could understand. There was a fair bit of medieval terminology, most of which I could make a reasonable guess at and, because I was interested, I didn’t mind confirming the definitions later. There is also a list of characters at the beginning of the book to help with the large cast. The storyline does have drama and a satisfactory ending, but for me the interest was more in the everyday life of the characters and the way they lived in this period of history.
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Reading Progress

March 4, 2017 – Started Reading
March 4, 2017 – Shelved
March 5, 2017 – Finished Reading
July 26, 2017 – Shelved as: historical-fiction

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