John a skinny boy we first met in an English churchyard planting primroses on his brother’s grave, becomes a central figure to this story. He survived against odds to raise a large family yet emerges as a complex character. The birth of a calf is a thrill for the whole family that owes nothing to financial security or base ambition or fear of starvation; it is a new life, an elementary joy. Even the most ancient, gnarled, grizzled farmer will stroke the calf as tenderly as a new mother, and John was no exception. He returned to check the cow four or five times in a few hours. Later in the evening he came out of the house saying he would “Just have a last look before bed.”
Outwardly, an apparently simple villager, yet also capable of filling the place of the late priest, his mentor, during the terrifying downward spiral of the Black Death. A time when the death toll was so heavy that all must have feared for their own survival. John’s eldest child Edith, inherits his strength and holds the family together through turbulent times, culminating in the Peasant’s Revolt. The young king’s fear and revenge threatened any excited young man who might have followed the meetings from town to town until they reached the rising industrial city of Salisbury. The newly built spire of the cathedral gleamed in sunlight, mocking the furies at street level. Incensed by the monstrous poll tax furious rebels provoked a military crackdown. Even the deafening racket of the weaving shops had been silenced till order was restored. But revenge was taken brutally for the remainder of a long, bloody summer.
At the opening of this story, a group of farmers market traders a clothier have all survived the Peasant’s Revolt, yet still feel threatened by the young king’s revenge.
A poor widow lost her husband and son in the violence, a farmer’s son from White Clyffe swept up in the excitement was arrested in Salisbury at the height of the rebellion and has not been seen since, a clothier abandoned his established business near Bridgewater fearing suspicion of involvement, conspiracy.
Their lives, loves and fears are explored among the villages and towns of the West of England. The story moves from rural Wiltshire to the rapidly industrialising city of Salisbury, commercial activity in the Severn Estuary and an escape to Honfleur in France.