I’m a sucker for all things Tudor, so the latest release from Victoria Glendenning set in the midst of Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries was too intriguing to pass up. Please read on for my review of
The Butcher’s Daughter
This story is told from the perspective of Agnes Peppin, that we first meet as a young girl as she tells us of her life with her father (the butcher) and her mother, a remote figure often called out to ‘prepare the dead’. Agnes and her best friend have been taught to read and do maths, unlike many others, and have a reasonable, existence. That is, until Agnes meets a boy and falls pregnant – and her life is forever changed. As her mother is related to a ‘noted’ family, Agnes is sent off to the Shaftesbury Abbey to join the nuns – and away from the shame. Not without skills or talents, and a history of working hard in all conditions, Agnes is slowly accepted into the abbey life: her ability to read and write brings her into a privileged position with the Abbess as an assistant and secret-keeper.
Agnes has a front-row seat to the machinations surrounding the tentative future of the Abbey – and we watch as she learns to discern between foes without power and foes with the backing of the King. As the people and place she’s known and believed to be a safe haven from the vagaries of a life without protection or profession is destroyed, we see her friendships, worries and above all, pragmatism as her life plans, again, turn in ways unexpected. For me, Agnes’ voice was solidly matter-of-fact: few moments of fancy and daydreaming were there, as there was little time or opportunity – she was a woman in a man’s world: destined and determined to do as she was directed with few options for self-determination.
What comes forward in this story is the struggle and the feel of Tudor England from the perspective of one who was living it: dealing with not only the struggles of daily life and finding ways to survive for another day but the effect that the Dissolutions had on the entire population. The contents of the King’s treasury could not meet the demand of his expenses, and as the King demanded more from his subjects, the effects of those seeking to fulfill his wishes spread wide and far. From the religious peoples being ousted from homes and security, or even killed for their resistance to the loss of work, lands and protection to the ‘commoners’ that the Abbeys once conveyed – all is shown in the search by one young woman as her life progresses. There is no “happy ending” here – were it not for the palpable and present voice of Agnes retelling the story, it could have been a list of tragic moments by a King besotted, instead it becomes engrossing and difficult to look away from: bringing the England of Henry VIII into focus and allowing readers to feel present in a time difficult to capture in other ways.
Title: The Butcher's Daughter
Author: Victoria Glendinning
Genre: Historical Fiction, Setting: Britain, Tudor
Published by: Overlook Press
Published on: 19 June, 2018
Source: Publisher Via Edelweiss
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In 1535, England is hardly a wellspring of gender equality; it is a grim and oppressive age where women—even the privileged few who can read and write—have little independence. In The Butcher’s Daughter, it is this milieu that mandates Agnes Peppin, daughter of a simple country butcher, to leave her family home in disgrace and live out her days cloistered behind the walls of the Shaftesbury Abbey. But with her great intellect, she becomes the assistant to the Abbess and as a result integrates herself into the unstable royal landscape of King Henry VIII.
As Agnes grapples with the complex rules and hierarchies of her new life, King Henry VIII has proclaimed himself the new head of the Church. Religious houses are being formally subjugated and monasteries dissolved, and the great Abbey is no exception to the purge. The cosseted world in which Agnes has carved out for herself a sliver of liberty is shattered. Now, free at last to be the master of her own fate, she descends into a world she knows little about, using her wits and testing her moral convictions against her need to survive by any means necessary . . .
The Butcher’s Daughter is the riveting story of a young woman facing head-on the obstacles carefully constructed against her sex. This dark and affecting novel by award-winning author Victoria Glendinning intricately depicts the lives of women in the sixteenth century in a world dominated by men, perfect for fans of Wolf Hall and Philippa Gregory.
A copy of this title was provided via Publisher Via Edelweiss for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.