My story of Dame Audrey Thyme, the young widow of a cloth merchant, is set in England in the late fourteenth century around the same time as Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. I have attempted to use authentic descriptions of the people and settings whenever possible. Hence, I consulted books about that period and discovered several valuable on-line resources.
In the Middle Ages, people’s lives were constrained by their status in the hierarchical Feudal System. Commoners had to obey nobles and were subject to the King’s rules and religious authorities. Changes in the fourteenth century accelerated the rise of a Middle Class of people with greater independence.
Dame Audrey takes place in the southern part of England. My heroine lives in Reading(Redding) at the confluence of the Thames and Kennet rivers. Her story begins in Glastonbury, where she is on a pilgrimage to the famous Abbey. She travels to Bristol and returns to Reading, partly along the old Roman road between Bath and London (see map). Her journey includes overnight stops in the towns of Chippenham, Marlborough and Newbury. I have assumed the travelers rode about 20 miles a day, with a midday break for a meal and to let the horses graze. The main roads would have inns and hostels about every 10 miles to accommodate travelers. Audrey and her companions ride palfreys, horses with an ambling gait that is faster than a walk and smoother than a trot. Audrey enjoys riding and keeps three horses. She has two mares for herself and her companion, Margaret. Her yeoman, John Holt, rides the third horse and serves as an escort armed with his bow and sword.
Later in the story, she visits her mother in the village of Pangbourne on the Thames about 6 miles west of Reading.
Most people lived in the countryside in villages or farms. Ian Mortimer’s excellent book, The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century,” has a table of the estimated populations of the largest towns or cities. London was the largest city in Britain with a population of about 40,000. Bristol was the third largest city at 10,000 inhabitants. London and Bristol had flourishing harbors for overseas trade, and goods could be transported inland along the Thames and Severn rivers. Most cities and towns had populations of about 1000 to 2000 people.
To assess the relative sizes of places, I used the on-line searchable resource of Open Domesday (1086) https://opendomesday.org/name/Although, the Domesday Book lists the number of households counted in the eleventh century, many towns and villages do not seem to have changed much by the fourteenth century.
Reading: I have found estimates of about 1500 for the population of Reading in the fourteenth century. My rough guess translates this number into about 200 houses. Modern Reading is much larger and has grown more than its neighboring towns and cities. It has three twelfth century churches, St. Mary the Virgin, St. Lawrence, and St. Giles, and the ruins of Reading Abbey. You can see the remnants of the Medieval town in street names such as The Butts, Friar Street and Holybrook Lane. Because of the small size of the town, I decided to mention only a single merchants’ guild.
You can find my book here:
Young widow seeks true love in a Medieval romance with a touch of fantasy.
Medieval England – Sources
I found several valuable resources during my research into medieval life in the fourteenth century.
Ian Mortimer’s The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century.
The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
Chaucer’s People: Everyday lives in Medieval England by Liza Picard
Other excellent sites for specific topics include:
Rosalie’s Medieval Women – http://rosaliegilbert.com
Medieval Farming Year - https://www.historyonthenet.com/medieval-farming-the-farming-year