“… it is with solemn regret that I impart on you my professional opinion as a physick and expert in matters of childbed: that upon visiting her last Friday sennight, I drew the deeply unfortunate conclusion that she can not and should not bear children… if she finds herself once more in childbed, she will not survive it… “(Page 5)
Regardless of the period of time, 1612 in this case, surely no husband would keep such information from their wife. Regardless of how much someone wants an heir; the life of another should not be taken, should it?
This is the note that Fleetwood Shuttleworth, mistress of Gawthorpe Hall, found. A note her husband has kept from her. A note that is now obsolete considering her state, for she is now carrying what would have been her fourth child had she not have lost the last three through miscarriage.
Before moving to Gawthorpe Hall in Lancashire, Fleetwood and her husband, Richard, had lived for a brief period of time in London where they were able to enjoy trips to the theatre and the hustle and bustle of daily city life. Since moving to the country however, their routine has become more sedate – a lack of plays and people means that hunting is probably the most exciting thing to undertake. That and her solo walks into the woods; actions which are somewhat unusual for a lady during this period of time.
One day while she explored she stumbled upon a poacher. This poacher, however, was unlike any Fleetwood had seen before, for this woman was nervous and apologetic offering to return the dead rabbits killed on the estate. During another visit to the forest, she falls from her horse and this phantom girl is once again there to help her to her feet and get her back to the house in minimal pain. It is during this second meeting that they discuss Fleetwood’s pregnancy and her troubles in seeing a baby through to term.
In turn, the girl discloses that she is a midwife of sorts and could potentially help Fleetwood. Without further questioning the girl, Alice Gray, is employed, Fleetwood believing that if anyone can help her see this through it is her.
At this time across England, people were running scared. Even the king, who has survived the plot to remove him from power, was concerned. For it seems that the country was under threat from not only Catholics but also witches and their special abilities.
Closer to home, it would appear that even Fleetwood’s friends are potential victims. One friend’s father has died from what he believes is a witches curse, while another has a young girl imprisoned in his home until the York trials take place later in the summer. At this stage, the young girl’s entire family is likely to be killed for witchcraft along with any other female willing to show her intelligence and wise ways.
“She is a midwife, like her mother before her. Are you like the king now, thinking all wise women and poor women and midwives are carrying out the Devil’s work?” (Page 248)
Through the eyes of Fleetwood were learn more about both the impressions of witchcraft during the 1600s and the naivety surrounding childbirth.
My Thoughts on The Familiars
Some historical fiction novels can come across as quite stuffy, but Stacey Halls has injected something new, making it easy to read about the past. She has created a work of art that reflects what takes place during a specific period in history using real people and real events.
I would like to say that I have always been interested in learning more about witchcraft but until The Familiars I have only really grazed the surface, not really looking into the true details, taking instead what I have learnt from films and documentaries are gospel.
Since reading Stacey Halls’ novel however, I have a renewed interest in these events and have spent more time looking for more information on the Pendle witch trials and the people that were condemned to death.
Have you read The Familiars by Stacey Halls?
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