Why the fourteenth century?

I write about romances set in fourteenth century England. What is it about that particular time that makes it such a good setting?

From the relative safety of the twenty-first century the fourteenth century looks like an interesting time in which to live. It was the time when national identities were becoming strong in Europe. England became so self-assured as a nation that it felt able to take on the most powerful nation in Europe, France, in what was to become the Hundred Years’ War.

It was the time of Edward III, possibly the greatest ruler England has ever had. His reign, one of the longest among English monarchs, stretches across the fourteenth century. The security of his reign contrasts strongly with the anarchy of the hundred years following his death.

English was in the process of becoming the national language. Although the ruling classes still spoke French, English gradually became the language of literature and law.

It was also a time of great disasters. The Black Death claimed between a half and two thirds of the population in the middle of the century and returned frequently for the rest of the century. As a result some people became more mobile and wealthier as more labourers were required than were available.

There were wars, not only in France, but in England and Scotland and border raids in the Marches. Associated with these was the development of the longbow – the superweapon of the fourteenth century. It gave English armies such a marked advantage over the French that the French developed a strategy of avoiding battle if they could.

It was the time of Gower, Langland, Chaucer and the ‘Pearl’ poet, all writing in English towards the end of the century. Literature in English started with a bang.

Wyclif began to translate the Bible into English and the century marked a change in the way that the English viewed the church and the pope, who, for most of the century, was considered to be little more than a mouthpiece for the French king.

It was a time of great change and uncertainty. Poor men could go to war and return with wealth (Henry in The Winter Love ); a Frenchman could be captured by his enemy and brought to England to work off his ransom (Richard in His Ransom) and a woman caught up in a French raid on a southern port could be rescued by a stranger (Alais in The Traitor’s Daughter). What more could a novelist want?

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