Tudor orchards and bloody rebellions in Devon

The popularity of Tudor history has reached new heights with the TV adaptation of Wolf Hall. Now there is a new novel which delves into this turbulent period of history through the rural life of a Devon maid and the bloody siege of Exeter in 1549.

Apples and Prayers is a debut novel by Dr Andy Brown, a senior lecturer in English at the University of Exeter. The book focuses on servant girl Morgan Sweet who spends her life in and around the 16th century apple orchards of Buckland in Devon. Her life is inseparable from the land, the dependence on the patronage of her Catholic Lord and the sureties of the Latin prayer book used in the church where she worships.  

In 1549 this all changes as life’s familiar and ancient rituals are torn apart by revolution and the terrible measures by which it was quashed. At this ominous time the Book of Common Prayer was imposed, exchanging the Latin text for the English. Catholic holy days and the use of rosary beads were being banned by Edward VI. The dismantling of the Church happened at the same time as rural reforms. There were explosive responses to inflation of wheat prices, changes to land ownership and the enclosure of common lands. 

Life in the South West was a tinderbox and once lit would change known life into something quite unrecognisable. This is charted through the eyes of Morgan, who has to follow her Lord and his Catholic household to rise up in protest and march on Exeter. They joined thousands of other Catholics gathering outside the city gates, prepared to kill or be killed for defending their faith and beliefs. There began the siege which led to near starvation for the city dwellers and resulted in the brutal slaughter of the Catholic protestors.

Dr Brown said:“The book begins with an almost idyllic Devon, a pastoral view of life, and then gets progressively bloodier and crueller. It’s the first time that this has been written from the point of view of a servant, and their everyday life, observing both the religious and agricultural calendar.”

He added:“All the characters names are taken from varieties of Devon apples that no longer exist such as Morgan Sweet, John Toucher and Tom Putt. The novel is about the loss of a way of life, and how we identify with a place, using cider making rituals and the eventual neglect of the orchard as one of the many ways that rural life changes beyond recognition.”

Readings from Apples and Prayers by Dr Brown will be performed at Oystercatchers Cafe in Teignmouth on Wednesday 25 February and in Falmouth at the Beerwulf on 2 March. The novel is published by Dean Street Press and is currently available in ebook format on both Kindle and epub for iPads, tablets and laptops. 

Date: 24 February 2015

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