Its midsummer’s eve, 1648. England is gripped by civil war between its Catholic king and rebellious, Puritan parliament. In the remote Tidelands, the marshy landscape of the south coast, Alinor, a superstitious young peasant woman, waits under a full moon in the village graveyard for a ghost who, according to legend, will confirm she is truly free of her abusive husband, lost at sea.
Instead she meets James, a young Catholic priest on the run from the Protestant Oliver Cromwell. Alinor feels sorry for him and helps him to hide; this generous gesture seals her fate: she is propelled directly into grave danger.
Alinor, a mother of two children, crushed by grinding poverty, is the descendant of so-called ‘wise women’. A midwife skilled in the knowledge of medicinal herbs, she is already vulnerable in a land obsessed with witch-mania.
Alinor’s help for James, to whom she is intensely attracted, is rewarded by his patron, the local lord of the manor, a secret Catholic Royalist. In gratitude her son is taken into comfortable service in the manor and given an education. Sir William also provides Alinor with a little money to ease her gruelling life. Inevitably her village neighbours become envious and suspicious. Why are the lives and Alinor, her son and 13-year-old daughter, suddenly so improved?
And so the community invokes the curse hurled at all ‘wise women’ in the 17th century, and accuse her of being a witch.
Gregory’s immensely successful historical novels usually tell of rich, ambitious noblewomen, such as The Other Boleyn Girl. Tidelands is a new and fascinating insight into the opposing stories of those pampered women: lives lived in dire poverty in those cruel and superstitious times.