It was only at the very end of this read that I discovered that Lady Katharine Fanshawe's character was based on an actual Lady Katharine. Abigail her maid and general factotum is however fictional.
The story set in 17th century England depicts a very harsh life and with England set at war with itself. The King on one side and Parliament led by Cromwell on the other. The civil war was disastrous for England leading to large scale destruction of villages, property, churches and over two hundred thousand dead. The ten years of fighting was a period of great hardship for villagers and it is this that is depicted in this story. The story also highlights the beginning of the Diggers Movement which though unsuccessful paved the way for future movements of the kind. More or less a commune lifestyle with a sharing of land and barter of goods.
Abigail is a girl who is deaf as a result of an attack of measles. She is the only person in her home who was afflicted and now she feels that she is a burden to her family because no one will employ her. When she is accepted at the Manor as a maid/helper she does not know that she is entering a house of tyranny. The Lady herself is very young, but extremely arrogant with orders to do everything. The cook expects Abigail to also provide water, firewood and cleaning in the kitchen and the arrival of the Lady's guardian Mr. Grice adds not only to the burden but to the fact that everything is not quite right. With Abigail's ability to read (unusual in her time) she is able to know that Mr. Grice is actually forging his Lord's signature on documents and has acquired for himself riches with the sale of all Lady Katharine's properties. Lady Katharine herself is helpless in this and so is Abigail as they have been left alone with Mr. Grice and his henchmen who control the house.
Lady Katharine to add to Abigail's troubles dresses up as a maid and forces Abigail to take her out to the markets where she meets with Ralph Abigail's brother and falls in love with him. This does not bode well because Abigail knows when the truth comes out it will only be adverse for her own family and it does become so. Katharine's other exploits as a highwayman are also discovered by Abigail.
The story has a lot of stories within itself but what struck me most was the absolute power that the men in a family - whether father, husband or brother had over a woman and even a woman of Lady Katharine's stature was just a pawn in property or marriage stakes where everything evolved on the men and as in her case she was rendered penniless by those supposed to be protecting her. Her father in law's behaviour towards her, his physical abuse of her was appalling, specially in view of the fact that her husband was physically present and did nothing whatsoever to stop it and even participated in it. That this was factual I do not doubt as the trend of the time.
The story was an educative one about England at a very brutal and primitive stage of civilization though of course the English may not think of it like that. Women were definitely cattle class and men were indifferent to what they thought or wanted. Quite a disturbing read.
This was a free download from Amazon.