The Butcher’s Daughter

Written by Victoria Glendinning
Review by Ann Northfield

Agnes Peppin, the butcher’s daughter of the title, has been caught in the age-old way of young women. Forced to leave behind her new-born son, Peterkin, she is in disgrace and sent out of the way to become a nun in Shaftesbury Abbey. Unfortunately, it is 1535 and Henry VIII has started his process of reformation, or appropriating all the wealth of the monastic houses for himself and his adherents, depending on your point of view. The fear, uncertainty and in some cases despair felt by the soon-to-be ex-nuns is palpable, and the reader can really feel those moments in time where the fates of these women hang in the balance. Some, of course, are better equipped than others to face a life in the world; others who have known nothing but the cloister for decades are understandably lost and fearful of the future.

The difficulties of being a woman in a man’s world is a key theme, and the Abbess, used to power unusual for a female at that time, tries hard to save her community, but ultimately cannot battle against the political and religious forces sweeping the country and changing the dynamics of country life forever. Agnes herself is a strong, perceptive woman, a reader and a thinker with a strong will. She is a memorable character, and the historical detail of the novel is completely believable and meticulously researched. This is an unusual and thought-provoking novel which is recommended particularly for fans of Wolf Hall.