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Chaucer's People

Liza Picard

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England, c 1000 CE to c 1500, Prose: non-fiction, Medieval history, Social & cultural history

The Middle Ages were turbulent times. In the fourteenth century alone, England was ravaged by war, plague, revolt and the overthrow of a king. Among the surviving records, the poetry of Geoffrey Chaucer is the most vivid. But what does it tell us about the everyday lives of medieval men and women? What did people eat, wear, read and think?

Through the assorted cast of pilgrims Chaucer selected for The Canterbury Tales, Liza Picard brings medieval social history to life. These are lives led beyond the court circles frequented by most of Chaucer's well-heeled audience - lives spent at the pedal of a loom or in uncharted waters on the high seas.

Chaucer would sometimes raise a thought-provoking query in an apparently simple portrait. The Prioress was a sweet, pretty, well-mannered young nun; what was she doing on the road to Canterbury with a mixed band of men, instead of staying in her convent to pray? The Knight was 'a very perfect gentle knight'; but why had his military service landed him in such distant places as Lithuania and Spain? By providing these characters with a three-dimensional framework - the times in which they lived - Picard opens up the fourteenth-century world to us. Drawing on contemporary experiences of a vast range of subjects including trade, religion, toe-curling remedies and hair-raising recipes, Chaucer's People recreates the medieval world in all its glorious detail.

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Liza Picard

Liza Picard was born in 1927. She is the bestselling author an acclaimed series of books on the history of London: Elizabeth's London, Restoration London, Dr Johnson's London and Victorian London. Her most recent book, Chaucer's People, explores the Middle Ages through the lives of the pilgrims in The Canterbury Tales.

She read law at the London School of Economics and was called to the Bar by Gray's Inn, but did not practise. She worked for many years in the office of the Solicitor of the Inland Revenue before retiring to become a full-time author. She lives in London.