Figures in Silk Vanora Bennett (2008)
***** 5/5 starsCheck out GoodReads for more reviews of this novel.
Set during the War of the Roses, Figures in Silk focuses on the merchants of London--especially the female silk workers, who often were declared freewomen in their own rights and allowed to make deals, take out loans, and hire their own workers. Loosely based on real characters, the plot focuses on a scheme to bring silk weaving to London, as well as the craft of silk embroidery. It brought 15th-century London alive in a way that a novel focusing solely on the nobility (for example The White Queen by Philippa Gregory or The King's Grace by Ann Easter Smith) cannot. More importantly, it showcases the strength that these women had to petition for their livelihoods and work to better their lives. A good read if you are interested in learning more about this time period, or in the lives and trials of women trying to make their way in the world. With characters such as the formidable Queen Elizabeth, her cowed but crafty daughter, one of the King's mistresses and silk women ranging from apprentices to rich merchants, you get an in depth look at how the medieval world viewed women and how they survived in a male-dominated society. The best part, however, is the discussion of the silk. You will fall in love with it, just as the main characters do.
Resources about places and things featured in this novel.
Vanora Bennett's website offers a fascinating article on the medieval history of the silk trade and the attempt by real London silk merchants to bring the secret of silk weaving to England.
To learn more about how medieval guilds worked, check out this artcle on British History Online.
Medieval Silkwork is a blog that focuses on the forms and techniques of late medieval and early modern silk working. It has photos, of early and reproduction pieces as well as patterns and discussions of techniques.