Historian Michael Wood delves through medieval court records to follow the fortunes of a village in Hertfordshire and, more particularly, the family of peasant Christina Cok.
The 14th century was a perilous time in British history, shot through with famine, plague and war. It was a time of climate change, virulent cattle diseases and, above all, the Black Death. But it was also the time when modern mentalities were shaped, not just by the rulers but increasingly by the common people. It was the beginning of the end of serfdom, the growth of individual freedom and the start of a capitalist market economy.
Michael chooses an everyday story of a medieval country family through which to illustrate the bigger picture of how the character and destiny of ordinary British people was being shaped. It is history told not from the top of society but from the bottom - and especially through the eyes of the forgotten half of the workforce, women.
Michael brings to life the story of a 14th-century extended family: peasant Christina Cok, her father Hugh, estranged husband William, and her children John and Alice. Michael shows us that though their lives might at first seem quite alien, you only have to scratch below the surface to find uncanny connections with modern-day Britons. In them, you can see our beginnings as a nation of shopkeepers and the roots of the British love affair with beer and football. Perhaps more importantly is the triumph of that sturdy and cussed streak of individualism that has been a characteristic of 'Britishness' down the centuries.