Take Height, Rutterkin by Millie Thom

‘This cat will be called Rutterkin.’

Early in the 17th century, Joan Flower lives with her husband John and daughters Phillipa and Margaret in the Leicestershire village of Bottesford. While the family enjoyed a pleasant, comfortable life, Joan’s superior and proud manner made her unpopular with other villagers. And then tragedy struck. Joan’s husband is killed in an accident, and the family’s comfortable lifestyle recedes into the past.

Initially, the women find temporary employment at Belvoir Castle. But one by one, and for different reasons, each of them is dismissed. The family’s only income is the coin Joan earns from meetings with her lover, and from selling herbal remedies. Joan is angry and bitter over her daughters’ dismissal and takes this as a personal attack. And so, she talks of revenge.

‘I’ll get my own back on her and her family for their heartless treatment of us if it’s the last thing I do. Exactly how I haven’t quite decided. But one way or another, I’ll make them pay.’

The villagers, many of whom do not like Joan, are quick to mutter that Joan’s devilish practices are the cause of everything that goes awry in the village. And these whispers reach the ears of Sir Francis and Lady Cecilia Manners at Belvoir Castle. Lady Cecilia becomes convinced that Joan and her daughters are responsible for the death of one child and the illness of another.

Are the Flower women witches? They are arrested and sent for trial.

In 17th century England, King James VI and I becomes obsessed with witchcraft and the identification and eradication of witches. As a visitor to Belvoir Castle, his views are well known to the Manners family. And in her grief, Lady Cecilia believes the worst.

This novel is based on a true story and highlights the dangerous role that fear, and superstition can play. Ms Thom brings both the era and the women to life. The description of what happens after they are arrested is harrowing but important. Highly recommended.

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Millie Thom for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith