Mini review: The Tide Mill by Richard Herley

Our contributor Richard Herley describes this book on his website as: In 13th-century Sussex, an illicit love-affair and ruthless power-politics find focus in a masterwork of medieval engineering. Well, it certainly is that.

I decided to download Richard's books (he is offering them for free on his site and asks you to make a contribution if you like what you've read) as I was intrigued by the time frame in which it was set, as well as by the the concept of medieval engineering. The book centers around the attempt of an English Lord to erect a mill that is powered by the tides, rather than by a stream or other watercourse. This is to avoid taxation of the mill by the Church: "A mill driven by the wind or rain, which are held to be sacred. Only the Church can license one. Because [our mill] is driven by the tide, and has no millstream, we say ours falls outside the definition. It must therefore by a molendinium profanum, an ordinary mill. That is the top and tail of the dispute."

We have, in The Tide Mill, a fascinating exploration of medieval theology and its conflict with the secular administration. As well, we also have an extremely detailed, and absolutely absorbing, foray into medieval engineering. The design of the mill is described in some detail and I must admit that I had absolutely no idea that medieval engineers were so sophisticated. Herley must have done an incredible amount of research into medieval engineering and construction techniques – or he made it all up and is fooling all of us :-)

We also get into medieval economics and law, how a manor run, the relations of serfs, freemen and nobles, clothing (did you know that a “dreadnought” is not only a battleship but also a piece of English foul weather clothing made of heavy woolen cloth?), etiquette, transportation, and everything else that makes 13th century society run. I found it completely absorbing. The only downside of the book, to an American, is that it takes place at the English seaside, and has, of necessity, a fair amount of description of English littoral plants and animals. To be honest, I had to use my Kindle’s dictionary because I didn’t know 80% of the terms he was using as they are specific to the English environment. I did find this a bit annoying, but I don’t know what else he could have done.

Of course there is a love story, and I don’t like love stories. Suffice it to say that I cried at the end. Also, the social morays surrounding the love interest were quite interesting. Illicit love as treason, punishable by death – I guess things have changed a bit.

All-in-all a rousing good read, and I think it could be made into a fascinating movie. I’ll give Richard a rest for a bit and then go on to his next book. Needless to say, I’m happy that I made a contribution.

3 Comments on Mini review: The Tide Mill by Richard Herley

  1. And what pray tell are “the social morays”? Spell checker won’t help here. Perhaps you should have used the dictionary one more time.

  2. Sorry, that’s what happens when one types late at night – “social morays” should have been “mores”.

  3. Paul, what a nice surprise, and thank you for your kind words. I am experiencing severe connection problems and have only just got back online — our telecoms are a bit medieval too!

    The technology of milling as described is authentic, though based on river-mills rather than tidal ones. I took a liberty in describing this as the first tide mill, though in 1258 it would certainly have been one of the earliest.

    The Church did not tax anyone: you had to pay a tithe (i.e. 10% of your income), plus charges for any services rendered by the Church’s business activities. Taxes were the privilege of the King.

    I wanted to sing the praises of the engineer, who is shamefully undervalued, especially in Britain, and without whom we would be cold, hungry, and miserable. In the 13th century much effort was expended on military engineering — siege engines and the like — and in the civil field on the construction of cathedrals; but there was also an undercurrent of innovation which in some small way prefigured the achievements of the Renaissance.

    Mainly though, as always, I just wanted to tell a story!

    Thanks again for the review, and may I remind everyone that the book is available as freely downloadable shareware?

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