Book of Days, French social history 1003-1975


Must read 🏆

6 stars. A masterpiece of ‘street-level history’ with a unique Concept, sumptuously illustrated

This book is a masterpiece in so many ways. 1. It is ‘street-level history’, which we rarely see in literature. 2. It is beautifully written. 3. It is a, as far as I know, unique—Concept. 4. It also has quite a unique methodology—relying on visual material.

Films and novels show us how kings and queens lived, but what about peasants? Interestingly, because so little is written about their daily lives, this book uses as its sources ‘visual depictions rather than written texts’. Books of hours and stained-glass windows, produced for religious purposes, inadvertently give us insights into daily secular life.

Bullis paints vignettes of French villagers at certain points in history from 1003 to 1975. Each chapter is a day in the life of a member of the (real historical) Lefief family. A wonderful, wonderful—and as far as I know, unique—Concept.

For example:

1003. The world has not ended, and everywhere people are building churches. In the village of Fougerolles, the land is cleared by peasants who then take the name of Lefief.

October 1193. Autumn smells fill the air as villagers labour to prepare for winter. Gonbault Lefief is trying to ensnare a crow when his son arrives home from Crusade.

October 1260. Bread maker Josquin Lefief rises before dawn. After making the day’s loaves, he and his wife cart around a mobile pretzel oven to cater to celebrants of the Consecration.

August 1346. The battle (Crécy) is lost—King Philippe hadn’t reckoned on the prowess of the English longbowmen—and brothel-keeper D’Airelle Lefief prepares his women for their inevitable impending rape.

The level of historical detail in this work is amazing, and yet, it does not read like a dry history book. It is superbly written. There are lyrical descriptions of the village and the nature surrounding it and edifying human dramas among the Lefiefs and other villagers. There are very few named characters, here. Instead, it is a portrait of the entire culture, an intimate glimpse into the world of mediaeval peasants that we rarely see anywhere in literature.

The illustrations alone should bump this to everyone’s ‘must read’ list, and I recommend a luxurious read of the beautiful text.

This fabulous work of research includes beautiful colour and B/W illustrations from over 50 sources. An Addendum tells the story of the imagery in the Crusader’s Bible.


Reviewed by

Susie Helme is an American ex-pat living in London, after sojourns in Tokyo, Paris and Geneva, with a passion for ancient history and politics, and magic, mythology and religion. After a career in mobile communications journalism, she has retired to write historical novels and proofread/edit novels.

About the author

I've been publishing books since 1981 and presently have 23 listed under my name on and another 24 on my website I live in South Africa and write about cultural history and the art that lies hidden within the complexities of astrophysics. view profile

Published on December 08, 2022

Published by Atelier Books South Africa

50000 words

Genre: History

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