The Midwife's Apprentice is set in medieval England, most likely during the late thirteenth or early fourteenth centuries. The time period is not explicitly stated, but the author gives the reader clues as to the story's setting in time, mentioning the English king Edward Longshanks, and an old English song, "Summer Is a'Coming In," which was written during that period. Movement between geographical locations was very difficult during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, with ordinary citizens traveling from place to place mainly by walking, or, if they were lucky, on horseback. Because of this, the action in the story realistically takes place in one small village and its immediate environs, the distance which can be traversed comfortably in a short day's walk.
The setting is integral to the development of the narrative. The peasant people are closely tied to the land and the elements; their very survival depends on these things. The odious description of the dung heap on which Beetle sleeps because of its warmth at the beginning of the story is representative of the cyclical aspect of life, and the intimacy with which the characters are acquainted to the earth. The peasants depend on the land in growing their crops and raising their animals, and in the end, all things return from whence they came, to the earth. The vividly presented seasons also prescribe the movement of the peasants' lives, directing the ever repeating cycle of planting and harvesting, controlling everything, except for the all-powerful elements of birth and death.