The Tuesday Night Bloggers – Medieval Murders Part 2 1327 to 1485

Last time, I left you with news of the death of Edward II via a hot poker-bottom interface (allegedly). In this article, I plan to look at the spate of murders that took place from the reign of his successor, Edward III up to the start of the Tudors. This is part of the Tuesday Night Bloggers History and Mystery month, as let’s face, I can’t miss this theme. It’s kind of my thing…

Edward III is one of the less covered monarchs in the English school syllabus – understandable, as he was only King of England for 50 years and kicked off the Hundred (and a bit) Years War with France. I say Hundred and a bit, as it went from 1337 to 1453, but there were periods of peace in that time. Anyway, Edward kicked the whole thing off. During his reign, there were a spate of crimes investigated by Owen Archer, a spy acting for the Archbishop of York. Not much is known about these cases, due to the first one being a bit of a disappointment. The other outbreak of murder takes place in Cambridge, starting in 1348, investigated by physician and teacher Matthew Bartholomew. Again records are sketchy, despite over twenty different investigations, due to the villain of Matthew’s initial case having a really silly alibi. But there is an intention to conduct more research in this area. It might be worth noting that during Edward III’s reign, some pilgrims went to Canterbury, and on the way told each other tales of ghosts and murder from their own experiences. Some doubt is cast on the truth of these tales, as at least one of them involves vampires…

Edward III was succeeded by the boy-king Richard II, whose early reign was troubled by revolting peasants and later reign was troubled by his propensity to be a bit on the loony side. HisThe Great Revolt early reign was beset by murderers in London, most of whom had a penchant for committing locked room murders. Luckily coroner Sir John Cranston and his scribe, Brother Athelstan of St Erconwald’s in Southwark, were on hand to sort things out. New documents are still be unearthed by Dr Paul Doherty on these crimes, as we start to learn about what happened after the Peasants’ Revolt.

Other than this, Richard’s time on the throne was murder-free, if you don’t count his own possible-murder on the order of his deposer, Henry IV. But despite much research, there seems to be little to recount concerning the reign of Henry and his two sons, imaginatively called Henry and Henry. It is only when Henry VI, having conclusively lost the Hundred Years War, was deposed by Edward IV in 1461 that murder seemed to return to the land. Little is known so far about the 22 cases involving the peddler Roger the Chapman as detailed by Kate Sedley, but there has been extensive research into the activities in Canterbury of Kathryn Swinbrooke, as detailed by C L Grace aka Paul Doherty. Note that some suspicions have been raised around the fate of Henry VI.

The most famous historical “real” murder took place thereafter, The Daughter of Timeas the twelve year old Edward V lasted less than three months on the throne before being succeeded (and killed?) by Richard III. Extensive study of a painting of what the King might have looked like has convinced a number of people that Richard was innocent of killing Edward and his brother, but an alternative explanation has been presented, again by Dr Doherty.

And then we move into the reign of the Tudors and beyond (not that anything really happens until Fat Harry himself takes the throne)…

So for this period of history, we have large blackspots without any mystery fiction (that I could find) set in them. Edward III and Henrys IV to VI have extremely clean records and that, I presume, is that if you ask the man in the street about them, they might be able to dredge up the word Agincourt. And not much else. If we compare it to the deluge that the Tudor age brings, a period that gets more than its fair share of coverage, then it does seem that this period is being overlooked. It’s not as if nothing happened in these periods. And it’s not just in crime fiction that the medieval period is for the most part overlooked.

Take Kenilworth Castle, my local fortification. During its history, it was the location of the longest siege in English history (1266), the deposition of Edward II (1327) and the receipt of the French insult that instigated the events that led to Agincourt (1415). Oh, and it’s also where the Earl of Leicester entertained Elizabeth I. Guess which gets about 90% of the attention as you walk around the place…

I suppose it’s a vicious circle. People are interested in the Tudors. More information is given about the Tudors. People lose interest in other eras. Repeat…

Anyway, next time, I’ll take a look at Fat Harry and Queenie (and the other three-and-a-bit Tudor monarchs) and see if I can come up with a theory as to why they seem to be the most popular monarchs to commit murder under.

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3 comments

  1. There is an interesting & comprehensive list of historical crime/murder mysteries at the following site:
    http://www.crimethrutime.com/series

    There is also the site: Introduction To Clerical Detectives site, which gives details of many historically set detectives.

    The Guardian online newspaper site provides interestingly varied Top 10 lists of books which sometimes include crime books.

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  2. Well this was fortuitous. I just purchased a book by C L Grace, A Feast of Poisons, the last one in the series. That is the only bad part. Having seen some of the covers now (here at your blog) I want the earlier ones and I already have too many books. But I do see that you gave that book a good review, and that is very encouraging.

    Like

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