Archive for October, 2016

Thomas Walsingham

Friday, October 28th, 2016

51h-5lieq6l-_sx328_bo1204203200_Thomas Walsingham was a real life monastic chronicler who plays a minor role in King Richard’s Sword, my new novel in the Lady Apollonia West Country Mysteries.  Walsingham was a Benedictine monk who spent most of his life at Saint Albans Abbey which is not far from London.  King Richard’s Sword is set in Worcester in the West Country of England in 1399-1400, so you might wonder why someone with no connection to Worcester would have a role in my story.

I have referred to Walsingham in my story because he is well known as a fourteenth century historian and for being in charge of the scriptorium at Saint Albans Abbey.  He is perhaps the best contemporary source we have concerning Wat Tyler and the Peasants’ Revolt in 1381.  Soon after 1388 Walsingham bitterly assailed the actions and motives of the career of John of Gaunt, the wealthiest man in England and father of Henry IV.  Walsingham is our best source of information for the reign of King Richard II, who ruled until he was deposed in 1399, and the reign of his cousin, the usurper, King Henry IV.  The modern cover of one of Walsingham’s chronicles is shown above portraying the fourteenth century Peasants’ Revolt.2013-PP-01-2

Lady Apollonia is made aware of Walsingham and his scholarly position at Saint Albans because, in King Richard’s Sword, she seeks to find a monastic house where she can send a very intelligent boy who is precious to her.  The child is named Elwin and, although he is deaf and dumb, he risked himself to save her life.  Apollonia determines that serving in the scriptorium of Walsingham’s monastery would offer an excellent career possibility for young Elwin.  The boy is thrilled to be enabled to even consider such a career.

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Medieval Usury

Monday, October 24th, 2016

220px-usurydurerUsury, or the practice of lending money at unreasonably high rates of interest, is a criminal activity in my new book, King Richard’s Sword, set in Worcester, England, in 1399-1400.  The church banned any charging of interest, and England did not legalise lending with interest until the time of Henry VIII which is more than a century later than my book.  As the 14th century was coming to a close, some villains in my novel were able to take advantage of illiterate and poorly educated residents of Worcester to defraud them of significant amounts of their meagre earnings.

The history of usury is ancient.  Many important religions have condemned any charging of interest, and some nations have outlawed it in the last three millennia.  The Roman Empire did come to legalise lending with reasonable interest.  By the 12th century of the Common Era, the Roman Catholic Church banned anyone who took interest on loans from receiving sacraments or Christian burial.  Charging any interest was forbidden by church law and could only be done secretly. 2013-PP-01-2

In 1290 the Edict of Expulsion had forced all Jews out of England unless they converted to Christianity with their practice of usury given as the official reason.  One of the major characters of the story discovers that his family had been part of this forced conversion.

Usury is an age old problem but one which especially enables two of my villainous characters on both sides monastic walls.

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Medieval Lenses

Saturday, October 22nd, 2016

hugh_specsIn Templar’s Prophecy, the 4th book in the Lady Apollonia West Country Mysteries, set in 1397, I first wrote about the Lady importing lenses from Italy.  The purpose was to aid her maid, Nan, in her embroidery as her eyesight was deteriorating as she aged.  Some readers were not only surprised that such things were available in England at that time but even questioned the existence of eyeglasses that early.

Convex lenses are mentioned for enlargement and magnification purposes as early as the 11th century in Arabic texts.  By the 13th century they were used in England while the Italians were experimenting with eyeglasses by then.  There were guild regulations concerning the sale of eyeglasses by the beginning of the 14th century.

The detail of a portrait of the Dominican Cardinal and renowned biblical scholar Hugh of Saint-Cher, shown above, was painted by Tommaso da Modena in 1352.  It shows the cardinal wearing something that looks much more like our eyeglasses of today than does a simple convex lens in a magnifying glass.2013-PP-01-2

By the period in which my books are set, rivet spectacles were probably available.  These were two magnifying glasses that were riveted together by the handles so they could grip the nose.  An example of rivet spectacles, dating from around 1400, has been found in Germany. Therefore, I do not feel that I am stretching the truth by writing of their procurement in England by a wealthy noblewoman who could afford such things.

The picture above is in the Public Domain,

For more information on the history of eyeglasses, click on

Pilgrimage to Santiago

Tuesday, October 18th, 2016

2002-e4-10-2Pilgrims have played an important role in several of my Lady Apollonia West Country Mysteries.  Phyllis of Bath in Plague of a Green Man had been on pilgrimage to several religious sites throughout England and Europe.  The Prologue of Templar’s Prophecy deals with the pilgrimage of Martin Harlech to Banganarti in Africa where he was desperately seeking healing in the Church of the Archangel Raphael.  My latest novel, King Richard’s Sword, begins with the return of Robert Kenwood to Worcester after his pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Northern Spain.  This was as important a pilgrimage site for Europeans as were Canterbury, Rome, and Jerusalem.  Santiago honours Christ’s martyred apostle, Saint James the Great, about whom are many legends concerning his first century travels there and his death in Spain.

In 2002, I was privileged with my husband, Lou, to follow the ancient pilgrimage route across northern Spain from Roncesvalles in the Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia.  Called the Camino de Santiago, it has been designated as a World Heritage Site.  Several of the routes from France converge at Puente la Reina in Spain.  Our route was one of them before proceeding west from Puente la Reina through Burgos, Fromista, and Leon.  The French had influenced some ancient church architecture along the route ranging from Romanesque and Gothic buildings at the time of my novels to Baroque and contemporary in the modern day.

Lou and I found that in the 20th century, there were as many pilgrims to Santiago as in medieval times.  During earlier years, after the Protestant Reformation, much of the route had been neglected.  Certain villages that depended on the medieval pilgrims were abandoned and deserted.  We found many of these reviving with the return of young tourists and pilgrims.  Many modern pilgrims walk or ride a horse or donkey as did the medieval pilgrims.  Others ride bicycles, take buses, or other modern forms of transportation as we did.

The motives of medieval pilgrims varied greatly.  Chaucer’s wife of Bath, on whom my character, Phyllis of Bath, is based travelled to all the major pilgrimage sites and enjoyed herself while being away from home.  My characters, Martin Harlech and Robert Kenwood were doing penance to seek healing while on pilgrimage.2013-PP-01-2

The scallop shell is the traditional pilgrimage symbol associated with Santiago.  Medieval pilgrims like Robert Kenwood used this symbol of their completer journey as pilgrims do in the present day.  Signage on the Camino de Santiago sometimes uses an abstract version of the scallop shell.  The symbol is embedded in many streets along the way, starting in France and leading all the way to Santiago.  In both the traditional and the abstract versions, lines of the shell come together at one point, symbolising the convergence of different routes coming together at Santiago.

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Greyfriars House & Garden

Friday, October 14th, 2016

2014-03-328-1In King Richard’s Sword, the sixth novel in my Lady Apollonia West Country Mysteries, I have used a National Trust property, Greyfriars House and Garden, as my inspiration for the home of Apollonia’s son, Sir Hugh, on Friar Street in Worcester, England.  Lady Apollonia and some of her affinity are temporarily living with Sir Hugh in this book.  Greyfriars was built some decades after my story in 1399, but it is a good example of the kind of house that would have been occupied by Sir Hugh.  I was able to visit it with my husband in 2014 when doing research for this story.

The name of the house is based on the Greyfriars Friary which was adjacent to this property before the dissolution of all the monastic houses by King Henry VIII in the 16th century.  It is a good example of a late medieval merchant’s house and was built for Thomas Grene, a 15th century brewer and High Bailiff of Worcester.  It seemed fitting for Sir Hugh who was Sheriff of Worcestershire at the beginning of the 15th century.2013-PP-01-2

The picture above shows the back of the house which is quite different from the front facing Friar Street.  Behind the house is a large garden which is not visible to people on the street but provides privacy for the family and their guests.

My husband and I also enjoyed the interior of the house which is two storeys, including rooms to receive guests, a parlour, a library, and bedrooms.

For more information on Greyfriars, click on,_Worcester

Saint Wulfstan

Monday, October 10th, 2016

2014-03-091-2King Richard’s Sword is the latest novel in my Lady Apollonia West Country Mysteries.  It is set in Worcester, England, in the years, 1399-1400, and Worcester Priory and Cathedral plays an important role in the story.  An early Bishop of Worcester had been canonised a saint of the church, and his name, Saint Wulfstan, was revered within the cathedral community.  He was known for his founding of Saint Wulfstan’s Hospital which also has a minor role in my story.

Saint Wulstan’s career as Bishop of Worcester was unusual because he was a Saxon who became bishop in 1062 before the Norman Conquest in 1066.  After the conquest, Norman bishops replaced Saxons in most dioceses.  By 1065, Wulfstan was the only Saxon bishop remaining and he served another twenty years until his death in 1095.  Wulfstan began the construction of a new Norman cathedral in 1084.  His Norman cathedral, shown above to the right, was almost as large as the present building and was essentially completed by five years after his death.  Elements of it can be found in the Gothic rebuilding of Lady Apollonia’s period and today as well.2013-PP-01-2

Wulfstan is generally credited with founding the hospital in Worcester which bore his name and was located just outside the Sidbury Gate on the southeast corner of the medieval city around 1085.  The hospital staff followed the Rule of Saint Augustine and served the indigent and needy.  It had its ups and downs but survived until the dissolution of the monasteries by King Henry VIII in the 16th century.  After that, the facility was put to various uses and eventually became known as the Commandery, reflecting that some of the early masters of the hospital may have been Knights Templar or Knights Hospitaler.  Since 1977 the building has been used as a museum.

To learn more about Saint Wulfstan click on

To learn more about his hospital click on

To learn more about the Commandery and its medieval use as Wulftan’s hospital click on

Medieval Anchorites

Thursday, October 6th, 2016

2012-04-001-12012-04-002-1Medieval anchorites play a role in three of my Lady Apollonia West Country Mysteries set in the late 14th and very early 15th centuries.  Anchorites were men or women, each of whom was a type of religious hermit who had taken a vow to withdraw from the world and remain permanently in one dwelling or cell, usually attached to a church, for the rest of one’s life.  As each prepared to enter their cell for the first time, the anchorite went through an act of consecration resembling a funeral rite.  Thereafter, he or she answered only to the bishop of the diocese in which they resided.  In the 14th, early 15th centuries of my novels, female anchorites outnumbered the men.  The most famous of all anchorites of the period was Mother Julian of Norwich.

In Effigy of the Cloven Hoof, my first book, I use the writings of Julian of Norwich, entitled Revelations of Divine Love.  This is thought to be the first book written in the English language.  The cell she occupied was attached to Saint Julian’s Church for which she was named.  Her writings provided great spiritual comfort to my fictional heroine, Lady Apollonia of Aust, when she was struggling to recover from the brutal death of her first husband.  To do this I stretched history a bit because these writings were not available until a few years later.

A hermit in my 3rd book, Memento Mori, had no known name.  He is based on a real hermit who arrived in Gloucester abound the time of my novel in 1392.  His cell was attached to Saint Kyneburgh’s Chapel near the South Gate of Gloucester.  Although my hermit left his cell to pray in the chapel at night and to visit Kyneburgh’s Well nearby, the plot of my story takes him further afield than an anchorite would normally go to protect his saint from threatening evil activities.  Today a modern tower marks this site, and a modern sculptural fence ends about the place where his cell would have been located.  In the left-hand-picture above, the fence is to the left of the tower.  In the other picture, the right-side of the fence ends where the hermit’s cell was attached to the chapel.2013-PP-01-2

The anchorite in my fifth book, Joseph of Arimathea’s Treasure, set in 1397, is purely fictional.  He is called Brother Johanus, and I have attached his cell to the south transept of the Church of Saint John the Baptist in Glastonbury.  This medieval church still serves Glastonbury, and I was able to worship there with my husband on the Sundays we were in Glastonbury doing research for this book.  In my story, this parish church was very active, and people coming and going to the church did interact with the anchorite through his open portal.  He, however, never left his cell.

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King Richard’s Sword at Retailers

Tuesday, October 4th, 2016

2013-PP-01-2King Richard’s Sword, the 6th book in my Lady Apollonia West Country Mysteries is now available from a number of online retailers.


The paperback version may be purchased online for $19.99 from:

Amazon by clicking

or from Barnes and Noble by clicking .

It may also be purchased at a 20% reduced price online from Lulu Press by clicking .


The ebook version may be purchased online for $2.99

from Amazon for the Kindle by clicking ,

from Barnes and Noble for the Nook by clicking ,

for Apple devices by searching for books by author Ellen Foster in the iTunes store ,

or from Kobo Books by clicking .

King Richard’s Sword –Lectures in NW Indiana

Sunday, October 2nd, 2016

2013-PP-01-2Later this month, I will give two presentations of a slide lecture in Valparaiso, Indiana, on my new Lady Apollonia West Country Mystery novel, King Richard’s Sword, set in Worcester in 1399-1400.  Each lecture will be followed by a book signing opportunity.  The schedule for these lectures is:


Thursday, October 20, 2016, at 7:00 PM at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, 505 Bullseye Lake Road.

Friday, October 28, 2016, at 1:00 PM at the Celebration Center of Pines Village Retirement Apartments, 3303 Pines Village Circle.5240101BC_Front Cover


The public is welcome at these events, and each venue has off-street parking.

Watch future postings, especially if you do not live in northwest Indiana, for information on where to buy paperback or ebook versions of my new novel.