Archive for June, 2017

Medieval Cirencester

Tuesday, June 27th, 2017

Cirencester is the setting for Templar’s Prophecy, the 4th novel in my Lady Apollonia West Country Mystery Series.  As I discussed in my last posting, the Saxon village within the surviving Roman walls began with a handful but had grown to 350 people by the time of the Domesday Book in 1086.  Thereafter, the population grew more rapidly during the medieval period into an important wool town, possibly reaching 2500, though this was reduced by the appearance of the plague in the 14th century.  In any event, the town was much smaller than Roman Corinium had been.  The medieval population lived only in the northern portion of what had been the Roman town and included homes for various classes: nobility, clergy, merchants, and peasants.

Cirencester is the largest of the towns in the Cotswolds which tourists love to visit today.  Cotswold wool was prized throughout Europe in medieval times, and Cirencester became important in the woollen trade by the 13th and 14th centuries, bringing European wool merchants to the town.  The woollen trade also introduced banking to its medieval economy, as shown above. The drawing portrays late 14th century bankers handling accounts for merchants.

In Cirencester, wool was woven as well as fulled or cleaned and thickened before being dyed.  Dyer Street, where my heroine, Lady Apollonia, lives had been renamed Dyer in the middle of the 13th century from Cheaping Street in recognition of this aspect of the wool business.  It is the wool trade which brought Apollonia to Cirencester after the death of her third husband.

Besides being an important centre for the medieval wool trade, Cirencester also served as a more general market town for the region.  Its Marketplace at the end of Dyer Street dealt in horses, cattle, goats, bean and pea meal, cheese, butter, fish, salt, alum, iron, lead, tin, brass, linen, and silk.  A charter had been granted to the town in 1086 to run a Sunday market, but in 1189 King Richard I sold his manor to Cirencester Abbey for 100 pounds’ sterling and changed the market to a Monday and Friday operation run by the abbey.

A minster church, founded in the 8th or 9th century, became the Augustinian abbey which plays a prominent role in my story, set in 1395.  For now, it must be said that the abbey had come to literally dominate the town after 1189.  King Richard’s actions in behalf of the abbey caused significant friction between the abbey and the townspeople as to who ran the town’s market.  This conflict increased through the years, and I tell of that tension in my story.

For more on Cirencester’s medieval history, click on or on

Links to buy Memento

Sunday, June 25th, 2017

On May 23, 2017, I posted links to buy Memento Mori from Amazon and from Barnes & Noble.  Temporarily, these paperbook books were not available from these retailers.  Now they are, so I will repeat the links:

The paperback can be ordered online
from Amazon by clicking

or from Barnes and Noble by clicking

Saxon Cirencester

Tuesday, June 20th, 2017

The Romans had completely evacuated Britain by the early 5th century.  The void that they left behind was filled in the next two centuries by several invading tribes from northern Europe, of whom some are known as Anglo-Saxons.  They may have raided Roman Britain in the 4th century, but were probably invited to Britain after the Roman departure to help defend the native Romano-British population against other threats.  In any event, the tribes who settled in Britain also included Jutes and Frisians.

The valley of the River Thames was largely settled by the Saxons and this area included Cirencester and on eastward into the Cotswold hills.  The Saxons brought with them a different culture, language, ways of building, and styles of dress.  Place names in the Cotswolds and the area around Cirencester today are largely Saxon in origin rather than Roman or Celtic.  The Saxons left few written records, so much of what we know about their culture is based on excavations of their graves, some of which have contained extravagant jewels and gilt-bronze brooches.

Cirencester, the site of Templar’s Prophecy, the 4th novel in my Lady Apollonia West Country Mystery Series, ceased to be a town when the Romans abandoned Britain in the early 4th century.  It is likely that a few native people continued to live within the Roman city walls and farmed in the surrounding region.  But after the Saxons invaded England, they won a great battle in 577, capturing Cirencester, Gloucester, and Bath, resulting in a Saxon village of wooden huts established within the old Roman walls of Corinium/Cirencester.  It was a far cry from the Roman town that had gone before but it represented the new tribal rulers of Britain.

The street pattern that developed in Saxon Cirencester deviated from the rectangular grid of the Romans.  It was Saxon lanes which set the pattern for the medieval streets in my story.  In 1395, Lady Apollonia resided on one of these, Dyer Street, which ran on the kind of angle which the Romans did not use.  As she would have walked north westward on Dyer Street from her house, it widened out to become the Marketplace, a medieval market area so wide that it is used as a car park in contemporary Cirencester.  This area, shown above in a picture taken from the parish church, also appears in my story.

The Saxon village grew slowly to 350 people by the time of the Domesday Book in 1086.  A minster church, founded around 807, became the Augustinian abbey which grew to dominate the town by the end of the 12th century.  I will speak of the abbey’s history in later postings.

Cirencester Roman History

Tuesday, June 13th, 2017

The fourth book, Templar’s Prophecy, in my Lady Apollonia West Country Mystery Series, is set in Cirencester, Gloucestershire, in the year, 1395.  As with most of my books, I have set this one in a town that traces its history back to Roman times.  This Roman town was more important than most people might realise today.

The Celts occupied Britain when the Romans invaded, but Celtic society was not organised into towns.  As the Romans colonised Britain, they began with military installations on the frontier, and so it was at Corinium, the town we now call Cirencester.  A Roman fort was established within a year of the Roman invasion of the island.  As the Roman Legions marched westward and northward, they first moved their military forward and later began to establish more permanent settlements.

By the mid-70’s a.d., they began to build on a rectangular grid for streets that formed the town of Corinium, then known as Corinium Dobunorum for several centuries.  It grew by the 2nd century to become the second largest town in Britain after Londinium.  The population is estimated to have been between 10,000 and 20,000, compared to 18,000 in modern day Cirencester.  The centre of the town was where the Roman Fosse Way, connecting Lincoln with Exeter, crossed Ermin Street and the roads connecting Londinium with Glevum or modern Gloucester.

Corinium was a major market town for the woollen trade in the surrounding area and was probably the administrative capital of Britannia Prima or much of what today is central England.  Its basilica and forum were built on the site of the Roman fort and were second in size only to those buildings in Londinium.  The amphitheatre, just outside the town and one of the largest in Britain, can still be seen today in the form of a grass-covered remnant as seen in the picture above.  It plays an important role in my story.  In the 14th century, it was covered with more vegetation than we see today.

The Romans abandoned Britain in the early 5th century, leading to a decline of Corinium’s fortunes which I will discuss in my next posting.

Beyond the amphitheatre, not much remains above ground from Roman Corinium.  Some sections of the Roman wall still exist, especially on the northeast quadrant of the ancient city.  Otherwise, the Corinium Museum in Cirencester is the best source of Roman remains.  Many galleries are devoted to display of objects from the ruins and their explanation.  For example, the museum has a fine collection of mosaics acquired from many archaeological digs in Cirencester.

For more on Corinium, click on

Nubia & Saint Raphael

Tuesday, June 6th, 2017

The title of the fourth book, Templar’s Prophecy, in my Lady Apollonia West Country Mystery Series, is based on a mid-14th century encounter in the prologue between an Englishman from Cirencester and a survivor of the Knights Templars.  Templars had ceased to exist as an organisation after 1312.  The meeting of the two men occurred in Nubia in Africa at a famous Christian pilgrimage site for healing, the Church of Saint Raphael, in Banganarti, Nubia.

You well might ask, “Where was Nubia?”  It was an ancient civilization that stretched along the Nile River from southern Egypt into Sudan on a modern map.  At one time, it was made up of three kingdoms as shown in the map above to the left.  Nobatia in the north stretched from just south of Aswan and the 1st cataract of the Nile to just south of the 3rd cataract.  Mukaria was next with its capital at Dongola, and just beyond that city was Banganarti.  Finally, the Kingdom of Alodia began between the 5th and 6th cataracts.

Unknown to many in the west, this area was Christian from the late fourth century until the mid-14th century when it was conquered by Islam.  Makuria had become largely Christian by the end of the 6th century.  Egypt was conquered by Islam in the 7th century, cutting Nubia off from other Christian lands, but in 651 AD, efforts to extend Islam into Nubia were defeated.  Thereafter, a kind of peace between Christianity and Islam existed until the 13th century.  In the medieval period, things began to change dramatically in Nubia, and Christianity collapsed completely in favour of Islam before the end of the 14th century.

Yet, in the 14th century, a man named Benesec travelled from southern France or northern Spain across the Mediterranean to Egypt and up the Nile to the Church of Saint Raphael in Banganarti.  How do we know that?  It is because he scratched a memento in Latin onto a wall of the church which reads, “When Benesec came to pay homage to Raphael.”  This was revealed in the 21st century when Polish archaeologists began excavating a huge artificial mound covering a church.  The archaeologists exposed a series of churches in which the walls were decorated with many representations of Nubian kings under the protection of the Archangel Raphael, a guardian of human health.  There were also inscriptions similar to Benesecs, testifying to its being a site where pilgrims came from great distances for healing.  This marvellous human story inspired me to use Banganarti in the prologue of my book and in the main part of my story to name a grandson of the Templar survivor “Benesec Raphael de Farleigh.”

For more on Nubia, click on or on