Archive for February, 2018

The Medieval English Character

Tuesday, February 13th, 2018

The third chapter of Ian Mortimer’s book, The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England, is entitled: The Medieval Character.  This subject is of particular interest to me in my writing because I hope to develop characters of that period who then revealed their story to me.  Of course, I want all my characters to be consistent with the time and settings of my novels.

Mortimer begins by describing a detachment of young soldiers who abused the nuns in a convent where they had sought lodging while waiting a favourable wind to sail to Brittany.  They eventually kidnaped the nuns but threw them overboard in a storm during the crossing.  Thomas Walsingham, who reported the story in the 14th century, obviously believed it was true as medieval society was more violent and fearful than English society today.  My heroine, Lady Apollonia of Aust, shown above, was married to a violent husband in her first marriage when she was just thirteen-year-old.  Early in her life she began to learn to cope with violence.

Because society was often violent, it was important to know who one’s friends were and whom one could trust.  People in the affinity or household of Lady Apollonia believed that they could trust each other.  Those in towns and villages often turned to each other for support because people from other places, even though they were Englishmen, were considered foreigners.  One frequent source of violence in some medieval communities was organised crime.  Gangs were often led and protected by members of the nobility.  I have used this idea in both my second novel, Plague of a Green Man, set in Devon, and my third novel, Memento Mori, set in Gloucester.

Some other topics mentioned by Mortimer in his third chapter concerning the medieval character include: a sense of humour, the warrior’s love of flowers, education, knowledge of the wider world, and discerning minds.

Taste in humour was different in medieval times.  Sarcasm and practical jokes were favoured.  Trickery and even some forms of violence were often considered funny.  Yet, there was a gentle side to many warriors who are said to have had a great love of flowers.  This softer side may have extended to a love for poetry and music.  Also, most people in that violent era were seriously religious.  Daily religious practice was an important part of people’s lives and thus has an important role to play in my novels.

My heroine, the Lady Apollonia, was typical of many of her contemporaries in being a faithful follower of the church.  Her household or affinity included a chaplain as well as an almoner.  She maintained a family chapel in her residence in Aust and in my second novel, Plague of a Green Man, she builds a new chapel in her Devon residence, Exeter House.

Lady Apollonia was married and widowed three times.  As a widow, she was entitled to become a vowess, meaning that she participated in a ceremony performed before witnesses during mass.  As she knelt before the Bishop of Worcester, he asked if she desired to be a spouse of Christ.  The vow she took was a declaration of perpetual chastity, but it did not require her to go into a monastery.  It did not curtail her many activities.  She was able, as a spouse of Christ, to remain in the world.

Her status in the church as a vowess protected her for the rest of her life against forcibly being married for her money and property.  This enabled her to remain at the head of her household with status and authority to solve the mysteries which came her way.

The medieval church had problems which are reflected in some of Chaucer’s characters in his Canterbury Tales: the pardoner, the prioress, the monk, among others.  I have based my pardoner, Brandon Landow, on Chaucer’s character and have used him in all seven of my novels.  He seems to be a favourite of my readers.  A prioress like the one in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales appears in Plague of a Green Man as does a monk who will appear in my next novel, Usurper’s Curse.

Formal education in medieval England was only for a small minority of the population.  Lady Apollonia was fortunate to be literate, as explained in Effigy of the Cloven Hoof.  She saw to it that her sons were also part of that literate minority as were many in her affinity.  Two of her sons even had some higher education which, in those days, consisted of the Trivium (Grammar, Rhetoric, Logic) and the Quadrivium (Arithmetic, Music, Astronomy, Geometry).  For most people, education was more practical and directed towards their vocations.

Knowledge of the wider world often was conveyed by people who had travelled as pilgrims, crusaders, or fugitives.  Phyllis of Bath, based on Chaucer’s Wife of Bath, appears in Plague of a Green Man after she had been on several major pilgrimages.  A pilgrim from Cirencester appears in the prologue of Templar’s Prophecy seeking healing at a Christian church in Nubia in Africa.  His grandson from Nubia becomes an important character in that novel and certainly brought experience of the wider world to Cirencester.  Robert Kenwood in King Richard’s Sword is based on a real-life pilgrim whose remains were found under Worcester Cathedral.  The real Worcester Pilgrim apparently made the famous pilgrimage to Santiago de Compestela.  This well-travelled character, Robert Kenwood, will reappear in the forthcoming Usurper’s Curse.

I have not made as much use of crusaders, but they do appear in two of my novels.  Laston Baker, as squire to Apollonia’s son, Sir Alban, went on crusade with him as part of the Teutonic Knights.  The pilgrim mentioned above in Templar’s Prophecy meets an old templar who had been enslaved as a crusader at the Battle of Acre.  The grandson of that old templar also appears as an important character in my novel.

Usurper’s Curse is the title of my forthcoming novel.  Its prologue begins with a fugitive from London appearing in Aust.  Another well-travelled outsider, a druid from northwest Ireland, appears in Joseph of Arimathea’s Treasure and will appear again in Usurper’s Curse.

Thus, pilgrims, crusaders, fugitives, and even druids in my novels brought information about the wider world of Apollonia’s West Country and to her.  This is typical of how many people in medieval England learned about life beyond their local home.

Ian Mortimer feels that many medieval persons took pride in the quantity of their knowledge rather than in its correctness.  In his section on discerning minds, he points out that we moderns might be disturbed if three different churches claimed to have the head of John the Baptist, but a person of that time would dismiss any personal doubts by thinking that if God wished John to have three heads, so be it.  My main character, Lady Apollonia, is something of an exception to this.  She likes to get to the bottom of things which is important to her in solving mysteries.