Archive for May, 2020

Last Thoughts from “Effigy of the Cloven Hoof”

Tuesday, May 26th, 2020

The posts on this blog starting in February have featured various medieval topics that arise in my first Lady Apollonia novel, Effigy of the Cloven Hoof.  In future months, I plan to do the same kind of posts for my other novels, starting with Plague of a Green Man in June.  This posting will comment on some important medieval topics not addressed earlier.

Before speaking to them, I would like to mention my inspiration for the role which the crown of Anne of Bohemia plays in the conclusion of my story.  Pictured above is The Crown of Margaret of York which I observed in 2002 in the Treasury of Aachen Cathedral in Germany.  It dates to the 15th century but gave me a good idea of what kind of crown might have been worn by King Richard II’s wife, Anne of Bohemia.

The first general topic is the role which social class played in England at the end of the 14th century.  Here, I should explain that until the 14th century, medieval Europe was based on just three classes: the aristocrats, the clergy, and the peasants.  The first two groups owned or controlled the land and included almost all the literate population.  The last of the groupings included 90% of the population who owned little, and almost all were illiterate.

A new group of the lower class emerged in 14th century England, the merchants.  These people were not aristocrats, but the successful ones were able to achieve two things which had been characteristic of the nobility: the acquisition of wealth and property.

Lady Apollonia was born a noblewoman, being the daughter of the Earl of Marshfield.  Her brother, Ferdinand, inherited the title and the property that came with it when their father died.  Two members of the Lady’s household or personal affinity were clergymen: Brother William and Friar Francis.  Many others in her affinity came from peasant stock or from merchant’s families.  The Lady’s first husband was noble—Sir Geoffrey Montacute of Colerne Leat.  Then, she married down into the merchant class for her subsequent marriages to Edward Aust and Robert Windemere.  As a widow she inherited lands and fortunes from all three husbands.

Another historic fact that arises in my first book is the usurpation by Henry Bolingbroke of the English throne of King Richard II.  Though Bolingbroke was a member of the royal family, he was not in line to inherit the throne.  His usurpation occurred in 1399 and contributed significantly to the uncertain times in England of 1400 when my book is set.  The death of Richard II, whose official portrait is shown at the left, occurred while he was imprisoned.  This encouraged people to question Henry IV’s motive to have him dead while still in his thirties and contributed significantly to those troublesome times.  I also deal with this subject in my most recent book number seven, Usurper’s Curse, set in 1406 during the rule of the usurper, King Henry IV.

The last topic I want to discuss briefly in this post is leprosy.  In the Middle Ages, leprosy was truly feared by everyone at that time but not understood very well.  It is thought that many types of skin disease may have been called leprosy.  People were afraid to have contact with lepers, and they were ostracized from society.  Effigy of the Cloven Hoof begins with a great storm and a tidal bore on the River Severn which kills a number of unsheltered lepers traveling through Lady Apollonia’s lands on their way to a leper hospital upstream in Shrewsbury where they could find sanctuary and care.

Leprosy was so badly feared and avoided in the Middle Ages that I speak to it in this story and also in some of my later books.  Therefore, I will write about the disease in some future posts, dealing with it in those books.

The Church in “Effigy of the Cloven Hoof”, part 4

Monday, May 11th, 2020

In recent posts, I have been emphasizing some aspects of the fourteenth century Roman Catholic Church which have appeared in my first novel, Effigy of the Cloven Hoof.  These have included the presence of clerics resident in the household of my heroine, Lady Apollonia of Aust, the decision of her son Thomas to become a priest, various real English monasteries that appear in the story, the appearance of John Wycliffe, the reformer who actually held the living of Aust, and the Lady’s personal decision as a widow to devote her life to the church as a vowess.  The medieval parish church in Axbridge, Somerset, where I placed Apollonia’s son Father Thomas, is shown above.

This post will speak to more general characteristics of the church in medieval life because it was inevitable that the Church must be part of any stories set in the fourteenth century.

First, the medieval Roman Catholic Church was a major temporal power which had great wealth and controlled a significant amount of the land in the Kingdom of England.  This may be hard to understand when we consider the relatively small Vatican State (110 acres in Italy) under its control today.  The medieval church owned property throughout Europe amounting to a third of all land, but it was not all controlled centrally by the pope as much of it was distributed between countless dioceses and monastic institutions.  Although the church expected individuals to contribute a tenth of their incomes in tithes to its coffers, this church property itself was generally tax-exempt.  A monastic church tithe barn in Glastonbury, Somerset, built for holding these tithes, is shown below on the left.

While the Church enjoyed a religious monopoly, it did not tolerate challenges, dissent, or protest.  People and movements which did not agree with Church doctrine current at the time had been branded as heretical since the earliest days.  Such church sponsored programs as the crusade against the Cathars in southern France or the declaration that John Wycliffe, who appears in my book, was condemned as a heretic were expressions of church power.

The church in the middle ages was an important part of the everyday life of most people, regardless of class.  Worship services were attended regularly, and women especially were known to attend church three to five times daily for prayer in addition to weekly confession and mass.  Lady Apollonia and many in her affinity maintained their prayer routine whenever possible.  A private chapel within Aust Manor was used daily.

Heaven, hell, and purgatory were truly threatening possibilities to most medieval people.  Purgatory was a temporary state where an individual who died might go as punishment for one’s sins and as a place of purification before going to heaven.  Many feared that they would have to spend a long period in purgatory or might be sent to hell having committed a mortal sin, and such fears led to one of the great abuses committed by the medieval church:  the sale of indulgences.

An indulgence is the full or partial remission of the temporal punishment mentioned above and could be granted by the Catholic Church after the sinner had confessed and received absolution.  The Church’s abuse was the sale of counterfeit indulgences by dishonest clerics for their own gain.  In the epilogue of Effigy of the Cloven Hoof, I introduce a character, the Pardoner Brandon Landow, who is based upon Geoffrey Chaucer’s character in the Canterbury Tales.  Landow plays a significant role in all my later novels.

Two aspects of the medieval church that appear briefly in Effigy of the Cloven Hoof also play a larger role in other of my novels.  These are the significance of pilgrimage and relics.  For now, I will just say that in this the first book, Apollonia considers going on pilgrimage when she is a teenage widow and that she becomes involved with phony relics in the epilogue.  There will be more information about all these topics in future blog posts concerning my other novels.