Archive for June, 2020

The City of Exeter in “Plague of a Green Man”, Part 2

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2020

The city of Exeter in Devon, England was my choice for the setting Plague of a Green Man, which I envisioned as a prequel to my first novel, Effigy of the Cloven Hoof.  In my last post, I tried to explain how my experience of living in Exeter stimulated the choice.  Come along with me as we discuss some of the history of Exeter in this posting of the blog.

Exeter is an ancient city; its history goes back to the first century Roman occupation of Brittainia.  A Roman fort was constructed there about 55 CE called Isca Dumnoniorum, often abbreviated to Isca by the Romans.  The Second Augustan Legion served there for two decades before relocating to Wales.  Dumnoniorum was the Latin name for the capital of the Dumnonian tribe of Celts resident during and after the Roman occupation which ended 380 CE.

At the beginning of the seventh century, Saxons moved in and called the city Escanceaster.  Danes began raiding the town in the ninth century.  In 1048, Exeter replaced Crediton as the seat of the Bishop of Devon and Cornwall with Leofric installed as bishop in 1050.  A picture of his effigy is shown on the left.  Two years after the Norman Conquest in 1066, Exeter rebelled against William the Conqueror but was subdued after an 18-day siege.

Despite significant bombing during the Second World War, there are many medieval ruins and buildings which survive.  William built Rougemont Castle, the gatehouse of which survives and is pictured on the right.  A new Norman-style cathedral was started in 1133.  Its side towers were incorporated into the Fourteenth Century decorated Gothic-style building which still stands.  It was completed largely before 1380, the time when I set Plague of as Green Man in Exeter. It plays a role in my story, as does the medieval bridge over the River Exe.  Half of that bridge survives as a ruin.  Another medieval survivor which I use in my story is the series of underground passages which brought water to the center of medieval Exeter. The underground passages also play a role in my story.

An important aspect of Exeter’s economy in the medieval period which continued to develop for centuries, was the wool trade.  A ban on the export of wool by King Edward III caused weaving and cloth-making to become important in England.  Exeter on the River Exe was well situated both for the location of fulling mills as well as the export of wool products. Large flocks of Devonshire sheep provided an excellent supply of wool for the manufacture of those products.

In Plague of a Green Man set in 1380, my heroine, Lady Apollonia, and her second husband, Edward, are in the wool business and have gradually expanded from their home base in Aust to other locations in the West Country such as Exeter.  The part of the city known as Exeter Island in the River Exe just outside the medieval wall, was rich in fulling mills and still houses a pub known as the Bishop Blaize which was built in 1327.  It was a center for the wool trade until 1471, well after my story, when the later-built Tucker’s Hall replaced it.  The Bishop Blaize Pub continues in operation today and is shown below.

Please join us in our next post when I shall tell you more about the area in Devon surrounding Exeter and how that plays into my story.

The City of Exeter in “Plague of a Green Man”, Part 1

Monday, June 8th, 2020

The second novel in my Lady Apollonia West Country Mysteries is a prequel, Plague of a Green Man, set in Exeter, Devon, in 1380, twenty years earlier than my first novel.  I selected Exeter because it is the city which enabled me to experience firsthand a living survivor of medieval England.

In four different years between 1988 and 1998, I lived in Exeter with my husband, Lou, who was a Visiting Professor in the Computer Science Department at the University of Exeter.  Each time we lived in a different part of the city but always close enough to its center that I could walk to the 14th century medieval cathedral built in the English Decorated Gothic style.

Although I had no direct connection with the University of Exeter, I was intensely interested in the ancient city’s history going all the way back to Roman times.  The modern city center is enclosed by remains of a medieval wall that has the same footprint as its Roman wall and displays its Roman origins in places.  Though badly bombed during World War II, there are still many buildings and ruins in Exeter from the medieval period, and I wanted to explore these, frequently with my husband in his spare time.

As a history major in college, Exeter Cathedral was of particular interest to me, so I went there one day shortly after our arrival, when Lou was at work; I was greeted by one of the Cathedral Stewards, volunteers who welcome visitors.  I asked if there was anything that I could do as a volunteer and was told that I could serve as one of them, and that is how I became a regular Monday Steward.  A picture of a younger me with the Monday Stewards is shown above.

In addition to becoming a regular Steward, I read extensively about the cathedral’s history and designed an hour-long tour to use as a volunteer guide who leads visitors around the cathedral, helping them to connect with various aspects of the ancient building.  My husband, Lou, tells me that the beginning of the tour of Exeter Cathedral which my heroine, Lady Apollonia, is given in my medieval novel reminds him of how I always started my guided tours when I was given the opportunity some 600 years later.

The Englishman Ken Maun, who led the Monday stewards and became my good friend, took me under his wing and tutelage and shared his insights with me; it was a wonderful chance to learn more about this magnificent building.  I was given hands-on experience of a 14th century building that would never have been possible in my home country of America.  Even more than the building itself, the cathedral held monuments from the medieval period that revealed much about important people of the period, including how they dressed.  The Courtenay tomb in the south transept is shown on the left.  It displays two carved stone effigies of an earl and his duchess: husband and wife.  They were historic Devon aristocrats and are shown wearing clothes, head to toe, which were fashionable in 14th century Exeter.

My extraordinary experiences as a steward and tour guide at Exeter Cathedral inspired me to set Plague of a Green Man in 14th century Exeter.  The cathedral plays a role in my story, as will other medieval features of Exeter, which I look forward to discussing in my next post.