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Exeter Cathedral in my Stories

Saturday, February 18th, 2023

I am currently discussing, in this blog, the medieval church as found in my West Country Medieval Mystery Series, featuring my heroine, the Lady Apollonia of Aust.  I began with cathedrals and focused last month on Worcester Cathedral.  This month I will speak of Exeter Cathedral, shown in the picture which begins this posting.  Unlike Worcester Cathedral, which is a monastic cathedral, Exeter Cathedral is secular, that is, it has always been run by priests called canons who are not monks.  It shares this status with many other English cathedrals such as Salisbury, Wells, and York.

Plague of a Green Man is set in Exeter, and Exeter Cathedral plays a major role in the story told by that novel.  As I mentioned last time, cathedral churches get their name because each holds the throne or “cathedra” of the local diocesan bishop.  Exeter’s throne is an enormous medieval wood carving, the tallest in England, reaching almost the 68-foot vaulting overhead.  It is shown in the picture on the left.  The carver was probably illiterate, but his portrait and that of his wife are carved on the back side of the throne for all to see.

Exeter had a Christian church presence in late Roman times and an important minster church in the late centuries of the first millennium.  That Anglo-Saxon minster became a cathedral in 1050 when the diocese moved to Exeter from nearby Crediton.  Although the minster had originally been a monastic church, the first cathedral church in Exeter was run by secular canons.  Leofric became the first Bishop of Exeter.  His tomb effigy, which is found in Exeter’s Lady Chapel, is shown below on the right.  The new Diocese of Exeter included both Devon and Cornwall.

Work began on the second cathedral church in Exeter in 1117.  Its architecture was Norman, and its nave and transepts form the footprint for the present church building.  The Norman church was unusual because it had no central tower.  Two side towers defined the extent of the transepts.  These towers survive in the present Gothic church.  The picture at the top shows a Gothic window which was inserted into the north wall of the Norman north tower.

The present cathedral building, started in the 1270’s with the demolition of most of the Norman cathedral, save for the Norman towers and the wall of the nave below the present windows.  The new building was in Gothic architecture and is perhaps the best example of the English Decorated Gothic style.  That style is maintained throughout the building.  Because there is no central tower, the Gothic vaulting that runs from the west to the east of the main building, some 300 feet, is the longest Gothic vaulting in the world.  The beautiful tierceron vault is shown in the picture on the left.

The Cathedral Green served as the main cemetery of Exeter in medieval times.  In modern times people relax on the grass absorbing the sun, as shown in the picture below, but bodies were buried under that lovely grass at the time of Plague of a Green Man, set in 1380.  An interesting character in my novel is Eric Aunk whose job was that of pitmaker of the cemetery.

As I have mentioned in earlier posts, Exeter Cathedral is near and dear to my heart since I served as a steward and tour guide there during the various years we lived in Exeter.  The picture below shows me thirty years ago with one of the cathedral vergers, sitting together in the bishop’s throne described earlier in this posting.

Next month I will describe another type of cathedral related to one of my stories.

Worcester Cathedral in my Stories

Wednesday, January 18th, 2023

In this blog, I am discussing various topics found in my West Country Medieval Mystery Series, featuring my heroine, the Lady Apollonia of Aust.  First, we will focus on the medieval church which had such a meaningful importance in every medieval person’s life that we cannot speak of them without considering its role.  Let’s begin with English church buildings, many of which survive into our time.

I would like to start with medieval cathedrals, beginning with Worchester, shown of the left.  The settings of five of my seven books are within the Diocese of Worchester, one of just 15 dioceses in medieval England.  King Richard’s Sword is set in Worcester itself.

A church becomes a cathedral only when the seat or throne or “cathedra” of the bishop of the diocese resides in it.  Worcester’s cathedral church was in the church of Worcester Priory.  Some of the other cathedrals in medieval England were also in monastic churches, and they were called “monastic cathedrals”.  Others, such as Exeter Cathedral, which we will consider next month, were not in monastic churches and were called “secular cathedrals”, since they were not run by monks but by priests of the Roman Church called “canons”.

Worcester has been the seat of a bishop since 680 AD and was a monastic cathedral by 983 when St. Oswald built a new church and established a Benedictine priory with it.  St. Wulfstan began the present building in 1084 with its architecture ranging from Norman to Perpendicular at the end of the Gothic period.  A drawing of Wulfstan’s original Norman church is shown above.

Monasteries have other buildings, besides their church, and these are usually attached to the church by a cloister.  A chapter house for the monks to meet and conduct their business is always an important one of them.  Worcester’s chapter house is an early circular one, dating to 1180.  The interior is pictured on the right, while on the outside, the chapter house is octagonal to give it strength.

The crypt of the present Worcester Cathedral is from St. Wulfstan’s church and is Norman style architecture.  The architecture of the “quire” or choir of the cathedral is Early English Gothic.  Worcester Cathedral has two transepts crossing the nave, much like Salisbury and Lincoln Cathedrals, probably to facilitate the private saying of the Holy Office by clergy or monks.  The nave itself has several styles of architecture in transition from Norman to Gothic.  I am shown seated in the nave of the cathedral pictured below as I study these varied styles.

The version of the church at the time of King Richard’s Sword was much as we see it today, but it did feature a free-standing tower 65 meters tall called the Clochium on the north side of the church.  The Clochium was a massive, octagonal stone structure with a lead spire on top built circa 1220, probably used to toll the hours of the Opus Dei before the central bell tower of the Gothic structure was built.  The drawing of the medieval cathedral and priory below shows how the Clochium was higher than any other feature of the medieval buildings.  Early in my novel, when Lady Apollonia visited the priory, she had to walk past the Clochium to enter the cathedral through the north door.

Please join us next time when I discuss Exeter Cathedral as an example of a secular medieval cathedral.

Medieval Tomb Effigies in My Stories

Sunday, December 18th, 2022

Recently I have been discussing various topics found in my West Country Medieval Mystery Series featuring my heroine, the Lady Apollonia of Aust.  This month, let us consider medieval tomb effigies which survive and play a role in some of my stories.  Effigies are carved recumbent figures representing deceased persons, lying full-length on top of the tomb.

My very first novel, Effigy of the Cloven Hoof, has “effigy” in its title.  The image at the top of this page is shown on the cover of the paperback edition.  It was obtained from the picture just below, taken in the South Aisle of Exeter Cathedral, by cropping the effigy on the left side, modifying the effigy to have a cloven hoof, and replacing the sign above the effigy with the motto, “Malefic Triumphant”.  The fictional effigy in my story was discovered by Lady Apollonia in a village church in Somerset.

The Plague or Black Death was a catastrophic series of diseases in England, starting in the mid-14th century.  My third novel, Memento Mori, is set in Gloucester in 1392.  The cover of the paperback version shows the head of the effigy in the picture below this paragraph.  It is the effigy of a transi tomb in the North Aisle of Exeter Cathedral.  Such tombs were a reaction to the Black Death in England and throughout Europe showed the decay of the body after death.  The title of my book literally means to illustrate “remember that you must die”.

One of my first encounters with such a tomb was in Tewksbury Abbey in Gloucester shown below.  I am examining such a tomb effigy showing a decaying body, set in stone.  Such representations were meant as a reminder that as the viewer lives, he or she will eventually perish and decay as shown in such effigies.

Lady Apollonia was overwhelmed with death at the beginning of Memento Mori, having lost her third husband and her second son, the latter dying of plague while on Crusade with the Teutonic Knights.  As she tries to work through her grief, she seeks to develop an appropriate tomb for her son.  Again, I used a tomb effigy in Exeter Cathedral, shown below, as my inspiration for that tomb.  This effigy includes her son’s beloved horse and the loyal squire who served him so well.

Effigies developed over the centuries.  The oldest one in Exeter Cathedral is from the 11th century and depicts the first Bishop of Exeter when the seat of the bishop was moved from Crediton to Exeter.  You will note that this effigy, shown on the left, is much flatter than the later examples shown above.  Over the centuries, the bodies became three dimensional and more realistic.

An important aspect of medieval tomb effigies for modern viewers is that they often reveal much about the clothing of the period which they represent.  The final picture in this posting shows a tomb in the South Transept of Exeter Cathedral, depicting a 14th century aristocratic couple from the Courtenay family of Devon, England.  One of their descendants is Charles Courtenay who is the current Earl of Devon.  The man in this effigy is dressed as a medieval knight in armor while his lady beautifully displays developments in female garments so characteristic of the 14th century.

I hope to see you next month.

Saint Apollonia

Friday, November 18th, 2022

Recently, I have been discussing various medieval English place names found in specific books of my West Country Medieval Mystery Series featuring my heroine, the Lady Apollonia of Aust.  Now, I would like to change topics and share why my lead character, Lady Apollonia, was named for Saint Apollonia.

Saint Apollonia was a real person who lived in Alexandria, Egypt, at the beginning of the 3rd century AD.  She was an elderly deaconess of the Christian church who was martyred in the middle of that century during a persecution of local Christians.  She did not flee the persecution in her city but remained to provide comfort to other Christians.  She was arrested and forced to sacrifice to the local gods.  Refusing to do this, she instead made the sign of the cross and was persecuted by having all her teeth extracted.  Finally, when confronted with death by burning, she leaped into the flames willingly.

She was initially venerated in Alexandria and eventually in the West where the Roman and Orthodox churches celebrate her feast day on February 9.  She has been pictured since medieval times as a younger woman, not an aged deaconess, usually with a pincer holding a tooth in her hand.  I am shown on the upper left, with our friend Phil Brockington, as we visited a representation of Saint Apollonia in Exeter Cathedral in England in 2018.  A closeup, on the right of that same representation of Saint Apollonia, pictures her as less than aged.  Her hand grasps a pincer holding a tooth as she became the patron saint of those who suffered toothache.  A painting of Saint Apollonia by Zurbaran on the lower right portrays the same qualities.  Saint Apollonia in our day is the patron saint of dentists,

To explain how Apollonia was named for this saint, I have extracted most of four paragraphs from Effigy of the Cloven Hoof.  They explain the circumstances from the memories of Apollonia’s elder brother, Ferdinand:

“Ferdinand’s thoughts turned back to the events surrounding the day of his sister’s birth as he galloped at the forefront of his troop. Ferdinand was eight years old at the time and regarded himself already a man. Although the passing years had robbed him of any memory of his mother’s face, he could vividly remember her swelling body awkwardly moving about the private apartments of his father’s moated manor house. His mother had been plagued continually by throbbing toothache through the whole of her pregnancy. She had been assured by her ladies that at the time of her birth travail the offending tooth could be extracted. Then, she was told, she would be so preoccupied with her labour that the pulsating pain of her jaw would sink from her consciousness, and the babe in her womb would not be threatened by the drawing of a rotten tooth.

“His mother had a special altar to Saint Apollonia erected in the family chapel in honour of the protectress of this scheme. She struggled daily to carry her swollen body into its incense filled vaults. There she would offer her prayers for the safe delivery of her child and blessed relief from the ceaseless pain in her face. It seemed a perfectly reasonable safeguard, as everyone knew (that) … with the saint’s blessing, the birthing chamber would become the place of entry of a new life dedicated to her and would also provide the long-desired end to excruciating suffering which her martyrdom had memorialised.

“Ferdinand remembered that when the early pangs of her approaching labour began, his frail mother seemed more than ready to get on with it. He and his father went off early in the morning, leaving the women of the household in charge. They learned of the birth of a girlchild when the father and son returned late from the day’s hunt. The saint had heard his mother’s prayers, Ferdinand was told, and his healthy baby sister had been safely delivered. His mother too had achieved release from her agonising pain.

“He could remember visiting her bedside, repulsed by the hot, fetid air of the chamber. To his boyish eye, the dreadful disarray of his mother’s hair, damp and stringing limply across her grey, drawn face, was most alarming. Still, she had seemed wonderfully happy, smiling ecstatically as she cried aloud to unseen spirits, ‘Blessed Apollonia, you are merciful. Gratia, gratia plena. My daughter shall bear your name and that of the Blessed Virgin.’”

I will continue my comments next month.  Please join us then.

Exeter, Devon: The Setting of “Plague of a Green Man”

Friday, October 21st, 2022

Recently, I have been discussing various medieval English place names found in specific books of my West Country Medieval Mystery Series featuring my heroine, the Lady Apollonia of Aust.  This month, I want to share reasons for my selection of Exeter as the setting of Plague of a Green Man, the second book in my series.

I have mentioned earlier that the topics of those posts were about villages I had discovered in 1986-87 on trips to England to learn about my Aust Family heritage.  We stayed in Topsham on our first trip.  Topsham is now the southernmost part of the ancient city of Exeter and is located on the east bank of the River Exe over three miles south of Exeter’s city center.  Our accommodation in Topsham, pictured above, shows the Dutch architecture of that village in medieval times

This was our first introduction to the city of Exeter.  Two years later, my husband, Lou, was exploring various English universities at which he might spend a sabbatical year.  The best opportunity for him turned out to be as Visiting Professor in the Computer Science Department at Exeter University.   From August 1988 to August 1989, we lived in Exeter and stayed most of that academic year in a delightful, terraced house facing the river Exe.  It is the third-row house from the right as shown in the photograph below.

Lou had a long walk every day to the university, taking him right through the city center.  Often, he walked past the medieval cathedral which became important in my life.  Early in our stay in Exeter, we began attending Sunday services at the Cathedral Church of St. Peter which is shown below.  I visited the cathedral church one day and volunteered to become a Monday steward, a person who greets visitors, answers questions, and helps them find anything in the church in which they might be interested.  The head of the Monday stewards became my mentor, and I eventually began to give hour long guided tours to groups of visitors.  Our year in Exeter was so wonderful that we wanted to return.

Lou returned to Exeter University in 1993 for another year as a visiting professor.  This time we lived in an apartment, and I returned to Exeter Cathedral as a steward and tour guide.  Although Lou retired from Valparaiso University in 1994, he returned to Exeter University for much of 1995 and I went back to the cathedral for stewarding and guiding.  Indeed, we repeated this for many months again in 1998.  Exeter had become a second home to us.

I finished Effigy of the Cloven Hoof in 2010.  Its story was set in 1400 with some flashbacks to earlier periods in the life of Lady Apollonia.  Our love of Exeter, from those four different years in which we lived there, inspired me to write a prequel to my first book entitled Plague of a Green Man, and set it in Exeter twenty years earlier in 1380.

The center of Exeter preserves much of its medieval heritage.  Almost the entire medieval wall still stands, and although the medieval gates are gone, their locations go back to Roman times.  A portion of the wall near the south gate is shown above.  The street pattern within those walls was largely determined during the medieval period and earlier.  The cathedral is the largest medieval building, and its interior was essentially completed before 1380.  Thus, Lady Apollonia could get a tour of the great church in my novel not all that different from a tour that I might have guided thirty years ago.

Other medieval churches and the ancient Guild Hall survived the bombing of World War II.  Some monastic buildings also survive, either intact or in ruins, and I have worked many of these into my story.  There is a medieval street, Stepcote Hill, pictured on the right, and it too appears in the plot of Plague of a Green Man.  Nearby places in Devon also appear in this novel, examples being: the wilds of Dartmoor and the quarries of Beer, a nearby coastal village.

Next time I would like to discuss Saint Apollonia for whom my heroine was named because I first encountered her image in Exeter Cathedral.

Aust in my Stories

Sunday, September 18th, 2022

Recently, I have been discussing various medieval English place names found in specific books in my West Country Medieval Mystery Series featuring my heroine, the Lady Apollonia of Aust.  This month, I want to share reasons for my selection of Aust as the home village of the Lady.  The picture on the left shows the sign, erected at the beginning of the current millennium, welcoming visitors to the Village of Aust.

The name of the village is very dear to my heart since my name before marriage was Ruth Ellen Aust.  My brother and I were interested in tracing our Aust roots and made our first trips to England in 1986 and 1987.  We visited villages in Wiltshire such as Colerne and Marshfield about which I wrote in my last two blog postings.  Also, we visited the village of Atworth in Wiltshire from which my grandfather Aust emigrated to Ohio as well as the nearby the town of Melksham.  These last two names in Wiltshire are places where some of my English relatives still lived in the 1980’s, so my brother and I could meet them as well.

John Somerton, an amateur genealogist in England, was able to trace my Aust ancestors back 13 generations.  Last month I wrote about Ferdinando Aust at the top of the family tree which John Somerton created for us.  Perhaps Ferdinando or one of his predecessors took the family surname from the village of Aust.

So, my brother. Jim, and I felt that we had to visit Aust, an ancient village in Gloucestershire where ferries have connected England to Wales since Roman times until they were replaced in the 1960’s by a motorway bridge.  The picture on the right shows my brother and me in 1986 standing next to the village sign that was replaced in the new millennium.  A picture of me with my cousin Dennis Aust at the earlier village sign in 1993 is shown below.

The village of Aust inspired me on these and other visits to make Aust the primary setting for my first novel, Effigy of the Cloven Hoof.  The great love of Lady Apollonia’s life in my novels was Edward, a franklin from Aust.  Apollonia married Edward after the death of her first husband and moved to his home in Aust where the couple raised five sons.

When I first visited Aust, the medieval parish church was redundant and not open to the public.  There were graves in the churchyard which were well tended, but the church seemed to have no patron saint.  Eventually, I learned that John Wycliffe, the 14th century reformer, had the living of this medieval church just when Lady Apollonia and Edward were raising their five sons.  Although the Oxford scholar probably spent little time in Aust, I had to work this real-life character into my stories.  Happily, the church in recent years has reopened as the Chapelry of Saint John and offers limited religious services as the daughter church of a nearby village.

On our last visit to Aust in 2019 with our younger son, Charlie, and his family, we enjoyed eating at The Boar’s Head, a pub in the village that survived after the ferry to Wales ceased to operate when the M4 motorway built a suspension bridge across the River Severn at Aust.  A picture of us waiting to go into The Boar’s Head appears at the end of this posting.  The village went through a period of decline towards the end of the 20th century, but the Boar’s Head pub survived, perhaps because Aust is about equal distance between Bristol and Cardiff.  Businessmen from these two cities could meet there for a very good lunch together.

In our more recent visits, we have the sense that Aust is becoming more prosperous.  It no longer offers a ferry across the River Severn, but people who work in Bristol seem to find it a desirable distant suburb of Bristol in which to live.

Please join us again next time to discuss yet another aspect of my Lady Apolonia’s medieval life.

Marshfield in my Stories

Friday, August 19th, 2022

Recently, I have been discussing various medieval locations found in specific books in my West Country Medieval Mystery Series featuring my heroine, the Lady Apollonia of Aust.  This month, I want to describe my selection of Marshfield as the birthplace of the Lady.

Marshfield is a village located so near the southern border of Gloucestershire that it is within walking distance of Colerne, Wiltshire, the village that we discussed in last month’s posting.  I feel a close attachment to Marshfield because my paternal grandmother, whose family name was Isaac, emigrated from Marshfield to Ohio in the 19th century.  She lived in my hometown of Sandusky, Ohio, so that I was able to know her when I was a child.  The picture above is of a plaque concerning one of my grandmother Isaac’s ancestors, Elias Isaac, Esq.  It is prominently displayed on the wall of the medieval parish church in Marshfield, as shown in the picture on the right.

On my first visit to Marshfield in 1986, I was especially interested in my roots in the West Country of England.  Traveling then with my husband, Lou, my brother, Jim Aust, and his wife, we found the parish church to be the best surviving building from the medieval period in all of Marshfield.  The picture on the left shows us in the church on that visit being led by an English friend who was helping us find our roots.

I felt I couldn’t see enough of Marshfield.  The picture below shows a local Marshfield man with me and my husband as we are about to climb the church tower to get an overall view of the village and the surrounding countryside.  The local man had come to the church in the late afternoon to wind the clock high in the tower, but he kindly allowed me to do the honors that day as shown in the picture at the end of this posting.

In my stories, the father of Lady Apollonia was a nobleman, the Earl of Marshfield, a fictional title I also created.  Apollonia had an elder brother, Ferdinand, who inherited the title, Earl of Marshfield, upon the death of her father.  In my stories, Ferdinand had no children; therefore Lady Apollonia’s eldest son, Hugh, became the Earl of Marshfield upon Ferdinand’s death in 1506.  The role of the Earl of Marshfield was important in several of my stories, either because of his participation in the royal court or his help in law enforcement locally in Gloucestershire.

I named Lady Apollonia’s brother using the oldest first name in my Aust family tree: Ferdinando Aust.  Ferdinando seems an unusual English name, but there it is, 13 generations ago in my English family tree, appearing in a couple of later generations along with more common names such as Richard.  My brother, Jim, no history buff, suggested that the first Ferdinando may have washed ashore at the time of the Spanish Armada in 1588, perhaps entering England from Wales using the ferry at the village of Aust.  It is a romantic notion but doesn’t fit the dates.  The first Ferdinando arrived about a century earlier.  Perhaps he emigrated from Spain in 1492 or came from the Spanish Netherlands via the wool business?  We can only speculate, but I hope you see why I wanted to use Marshfield in my stories with Ferdinand as the Earl of Marshfield.

See you again next time.

Colerne Leat in my Stories

Monday, July 18th, 2022

Recently, I have been discussing various medieval topics found in specific books in my West Country Medieval Mystery Series which features my heroine, the Lady Apollonia of Aust.  This month, I want to talk about my selection of Colerne Leat as the place where Lady Apollonia lived with her first husband, Geoffrey Montecute.

Colerne Leat is a fictional name I introduced in Effigy of the Cloven Hoof while Colerne is a real village in Wiltshire very near and dear to my heart.  Starting with my great-grandfather Aust and going back many generations, my Aust ancestors resided in Colerne.  Some of these ancestors worked on the nearby Box Tunnel, built in 1841, by which the Great Western Railway from London was connected with Bath, just eight miles to the west.  The Austs were so numerous in Colerne at one time that a section of the village was once called Aust End.

When I visited Colerne in 1993, there was only one Aust family still living there.  The picture below shows Henry Aust and his wife in their home hosting me with my brother, Jim Aust.  Henry had the same name as Jim’s and my father.  Henry’s wife had determined that we were eighth cousins.

The graveyard of the parish church has many tombs with the name of Aust, and many of these were still readable during my first visit to that graveyard in 1986.  Sadly, acid rain and pollution have taken a toll on many of the stone letters in the intervening years, so most of the inscriptions are no longer legible.  The picture at the top of this posting shows me with my American cousin Dennis Aust on a 1993 visit looking at a large weathered Aust tomb near the entrance to the parish church in Colerne.

This parish church goes back to Saxon times.  The present building is over 900 years old although much of it was restored in the Victorian period.  The picture above shows my son Charlie, and his wife, Shelly, sitting with me in front of the north wall displaying some stones from the previous 8th-9th century-Saxon church which was built on the same site.

Colerne was a typical medieval village with its parish church, tithe barn, pub, and manor house.  The picture on the left shows the medieval tithe barn next to the parish church.  The village is older, however, with 28 families living there at the time of the Domesday Book in the late 11th century.  In World War II, there was an RAF base next to Colerne, and excavations there have revealed a Roman Villa, so Colerne has an ancient history going back to the Roman occupation of Britain.

Also in Wiltshire is a famous estate called Longleat. “Leat” is a word common in the West Country of England to denote a watercourse dug to run a mill.  These mill streams were extremely common at the time of my novels, so I decided to combine the word “leat” with Colerne to create fictional Colerne Leat, the location of the lands of the knight Geoffrey Montecute.  My brother Jim, shown above, honored Longleat by calling his house “Shortleat” because of a sometimes-wet ditch which ran behind it.

In honor of the importance of Colerne in Aust history and our family’s interest in the leats of the West Country, I created the name “Colerne Leat” for Lady Apollonia’s first married home.

Hope to see you next time!

Women’s Rights in the Middle Ages

Saturday, June 18th, 2022

For over a year I have been discussing various medieval topics found in specific books in my West Country Medieval Mystery Series which features my heroine, the Lady Apollonia of  Aust.  My topics, starting this month,  are not tied to any specific book.  Women’s Rights in the Middle Ages is based on a short article I wrote for the monthly newsletter in my retirement community, and I would like to share it with you in this blog posting.

It is an interesting question, even in our modern day.  What do we mean by a person’s “rights”?  In our day, American woman have the authority to fulfill their responsibilities as citizens, a moral or legal entitlement to do something of their choosing.  In the Middle Ages, all women were seen as inferior to men and their lives were controlled by men.  Even in the case of the nobility, a young woman’s life, such as my heroine’s, was that of a pawn.  Adulthood for a girl began very early.  She was of marriageable age by twelve years old; many young noblewomen were married by age fourteen.

In addition, the medieval young woman had very little say in the choice of her husband.  Women could inherit property and wealth, but these things would be controlled by the men in her life, her husband, her father, or male guardian.

When designing the heroine in my stories placed in the West Country of England in the late fourteenth century, I created Apollonia as the daughter of an Earl.  Her marriage was arranged by her father when she was fourteen.  She and her first husband had no children, and when he died in a hunting accident, she was left with significant wealth and lands.  She was told by her surviving older brother that she must marry again, and the man who was asking for her hand was a franklin.  He was of lower class than she but a wealthy merchant who was highly regarded in his community.

As they lived together, my heroine fell in love with her second husband, and they had five sons together who were grown men when that husband died of natural causes.  Her third husband was a dear friend, significantly older than she, who died after only several years of their marriage.  She was left a very wealthy and landed lady.  A drawing by my daughter-in-law Shelly Foster of a mature Apollonia is shown below.  As such, she knew she must find a way to defend herself and to do that, she had herself declared a “vowess”.

Her vow was perpetual chastity in a church ceremony before the bishop of her diocese.  The lady was allowed to remain in the world, not enter a convent but be protected by the Church as an independent, wealthy woman and landowner.  She did achieve “rights” as an independent woman, but only through the protection of the Church.  Therefore, few women of the Middle Ages had “rights” unless unusual circumstances in their lives enabled them to live beyond the control of men.

Please be with us next time when we continue to discuss life and sites in England in the Middle Ages.

Medieval Curiosities in “Usurper’s Curse”

Wednesday, May 18th, 2022

Greetings friends and my special thanks for joining us as we continue examining topics which arise in Usurper’s Curse, the seventh book in my Lady Apollonia West Country Mysteries Series.  In this monthly posting, I am writing of several medieval curiosities that play a role in Usurper’s Curse.

The first of these occurs in chapters 8 and 9 when a newborn baby is found on the doorstep of Lady Apollonia’s manor in Aust.  (A picture of the building in Aust which inspired my vision of the manor is shown below.)  The curiosity was not the abandoning of a foundling.  Such things have happened throughout human history.  This baby was abandoned in a basket along with a small pouch of salt.

Nan gives the following explanation to Lady Apollonia in Usurper’s Curse: “If I am remembering correctly,” she tells the Lady, “this is part of a ritual that says that whoever abandoned the infant with a gift of salt to you wishes that the child should be cared for and baptized.  As you know, for many poor people, salt is very expensive.”  I leave it to you to read that section of Usurper’s Curse to see what happens to this abandoned child.

The next curiosity occurs in Chapters 9 and 10.  It is a problem that confronts Lady Apollonia’s brother, Ferdinand, the Earl of Marshfield, in a spring-fed pond behind his manor in Marshfield.  The pond has turned blood-red, leading local people to say this is because of Ferdinand’s support of King Henry IV, a usurper with blood on his hands.  I was inspired to include this curious incident in my novel by something that occurred in medieval times in Finchampstead in Berkshire.  Again, I leave it to you to read the relevant chapters in Usurper’s Curse to learn more about the Blood-Red Spring in my story.

The final curiosity is something more familiar to modern readers than to medieval peasants, namely an eclipse of the sun.  Introducing this idea allowed the return of a character, Cunomorus Amairogen, an Irish Druid who had appeared in my fifth novel, Joseph of Arimathea’s Treasure.  The ancient Celts were keenly interested in the equinoxes and solstices of the sun and had a particular interest in the eclipses of the moon.

As a Druid, Cunomorus was a member of the religious order of the Celts.  This order consisted of the intellectual elites and served all tribes in Celtic society.  Although the Romans made efforts to wipe out the Druids in Britain, they survived much longer in Ireland.  The Druids would have been the surviving Celts with the most interest in and knowledge of the sun and moon.

Since many medieval Englishmen would not have understood much of eclipses and would have been very superstitious about anything affecting the brightness of the sun, I decided to bring Cunomorus into my story to observe the solar eclipse from the Aust Cliff, shown in the picture below.

This is not an unreasonable event to have included in my story because there had been an eclipse in the early 15th century that was observed as a total eclipse in northwestern France, just across the English Channel from southwestern England.