Saturday, March 27

Masters of Stone: the Medieval Stonemasons

In our twenty-first century urbanised world, buildings of enormous height and size are all around us and are so familiar a sight that we rarely pay them much attention. We are accustomed to living, working and shopping in them. When a new one is built, we see huge cranes and other heavy machinery employed, with elevators and lifts taking contractors up to where they need to be. 

Canterbury Cathedral © E.M. Powell

Anybody time-travelling from the medieval world to now would be understandably astonished by what we can achieve. Yet the reverse is also true. We cannot of course travel back to medieval times. But we can stand next to a vast cathedral such as Canterbury and wonder how on earth it could be constructed by people who had only the most basic of tools.  

There has been a cathedral in Canterbury for more than 1,400 years. Saint Augustine consecrated the first cathedral there not long after his arrival in the year 597. There is no trace of the original building, as a fire in 1067 destroyed it and it had to be completely rebuilt. Archbishop Lanfranc oversaw much of the construction, but it was his successor, Archbishop – and later Saint – Anselm, who built the ‘glorious quire’ –of which more later––and the enormous crypt. 

The credit might be Anselm’s but his hands were not the ones that wielded axes, hammers and chisels, and mixed mortar that is still holding up the walls after almost a thousand years. Those people, with their remarkable skill and ingenuity, were the medieval stonemasons. 

Building- Canterbury or Anglo-Catalan Psalter 12th Century 
Public Domain- British Library

The stonemasons’ guild, the Worshipful Company of Masons, is one of the ancient Livery Companies of the City of London. It was formed for the purpose of regulating the craft of stonemasonry and ensuring that standards could be properly maintained and rewarded. The earliest available records of regulation from the Court of Aldermen are from 1356.

The preceding two centuries had already seen massive growth in stone construction–royal, ecclesiastical and municipal–and alongside that came major developments in the skill of stone masonry. Stonemasons were by no means a homogenous group. Their skills ranged from the most basic to outstanding artistry, though categories of worker were fluid. Rates of pay varied from job to job too.

Before stone could be used as building material, it first had to be dug from the earth and that was the task of the quarrymen. The records use the term ‘quarrymen’ to refer to those who owned the quarries as well as those who worked in them. While the quarry owners were frequently men of means and high social standing, those who actually worked within the quarries were not. The work was back breaking, digging and breaking stone in poor conditions that led to health problems like silicosis, a lung disease induced by inhaling flinty or siliceous particles. The quarriers also partially or completely worked the stone before it was transported to its destination, as this saved on cost. In addition to providing the supply of stone, the quarries often served as schools where stoneworkers could learn the basics of the craft, before moving on to more skilled employment and better rates of pay. 

Canterbury Cathedral interior stonework
© E.M. Powell

Roughmasons and layers prepared wall stone with scappling hammers and might also hew stone with an axe into the approximate shape required. Fine carving was done with a mallet and chisel and this was the work of the freestone mason. The freestone mason did not simply step in and apply the last artistic flourishes. He would also have had to be an expert stone hewer and layer to ensure that intricate work fitted perfectly and robustly together. Building work was not solely the preserve of men either. The records show women working as masons’ servants and plasterers. 

Overseeing any project was the master mason, frequently assisted by an undermaster or a second master mason. Master masons were not just the most skilled stone workers: they were architects, designers and visionaries as well as capable administrators. They had shared responsibility with the abbey or nobleman who had embarked on the construction project for the financial accounts. These covered every aspect of expenditure: wages, materials and transport. The master masons were involved in the hiring and dismissing of their workers. 

Mason and carpenter, Bruges, 15th Century 
Public Domain- British Library

In general, masons were a highly mobile group. They travelled to where the biggest and best-paying jobs were, including from country to country. Quarrymen tended to live locally to their work. 

In order for the best work to be produced, the most suitable materials had to be sourced. Huge quantities of wood went into building a structure like Canterbury Cathedral. But wood is much easier to source and transport than stone. And it could not be just any stone: it had to be soft and easy to carve. Canterbury’s cream limestone came from Caen in Normandy as it could be delivered by ship, rather than trying to move stone along medieval roads. 

Canterbury Cathedral Choir
© E.M. Powell

Such transport was not without risk. An account exists from the days of William I of a flotilla of fifteen ships that were sailing from Caen with cargoes of stone. Fourteen carried stone for the king’s new palace at Westminster and one was full of stone for Saint Augustine’s abbey in Canterbury. The ships foundered in a terrible storm and fourteen were lost. The one with the Canterbury stone was about to suffer the same fate. The master and crew prayed to Saint Augustine himself, bailed furiously and made it as far as the Sussex port of Bramber, where the ship split open and all the stone ended up on the sands. The master got hold of another ship, reloaded his cargo and delivered the stone to the abbey. A delighted abbot paid the master ‘a bonus of some shillings’. A relieved master offered half the money to God and Saint Augustine in thanks for his miraculous escape. 

Speaking of saints and miracles, Canterbury Cathedral’s most famous archbishop is another saint: Thomas Becket, who was murdered there on 29 December 1170. He was slain by four knights acting on one of King Henry II’s legendary outburst of temper. The knights’ original intention may have been to arrest Becket, who had been engaged in a monumental power struggle with the King for several years. But the situation quickly deteriorated, and Becket was hacked to death on one of the altars. The Martyrdom is still maintained in the cathedral and one can stand at the very spot. 

Sculpture of the sword's point at the Martyrdom-
site of Becket's murder in the cathedral.
© E.M. Powell

The miracles quickly began. Word quickly spread and the devotion to Becket the Martyr began, with his tomb becoming a major site for pilgrimage. 

It was a huge stroke of good fortune that the monks had chosen to place Becket’s body in a stone tomb in the crypt while they set about constructing a shrine. For on 5 September 1174, fire broke out in three cottages near the cathedral. Unknown to everybody before it was too late, the blaze spread to the roof of the cathedral. A monk, Gervase of Canterbury, wrote a vivid account of the fire, with its black smoke and scorching flames. Consumed by flames, the roof collapsed into the choir and its wooden seats. The flames rose up ‘a full fifteen cubits, scorching and burning the walls’ and causing terrible damage to the stone pillars. Anselm’s choir was destroyed. Gervase describes the reaction of those who witnessed it. He talks of people overcome with ‘grief and perplexity’ blaspheming at such an event and unable to comprehend that it had happened. 

Notre Dame Fire
Baidax, CC BY-SA 4.0 

A modern reader might dismiss this as an overreaction. But on April 15 2019, fire broke out in the roof of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris and millions worldwide witnessed a medial cathedral burn in real time.  People’s reactions on social media and on news reports were almost identical to those reported by Gervase eight centuries ago.  

Back in twelfth century Canterbury, the monks were faced with the daunting task of reconstructing their fire-ravaged choir. They commissioned master mason William of Sens, known for his brilliance and technical expertise. Unfortunately for him and for future generations, William fell from faulty scaffolding in the choir in 1178. He was badly injured and never recovered. He was replaced and the work was finished by another mason, William the Englishman. 

Stone conservation work, Canterbury Cathedral
© E.M. Powell

The stonemasons of Canterbury Cathedral continue their work to this day, with a team of over two dozen. Their job is to conserve and to preserve the building. And they work with tools on blocks of stone brought in from a quarry near Caen- just as the masons of a millennium ago did. 

Anselm's Crypt in Canterbury Cathedral, original site of Becket's tomb.
The figure is Transport by sculptor Antony Gormley.
The work is made from nails from the repaired roof of the cathedral.
© E.M. Powell



Foyle, Jonathan, Architecture of Canterbury Cathedral (London: Scala Publishers Ltd., 2013).

Gimpel, Jean, The Cathedral Builders (New York: Harper Colophon Press, 1983).

Guy, John Thomas Becket (London: Viking, 2012).

Keates, Jonathan and Hornak, Angelo, Canterbury Cathedral (London: Scala Publications Ltd., 1980).

Knoop, Douglas and Jones, G.P., The Mediaeval Mason: An Economic History of English Stone Building in the Later Middle Ages and Early Modern Times (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1933).

Urry, William, The Normans in Canterbury: Occasional Papers No.2 (Canterbury Archaeological Society, 1959)

Urry, William, Canterbury Under the Angevin Kings (University of London, The Athlone Press, 1967).

Woodman, Francis, The Architectural History of Canterbury Cathedral (London, Boston and Henley: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1981).


The Worshipful Company of Masons 

Canterbury Cathedral- stonemasons

I wrote this post for the English Historical Fiction Authors blog where it was published on November 15, 2020.

Thursday, December 24

A Christmas Eve Medieval Murder

 'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house

  Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse…

…and especially not Brother Cuthbert of Fairmore Abbey in my second Stanton and Barling novel, The Monastery Murders. It opens on Christmas Eve, with poor Cuthbert dispatched in the most grisly manner by an unknown hand. 

I would love to be able to state here that there was a profound reason for setting the book at Christmas. But it was a totally pragmatic one: I needed snow for my plot, and lots of it! January is the best month for that here in the UK. 

Calendar page for January c1500 British Library

Then I had to decide on specific days for the timeline of the novel. I have an introduction scene to Stanton and Barling where they are attending a bear baiting in London, just before they are called to the above mentioned first murder. Some readers have commented about how the bear baiting scene really set the tone for the book, but what a difficult read that scene was to read. I can completely understand that, as it was very difficult for me to research and to write. 

For those who don’t know, bear baiting was a barbaric sport that was hugely popular in medieval times and continued to be so for many hundreds of years. A bear would be chained to a pit and forced to fight a number of dogs let loose upon it. Bears were extremely valuable and tended to be kept alive to face this terrifying torment over and over again. The dogs faced death as well as mutilation. I wish I could say that this truly horrible spectacle is now firmly in the past, but sadly not. It’s still carried out in many parts of the world, both openly or in illegal fights.

Bearbaiting, mid 14th century England British Library

What was important in terms of timing for my novel was that bear baiting was a major spectator sport and took place on feast days. Feast days were literally red-letter days on the medieval calendar, of which more later. They consisted of Easter, Pentecost, Christmas, and Epiphany, along with an elaborate calendar of commemorations and feasts of saints.  They were similar to our holidays, in that people were excused from work and ate and drank as richly as they were able and took part in leisure activities. January 1st was celebrated as a feast day. January 1st—New Year’s Day, right? Wrong. 

For much of the medieval period, the beginning of the year varied and dates other than January 1st could be used:  March 25 (the feast of the Annunciation), Easter (the date of which varied and still does) and 25 December (the Nativity/Christmas). The reason for this was that there were two separate calendars in play. On the one hand was the Julian or Roman calendar, which is very similar to today’s. On the other was the liturgical calendar, which was laid out according to the feasts of the Christian year.  

Calendar page January c1497 British Library

In the liturgical calendar, Christmas is a twelve-day feast. In case you’re thinking the medievals had it easy, think again: the entire season of Advent, in which people prepared for Christmas, was one of fasting. January 1st, the eighth day, was celebrated as the Octave of Christmas, so that worked. My bear baiting was taking place when it should have. When I figured out times for the news of the murder to reach London, it worked out perfectly that Brother Cuthbert had been murdered on Christmas Eve. 

And, yes—that was a lot of work to get Stanton and Barling some snow! And if you want to find out what really happened to the unlucky Brother Cuthbert, then you can find your copy of The Monastery Murders here

Merry Christmas, all!

All images are in the Public Domain and are part of the British Library's Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts. 

Thursday, October 8

The Canterbury Murders (Stanton & Barling #3): Thank You- plus a Sneak Peek!

 When I introduced Hugo Stanton and Aelred Barling to the world back in 2018, I hoped that readers would enjoy my unlikely pair of sleuths' first outings as much as I enjoyed writing them. It would appear that you did, but in numbers I could never have imagined. Over 120,000 copies of The King's Justice and The Monastery Murders have now been sold worldwide. 

Find on Goodreads here.

While this has been incredible and I wish I could express my gratitude personally, all I can do is offer a huge THANK YOU to every one of you who has made this happen. And of course it's not just about buying the books. So many of you have left wonderful reviews and ratings, and have helped to spread the word, as well as getting in touch personally to tell me how much you've enjoyed time with The Boys.

Many of those reviews and messages have asked if there is going to be a third book. I've been able to reply that 'Yes, there will be'. But I'm now able to say: 'And here it is!' 

Add to your Goodreads list here.

I'm sure I'm not the only one in awe of the cover designer's talents. He's been with S&B since Day #1. 

The Canterbury Murders, Stanton and Barling #3, will be released on November 12, 2020. It will be available to pre-order shortly. In the meantime, here's what's to expect:

A fire-ravaged cathedral. An ungodly murder.

Easter, 1177. Canterbury Cathedral, home to the tomb of martyr Saint Thomas Becket, bears the wounds of a terrible fire. Benedict, prior of the great church, leads its rebuilding. But horror interrupts the work. One of the stonemasons is found viciously murdered, the dead man’s face disfigured by a shocking wound.

When King’s clerk Aelred Barling and his assistant, Hugo Stanton, arrive on pilgrimage to the tomb, the prior orders them to investigate the unholy crime.

But the killer soon claims another victim–and another. As turmoil embroils the congregation, the pair of sleuths face urgent pressure to find a connection between the killings.

With panic on the rise, can Barling and Stanton catch the culprit before evil prevails again—and stop it before it comes for them?

I hope your appetites are suitably whetted for what's to come. But I thought you might like an early (the earliest, in fact!) peek inside that gorgeous cover.  So here is Chapter One of The Canterbury Murders- enjoy!

Canterbury, Kent 9 April 1177

If God could grant a perfect close of day, it would be this one.

Benedict, prior of Christ Church, Canterbury, walked alone in his garden, his silent steps on the paved stone path as slow as the calm beat of his own heart. 

The peace of Vespers coursed within him. He had joined his fellow monks, as always, to sing and pray the Divine Office as the sun had set on a glorious spring day. Now came the quiet hour of early night, to be spent in solitude and contemplation.

Dew soaked the meadow turf of his lawn, the grass smooth as the finest carpet. Neatly trimmed shrubs filled the borders, the evergreens a pleasing contrast to those covered in soft, unfurling buds. In the beds, clumps of bright yellow celandines glowed in the dusk. White wood anemones could be candles waiting to be lit. The sweet scents of sage and rue hung in the still air, mingling with the sharpness of the box hedges. Unseen birds sang themselves and the world to slumber. 

He looked up at the vast, cream-stoned cathedral nearby, its towers reaching high into a clear sky that held the last vestiges of light to the west and a low-hanging sliver of moon. It should have been a sight that filled him with serenity: the resting place of the body of Saint Thomas Becket, the blessed Martyr. The place of a multitude of miracles for the sick, the lame, the infirm, where pilgrims flocked from all of Christendom for the saint’s intervention.

But as ever since that terrible afternoon two and a half years ago, to look upon the cathedral filled Benedict with breath-robbing anguish, an anguish that at times threatened to rip out his heart. Much in the same way as the heart of his beloved cathedral had been ripped out. It bore the evidence of its near-fatal wounds still, the jagged scaffolding cloaking it in ugliness, an ugliness obvious even in the concealing shadows of the advancing night. 

The cathedral’s wounds had not been inflicted during the hours of darkness, when murderers and robbers and others bent on wrongdoing often chose to be abroad. It had been an afternoon. A September afternoon, unseasonably hot and humid, with the sun glowing a dull amber and a blustery gale that brought no freshness to the air. 

Benedict could feel the pull and flap of the strong, warm wind on his black habit, though the garden around him remained quiet.

It so often happened like this. He could be perfectly content one minute. Or busy with his unending list of tasks as prior. Or having his face shaved by one of his servants. Or breaking bread for a meal. It mattered not. 

He would be back in those fateful autumn hours. 

The commotion from outside the south wall of the cathedral grounds. Three cottages, all on fire. 

Outside. Not of my concern: his dismissive words to one of the monks who had come to alert him. ‘Make sure you keep the gate clear,’ he’d said to the monk. ‘We cannot have pilgrims delayed in their entry.’

The townsfolk had merged on the threat, making such a commotion and clamour as only townsfolk could. Not to mention the loudness of the excited mob of pilgrims and hawkers that followed them. After more uproar and shouts and soil and water and hooks to pull down burning walls, the flames had been vanquished.

Order has been restored. The monk’s report to Benedict. 

Benedict had nodded and gone back to his work. 

Such fuss at so very little. People did like to make a great happening of nothing. No doubt they crowded into the town’s alehouses, using the thrill of danger that had caused no actual harm to them to tell stories and exaggerate their own part in it. A danger that was safely past.
But it was not. 

For the powerful wind, the wind that Benedict often thought of since as having blown from hellmouth, was doing its unseen, wicked work, silent as a serpent and equally intent on evil. 

As the townsfolk beat down the flames of the burning cottages, as they tackled the flaring thatch, sparks and embers flew up. Up, up on the violent gusts of wind, cloaked in dust and yellowing leaves ripped from the trees. Up, up over the walls of the cathedral. Up over the very tops of the trees. Up to the roof of the cathedral, where the buffeting gale forced them between the gaps of the lead, like a shower of smouldering hail. 

No one saw. No one knew. 

On the ground, people proclaimed victory. 

In the roof, the sparks met the rafters, the bone-dry, rotting wood that had held up the mighty edifice since the time of Saint Anselm. 

On the ground, people cheered and raised their ales.

In the roof, the rafters were afire, feeding the crackling flames that jumped to the beams and the braces to greater life. 

On the ground, people clapped their hands and sang.

In the cathedral, the lay brothers polished the carved wooden seats of the choir, as the lead-lined, brightly painted ceiling high above them hid the inferno of broiling heat and flames. 

In his chambers, Benedict amended an account to order some extra grain for the monks. 

On the ground, people sang on.

In the roof, the flames grew to such a height that the leaded roof began to soften. Melt. Dissolve. 

The first smoke poured out in a white, billowing cloud. 

And on the ground came a shout: ‘Look, look! God’s eyes, look!’

And another: ‘The cathedral’s on fire!’

The same shout at Benedict’s door, the shout that had him race outside, following the frantic monk’s lead. That had him jostle for position in the heaving crowd, staring aloft in disbelief, his heart thumping in his chest.

All around him, horrified faces. Gaping mouths. Pointing fingers. Cries and calls of shock.

‘May God help us!’

‘It’s all of the roof, look!’

‘It’s afire, afire!’

Benedict willed his voice to shout for his brethren, his feet to run back. He could not. His tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth and his feet could be nailed to the stone path on which he stood. Only his heart had life, thudding as if it would break from his chest.

The first jarring alarms to summon help pealed out from the cathedral bell tower.

Then bright yellow flames shot up from the roof in a huge burst of roiling black smoke, roaring into greater life in the devil’s gale. 

Screams and yells of horror, of terror surrounded Benedict.

‘It’s the end of the world!’

‘By the holy paternoster, we are done for!’ 

The nearest churches took up the cathedral’s call. The bells of Saint Mary Magdalene, Saint Andrew, Saint Alphege rang out in wild discord.

A fresh roar from the wind sent charred wood and burning cinders raining down to lamentation and wails of dread.

Some people fled, others sank to their knees with tears and prayers to the Virgin, to Saint Thomas.

Benedict’s heart pounded harder, harder. He thought he might faint, he thought he might fall. He drew in a desperate breath.

And then there was peace once more. No fire raged through the cathedral. No showers of embers rained down. Nothing except the gentle chorus of birdsong and distant sounds from beyond the walls of the city of Canterbury moving to the end of the day broke the quiet. 

Benedict wiped the sweat from his face with an unsteady hand. He needed to become calm. Must become calm. The hour of Compline drew near, and he would be amongst his monks again. He had to be their strength, their guide. He would make another couple of circuits of his garden, would pray to Saint Thomas for aid in steadying his mind. 

The Martyr would help him in his need, for he was working without cease for the glory of Thomas. The cathedral had, by the greatest of miracles, been spared from total destruction. Thomas’s bones had been safe in Anselm’s crypt. Now, Benedict’s burden was to rebuild: not just to replace what had been destroyed, but to even greater glory. He looked up at the disfiguring scaffolding again. His was a heavy cross to bear, and one he must bear alone. 

He turned at the squeak of the iron garden gate opening. 

One of his monks hurried through it. ‘My lord.’ Breathless. Not like Benedict had just been but as if he’d been running.

‘What is it, man?’ Benedict did not mean to sound so harsh. He simply was not yet restored. ‘The bells have not rung for Compline.’

‘My lord prior.’ The monk’s face showed ashen in the dim light. ‘You must come at once.’ 

‘What do you—’

‘There’s been a murder.’

Benedict feared he had fallen back into one of his episodes. ‘A murder?’
The monk nodded. ‘In a terrible way, my lord. Terrible.’

‘Steady yourself,’ said Benedict, wishing the same for his own heart. ‘Which of our brothers has lost his life?’

‘No, no. It’s not one of the brothers.’

Benedict clutched with gratitude at the small mercy. ‘Then why is it of such importance that I attend?’

‘Because it’s one of the stonemasons. From here. From our cathedral. He . . . he’s been stabbed. There’s so much blood.’

‘Then it will be a robbery, or—’

‘No, no.’ The monk’s words came out as a low moan. ‘No robbery. He has all his possessions. Something far worse.’ He swallowed hard. ‘The killer mutilated him as well.’ His voice dropped to a petrified whisper as he explained.

Benedict listened in horror. No, this was no episode of his own mind.

The monk’s terror was as real as the hard paving beneath Benedict’s feet. As the liquid ripple of birdsong. As the scent of the box hedges.

And as the shadows of the scaffolding above him that held the beauty of his beloved cathedral in a hideous, unyielding grasp. 


And so ends Chapter One! I hope you've enjoyed it. Rest assured that Stanton and Barling are on their way to Canterbury. And, of course, things will get worse. Much, much worse. Well, I couldn't disappoint you all, could I?

Tuesday, November 27

Medieval Crime and Punishment: Henry II and the Common Law

King Henry II of England is best known in the popular imagination for the murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket, a murder for which the King was blamed. Four knights broke into Canterbury Cathedral on 29 December 1170 and slew Becket in the most brutal manner.

The Murder of Thomas Becket c 1480 Public Domain- British Library

Whatever one’s view of the volatile Henry, there is one achievement from his thirty-five-year reign that stands above all others: his reform of the English legal system, which laid the foundations of the English Common Law. When he came to the throne in 1154 at the age of just twenty-one, his realm was in deep disarray following civil war. He urgently needed to re-establish royal authority and impose order and set about doing so with his customary relentless drive. The judicial system was the subject of much of his attention and he was aided in this by the talented Becket, who was his chancellor at the time.

Henry II enthroned, arguing with Thomas Becket c. 1307 - c. 1327 Public Domain- British Library

Henry addressed reform of both land law and criminal law. With land law, cases relating to an individual being dispossessed or those in which inheritance was in dispute were now settled in a trial by jury. The jury system was far quicker and more efficient than the system it replaced. Given that said system was one of trial by combat, one can see why it was not just the efficiency of the new system that made it so popular.

His reform of criminal law was even more impressive. He issued new legislation at Clarendon in 1166 and Northampton in 1176. It was at Clarendon where the procedures of criminal justice were first established, addressing how serious felonies such as murder, robbery and theft would be dealt with. Juries of presentment were established, consisting of twelve lawful men in each hundred (a subdivision of a county) and four in each vill (village). These juries were not there to decide on guilt or innocence, but to support an accusation of a serious crime.

Anyone who was accused of such crimes would be put in prison to await trial. Those trials could only be heard by the King’s justices, who travelled the country to do so. Henry first introduced his system of itinerant justices at Clarendon but refined the system at Northampton. England was divided into six circuits, with three justices, the justices of the general eyre, allocated to each.  Twelfth century chronicler Roger of Howden lists the eighteen justices itinerant and their circuits for 1176.

Detail of an historiated initial 'I'(udex) of a judge c. 1360- c. 1375 Public Domain - British Library

One of the justices listed was Ranulf de Glanville. De Glanville was one of Henry’s staunchest allies, securing key victories for the King in the rebellion of 1173-74 and rising to the position of Justiciar of England. The ‘Treatise on the Laws and Customs of the Kingdom of England’, produced in the late twelfth century, is the earliest treatise on English law and is commonly referred to as ‘Glanvill’, though it is unlikely that de Glanville was its author.

The justices provided a system of criminal investigation for the whole country. The impact of the arrival of the travelling court should not be underestimated. It could consist of several hundred people, all of whom were tasked with supporting the royal justices in administering the law in the name of the lord King. As well as being administratively impressive, it would have been a spectacle that reinforced Henry’s power over all his subjects. It would also have instilled awe and fear in all those who witnessed it, especially those who were accused of a serious crime.

The accused were brought before the justices. Proof of their guilt or innocence could be established in a number of ways, such as witness testimony, documents or the swearing of oaths. Unlike criminal trials today, the jury acted as witnesses and not an impartial panel. They would give the account of what had happened.

Five judges and three plaintiffs c. 1360- c. 1375 Public Domain - British Library

In cases that were not clear cut or in those of secret homicide where there were no witnesses, the justices used the ordeal. Ordeal could be by cold water or by hot iron. The blessing of the water and the iron served to bring the notion of God’s judgement, judicium Dei, into the proceedings.

There was great ceremony and a long build-up attached to the ordeal, which would have added to the pressure on the accused to confess. The accused would be taken to church four days before the day on which the ordeal was due to take place. They had to wear the clothes of the penitent, fast and hear several masses. If they still did not confess, the ordeal would take place.

Two judges addressing a prisoner held by a court officer c. 1360-c. 1375 Public Domain - British Library

The most innocent of hearts must have quailed. Stripped to only a loin cloth, the accused would be led to the pit, which was twenty feet wide and twelve feet deep and full of water. A priest would then bless the water. God would now be the judge: His blessed water would receive the accused if innocent, reject him if he was guilty. The accused would be bound, thumbs to toes, and lowered in from a platform.

With ordeal by hot iron, the accused had to undergo the same preparation of fasting and penitence. A length of iron would be blessed and heated in a fire until it was red hot. The accused would have to take it in one hand and carry it for three paces. The injured hand would be bandaged and then examined three days after the ordeal. If it had healed, then innocence was proclaimed. If it had not, then the accused was guilty.

Both forms of ordeal were terrifying and horrific in themselves, and the lengthy preparations would have only added to the pressure to make a confession. Once the accused made a confession, it could not be retracted. In 1215, the Church forbade priests to take part in the ordeal, bringing an end to its use.

A man hanging from gallows c. 1360-c. 1375 Public Domain - British Library

For those found guilty, the King’s punishment awaited. Hanging was reserved for the worst crimes. Thieves and robbers could lose a foot and, from 1176, their right hand. The law also had a final judgement it could impose, even if the accused was acquitted by undergoing the ordeal. If it was judged that the accused had a particularly bad reputation, as sworn to by the jury, then the accused was to leave the King’s lands as an outlaw and had to swear under oath that they would never return.

And lest anyone think that they could take the law into their own hands and administer punishments themselves, the King’s justices had a clear system of heavy fines for those who would dare to do so. Order would prevail. Henry, the consummate administrator, had thought of everything.

All images are in the Public Domain and are part of the British Library's Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts. 
Bartlett, Robert, Trial by Fire and Water: The Medieval Judicial Ordeal (Oxford, 1986)
Bartlett, Robert, The New Oxford History of England: England under the Norman and Angevin Kings 1075–1225 (Oxford, 2003)
Hudson, John, The Formation of the English Common Law (London, 1996)
Pollock, Frederick, and Maitland, Frederic William, The History of English Law Before the Time of Edward I (Cambridge, 1898)
Warren, W. L., Henry II (Yale, 2000)

I wrote this post for the English Historical Fiction Authors blog where it was published on October 3, 2018.

Wednesday, June 20

Medieval Monks & Their Meals

The medievals were well acquainted with the Seven Deadly Sins, one of which was/is gluttony—the vice of excessive eating and drinking.

It is therefore no surprise that it was one of the vices that Saint Benedict, a key figure in starting the monastic movement in the early Christian Church, wanted to avoid. Benedict was a Roman nobleman who in around 500 AD, chose to leave Rome and worship Christ in an isolated setting. His popularity grew and he founded his own monastery, writing his famous Benedictine Rule. The Rule is a set of regulations for those in the monastic life and shaped almost every aspect of that life in the medieval period.

Saint Benedict

Saint Benedict did not approve of personal possessions and he prescribed how many hours a monk should sleep. And the Rule also laid down what monks should eat and the quantities of food that should be eaten. Benedict forbade the eating of meat from four legged animals. He was a fan of black bread, plain water, greens and vegetables.

He believed that monks should eat once a day in winter and have a second lighter meal in summer, in the evenings when days were longer. His plan was that monks should have a choice of two cooked meals, vegetable or cereal based and which could include a modest amount of fish or some egg. Meat was only for those who were ill. On feast days, monks could be allowed a supplementary treat known as a 'pittance'. A pittance might be better quality bread or wine instead of beer.

The rationale behind Benedict's Rule was to support one of the three monastic vows: chastity. There was a belief that a rich diets inflamed the senses, incited greed and lust. A full monk was a sleepy monk, and so would not be in a fit state to pray for hours at a time. Benedict did acknowledge that monks needed to have extra treats every now and then. Brothers were allowed to eat more if they were invited to the Abbot's table.

But as with all good intentions, the Rule was adapted over the centuries. A special room called the misericord was built for infirm monks. This was separate to the main refectory (dining room), so meat could be eaten here. Yet monks in full health would retire there to consume meat. By 1336, Pope Benedict XII (yes, another Benedict) permitted meat on four days outside of fast days. And what meat: records show the consumption of beef, mutton, pork, veal and suckling pig. Poultry and game were also popular: monks consumed swan, cygnet, chicken, duck and goose.

Another way in which the Rule was adapted was with regard to communication. It was stipulated that monks’ meals should be eaten in silence. However, no-one mentioned sign language. Or whistling. The monks adopted a practical solution to the extent that twelfth century chronicler Gerald of Wales complained of dining monks behaving like ‘jesters’ after one visit to Canterbury.

It has been calculated that some monks could have been consuming up to 7000 calories a day. Astonishing when you think that today, the recommended calorie intake for an adult male is 2500 calories. This level of consumption is certainly not what Benedict would have had in mind. His rule on gluttony did not just cover quantity but also quality. Monks should eat only at allotted times and consume whatever was presented. Food should be fuel for the body and nothing more.

What is also of note is that as much as one fifth of monks’ enormous calorie intake could have come from alcohol. Monks had access to beer (as did the rest of the population: it was safer to drink than water) but also wine, the bulk of which was imported from Gascony. One could argue that the monks practised restraint by only drinking wine on saints’ days—of which there were about seventy in the year.

Fish was also popular, especially as no-one was allowed to eat meat on a Friday. In the days before effective refrigeration, fish would come from the fresh waters of rivers, lakes and managed fish ponds. Coastal communities would eat fresh sea fish. For those further inland, this fish was eaten salted, smoked, dried or pickled.

Earlier in the medieval period, Wednesdays and Saturdays were also non-meat days, as well as the dietary restrictions imposed for Lent and Advent. That didn't stop the monks. With another bit of monastic Rule tweaking, certain types of geese and puffins were deemed to be fish because of their close association with water. A monastic feast day could consist of a couple of dozen dishes.

The monks were fans of toe-to-tail eating. Umbles, for instance, were sheep’s entrails cooked in ale with breadcrumbs and spices. Deer entrails might also be on offer, as would tongue and mutton in sauce. Dowcet sounds far more appealing, certainly for this writer: a sweet custard made of milk, cream, sugar, dried fruits and eggs. It is unlikely such dishes were a rare treat. Archaeological remains from a medieval hospital in London found evidence of monks with worse teeth than their patients. Others from priories and abbeys have found skeletal remains with obesity-related joint disease.

But these huge levels of consumption were taking place in a society where the vast majority of people were at the brink of starvation or were actually starving. Ordinary people began to deeply resent the excesses of the privileged religious. By the fourteenth century there were poems and ballads mocking the monastic life and the over-privileged monks. The stereotype of the overfed monk, portly in his robes, immune from poverty, became one focus for discontent with the established church—and a very visible one.
All images are in the Public Domain and are part of the British Library's Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts. 
Jones, Terry & Eriera, Alan: Medieval Lives, London, BBC Books (2004)
Kerr, Julie: Life in the Medieval Cloister, London, Continuum Publishing (2009)
Livingstone, E.A.,ed.:The Concise Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (2 rev.ed.), Oxford University Press (2006, Current Online Version: 2013)
Mortimer, Ian. The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England. London: The Bodley Head. (2008)
Whittock, Martyn, A Brief History of Life in the Middle Ages: London, Constable & Robinson (2009)

I wrote this post for the English Historical Fiction Authors blog where it was published on June 29, 2016. 

Monday, June 5

What if....the Norman Invasion of Ireland had never happened? Guest Post by Ruadh Butler.

It was my great pleasure to host Ruadh Butler, fellow author of historical fiction set in Medieval Ireland, to my blog last year. Ruadh's excellent post on the arrival of the Normans in Ireland has proved really popular with readers and, in case you missed it, you can find it here

Ruadh guested to celebrate the release of the first in his Invader series, Swordland, which was published by Accent Press. I'm delighted to say that book #2, Lord of the Sea Castle is now out and Ruadh has returned for another visit. This time, he's putting his speculative hat on as he looks at the Norman invasion and wonders how Irish and wider history might have changed if the invasion had never taken place. Over to you, Ruadh!

History is often the product of the slimmest odds. In Irish terms, few moments – save perhaps the coming of St Patrick – had greater consequences for the island than the Norman invasions of the 12th century. Few spent so long balanced upon a knife’s edge.

But what if the Norman incursions had been only that? What if there never had been a Norman conquest?

The events of 1169 were portrayed in my first novel, Swordland, and will continue in Lord of the Sea Castle which was released on June 1st 2017.

The first book outlined how a Welsh-Norman knight, Sir Robert FitzStephen, was sprung from imprisonment to lead a force of just four hundred on a campaign to put an exiled king back on his Irish throne. Despite having so few warriors, Robert’s command was central to Dermot MacMurrough returning to his position as King of Leinster.

Henry II grants Dermot MacMurrough permission to raise forces to take back the kingdom of Leinster.
As depicted by James William Edmund Doyle, 1822- 1892 (Public Domain)

He quickly conquered the Viking city-state of Wexford before conducting a fierce operation which forced all dissenting chieftains into submission. So successful was FitzStephen in his task that the High King of Ireland, Rory O’Connor, was alerted to his and Dermot’s schemes.

Rory - Stone Carving of High King Rory O'Connor from Cong Abbey.  (Public Domain)
Might he have founded a great dynasty controlling all Ireland in the absence of the Norman invaders? 

With winter fast approaching Robert and Dermot retreated into the foothills of the Blackstairs Mountains where they constructed fortifications behind which they hoped to survive the High King’s overwhelming army which marched against them.

The annals tell us that Rory O’Connor did not immediately launch an armed offensive upon his enemy’s defences but instead (and under pressure from the bishops) began to negotiate. The outcome was to confirm Dermot as king of one of the most powerful provinces in the land. Publically, Dermot acknowledged Rory O’Connor as High King and handed over hostages – including his own son – as surety for his good behaviour.

Secretly, however, there was another clause in his treaty with the High King: Dermot had to rid Leinster of his mercenary Normans.

IRELAND - The greater kingdoms of Ireland in the generations before the arrival of the Normans in 1169.
(Public Domain.)

Perhaps surprisingly, given his later reputation in Ireland, Dermot did not betray Robert FitzStephen. This was far from an honourable standpoint, however. Rather, he had set his sights on nothing less than the High Kingship itself and believed his only way of obtaining that office was with Norman blades. It would prove his and Ireland’s undoing.

To use the jargon of the alternative history, this will be my point of divergence. Dermot chooses to accept his return as King of Leinster, an alliance with the family of O’Connor, and the safety of his own son rather than allowing his ambitions to rule his better judgement. In order to do that he would have to kill Robert FitzStephen or drive him from his shores.

Effigy of Rhys ap Gruffydd in St David's Cathedral, Wales.
(Public Domain)

Forcing the 400 Normans from Ireland would’ve been difficult for Dermot. Return to Wales would’ve meant utter penury for FitzStephen or perhaps even imprisonment at the hands of his former captor, Rhys ap Gruffydd. For his men too it would’ve meant return to the never-ending and losing wars that threatened their very existence in Wales. FitzStephen and his army would’ve fought tooth and nail to retain their newly won lands in Wexford and, given how effective he had proven against Dermot’s enemies, it would’ve taken something rather special – or indeed underhand – for his former ally to destroy the Normans. Perhaps he could’ve brokered a deal with the Ostmen (the Gaelicised descendants of the Viking invaders) of Wexford, promising to return their independence under his kingship in return for their help. From his point of view, a Wexford controlled by the Normans or the Ostmen probably didn’t make much difference.

The marriage of Strongbow & Aoife.
(© E.M. Powell)

Having dealt with FitzStephen, Dermot’s next task would be to disappoint another Norman baron keen to come to Ireland and win new lands. Two years before FitzStephen’s invasion, Dermot had come to an agreement with Strongbow, the Lord of Chepstow, to swap Norman military help in return for marriage to his daughter, Aoife. Dermot also threw in a claim to the throne of Leinster after his death. Strongbow’s desperation for a crown was absolute and so perhaps he would still have crossed the sea in 1170 despite Dermot’s reneging on their agreement. However, rather than storming the walls of Waterford with Dermot’s support he would probably have faced a Viking city emboldened and strengthened by Dermot’s veteran warriors. I suspect that in those circumstances Strongbow would’ve quickly been forced to withdraw to Wales.

Henry II at Waterford.
As depicted by James William Edmund Doyle, 1822- 1892  (Public Domain) 

Without Strongbow’s conquests, there would have been no real reason for King Henry II of England to become embroiled in Irish affairs. He did not take an army across the Irish Sea in 1171 in order to extend his borders or to satisfy his greed for power over another nation. He wished to curtail the ambitions of Strongbow for he feared the rise of a rival Norman kingdom on his western seaboard. With that threat having never risen, King Henry could refocus his efforts towards his continental possessions.

There remains the question of a certain troublesome priest well-known to all who have read The Fifth Knight. ( E.M.: Yes, a plug for my book- this is why Ruadh gets asked back!)

The murder of Thomas Becket.
As depicted by James William Edmund Doyle, 1822- 1892 (Public Domain) 

Thomas Becket’s death in 1170 certainly had an impact on King Henry’s decision to invade Ireland. Up to that point the Irish church was beyond papal control and so Rome’s coffers received no income from the island. To impose his rule over Ireland meant that Henry could establish Rome’s authority in place of the independent Celtic system and in so doing ingratiate himself with Pope Alexander III who threatened excommunication and interdict as a result of Becket’s murder. If robbed of a safe port provided by Strongbow’s conquests in this alternative history, I don’t think Henry could’ve launched an attack on Ireland in order to toady up to Rome. Instead (and as later stipulated in the Compromise of Avranches) Henry might’ve been forced to go on Crusade to the Holy Land.

 The second Synod of Cashel was held in 1171/72, under the auspices of Henry II
and with the full backing of the Pope. (© E.M. Powell)

By early 1170 King Amalric of Jerusalem, Henry’s first cousin, was surrounded by the armies of Nur ad-Din in Syria and Saladin in Egypt, facing invasion from north and south. Such were his troubles that Amalric sent envoys to all the great kings of Europe to send military aid in his time of need. In our timeline he was let down, but given Henry’s own difficulties might he have negotiated a settlement with Pope Alexander in return for sending assistance to Amalric? I have no doubt that Henry would’ve dragged his feet for as long as possible to avoid the great expense of such an undertaking but I can anticipate one scenario in which he might’ve relented.

The cause of the 1173 Rebellion was a general disaffection with Henry’s rule stoked up by the King of France. Most serious was the involvement of the heir to the throne, Henry the Young King, and his mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine. In my alternative timeline Henry might’ve considered packing off his 18-year-old son and some of his most troublesome knights to aid Amalric. A crusade would’ve served as an answer to many of his problems.

I presume this would’ve gone a long way to making peace with the church following Becket’s death while, with the church’s help, his lands would’ve been protected from his rebellious subjects by the threat of interdict. Henry might even have been able to weaken the King of France by using his newly found favour with the pope to force him to accompany his army to the Middle East. In the absence of her eldest son, Eleanor of Aquitaine would’ve been isolated as would any remaining rebels, ready to have been picked off by Henry at his leisure. The Young King, meanwhile, would’ve been given the responsibility he so craved at the head of a great army.

Herbert Railton's 1891 illustration of  William Marshal's tomb.
(Public Domain) 

I will let people more at home with the politics of the Crusader Kingdom pick up the story of what have happened in those circumstances, but the idea of Sir William Marshal – the Young King’s tutor – in command of a royal crusading army in Outremer during the 1170s is tantalising. Might he and the Young King have saved Jerusalem? And what would the Middle East look like today if they had become involved fifteen years before Richard Lionheart’s Third Crusade and the rise of Saladin?

The picture in Ireland is rather more difficult to discern. The Ostman colony towns of Dublin, Waterford, Wexford, Cork and Limerick would’ve continued to grow, if a little slower in the absence of Norman administrators who so advanced their commercial reach in the medieval period. Control of the towns would’ve become absolutely critical to the leading dynasties as the merchants grew in power. In the years around 1170, Rory O’Connor’s confederates had forced the submission of each of the five great cities of Ireland except Wexford. This was a very fluid situation, however, with fealty withdrawn and re-imposed almost on a yearly basis.

Reginald's Tower in Waterford.
© E.M. Powell

In the absence of the Normans I suspect Rory O’Connor would’ve retained the High Kingship using his proven strategy of partitioning the lands of challengers to curb their influence, setting up rival families to vie for their power on the local level, and to force the defeated to hand over loved ones as hostages. Given his own long life and the apparent talent of his son and heir, Conor O’Connor, I believe that sooner rather than later the dynasty would’ve unified Ireland in a meaningful way (as had the descendants of Alfred in England). The Irish method of succession and outlandish style of land ownership might have proved a real stumbling block for this process, but given that Rory was already well on his way to nullifying all opposition in 1166, I suspect his line would’ve accomplished the task and imposed a nascent type of feudal kingship upon Ireland.

Conflict between the families and septs would no doubt have remained a constant and not just for possession of the cities.

The further we get from the point of divergence the more questions arise and the more difficult it becomes to predict. Would the Latin rites ever have arrived in Ireland without the Normans? Might the Celtic Church have been targeted by a crusade as were the Cathars of France? How would a politically independent Ireland have impacted the evolution of the British, Scandinavian and continental nations? Would Irish ideas and culture have penetrated and influenced as widely as English and British notions? How would they have been affected by the rise of Spain during the sixteenth century? Would Tudor England have attempted to impose its will over Ireland? Might an independent Ireland have been better positioned to establish colonies in the New World than England?

Baginbun Point Co. Wexford, site of 1170 Norman landings.
© Ruadh Butler
Such was the impact of the Normans on the population that in their absence most of those alive in Ireland today would never have existed. That would have also affected millions around the world. There certainly would’ve been no Queen Elizabeth I. Would John F. Kennedy have been the same guy if he was missing the Fitzgerald part of his character?

The first Norman invaders may have gone to Ireland in small numbers but their affect was earth-shattering. They created reverberations that are still being felt today. The world might have been so different had Dermot simply chosen peace over war on a small island off the western shoulder of Europe.

Ruadh Butler is the author of Swordland and the newly published Lord of the Sea Castle. The series tells the story of the Norman family from Wales and their part in the first invasion of Ireland. Catch up with Ruadh at, on Facebook at and on Twitter @ruadhbutler.

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Saturday, February 11

With a Little Help from the Saints: Medieval Lovers.

You probably can't have failed to notice that wherever you turn at present, your senses are assailed by objects of the red, heart-shaped variety. Although it's not a particular wave I personally like to get swept up in, I couldn't fail to be halted by this gem in a local card shop: 'To My Gran on Valentine's Day.'  I did brace myself for the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse to come crashing through the door at any second, but all remained calm. And just as I was about to deride twenty-first century consumerism for this new level of madness, it occurred to me that, like so much in our world, it is all the fault of the medievals.

From: The Roman de la Rose
The Lover (L'Amans) in bed with a man (Dangier, or Danger) holding a club.

The medievals loved their love and especially of the courtly variety. It found its expression in poetry and among the most famous is the French Roman de la Rose, or The Story of the Rose. It was composed by two authors: Guillaume de Lorris in around 1230 and Jean de Meun in around 1275, some forty years later. The poem takes the form of a dream, in which the dreamer, the Lover, approaches the rose (the symbol of his lady's love) in a garden but is spurned. The Lover then has to learn the rules of love to win the object of his desire. The complete work is over 21,000 lines and was hugely popular amongst the elite of England and France. Several copies are still in existence.

The Lover pierced by an arrow,
kneeling before the God of Love (Diex d'Amour).

I have chosen the images from a manuscript from c1320-1340 for this post. Interestingly, it is a non-religious work, so no saints (of which more later). The fourteenth century also saw the introduction of a custom for lovers within court circles that is still with us: Valentine's Day. February 14th is the day that the medievals reckoned birds began mating. So why not have a day when refined men and women could do the same in elaborate rituals and games?

Male Lovers pierced by arrows.

The poetry of the time again reflects the custom. Geoffrey Chaucer's Parliament of Fowls is the earliest, dating from around 1381. In it, lovers are birds, quarrelling over the finest partner on Valentine's Day.

Female Lovers- and a Monk.

By 1400, the French Court had founded the Cour Amoureuse, or the Court of  Love, supposedly in honour of women. It first met on Valentine’s Day in 1400, ruled over by a ‘Prince of Love’ who was a professional poet. Noble ladies heard various love-poems and presented prizes to the winners. It sounds very charming until one realises that around 600 people took part. One can only suppose that, with those sorts of numbers, everyone probably went home with something out of the day.

The God of Love taking hold of the Lover.

In the fifteenth century, the poet and prior of Hatfield Regis, John Lydgate, wrote ‘A Valantine to Her That Excelleth All’.  And we start to see the custom of the Valentine move beyond the confines of the court. In a letter dating from 1477 Norwich, Margery Brews writes to her fiancé John Paston as her ‘right wellbelovyd Voluntyn’.

Envie (Envy) looking at a pair of lovers.

What's even more interesting is that Margery's mother Elizabeth also writes to John to ask that the marriage takes place on 'Sent Volentynes Day'... [when] every brydde chesyth hym a make.' Yes, we have mention of the bird choosing a mate again. But we also have reference to Saint Valentine. It is likely that clerics began making the connection between a saint and the secular customs around finding a partner. Two third century saints were named Valentine: Valentine of Rome and Valentine of Interamna (modern Terni in Italy). We know little about them other than they were martyred and that is commemorated on February 14. They had never been associated with lovers up the middle ages.

Vilenie (Villainy, Abuse, Baseness)
offering the Lover a potion.

Of course other medieval saints were on hand to help steer the course of true love. Fifth century Saint Dwynwen is the Welsh patron saint of love. Dwynwen was one of the twenty four daughters and eleven sons of King of Wales, Brychan Brycheiniog and his wife, Prawst. When I came across those statistics, I felt perhaps that Brychan should patron saint of something, but I wasn’t quite sure what. Prawst, I continue to feel, should just be regarded with awe.

Oiseuse (Idleness, Ease, Leisure)
admitting the Lover through the gate.

Dwynwen was not as fortunate - or fruitful - in love as her parents. Her love story is of a bleaker kind and she suffered horribly at the hands of a man who should have loved her. After much travail, Dwynwen’s prayers were answered. As a mark of her thanks, she devoted herself to God's service for the rest of her life. She founded a convent on Llanddwyn, on the west coast of Anglesey, where she was joined by other broken-hearted women. After her death in 465AD, a well named after her became a place of pilgrimage and it remains there today.

Tristece (Sorrow or Misery), tearing her hair and clothes.

I think blaming the medievals for the annual fuss about Lovers is fair. But I did find an account where some level-headed souls decided it might be nice to use the day to celebrate neighbourly love. A 1415 charter from Norwich records that the citizens should some together on Valentine's Day, 'make peace, unite, and accord, poore and ryche to ben one in herte, love and charite.' Now, that's more like it. And even if they didn't get a card, I'll bet all the Grans were happy.

All images are in the Public Domain and are part of the British Library's Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts. 
Drabble, Margaret, ed. et al., The Concise Oxford Companion to English Literature (3 ed.), Oxford University Press (2007, Online version: 2007)
Knowles, Elizabeth, ed.: The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (2 ed.) Publisher: Oxford University Press (2005, Current Online Version: 2014)
Lindahl, C., McNamara, J & Lindow, J. (eds.): Medieval Folklore, Oxford University Press (2002)
Livingston, E.A.,ed.:The Concise Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (2 rev.ed.), Oxford University Press (2006, Current Online Version: 2013)
MacKillop, James: A Dictionary of Celtic Mythology , Oxford University Press (2004, Current Online Version: 2004)
National Library of Wales: Dictionary of Welsh Biography Online.
Simpson, Jacqueline & Roud, Steve: A Dictionary of English Folklore, Oxford University Press (2003, Current Online Version: 2003)

I wrote this post or an edited version of it for the English Historical Fiction Authors blog on February 12 2016. 

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