A Norman House, Southampton

There are two mainly Norman houses in Southampton. One has been described as “one of the finest examples of Norman domestic architecture existing in England” (Peberdy). The other came second in an argument with a German bomb. Access to the first is via the garden of the Tudor House Museum, which plans to reopen in June. Until then, we’ll have to be satisfied with this photograph of one of the exterior walls (the bit with the windows). This is the romantically-named Blue Anchor Lane, leading to a gate in the fourteenth-century wall.

The lesser of the two buildings is in Porters Lane. It was the house of a merchant, whose name is not known, and was built around 1170 to 1200. It was for some time (and still is occasionally) referred to as Canute’s Palace. Since Cnut died in 1035, this is unlikely, although he might have had some kind of place there or nearby, as he was often in Southampton during his reign. It’s possible that it was from a shore in Southampton that he demonstrated his inability to keep the tide from coming in. The town is famous for its double tides, so it would have been an ideal place to make the point.

When it was built at the end of the twelfth century, there was probably nothing other than a beach between the house and Southampton Water, unseen on the left in the photograph above. In the fourteenth century it lost its sea view when the South Wall was built in front of it.

It’s thought that the ground floor of the building was a warehouse and that the living quarters were on the floor above. There was a hall and at least one smaller private chamber. The ground floor might also have been a shop. It’s hard to know all these centuries later. The house has suffered a great deal of damage over the years, but is still very impressive.

Sources:
Historic Buildings of Southampton by Philip Peberdy
Collected Essays on Southampton edited by J B Morgan and Philip Peberdy
Medieval Southampton by Colin Platt

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

Available now:

TheHeirsTale-WEB

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God’s House Tower and Gate, Southampton

At the south eastern corner of the medieval town are God’s House Gate and God’s House Tower. The gate was built in the early fourteenth century following the construction of a new quay here at the end of the thirteenth century. The gate provided access to the town from the quay. The gate was protected by two portcullises, but I’ve only photographed the grooves of one.

The tower dates from the fifteenth century, probably the reign of Henry V. It protected the sluices controlling the flow of water into the tidal moat along the eastern side of the town. I think the water ran under the archway you can see around the woman in my photograph.

God’s House Tower

Soldiers and the town’s guns were kept here. When we get to some of the other towers dotted around the walls, we’ll see how progressive Southampton was in the use of cannon. The guns in the tower were used in 1457 when a French fleet threatened the town. They were effective and the fleet sailed further round the coast.

God’s House Gate from within the walls

The tower served as a prison in the eighteenth century and was used for storage and as a mortuary in the nineteenth. For fifty years at the end of the last century it was a museum of archaeology and now it’s a space for the visual arts.

Most of these photographs were taken from outside the medieval town. Where I stood to take them would have been on the quay or a beach in the fourteenth century. I’m not sure which. Today it’s reclaimed land and there are docks and a quay opposite the gate and tower.

The oldest bowling green in the world

This building looks very modern, and it is, but the fence surrounds the oldest bowling green in the world. It has been here, just outside the medieval walls, since at least 1299. I should probably qualify that by saying that it’s the oldest bowling green still in use, as there’s a record of one in Chester in 1294.

The tower and the gate were called after God’s House, a hospital, which was nearby. God’s House itself was on the left of the photograph below. It was built at the end of the thirteenth century by Gervaise de Riche. Yes, his surname does mean that he was rich. There’s very little of God’s House left, mostly St. Julien’s church, and it was heavily ‘restored’ in the nineteenth century. It was used by French Protestants from the sixteenth century until 1939.

St Julien’s Church

God’s House was built as an almshouse for some of the sick and old who could no longer work. It also gave hospitality to foreign pilgrims on their way to the shrines of St. Swithun in Winchester and St. Thomas Becket in Canterbury. Probably its most famous guest was Marguerite d’Anjou who stayed in 1445 on her way to marry Henry VI.

The hospital was supported by the gifts of the wealthy men of the town, at least for the first hundred years or so. The gifts would have been of money and of property. Rents on the properties would have provided a regular income to maintain the hospital. By the middle of the fourteenth century the town was in a bad way financially, as a result of a raid by the French in 1338 and the Black Death in 1348 to 1351. It was only at the beginning of the fifteenth century that the hospital began to receive the money it was due again.

In the early thirteenth century the staff comprised a master, two priests, a clerk, two to three brothers, three to nine sisters and two to three indoor servants. It didn’t take many people to manage a hospital in the Middle Ages.

In the first post in this series, I mentioned the conspirators against Henry V who were executed outside the Bargate in 1415. One of them, Lord Scrope, was buried at St. Julien’s, apart from his head, which was displayed above one of the town gates at York.

Sources:
Historic Buildings of Southampton by Philip Peberdy
Collected Essays on Southampton edited by J B Morgan and Philip Peberdy
Medieval Southampton by Colin Platt

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

Available now:

TheHeirsTale-WEB

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The Wool House, Southampton

The Wool House

The wool House is an imposing building at the southern end of the medieval town. It was built during the fourteenth century, although the buttresses at the side are a little later and the front has been altered considerably. The doorway is original.

As the name suggests, it was used as a warehouse for wool. Wool was England’s main export in the Middle Ages and Southampton was one of the main ports through which it passed. I’ve written a post about how important wool was to the economy of fourteenth-century England. From Southampton it went mainly to Flanders in the fourteenth century and to Italy in the fifteenth. In the fourteenth century Genoese carracks arrived in Southampton carrying alum, woad and dyes for the English cloth industry and left carrying wool to Flanders. In the fifteenth century it was Florentine and Venetian galleys that came with luxury goods for the Mediterranean, retuning to Italy with the wool.

It’s not clear who built the warehouse. It might have been Thomas Middleton who became mayor in 1401. He was wealthy enough to build a new quay with a crane at the Watergate, which was very close to the Wool House. Another possibility is that the monks at Beaulieu Abbey built it. Since a very large portion of the sheep in England were owned by monasteries, this is the explanation I prefer.

In the eighteenth century the Wool House was used to hold French and Spanish prisoners during the Napoleonic Wars. Later it reverted to being a warehouse, then it was a shop for a while. In 1966 it became a maritime museum, but more recently it has become the home of a microbrewery and restaurant.

We rarely think of such mundane buildings as being important historically, but the Wool House is probably the only remaining medieval purpose-built warehouse in Europe.

Sources:
Historic Buildings of Southampton by Philip Peberdy
Collected Essays on Southampton edited by J B Morgan and Philip Peberdy
Medieval Southampton by Colin Platt

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

Available now:

TheHeirsTale-WEB

Amazon

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Holy Rood, Southampton

Unlike the church in last week’s post, Holy Rood, less than 200 yards away, didn’t survive the Second World War unscathed. On the night of 30th November 1940, it, along with most of the town centre, was destroyed. The ruin was dedicated to the Merchant Navy and there are memorials inside to seafaring Sotonians who lost their lives at sea, including one to members of the crew of the Titanic.

What’s left of the current building was built in 1320, replacing a church that stood in the middle of English Street. The tower is fourteenth century, but the nave, aisles and chancel were rebuilt in 1849-50. The Victorian rebuilding was a lot more sympathetic to the medieval original than many such projects and more people were able to fit inside the church and make use of the building, which was of benefit to the parish.

The site of the present church was given to St. Denys Priory by Thomas de Bynedone, probably the richest man in the town at the time. The old church was more or less exactly where the new water conduit needed to be to bring fresh water into the town from a spring outside. Thomas de Bynedone’s intention was that there would be a cemetery as well as a church, but the town’s mother church, St. Mary’s, objected. Burials of the town’s inhabitants were only to take place in St. Mary’s cemetery and none of the churches within the town’s walls had burial grounds. St. Mary’s was just a few hundred yards outside the medieval town and I’m not entirely sure how it came to be its main church. Perhaps we’ll visit some of the buildings outside the town walls later. The church was reached through the town’s East Gate. The gate is no longer there, but the road that led to it is still called East Street. Although Thomas de Byndone’s plan for a cemetery failed, he was given the right to be buried within Holy Rood itself.

At the height of the Black Death, three separate vicars were appointed to the parish on 12th March, 22nd April and 20th September 1349, their predecessors having succumbed to the plague. The whole town, which hadn’t even started to recover from a raid by the French in 1338, was badly affected by the Black Death and took a long time to regain its former wealth. For centuries it was thought that Southampton was the place where the Black Death entered England, but it’s now believed that this was Melcombe, a few miles round the coast in Dorset.

During the fifteenth century Holy Rood became the church of the wealthier inhabitants of the town, who tended to live in the southern part of the parish. At this time, the church’s bell was rung to wake the town and to announce the curfew each day.

Possibly the most important visitor the church has welcomed was Philip II of Spain. When he arrived in Southampton in 1554, he heard Mass here, then rode to Winchester to marry Mary Tudor.

Sources:
Historic Buildings of Southampton by Philip Peberdy
Collected Essays on Southampton edited by J B Morgan and Philip Peberdy
Medieval Southampton by Colin Platt

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

Available now:

TheHeirsTale-WEB

Amazon

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St Michael’s Church, Southampton

St Michael’s is the oldest church in the town and the only one within the medieval walls still in use. It’s in French Street. In the Middle Ages what is now called High Street was called English Street and the two ran parallel to one another. English street, leading as it did to the Bargate, was the main street of the town. The names of the streets reflect the two different communities that inhabited the town after the Norman Conquest.

Most of the town’s shops were in English Street, but there were some in French Street. One of them remains in the form of the Medieval Merchant’s House, managed by English Heritage. We won’t be visiting it on this tour, as I wrote a series of posts about it and all the rooms inside here. A market took place in the area in front of the church and it’s still an open space today.

Medieval Merchant’s House

St Michael’s was originally built by the Normans, shortly after 1066 and named after the patron saint of Normandy. The tower is Norman and the spire dates from the eighteenth century. It’s said that the German bombers during the war were careful not to destroy the church as the spire was a landmark on their raids.

The front wall of the church that you can see in the photograph above is Norman, but the door and window are from the fifteenth century. Inside there are Norman arches, but we can’t go inside at the moment. When we’re able, we’ll have to return to St Michael’s to see the treasures it contains.

For many centuries until the mid-1830s the mayors of Southampton took their oath of office inside the church.

In the mid twelfth century Henry II gave control of the churches within the town walls to the Augustinian priory of St. Denys to the north east. I’m not sure how he was able to do that, but it meant that the parish priests would be monks from the priory rather than secular priests who lived in their parishes. Although the arrangement held for centuries, the priory stopped supplying priests quite quickly.

A document of the mid thirteenth century tells us that the parochial churches in the town were to receive tithes from the sales of fish by their parishioners, from the two windmills between the town and the leper house just north of the town, and from the piglets within the town walls. This last made me pause for thought, as the town walls were about a mile and a half all the way round. I wondered how many piglets there could be in such a small area. There can’t have been many to share between the five parish churches.

Sources:
Historic Buildings of Southampton by Philip Peberdy
Collected Essays on Southampton edited by J B Morgan and Philip Peberdy
Medieval Southampton by Colin Platt

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

Available now:

TheHeirsTale-WEB

Amazon

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The Bargate

Like everyone else, I haven’t been getting out much lately. To some extent, I rely on being inspired by medieval sites I visit for this blog, although a lot of inspiration comes from my reading. I realised recently, though, that there are still some medieval buildings I can get to whilst keeping within the current restrictions. When you’ve grown up in a town that has plenty of medieval remains, it’s easy to stop noticing them, or at least to think that there’s nothing unusual about them. There is, of course, so we’re going on a virtual tour of medieval Southampton.

Since I can’t get out to purchase anything more up-to-date, I’ll be relying mostly on Historic Buildings of Southampton (cost one shilling and sixpence) and Collected Essays on Southampton (cost six shillings). Last month saw the fiftieth anniversary of decimalisation, so you can work out that I’ve had both books for some time.

We’re starting with the Bargate, the most iconic building in the city. It identifies Southampton so much that it’s part of the council’s logo and can be seen on the council’s buildings, vehicles and stationery.

The Bargate was the main gate of the medieval town. It was in the northern wall of the town and the road that led away from it went to Winchester and on to London. The photograph at the top of the post shows how it would have looked to someone approaching the town and in the photograph below you can see what a medieval inhabitant of the town would have seen, although the statue of George III portrayed as a Roman wasn’t there then and the windows were also added much later.

The original gate was built in the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries. I’ve marked the photograph below so that you can see the two main stages of building. The two round towers and the walls date from the early thirteenth century and there’s a Norman arch from the end of the twelfth century just visible beyond the early fifteenth-century extension. There was a portcullis in the gateway. In a good light you can still see its grooves.

It was a well-fortified gate, but the main threat to the town in the Middle Ages was from the sea, not from the London road. There was also a moat along the north wall, which meant that the town walls were more or less surrounded by water, since there as a marsh to the east and a river estuary to the south and west. The two lions date from the eighteenth century, as do the heraldic shields above the gate. One of the more famous events that took place here was the execution of the conspirators in the Southampton Plot probably not far from where I stood to take the photograph. The plotters wished to kill Henry V and his brothers and make someone they thought had a better claim to the crown king. This was shortly before Henry V marched part of his army through the gate and on to ships that would take them to France where he would triumph at Agincourt.

The ground floor of the Bargate was used on and off as a prison and the upper floor was the Guildhall. It was used for meetings of members of the Guild Merchant. Much later it was where the Town Assembly met. It eventually became a museum, but is only open on very special occasions.

You will note that the Bargate is very symmetrical, something that was lost on me as a child. I always assumed that German bombs had detached it from the walls that enclosed the medieval town, as they had destroyed most of the buildings for some distance north and south of the gate, but that wasn’t the case. The Bargate sits halfway along the main shopping street in the city, Above Bar and Below Bar to locals, but officially known as Above Bar Street and High Street. Shops on either side were built right up to the gate and all the traffic on the town’s main road had to go through the arch. It’s a very narrow arch, while Above Bar and Below Bar are very wide. By the late nineteenth century it was obvious that there was a problem, but it wasn’t tackled until the 1930s, when Southampton Corporation demolished the medieval walls on either side in 1932 and 1938. For many years the Bargate sat in the middle of a roundabout. Somewhat ironically, cars were banned from the area in the 1970s.

Sources:
Historic Buildings of Southampton by Philip Peberdy
Collected Essays on Southampton edited by J B Morgan and Philip Peberdy
Medieval Southampton by Colin Platt
Cursed Kings by Jonathan Sumption

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

Available now:

TheHeirsTale-WEB

Amazon

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Medieval Couriers

In the fourteenth century you couldn’t post your letters into the nearest postbox and expect them to be delivered within a few days. Postboxes and the postal service that went with them were nineteenth century inventions. If you wanted to send a letter, you had to pay someone to carry it. For most people, that didn’t really matter, since they lived near everyone they knew or might need to communicate with and could either visit them or send a servant. There were, however, some people for whom being able to get a letter to the other side of the country, or even the other side of Europe, was very important and some of them developed reliable means of doing so.

Probably the best medieval postal service was developed by Italian merchants. European trade was dominated by merchants from Florence, Venice and Genoa. This meant that their goods were transported all over Europe. Initially, they travelled with their wares, but around the middle of the thirteenth century the businesses of the great merchant houses got to be so large that that was no longer possible. As soon as they had to trust their goods to other people, the merchants needed to have some kind of courier service in place to carry messages back and forth about the progress of their goods, the cost of tolls on the route, and the prices the goods could be expected to fetch when they reached their destination. They also needed to be able to send messages to the people carrying their goods should their original plans change and to their customers.

The solution was to set up courier services made up of men and horses who could travel quickly up and down a single route. For about a hundred years each of the great merchant houses had their own messengers, but it was a very expensive undertaking. In 1357 seventeen Florentine companies joined together to provide a single service. Their goods were all following the same routes, more or less, so it made sense to co-operate in this one area. They set up the scasella dei mercanti fiorentini and it wasn’t long before merchants in other places followed suit.

This postal service was expensive because it required many couriers and even more horses. Each route had several couriers with changes of horses available to them along the way. There were thousands of letters to be carried each year, so the men were kept busy. The main routes from Florence went to Barcelona and Bruges. The latter could be by way of Cologne or Paris. From Barcelona the couriers could cross the Mediterranean by ship or cross Spain and go into Portugal. From Bruges they could cross the Channel to London.

Obviously, the length of time that it took for a letter to get from its sender to its recipient varied according to the time of year, the weather and the condition of the horses and riders. The merchants in Florence, however, expected to be able to get a message from Florence to Paris (700 miles) in twenty to twenty-two days, to Bruges (800 miles) in less than twenty-five days and to London (1,000 miles) in less than thirty days. This last didn’t really take into account the unpredictability of crossing the Channel at the best of times and these speeds were probably more wished for than achieved.

It wasn’t just merchants who needed a courier service for their letters. The church had one too. Letters were constantly going between clerics in England (and other countries) and the papal court in Avignon (later Rome). Letters also went between the papal court and the secular rulers of Europe. These also used couriers to carry letters between themselves and those of their subjects they wished to communicate with.

Possibly the most famous courier of the fourteenth century (although not for being a courier) was Geoffrey Chaucer. In October 1360 he was paid nine shillings by Lionel of Antwerp, in whose retinue he was serving, to carry letters from France to England, presumably announcing Lionel’s imminent return. Doubtless he carried other letters while he was still a lowly member of Lionel’s household.

Sources:
Power and Profit by Peter Spufford
The Time-Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England by Ian Mortimer
The Life of Geoffrey Chaucer by Derek Pearsall

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

Available now:

TheHeirsTale-WEB

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Medieval Itinerary

In the six years that I’ve been writing this blog, one post has been far and away the most popular. It’s about travelling in the Middle Ages and it’s viewed several times a day. In this post I’d like to concentrate on one particular aspect of medieval travel that I mentioned in that post, but didn’t cover in much detail: the itinerary.

In the fourteenth century, most people knew how to get to their nearest town without too much bother They probably went to markets and fairs there fairly often and didn’t need help to find their way. Some of them might even have known the way to the nearest cathedral or shrine. What would have been difficult was going much further, as it would be for us. I don’t need a map or a satnav to find my way to my diocesan cathedral, but if I wanted to go to a cathedral a bit further afield, or to another town, I would find either useful.

Satnavs weren’t available in the Middle Ages and neither were maps, really. They were few and far between and not much use for helping a traveller get from A to B. They were not to scale and were inconsistent. The artists who drew them weren’t always sure where one town was in relation to another and rivers took up rather more space on the page than they did in the landscape.

What could you do then, if you were called to join an army 200 miles from where you lived, or if you set off on a pilgrimage or if you wanted to transport your goods from one side of Europe to the other. If you could read, you used an itinerary. If you couldn’t read, you still used one, but you’d have to memorise it before you set off, or borrow it and hope you could find someone who could read at each place you passed through.

An itinerary was essentially a list of places between A and B that showed the distance between each one. Usually they were very long and narrow and were rolled up when not in use. Suppose I received a message to visit the king at Windsor. It’s a journey of about 60 miles from my home. I’m not going to be able to do it in a day and all I know is that it’s somewhere in the north, but everywhere is in the north from the south coast. My itinerary might look a little like this:
Winchester 12
Popham 11
Basing 10
Witney Priory 8
Easthamptstead 10
Windsor 10
I can get to Winchester easily, because I’ve been there many times, and I know how long the journey takes, but once I’m there I have to find someone who can show me the road to take for Popham. When I get to Popham, I have to aske the way to Basing and so on until I arrive, somewhat travelworn, in Windsor to await the king’s pleasure.

This example is entirely made up and a medieval itinerary might not have been as direct as my route, although modern roads tend to follow old routes fairly closely. It might have shown places that were further apart or closer together. Some itineraries included diversions. The Itineraire de Bruges, for example, showed the route from Paris to Dijon and you could either go through Provins, or avoid it. This might have something to do with where you preferred to cross the Seine.

You can see from this that I don’t need a map at all. All I need is a list of places and a good idea of how long it will take me to walk or ride 10 miles, or whatever the distance is. If I should wander off the road, I’m bound to encounter someone, unless it’s in the depths of winter, who can set me on the right path.

Sources:
Power and Profit: The Merchant in Medieval Europe by Peter Spufford

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

Available now:

TheHeirsTale-WEB

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Medieval Lent

Saxon Rood

Since we’ve just entered Lent, I thought we’d have a look at what happened during this period in the Middle Ages. When we think about Lent as it was experienced seven hundred years ago, we tend to focus on the fasting aspect. Meat, milk (cream and butter), and eggs were banned, which, as I’ve said in other posts, probably wasn’t much of a change for most people who struggled to get meat much of the time. What we rarely think about is what Lent meant to a medieval person. Today many people think that Lent is just about giving up chocolate or television or something else that’s reasonably important to them, but people in the Middle Ages knew that giving up things was to help them to reflect on the meaning of Lent.

So, what was, and is, Lent? It’s the forty days before Easter and is a very sombre time in the church calendar. It leads to the despair of the Crucifixion and, ultimately, to the joy of Easter Day. Like Easter, it doesn’t have fixed dates. It takes as its model the forty days that Jesus spent in the wilderness and is a time of sacrifice and deprivation. It lasts from Ash Wednesday until the end of Holy Saturday, the day before Easter Sunday.

Before Ash Wednesday, there is Shrove Tuesday. In the Middle Ages this wasn’t a single day but a longer period known as Shrovetide, when people confessed their sins so that they could begin the Lenten fast having repented, received absolution and done penance. This is the meaning of the word ‘shrive’ from which ‘shrove’ is derived. Even in a small village it would probably have taken the priest longer than one day to hear everyone’s confession. Shrove Tuesday was the last day on which meat, milk and eggs could be consumed and in some countries it turned into a bit of a party – Carnival. That’s not the case in England, where it was a fairly serious day until the Reformation. That’s when the tradition of making pancakes to use the last of the eggs and the butter began.

The other thing they were supposed to abstain from during Lent was sex. Who knows now how strictly that particular injunction was observed? Since most people, even married couples, had no privacy, I suspect that it was … for the most part. No one could get married in Lent and it’s still something that many churches aren’t keen on. These days, though, it’s more for practical reasons than spiritual ones. Lent is an austere time and churches can’t be decorated as some couples might wish.

This many centuries later, it’s really hard to know what people thought about Lent, but they wouldn’t have thought it was just about what they couldn’t eat, or couldn’t do. The church was the centre of everyone’s life and everyone grew up going to church on Sundays and feast days. The parish priest was always there and there was probably a monastery or convent not far away. Mendicant friars might have visited the parish and preached. Parishioners heard sermons and, even if their priest didn’t have access to a Bible, they learned enough about the cycle of the church year to understand the meaning of Lent. They would have understood that it was a time of reflection and preparation. Fasting was only something that would aid this; it was not the most important aspect of Lent.

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

Available now:

TheHeirsTale-WEB

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The Friar of Carcassonne by Stephen O’Shea – A Review

Published: 2011
Pages: 280

Although most of the events related in The Friar of Carcassonne take place in the fourteenth century, their roots stretch back into the twelfth and thirteenth centuries with the explosion of heresies in the Languedoc, an area of southern France. Stephen O’Shea has written about the origins of Catharism in the region in a separate book, The Perfect Heresy, and The Friar of Carcassonne is the story of a Franciscan who played an important role during its end.

Brother Bernard Délicieux, a Franciscan, took on the inquisition (very definitely lower case at that time) when no one else dared. There had been obvious abuses by the Dominican inquisitors in Carcassonne, a town in Languedoc, at the end of the thirteenth century. Some of the inquisitors, it turned out later, received financial benefits from identifying certain wealthy people as supporters of the heretics. Very little ‘evidence’ was required to condemn someone and many men spent decades incarcerated in terrible conditions, eventually dying in prison for supporting people they’d never heard of. This was the main incentive for Bernard to take on the inquisition.

O’Shea goes back in time at the beginning of the book in order to set the scene. By the end of the thirteenth century Catharism had begun to die out, but there was renewed persecution in the last two decades of the century. This resulted in unrest in a region that had only recently become part of the kingdom of France. Eventually what was going on there caused concern both to the pope and to the king of France.

Brother Bernard is presented as charismatic, intelligent and persuasive. O’Shea shows how he managed to gain the support of both highly-placed churchmen and counsellors of Philippe IV, king of France. He also shows how easily Bernard made enemies in equally high places, including kings and popes. Bernard, it turns out, could also be a bit of a rabble-rouser when he wanted and he wasn’t above lying to further his cause or to save his life.

Unusually for something that happened in a remote corner of the world to someone who wasn’t terribly important beyond that corner, the events are well-documented. The reasons for this become very clear as the tale progresses. O’Shea makes good use of these records in his presentation of the friar and his activities.

I enjoyed the book, but found it quite disjointed. Of necessity, O’Shea has to explain a lot of background before he can write about what Bernard did in a particular situation and why it was significant, and that breaks up the narrative, since it’s necessary in almost every chapter. There are also copious notes at the end of the book, citing sources for those who want to find out more. If you’re interested in the heresies that erupted in the twelfth century, you will probably want to read this book.

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

Available now:

TheHeirsTale-WEB

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