Read A Plague of Heretics Online

Authors: Bernard Knight

Tags: #_NB_Fixed, #lorraine, #rt, #Coroners - England, #Devon (England), #Fiction, #Great Britain - History - Angevin period; 1154-1216, #Historical, #Mystery & Detective, #Police Procedural

A Plague of Heretics (2 page)

BOOK: A Plague of Heretics


The administrative body of a monastery, priory or cathedral, consisting of canons, prebendaries and priests, which usually met daily in the chapter house. The name derives from the practice of having a chapter of either a monastic Rule, such that of St Benedict, or of the Gospels, read at every session.


A building material made from clay, lime, ferns, dung, etc. (also see ‘wattle and daub’) made into walls or plastered over panels of woven twigs supported by oak frames.


The common sea-going sailing vessel of the Middle Ages, derived from the Viking longship, but much broader and higher, with a single mast and square sail. There was no rudder before the twelfth/ thirteenth centuries, but a steering oar on the ‘steerboard’ side.


A close fitting helmet of felt or linen, worn by either sex and tied with tapes under the chin.


Several meanings, the custodian of a castle, but also applied to a watchman who patrolled the streets.


Though there are a couple of mentions of a coroner in late Saxon times, the office really began in September 1194, when the royal justices at their session in Rochester, Kent, proclaimed Article Twenty, which in a single sentence launched a system that has survived for over 800 years. They said ‘
In every county of the King’s realm shall be elected three knights and one clerk, to keep the pleas of the Crown

The reason for the establishment of coroners was mainly financial; the aim was to sweep as much money as possible into the royal Exchequer. Richard the Lionheart was a spendthrift, using huge sums to finance his expedition to the Third Crusade in 1189 and for his wars against the French. Kidnapped on his way home from Palestine, he was held for well over a year in prisons in Austria and Germany and a huge ransom was needed to free him. To raise this money, his Chief Justiciar, Hubert Walter, who was also Archbishop of Canterbury, introduced many measures to extort money from the population of England.

Hubert revived the office of coroner, which was intended to raise money by a variety of means relating to the administration of the law. One of these was the investigation of all deaths which were not obviously natural, as well as serious assaults, rapes, house fires, discovery of buried treasure, wrecks of the sea and catches of the royal fish (whales and sturgeon). Coroners also took confessions from criminals seeking sanctuary in churches, organised abjurations of the realm (q.v.), attended executions and ordeals (q.v.) and trial by battle.

As the Normans had inherited a multiple system of county and manorial courts from the Saxons, the coroner also worked to sweep lucrative business into the royal courts. This gave him the title of ‘Keeper of the Pleas of the Crown’, from the original Latin of which (
custos placitorum coronas
) the word ‘coroner’ is derived.

It was difficult to find knights willing to take on the job, as it was unpaid and the appointee had to have a large private income of at least twenty pounds a year. This was supposed to make him immune from corruption, which was common amongst the sheriffs. Indeed, another reason for the introduction of coroners was to keep a check on the sheriffs, who were the king’s representatives in each county (‘shire-reeve’).


From the Norman-French ‘couvre-chef’, a linen or silk cloth that covered a lady’s head, the ends hanging down the back and then forward over the bust, usually secured by a head-band. In Saxon times, it was called a ‘head-rail’. Usually worn with a wimple, which covered the neck and sides of the face.


The prohibition of open fires after dark for fear of starting conflagrations. Derived from ‘couvre-fue’ from the covering or banking-down of fires at dusk. During the curfew no one was supposed be on the streets without good reason and the city gates were closed from sunset to dawn. One thirteenth century mayor of Exeter was hanged for failing to ensure this.


The Royal Council, composed of major barons, judges and bishops, who advised the king.


A large war-horse, capable of carrying an armoured knight.


The financial organ of English government, where all taxes were received in coin twice-yearly from the sheriffs. Originally in Winchester, it moved to Westminster in the late twelfth century. The calculations were performed with counters on a large table spread with a
cloth to assist accounting, which gave rise to the name.


The suspension of membership from a religious community, depriving a person of communion and participation in any of the sacraments. The excommunicant could not partake of the Eucharist or get married or buried in a Christian church.


A sitting of the king’s justices, introduced by Henry II in 1166, which moved around the counties in circuits. They later gave rise to the Assize Courts and in modern times, these became the Crown Courts.


The taxes from a county, collected in coin on behalf of the sheriff and taken by him personally every six months to the Exchequer. The sum to be raised was fixed annually by the Exchequer and if the sheriff could raise more, he could keep the excess, which made the office of sheriff much sought after.


A blancmange-like soft dessert made by straining boiled oatmeal and flavouring with fruit and honey.


A dish of wheat boiled in milk with sugar and spices such as cinnamon. Meat such as venison could be added.


See ‘Historical Note’.


Long stockings, usually single-legged, secured by laces to an underbelt. Worn under the tunic and sometimes having a leather sole in place of a shoe.


An administrative sub-division of a county, with its own monthly court. Name derived either from a hundred houses or a hundred hides of land.


A monk with some medical skills, appointed to run the infirmary in a religious house.


A woman’s gown, the ankle length equivalent of the male tunic.


A cloak, usually formed of a large rectangle of cloth, secured at a shoulder by one corner being passed through a ring or brooch, or by a chain passing below the neck.


A disease or epidemic amongst sheep or cattle, though sometimes applied to people. It was a blanket term, as the actual diseases were not identifiable in the Middle Ages.


An ancient ritual intended to reveal guilt or innocence. The subject of the enquiry, in the presence of the coroner and a priest, had to submit to painful procedures, such as walking barefoot over nine red-hot ploughshares, taking a stone from the bottom of a vat of boiling water or licking a red-hot iron. If the affected part had healed well after three days he was adjudged innocent. Women were tied up and thrown into deep water – if they floated, they were guilty! The ordeal was abolished by the Vatican in 1215.


A servant who attended to the care and stabling of horses.


A small horse for riding, especially used by ladies.


A edict or charter issued by the Pope, named after the ‘bulla’, or leaden seal, attached to the document.


The representative of the Pope appointed to a foreign country.


See ‘Historical Note’.


An outer garment worn by both men and women, with a fur lining for winter wear. The fur could be sable, rabbit, cat, marten, etc.


Originally a medieval customs officer, who ensured that taxes and duty were paid at markets and ports – later they became representatives of the townsfolk and led the town council until mayors were introduced.


A drink made from hot spiced milk curdled with wine and sweetened with sugar or honey.


Soup or stew, a staple part of the diet in medieval times, when a cauldron was often permanently simmering, vegetables and meat being added when available.


A priest, usually a member of a cathedral chapter, who derived his income from the benefice of a church or parish.


A senior monk or priest in a cathedral or abbey, who organised the choral services and music as well as the library and archives.


At coroner’s inquests, a corpse was presumed to be Norman, unless the locals could prove ‘Englishry’ by presenting evidence of identity from the family. If they could not, a ‘murdrum’ fine was imposed by the coroner, on the assumption that Normans were murdered by the Saxons they had conquered in 1066. Murdrum fines became a cynical device to extort money, persisting for several hundred years after the Conquest, by which time it was virtually impossible to differentiate between the races.


A senior priest or monk responsible for discipline in an abbey or cathedral. He had lay servants or bailiffs to carry out his orders, who policed the ecclesiastical enclaves.


A ‘course’ in medieval dining. Two or three ‘removes’ might have been offered, each having a variety of dishes, which were removed before the next round.


A general purpose horse, used for riding or as a pack-horse.


Illumination given by a lighted reed, made by soaking a peeled reed in waste animal fat. This light was the only illumination available to most of the population, as candles were expensive.


A pouch carried on a belt.


A young man aspiring to become a priest when he reached the minimum age of twenty-four. Secondaries assisted canons and their vicars in their cathedral duties.


Several meanings, either a legal/administrative officer in a Hundred or a military rank of a senior man-at-arms.


Where animals were slaughtered in the street and meat displayed for sale by the butchers. As the blood and offal was discarded on to the ground, the name gave rise to the expression for great disorder.


A loose garment worn over the tunic or, in women, the kirtle. Originally, it was meant to cover the coat of mail of the warrior, especially to shield it from the sun in hot climates, and also to carry identifying symbols over the anonymous chain mail (a ‘coat of arms’). Later became a common article of wear.


Shaving of the head of persons in religious orders, to demonstrate the renunciation of worldly fashion. The usual Roman form was a large circular area on top of the head, but the Celtic Church adopted shaving the hair forwards from a line joining the ears.


A thick slice of stale bread, used as a plate on the scrubbed boards of a table, to absorb the juices of the food. Often given to beggars or the dogs at the end of the meal.


The usual wear for men, a long garment belted at the waist, the length often denoting the wearer’s status. Working men usually wore a short tunic over breeches.


A religious representative, such as a priest in a parish who represents the bishop – or in a cathedral, one who attends services on behalf of his canon, sometimes called a ‘vicar-choral’. One who represents the bishop in administrative or legal matters was a vicar-general.


The early Catholic version of the Bible, written in Latin in the early fifth century, much of it attributed to St Jerome.


A building material plastered over woven hazel withies set between the house-frames. Usually made from clay, horsehair, straw and even manure (q.v. ‘cob’.).


A cloth of linen or silk, pinned at each temple, framing a lady’s face and covering the throat up to the chin.

November 1196

The chapman could see that it was an unusual sort of funeral, even for such an outlandish place as Lympstone. There were corpses, bearers, mourners and a grave, but it was nothing like he had ever seen before.

He shrugged his bulky pack from his back and set it down with some relief on the dusty road outside the church gate. Behind him, the track led down to a primitive wharf, where the river lapped against the muddy banks of the estuary of the River Exe. From where he stood, he could see over the low hedge around the churchyard to a corner well away from the existing grave-mounds. Here a flat farm-cart had just arrived, with a patient ox between the shafts. Six sheeted bodies lay on its bare boards, but there was no sign of coffins. Two of the shrouded shapes were pitifully small.

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