Photo Diary

So, the question is, “How do you feel towards the church? As your books are all based on the church doing wrong?”

An interesting question from a reader last week – and I’ve been intending to get round to answering. Today I did, but it makes a good topic for the blog, because it is something I’m asked fairly often nowadays. There seems to be a belief among readers that every attitude in my books must reflect my own. Well, no, they don’t. My job is to get inside the heads of other people and explain their thoughts and motives. In the same way that I don’t have to experience the joys of killing other people to write crime,

Why do I have so much misbehaviour in my books?

Because it’s what happened. Seriously.

I’m very happy with the church generally. I’m proud to be able to call the Rector of Crediton a friend. And, in my defence, you have to bear in mind that in my books I use characters like Peter Clifford, Abbot Champeaux, Bishop Walter II, the Dean of Exeter, and God knows how many others who are all decent enough guys. The bad ones tend to be a rarity, really. If you add up all the good monks, the pleasant clerics, the recorders and clerks, you’ll find plenty of amiable, patient fellows.

However, you have to bear in mind that when an organisation directly or indirectly employs somewhere in the region of a third of the total male workforce of the country, there will be some bad apples.

The cases I use are generally from documents.

So the Parson of Quantoxhead is genuine;   the Exeter Canon who broke into a house and stole goods is genuine (John Dyrewyn);   as is the case of the priest ( John de Thorntone) who kidnapped a woman, raped her, ransomed her, and then kept both woman and ransom without making restitution.  The case of the eleven who broke open St Buryen Church and beat the Dean and attendants so harshly that their lives were feared of was true, as was that of the three priests of Crediton guilty of gross immorality. As was the story of Stapledon breaking into the Dominicans; the misbehaviour of the nuns at Belstone (culled from the cases at two other Devon convents recorded in Bishop Grandisson’s rolls); the robberies, the extortion, all the cases I’ve given are from the records. As is the story of the Mad Monk of Gidleigh – except he was called the Mad Monk of Haldon Hill in the court records.

And in case you think Devon folk were uniquely venal, don’t forget that it was at this time that the Crown Jewels were moved from Westminster Abbey to the Tower of London because the monks at the abbey were complicit in a theft of the jewels in 1303!

I do see my job as being moderately impartial. I like to show how things really were, not either as a rosy-tinted view of ye olde England, nor as a repellent neo-Marxist tale of grim, unrelenting misery. I try always to tell it as it is.

Unfortunately (or, rather, fortunately since I’m a crime writer!) there are just a vast number of cases of misbehaving nuns and monks and clerks and priests and all the rest of them!

It’s why Medieval England was such fun!

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.