nonfiction

Medieval Murder ~ The Discovery of A Body 1375

Pen & Sword Books, 2020

Chapter 1

In exploring Sir William’s 14thC context, this book necessarily touches upon a variety of issues that some readers may find distressing or difficult, including domestic violence and sexual assault, and, where Sir William’s brother Nicholas is concerned, negative attitudes towards and traumatic consequences of the discovery of his atypical genitalia.

The book starts off with the discovery of a knight’s body in a field at Grayingham, Lincolnshire, in 1375. The first section explains the process of what happens next: the raising of the hue, reporting to the coroner and sheriff, and the coroner’s process of examination.

Who was responsible for the body once it was found?

What did the coroner do in an age before more advanced forensics?

What were comparative crime stats in rural areas at the time?

The cause of death was fairly obvious – multiple stab wounds to the torso, Murder on the Orient Express style. Roving gangs of highwaymen could have been blamed – there is a section on such roving gangs and their social makeup, focusing on the activities of the Folvilles and the Coterels in the 1320s. Yet this was ruled out once it was discovered that Sir William’s household had closed up the manor of Scotton, where he was last seen a few months prior, and the servants had scattered. His wife, Lady Maud, was found in the house of Sir Ralph and Lady Katherine Paynell, at Caythorpe, Lincolnshire, some 40 miles away. She had been there for as long as Sir William had been missing, together with her maid Agatha and Sir William’s armour-bearer, Richard Gyse.

Scotton Manor was found to be the real scene of the crime. The description and background information on medieval manors puts this into context, and reveals the existence of a household conspiracy: there was no way he could have been murdered in the manor without everyone knowing about it.

Lady Maud’s testimony provides the details of how this was done, but she laid the blame on two people specifically, rather than on the whole household. No motive was recorded for the murder in the records.

This chapter then looks at scholarly opinion from the first interest in this case, by Rosamund Sillem in the 1930s. Sillem, writing at the height of the Golden Age of Detective Fiction and in a social context where live-in servants were still very much a norm, suggested a love triangle between Sir William, his wife, and the sheriff Thomas Kydale, and the servants were patsies, paid off by Kydale and Sir Ralph Paynell who had a grudge against the Cantilupe family. There is no evidence for this except the fact that when Lady Maud was acquitted of murder and accessory to murder, she married the sheriff.

This has been taken up largely uncritically as the explanation for the murder by scholars, who have struggled to explain Sir Ralph’s involvement until Frederick Pedersen’s investigation into the disastrous marriage between Sir Ralph’s daughter Katherine (named after her mother) and Sir William’s older brother Nicholas.

This chapter sets out the backbone of the case, and prepares to launch off into deeper explorations of the characters involved and alternative interpretations of the same evidence – including alternative motives for the crime, none of which, until now, have been considered in depth in the scholarship.


Buy the book: direct from the publisher in hardback or eBook format, or from Amazon [UK / US, etc] Apple, Kobo and other eBook retailers.


This is a fascinating study of a crime committed centuries ago, and the author goes through the evidence to try to determine the guilt and innocence of those accused of the crime.

William Cantilupe was found murdered, but all was not as it first appeared. The author provides a detailed examination of the evidence – sadly some of it has not been preserved and the motives are unclear, but she has researched the period thoroughly, and produces evidence of the social and economic conditions prevailing at that time. Its an interesting case, and well presented. The author does not try to persuade the reader one or way or another, nor does she jump to conclusions based on the preserved evidence, but offers all potential scenarios.

An interesting academic read, well presented.

Thank you to NetGalley and Pen & Sword History for allowing me access to the ARC in exchange for an honest review.

~ ARC Review on NetGalley and Amazon.co.uk

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