Book Review, nonfiction, Uncategorized

Medieval Murder ~ The Victim

Pen & Sword Books 2020

Chapter 2

Chapter 2 of Murder During the Hundred Years’ War introduces the victim, Sir William Cantilupe. We know nothing of his childhood and early years from a personal perspective, and so this chapter takes a broader view, putting his life in context of the events he lived through.

  • What did the childhood of a noble status child look like? What toys did they play with? How were they trained?
  • What impact did the Black Death (1348-49) have on the survivors, and how might this have impacted his childhood?
  • What about family history and the weight of familial expectations – can we uncover family dynamics that might be relevant?
  • At some point, Sir William married Lady Maud – a Neville, of a cadet line of that powerful family, who seems to have been orphaned by or around the time of her marriage.
  • Sir William went on campaign in France as part of the Hundred Years’ War – what happened on campaign, and how might this have shaped him? It’s impossible to know for sure, but since no motive is recorded for his murder, acknowledging all the unknowns and possibilities is important before we accept certain interpretations of the evidence!
  • Sir William’s military career was cut short when he was arrested for the murder of his brother, Nicholas, from whom he inherited all the Cantilupe lands. He was acquitted and released from the Tower of London, and Sir Nicholas’s death was ruled to be of natural causes. Sir William disappears from the records for a few years, then turns up dead. What’s the story there?

This chapter deals with medieval childhood and adolescence, the trauma of the famines and plague, family dynamics and how to uncover it, the legacy of Sir William’s grandfather (statesman, spy, knight, among other things…) and poses questions about the man himself.

The accepted motive for the murder among scholars is Sillem’s love triangle theory, but could there be more to it that that? How many other motives could there be, unexplored, which nonetheless fit with the evidence and the events we know of?

Find out more…

Workshopping A Murder

When I teach this as a class, I invite my students to put together their own thoughts about him and back up their theories with the source material, as this is a good exercise not only in critical thinking and handling sources, but also as a demonstration of how ‘filling in the gaps’ and interpreting patchy evidence can lead to wildly different opinions and theories. It’s a good lesson in why you shouldn’t take anything as read in situations like these, and a good exercise to unpick what is fact, what is plausible, and what is the student’s own assumption. What assumptions you make in filling in gaps like this reveals the biases you hold, and it’s helpful to be self-reflective about this when you’re working with sparse details.

I also encourage students to discuss Sillem’s own perspective and context – England in the 1930s – and ask what factors could have led her to propose her love triangle theory. Similarly, what makes scholars pick this up uncritically and cite it as fact? Bear in mind that she isn’t necessarily wrong! It’s as good a motive as any. But as the weeks go on, I encourage students to think about the other equally valid motives there might be for the crime, and to present their own theories at the end of the course in a medium of their choice.

When I teach a shortened version of this course as a two-part creative writing workshop, I focus on the creative interpretation angle, and encourage all kinds of creative responses to the case as a writing prompt for any genre.

What would your biography of Sir William look like? Grab a copy of the book to play along, and/or watch out for announcements on my next short creative writing workshop!

Buy the book from Pen & Sword directly – available as hardback and eBook. You can also buy a copy from Amazon, but the hardbacks run out of stock there quickly!

If you want me to run a workshop like this for you, my fee is £50 payable via PayPal – you can commission me on Ko-Fi. Please note that I do have a full time job Mon-Fri, so workshops would have to be weekday evenings or weekends only, British time.

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