Book Review, nonfiction

Medieval Murder ~ The Indicted Suspects

Pen & Sword Books 2020

Chapter 3

Chapter 3 of Murder During the Hundred Years’ War takes a look at all the indicted suspects in the case – there’s a helpful list at the start of the book that readers can refer to!

Nearly all of these individuals are shadowy at best, and there is next to no biographical information about them. This chapter lays out what we do know, and then looks at the roles of servants and the lives of medieval women, men and younger people of lower status more broadly. This chapter also considers other murder cases where someone of similar status was involved – other cases of wives murdering their husbands, servants killing their masters, squires/armour-bearers attacking their knights.

Who was indicted for Sir William’s murder/aiding and abetting the killing?

  • Lady Maud, his wife
  • Sir Ralph Paynell, his late brother’s ex-father-in-law
  • Robert of Cleatham, the steward of Scotton Manor
  • Richard Gyse, the armour-bearer
  • Robert Cook, the butler
  • John Barneby of Beckingham, the Chamberlain
  • Agatha Frere/Lovell, Lady Maud’s maid

Other servants, whose position in the household is unclear:

  • John Astyn
  • Walter/William Chamberlainman (confusingly, not the chamberlain, so appears to be an occupational surname, and his first name changes in different indictments due to scribal error, Walter is probably correct)
  • Augustine Forester
  • Augustine Warner
  • John Henxteman
  • Augustine Morpath
  • William de Hayle/Hole
  • Henry Tasker

This chapter looks at household conspiracies, including other cases where a wife bribed her servants to murder her husband. The botched murder of Sir William Picard of Goldington, Bedfordshire, is a memorable example, in which his wife Lady Joan paid several servants to kill him as he sat in his chair by the fire one night. He was hit over the head with an axe so that he fell into the fire, but this didn’t kill him, and one of the attackers had to grab a knife from the table [a trenchard] and stabbed him through the heart.

Feuds between noble families are also discussed, with examples of nobles killing each other when disputes got out of control. In the previous century, one of the Cantilupe cadet branches bore the disgrace of a murderer in the family, when one of them was hanged for killing a member of the Goldingham family after a legal dispute.

Servants who attacked their masters for their own reasons, not because they were bribed or coerced to do the deed, are also considered. Sir William de Arden’s steward and armour-bearer were responsible for the conspiracy against him, for example, and he was murdered in a grove he possessed by a servant who had his own reasons for hating him and gladly did the deed. A local knight, Sir Richard de Insula, was framed for the crime and imprisoned, but when the conspiracy came to light he was eventually released.

Chapter 3 provides a lot of context for the following chapters, which take a look at various possible motives for the murder of Sir William Cantilupe and various ways the murder could have come about. The plausibility of the ‘traditional view’, that Lady Maud was behind it, is also given weight, but alternative theories are equally as strong considering the evidence.

Who do you think did it, and why?

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.

5* NetGalley Review

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