Book Review, nonfiction

Medieval Murder ~ Communal Revenge or Communal Vengeance?

Pen & Sword Books 2020

Chapter 6

CW: discussions of domestic abuse, abuses of power in husband/wife and master/servant relationships, sexual assault

This chapter explores the semantic differences between revenge and vengeance, and looks at whether motives can be found that fit either definition.

Revenge: to take revenge is to inflict hurt or harm on someone for an injury or wrong done to oneself.

Vengeance: punishment inflicted or retribution exacted for an injury or wrong.

Revenge is an act of passion; vengeance of justice. Injuries are revenged; crimes are avenged.

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)

Was Sir William killed as a result of a wrong he had done to someone, a personal grudge or injury, or was he killed in an act of communal vengeance for something they deemed he ought to be punished for , but knew he might be protected by the law? These questions have not been considered previously, although the concept of a household acting together to seek revenge or vengeance is not unheard of.

In the thirteenth century, Sir William de Ardern was murdered for his tight-fistedness and his mistreatment of his servants. His steward and squire acted together, procuring the services of Richard de Bury to murder their lord, and Richard was only too happy to oblige since Sir William de Ardern had withheld Richard’s service and his pay. Richard and a number of other men ambushed and killed the lord in his own grove at Ardern, Warwickshire, and framed a local knight, Sir Richard de Insula. Sir Richard was imprisoned for a time for this crime until the truth eventually came to light, and he was released.

It’s possible Sillem didn’t know about this case when she formed her own hypothesis, but it should also be noted that in the 1930s servants still lived-in and household staff was still a common thing, so perhaps the idea of live-in servants ganging up on an unfair master and exacting vengeance (or revenge) was not a comfortable one. The more romantic love triangle was a better, more palatable theory, but also one that played into the class assumptions of the time. Schemes were for the educated elite, not the uneducated commoners.

There is then the question of what the household might be exacting revenge or vengeance for. This does not necessarily take Lady Maud out of the equation entirely, but it’s possible to take her out of the role of mastermind.

This chapter looks at medieval communities and how they self-policed, responses to domestic violence within the community deemed ‘unfair’ or ‘excessive’ and how a community might deal with that. It also considers that Lady Maud’s treatment may not have been a factor, but rather, Sir William’s treatment of the servants themselves, including of the maid, Agatha, whom it seems Lady Maud attempted to protect.

With these interpretations put forward, have you formed your own hypothesis, or changed your mind from your initial ideas? Why?

Read the full book and decide for yourself!


Buy the book: direct from the publisher in hardback or eBook format, or from Amazon [UK / US, etc] AppleKobo 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* Amazon and NetGalley Review

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