The Twenty-Fifth Chronicle of Matthew Bartholomew
Murders in Cambridge town and the disappearance of several scholars give Matthew Bartholomew and Brother Michael more than enough to worry about, but the suggestion that the killers are part of the University makes the situation even more untenable. Worse yet, are the killers in league with a man who is trying to steal the election to be the new Chancellor instead of Michael?
In 1360, the Great Bridge over the River Cam is close to collapse. To repair it will cost the town and the University dear, especially if its rotten wood is replaced by more durable stone. As arguments rage over raising the money, other, equally heated, differences are coming to the boil over the election of a new Chancellor. While the majority support Brother Michael for the post, at least one of his opponents aims to seize it by fair means or foul. Then the discovery of a body under the bridge and the disappearance of two scholars throws a more sinister shadow over both disputes.
Matthew Bartholomew, the University’s Corpse Examiner, already has his hands full: due to marry in under a fortnight, he is determined to conclude his teaching duties and deal with an outbreak of the summer flux before relinquishing his official duties. With more deaths, an ‘accident’ at the bridge, and an increasing stench of corruption over the financing of the bridge’s repairs, he realises he owes more to his soon-to-be former colleagues than to his future life as a secular doctor.
But will there be enough time for him to unveil the identities of those who seek to undermine both the town and the University, or will he prove powerless to protect those he loves from death, disgrace or worse?
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Cambridge, early June 1360
John Baldok was pleased with himself. He had been in the castle, delivering a handsome sum of money that had been raised to repair the Great Bridge, when the Sheriff’s clerks had been distracted by a commotion in the bailey. It had happened just as they had finished recording receipt of the money their ledgers, so when they had hurried outside to watch, Baldok had seized his chance. He had grabbed the coins, shoved them up his sleeve, and strolled nonchalantly through the main gate. No one would ever accuse him of the crime. He was a burgess – one of the men who met to make important decisions about town affairs – and thus above suspicion.
Yet he did experience a small twinge of conscience. The town had struggled to pay the levy, and its theft meant people would have to dip into their purses a second time. It would cause hardship and suffering. But the ruthless side of him shrugged –it was the clerks’ fault for putting temptation his way, so any blame should be laid at their door, not his. Besides, he needed all the cash he could get these days, because his new mistress had very expensive tastes.
He grinned when he thought about Rohese. She was the Mayor’s wife, and he loved the thrill of tiptoeing into her bedchamber while Morys pored over his accounts on the floor below. The lovers were discreet, but their affair was an open secret even so. Fortunately, no one was likely to mention it to Morys, because the Mayor was a very unpopular man.
‘If you want anything done in Cambridge,’ another burgess had informed Baldok at his first guildhall meeting, ‘pay Morys. It does not matter what it is – building a new house, diverting water from the river, repairing a road, negotiating trade deals. Nothing will happen until he has had his cut. It is the way things work around here.’
‘Why was he elected if he is so brazenly corrupt?’ Baldok had asked, bemused.
The burgess shrugged. ‘He bought the votes he needed to win, and now nothing – nothing– happens until he has been paid. Being Mayor has made him very rich.’
It was an unsatisfactory state of affairs, but Baldok was disinclined to object, as he was not a very honest man himself.
Baldok reached the Great Bridge and hesitated. It had been damaged by spring floods, and should have been closed until it was repaired. Unfortunately, that entailed users taking lengthy detours, and they had objected so vigorously that the council had had no choice but to keep it open. Very heavy carts were banned, and horsemen were advised to dismount, but other than that, people were free to take their chance.
Only one other person was on the bridge that evening, because it was nearly dark and the weather was unseasonably cold. The traders from the surrounding villages had already gone home, and other than one or two priests hurrying towards their churches for compline, the streets were deserted.
Baldok began to cross the bridge, wincing as the handrail swayed alarmingly in time with his footsteps. He did not allow himself to dwell on the uncomfortable fact that repairs might have started that week if he had not stolen the money.
It was to be one of the last thoughts he would ever have.
The Twenty-Fourth Chronicle of Matthew Bartholomew
Brother Michael finds that the new Chancellor is trying to curb his power, but rather than consolidating his position, he must concentrate on a series of murders in the University and town, as well as on the approaching ‘Chicken Debate’, the University’s most important philosophical statement in more than a decade.
In 1360, Edward III issues a call to arms, as sporadic attacks by the French threaten to turn into a full-blown invasion. In Cambridge, fear of the enemy is magnified by the belief that foreign agents are lurking in the area. Tension between town and gown runs even higher as rumours and ignorance fan the flames of suspicion amid preparations for war.
And then the first murder occurs – of a French scholar living in the town.
At Michaelhouse, Brother Michael is now Master, but his reach of power in the University is under threat by the election of a new Chancellor and his cohort of dubious advisors.Soon, the Colleges begin to squabble amongst themselves, as well as with the town that never wanted a University in the first place.
Amidst this atmosphere of swelling distrust, physician Matthew Bartholomew is called upon to investigate mysterious deaths in a nearby hospital. He quickly realizes that there is something odd about the inmates and their keepers – something dark and deadly, which seems to be connected to the growing number of murders in the town. Pressure mounts as the University and the town clamour for answers, leading Bartholomew and Michael in a frantic quest for a solution before the powder-keg of animosity in Cambridge is ignited.
East Sussex, March 1360
Robert Arnold, Mayor of Winchelsea, had many flaws, but chief among them was an inappropriate fondness for other men’s wives. His current lover was Herluva Dover, the miller’s woman. She had agreed to meet him at a secluded spot near the sea – on a little hill that afforded excellent views in all directions, thus reducing the chances of them being caught.
Herluva was plump and buck-toothed, so Arnold was not sure why she had caught his fancy. Perhaps it was to spite her husband, Valentine Dover, whom he detested. Or maybe he was just running out of suitable prey and Herluva was the best of those who had not yet succumbed to his silver tongue and roving hands.
Although there was a little hut on the hill, Arnold had chosen to entertain Herluva outside that day. It was a beautiful morning, unseasonably warm, and the scent of approaching spring was in the air. The heather on which they lay was fragrant with new growth, while the sea was calm and almost impossibly blue. A solitary gull cried overhead, but their hideaway was otherwise silent. Arnold sighed contentedly, savouring both the tranquillity and the giddy prospect of what Herluva was about to provide.
Then she spoiled it all by sitting up and blurting, ‘What is that? Look, Rob! A whole host of boats aiming for the river—’
‘The grocers’ ships,’ interrupted Arnold, leaning over to plunge his face into her ample bosom. It smelled of flour and sweat – a not unpleasing combination, he thought serenely. His next words were rather muffled. ‘They are due back any—’
‘I know the grocers’ ships.’ Herluva shoved him away and scrambled to her feet. ‘These are different. Lookat them, Rob.’
Frustrated and irked in equal measure, Arnold stood. Then gaped in horror at what he saw: a great fleet aimed directly at Winchelsea. His stomach lurched. It had been more than a year since the French had last come a-raiding, and he had confidently informed his burgesses that it would never happen again – that King Edward’s immediate and ruthless reprisals in France meant the enemy would never dare attempt a repeat performance.
He recalled with sickening clarity what had happened the last time. Then, the invasion had been on a Sunday, when Winchelsea folk had been at their devotions. The raiders had locked the doors and set the church alight, and anyone who managed to escape the inferno was hacked to pieces outside. The slaughter had been terrible.
‘Stop them, Rob,’ gulped Herluva in horror. ‘Please! My children are down there!’
But Arnold was paralysed with fear as memories of the previous attack overwhelmed him – the screams of those roasted alive in the church, the demented howls of the attackers as they tore through the town, killing and looting. He dropped to his knees in the heather, shaking uncontrollably. He had never seen so many boats in one place – there were far more than last time – and he knew every one would be bursting with French marauders, all intent on murder, rape and pillage.
‘Rob!’ screeched Herluva. ‘For God’s sake, do something!’
Arnold pulled himself together. ‘Sound the tocsin bell,’ he ordered shakily. ‘Then take your little ones to the marshes. They will be safe there. Hurry, woman!’
‘What about you?’ she demanded suspiciously. ‘What will you be doing?’
‘I have a plan to send them packing,’ he snapped, looking out to sea so she would not see the lie in his eyes. ‘Now go! Quickly, before it is too late.’
He watched her scamper away, but made no move to follow. By the time either of them reached the town, it would be far too late to organise any kind of defence. Besides, he knew what happened to those who challenged raiders, so why squander his life for no purpose? It would be better to hide until the attack was over, then take command once the enemy had gone. It was then that a man with good organisational skills would be most useful – arranging for the dead to be buried, the wounded tended, and damaged properties repaired.
He crouched in the heather and watched the ugly, high-prowed vessels reach the mouth of the river, where they furled their sails and rowed towards the town. On a gentle breeze, he heard the first frantic clang of bells, followed by distant howls of alarm as the residents of Winchelsea realised what was about to happen. He could picture the scene – people racing in all directions, rushing to barricade themselves inside their houses, rounding up missing children, loading carts in the wild hope of escape.
Like the last time, the French could not have picked a better occasion to attack. It was market day, so wares would be laid out for the taking, while half the town was in church, listening to a special Lenten sermon by the priest. Arnold’s eyes narrowed. Was it possible that they had been told when to come by spies?
France was not only at war with England, but with herself, and two years before, a small group of displaced Frenchmen had taken up residence in Winchelsea. They were tolerated because they were generous to local charities, never did anything to offend, and regularly professed a love of all things English. But were they decent, honest folk eager to adapt to their new lives, or were they vipers in the nest? Perhaps theyhad sent messages home, saying when Winchelsea would be most vulnerable. Arnold had suggested as much after the last raid, but the miller, Val Dover, dismissed the accusation as false and mean-spirited.
Arnold allowed himself a small, grim smile of satisfaction. But who had been right? Hehad, and the current raid was the price of Dover’s reckless support of strangers. He decided that as soon as the crisis was over, he would announce his suspicions again, and this time the foreigners would pay for their treachery with their lives.
He watched the first enemy ship reach the pier. Armed figures swarmed off it. A few brave townsmen raced to repel them – two invaders went down under a hail of kicks and punches – but a second boat joined the first, then a third, a fourth, a fifth, until the tide was impossible to stem. Then it was the defenders who were overwhelmed by sheer force of numbers. In the river, the ships jostled and collided as their captains struggled to find a place to land their howling, blood-crazed passengers. Then came the first wisps of smoke.
Unable to watch more, Arnold went into the little hut and closed the door.
Cambridge, late April 1360
‘The French are coming!’
Isnard the bargeman’s frantic howl attracted a sizeable audience, and folk listened agog as he gasped out his report. Then they hurried away to tell their friends and families, adding their own embellishments to the story as they did so. By the time the news reached the castle, Sheriff Tulyet was startled to hear that a vast enemy horde was marching along the Trumpington road, and would be sacking Cambridge within the hour.
‘They landed on the coast and headed straight for us, sir,’ declared Sergeant Orwel, delighted by the prospect of a skirmish; he had fought at Poitiers and hated Frenchmen with a passion. ‘They heard about the great riches held by the University, see, and aim to carry it all home with them. We must prepare for battle at once.’
Although small in stature, with elfin features and a boyish beard, Tulyet was one of the strongest, ablest and most astute royal officials in the country. Unlike his sergeant, he understood how quickly rumours blossomed beyond all truth, and was disinclined to fly into action over a tale that was patently absurd – particularly as he knew exactly how Isnard had reached the conclusions he was currently bawling around the town.
‘I had a letter from the King this morning,’ he said. ‘Rashly, I left it on the table while I went to Mass, and I came home to find my clerk reading it out to the servants. Unfortunately, Isnard happened to hear – he was there delivering firewood – and he seems to have interpreted His Majesty’s words rather liberally.’
Orwel frowned his mystification. ‘What do you mean, sir?’
‘The first part of the letter described how several thousand Frenchmen attacked Winchelsea last month,’ began Tulyet.
Orwel nodded. ‘And slaughtered every single citizen. It was an outrage!’
‘It was an outrage,’ agreed Tulyet soberly. ‘And although many people werekilled, far more survived. In the next part of the letter, the King wrote that the marauders went home so loaded with plunder that it may encourage them to come back for more. Somehow, Isnard read this to mean that they willreturn and that Cambridge is the target.’
‘And it is not?’ asked Orwel, disappointed to learn he was to be cheated of a battle that day. ‘Why did the King write to you then?’
‘As part of a country-wide call to arms. We are to gather every able-bodied man aged between sixteen and sixty, and train them in hand-to-hand combat and archery. Then if the French do mount a major invasion, he will have competent troops ready to fight them off.’
‘A major invasion?’ echoed Orwel eagerly. ‘So we might see the French at our gates yet? We are easy to reach from the sea – you just sail a boat up the river.’
‘Yes,’ acknowledged Tulyet, ‘but the enemy will opt for easier targets first, and if they do, we shall march there to fight them. Personally, I cannot see it happening, but the King is wise to take precautions.’
Orwel was dismayed by the Sheriff’s predictions, but tried to look on the bright side. ‘I suppose training new troops might be fun. Does the order apply to the University as well? Most of them are between sixteen and sixty.’
Tulyet nodded. ‘Which means we shall have a lot of armed scholars and armed townsfolk in close proximity to each other, which is never a good thing. Let us hope Brother Michael and I will be able to keep the peace.’
‘Why bother?’ asked Orwel, scowling. ‘Most of them University bastards are French – I hear them blathering in that foul tongue all the time. Fighting them would be a good way to hone our battle skills anddeal a blow to the enemy at the same time.’
‘Most scholars are English,’ countered Tulyet sharply. ‘They speak French because … it is the language they use at home.’
It was actually the language of the ruling elite, while those of lower birth tended to stick to the vernacular. Tulyet just managed to stop himself from saying so, unwilling for Orwel to repeat his words to the garrison. Soldiers already resented the scholars’ assumed superiority, and reminding them of it would not be a good idea.
Orwel continued to glower. ‘They live in England, so they should learn English. I do not hold with talking foreign.’
‘No,’ said Tulyet drily. ‘I can see that.’
Orwel regarded him rather challengingly. ‘Will you tell Brother Michael to stop them from strutting around in packs, pretending they are better than us? Because they are not. And if the French do invade and the University rushes to fight at their side, we shall beat them soundly. No scholar is a match for me and the lads.’
‘Underestimate them at your peril,’ warned Tulyet. ‘Some trained as knights, while others are skilled swordsmen. They are a formidable force, which is why the King has included them in his call to arms.’
‘We have knights,’ Orwel pointed out stoutly. ‘And all of them are better warriors than any French-babbling scholar.’
Tulyet saw he was wasting his time trying to reason with such rigidly held convictions, and only hoped the belligerent sergeant could be trusted not to provoke a fight. Relations between the University and the town were uneasy at best, and it took very little to spark a brawl. A taunting insult from a soldier to a student would certainly ignite trouble.
‘We shall have two more knights by the end of the week,’ he said, to change the subject. ‘The King is sending them to help us drill our new recruits. Sir Leger and Sir Norbert, both veterans of the French wars.’
Orwel was delighted by the news, although Tulyet was full of trepidation. He knew exactly what the newcomers would be like – vicious, hard-bitten warriors whose experiences on the battlefield would have left them with a deep and unbending hatred of all things French. The townsfolk would follow their example, and friction would follow for certain. He heartily wished the King had sent them to some other town.
At that moment, there was a commotion by the gate – Isnard was trying to force his way past the guards. As the felonious bargeman never entered the castle willingly, Tulyet knew there must be a very good reason as to why he was keen to do it now. He indicated that Isnard should be allowed inside.
‘I came out of the goodness of my heart,’ declared Isnard, all bristling indignation as he brushed himself down. ‘But if you do not want to hear my news, I shall go home.’
‘My apologies, Isnard,’ said Tulyet mildly. ‘Now, what did you want to tell me?’
‘That there has been a murder,’ reported Isnard gleefully. ‘Of a Frenchscholar named Baldwin de Paris. He was a member of King’s Hall, a place that is well known for harbouring foreigners, traitors and spies.’
‘And so it begins,’ sighed Tulyet wearily.
The Twenty-Third Chronicle of Matthew Bartholomew
The appearance of an unknown killer in a formerly peaceful Suffolk community brings Bartholomew into what proves to be one of his dangerous investigations yet.
In 1360, a deputation from Cambridge ventures to the Suffolk town of Clare in the hope that the wealthy Elizabeth de Burgh has left a legacy to Michaelhouse. Yet when they arrive, they discover that the report of her death is false and that the college seems destined for bankruptcy.
Determined to see if some of its well-heeled citizens can be persuaded to sponsor Michaelhouse, Matthew Bartholomew, Brother Michael and Master Langelee become enmeshed in the town’s politics. They quickly discover that a great many people in Clare have recently met untimely deaths. These killings, combined with the arrogance of Lady de Burgh, have overshadowed the refurbishment of the church and the grotesque behavior of some of her entourage, and have created a dangerous restlessness in the town: an atmosphere intensified when yet more murders occur.
One of the victims is a fellow traveller of the Michaelhouse contingent, and Matthew Bartholomew and Brother Michael feel honour-bound to identify his killer. It is a hunt that takes them deep into Clare’s murky foundations and that threatens their own survival as well as that of their beloved college.
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Clare, Suffolk, February 1360
The parish church of Clare had a unique claim to fame: it was the only one in the country with a fan-vaulted ceiling. Its vicar, Nicholas, gazed admiringly at it – or rather, he gazed at the parts he could see through the scaffolding. Fan vaulting – an architectural style where clusters of ‘ribs’ sprung from the supporting columns to form a fan-shape – was an entirely new invention. It was the brainchild of Thomas de Cambrug, who had first tried it in Gloucester Abbey. But Clare’s roof was better, because Cambrug had still been experimenting in Gloucester, whereas he had known what he was doing by the time he arrived in Suffolk.
It had been expensive, of course, but Clare was wealthy, and its inhabitants had leapt at the chance to transform their rather dull church into something remarkable. Donations had poured in, and work had started at once – removing the old, low roof and replacing it with a tier of elegant clerestory windows and the magnificent ceiling above.
Unfortunately, there was a downside. The Lady of Clare had been complaining for some time that her castle chapel was too small, especially when she had guests, but when she saw Cambrug’s innovations, she realised that a solution to her problem was at hand – the church was not only large enough to accommodate her entire household, but the rebuilding meant that it was now suitably grand as well. However, she was not about to subject herself to the unsavoury company of commoners while she attended her devotions, so she gave Cambrug some money and told him to design a new south aisle. The parishioners could have that, she declared, while she took the nave.
The townsfolk were outraged. It was their church and they resented her gall extremely. They marched to the castle as one, where they objected in the strongest possible terms to her projected south aisle. The Lady refused to listen. She ordered Cambrug to begin work, not caring that every stone laid destroyed more of the harmony that had existed between castle and the town for the last three hundred years.
As soon as the aisle was completed, Cambrug took a new commission in Hereford Cathedral, relieved to be away from the bitterness and hostility that festered in the little town. He left his deputy Roger to finish the roof, but promised to return and check that all was in order before the church was rededicated the following April.
Unfortunately, Roger was entirely the wrong man to have put in charge. First, he was a rigid traditionalist who hated anything new, so the fan vaulting horrified him. And second, he was a malcontent, only happy when he was grumbling, which was irritating to his employers and downright exasperating for his workforce.
‘I will not answer for it,’ he said, coming to stand at Nicholas’s side and shaking his head as he peered upwards. ‘You should have stuck with a nice groin vault, like I told you. This fan lark is dangerous, and will come to a bad end.’
Nicholas fought for patience. ‘Nonsense! Cambrug’s ceiling will be the talk of the country, and we shall be celebrated as men of great vision for having the courage to build it.’
Roger sniffed. ‘Oh, it looks pretty enough, but it should have taken twenty years to craft. We tossed it up in a few months.’
‘Yes, because we had so much money,’ argued Nicholas, although he did not know why he was bothering; he and Roger had been through this countless times already. ‘We were able to hire a huge army of masons and high-quality stone.’
‘The stone is acceptable, I suppose,’ conceded Roger reluctantly. ‘But the men … well, most are strangers, so their work is shoddy.’
‘Not so, because you dismissed all those you deemed to be unsatisfactory. Of course, the same is not true for the south aisle. The Lady’s donation was niggardly, so corners have certainly been cut there.’
He glared at it, resentful that such an ugly, functional appendage should have been planted on the side of his glorious church, but then his eyes were drawn upwards to the ceiling again. The artists were at work now, painting it with geometrical patterns designed to compliment the intricate stonework. It would be a riot of blue, red, gold and green, made all the more impressive for stretching unbroken across both nave and chancel. In Nicholas’s view, this made it far more imposing than the one in Gloucester.
As the new work made the older parts look shabby, Nicholas had arranged for the whole building to be re-painted, and Clare’s wealth was such that the murals commissioned were the best that money could buy. Nicholas could not resist a grin of pride. Here he was, a one-time soldier in the King’s army, in charge of a church as fine as any cathedral. How fortune had smiled on him since he had taken holy orders!
‘She does not like the fan vaulting,’ grumbled Roger. ‘She told me so herself.’
‘She’ was Clare’s anchoress, a woman who was walled up in a cell attached to the north wall. Her little room had two windows – the squint, which opened into the chancel and allowed her to receive Holy Communion; and a slit opposite that was used for passing in food and other essentials. Anne de Lexham had entered her ‘anchorhold’ two months before the renovations had started, so her life of religious contemplation had not been exactly peaceful.
‘She will change her mind once she sees it with the scaffolding down,’ said Nicholas. ‘Besides, she has benefited hugely from Cambrug’s presence here – her poky wooden cell exchanged for a nice new stone one, all designed to her own specifications.’
‘The church will not be ready for the rededication in April,’ declared Roger, who had an annoying habit of never acknowledging that someone else might be right, and usually conceded defeat by segueing to a different gripe. ‘The artists are behind schedule, and so are the glaziers.’
‘Only by a few days,’ retorted Nicholas. ‘And they will make up for lost time when they hear the latest news from the castle – namely that the Queen herself plans to be here for the occasion. They will not want to disappoint her.’
‘It is you who will be disappointed,’ warned Roger, looking upwards with a disparaging eye. ‘Because it will take longer than a few weeks to finish this lot, you mark my words.’
Nicholas was glad when the mason went to moan at someone else. He continued to watch the artists swarm over the scaffolding high above, but jumped in alarm when there was a sickening thud, followed by a babble of horror. It came from the chancel, so he hurried there at once. A number of workmen had clustered around someone who lay unmoving on the floor. Nicholas elbowed through them to find out what had happened – there had been surprisingly few mishaps so far, and he had been worried for some time that their luck would eventually run out.
Roger was dead, his skull crushed. A piece of wood lay on the floor next to him, and blood seeped across the paving stones.
‘It is part of the scaffolding,’ said Nicholas, squinting up at the mass of planking, ropes and ladders overhead. ‘It must have come loose somehow.’
‘Our scaffolding does not “come loose”,’ objected one of the carpenters indignantly. ‘I assure you, that plank did not fall of its own accord.’
‘Of course it did,’ countered Nicholas, startled. ‘What else could have happened?’
The workman shrugged. ‘Someone could have picked it up and belted him with it.’
‘You mean one of you?’ asked Nicholas, looking at each one in turn. ‘Because you are tired of his sour tongue?’
‘No, of course not,’ gulped the carpenter. He managed a feeble grin. ‘Ignore me, vicar. You are right – it was an accident. Let us say no more about it, eh?’
The Twenty-Second Chronicle of Matthew Bartholomew
Can a spate of murders, a feud between local tomb builders, and ill patients be connected? Bartholomew and Michael are forced to investigate before more of their friends and colleagues die mysteriously.
Identifying the murderer of the Chancellor of the University is not the only challenge facing physician Matthew Bartholomew. Many of his patients have been made worse by the ministrations of a ‘surgeon’ recently arrived from Nottingham, his sister is being rooked by the mason she has commissioned to build her husband’s tomb, and his friend, Brother Michael, has been offered a Bishopric that will cause him to leave Cambridge.
Brother Michael, keen to leave the University in good order, is determined that the new Chancellor will be a man of his choosing. The number of contenders putting themselves forward for election threatens to get out of control; then more deaths in mysterious circumstances make it appear that someone is taking extreme measures to manipulate the competition.
With passions running high and a bold killer at large, both Bartholomew and Brother Michael fear the very future of the University is at stake.
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Cambridge, February 1360
An enormous crowd had gathered outside St Mary the Great, and everyone in it was gazing upwards. On the top of the tower, high above, the University’s Chancellor was doing battle with the Devil, a desperate, frantic struggle that surged back and forth, perilously close to the edge. More than once it seemed the pair would plummet to their deaths. Or Chancellor Tynkell would: most suspected it would take rather more to eliminate Satan.
There was a collective gasp from the onlookers as the wrestling pair lurched violently to one side, dislodging a coping stone, which crashed to the ground below. Then Tynkell managed to wrap his hands around his opponent’s throat. There was a cheer of encouragement from the crowd, especially when the Devil began to flail around in a frantic effort to breathe.
Brother Michael had seen enough, and raced towards the church, Bartholomew at his heels. The vestry door was shut fast, but it only took a moment to ascertain that a key had been used, not some diabolical device. It was still in the hole, and a jab from one of Bartholomew’s surgical probes saw it drop to the floor on the other side. There was a large gap between door and flagstones, so it was easy for the physician to slip his hand beneath and retrieve it.
‘I thought you had keys to this place,’ he remarked, inserting it into the lock and pushing the door open. Behind him, a disappointed moan from the crowd suggested that Lucifer had just broken the Chancellor’s death grip.
‘I do, but I rarely carry them these days,’ explained the monk, shoving past him and hurrying inside. ‘Although I do have them for the tower and the University Chest – which contains all our money and most precious documents. There are only two sets of keys in existence for the tower and the Chest, and this is one of them.’
‘Who has the other? Tynkell?’
‘He did, but I took it away and gave it to Meadowman instead.’
‘How did he get up the tower, then?’ asked Bartholomew.
Michael gave him a blank look, then hissed irritably when haste made him clumsy, and he could not find the right key. ‘I thought I had loaded him with enough extra duties to keep him out of mischief. He should not have time for this sort of nonsense.’
Outside, there was another collective groan of disappointment, suggesting that the action on the roof had moved out of sight. Michael muttered a quick prayer of thanks when he found the right key at last. He started to thrust it into the hole, then gaped in disbelief when the door swung open of its own accord.
‘This is always kept locked,’ he said angrily, gathering the voluminous folds of his habit as he prepared to tackle the spiral staircase. ‘Even when one of us is working up there. Tynkell is turning into a real menace.’
Knowing the monk’s upwards progress would be stately, Bartholomew pushed past him and went first, climbing as fast as he dared up steps that were unlit, icy and perilously uneven. It was not easy, and he was obliged to clamber back down again when Michael fell and released a yelp of pain, although the monk flapped an impatient hand, telling him to go on without him.
The tower comprised three large chambers, set one above the other. The first contained the bells, a trio of tuneful domes suspended in a wooden frame. Bartholomew glanced in as he hurried past, noting that it was empty. The second was the Chest Room, protected by an iron-bound door with two substantial locks. He rattled it, but it was shut fast. The third was a vast empty space containing nothing but the mess left by pigeons. Then came the roof. Bartholomew opened the little door that gave access to it, and saw Tynkell slumped on the far side.
The wind buffeted the top of the tower so hard up there that it was difficult to stay upright, while the slates underfoot were treacherously uneven and slick with ice. As he waited briefly for the wild gusts to subside, he wondered what had induced Tynkell to fight under such conditions.
‘Matt!’ yelled Michael, hobbling up the last few stairs just as Bartholomew was preparing to abandon the shelter of the door. ‘Wait! Where is his opponent?’
Instinct had prompted Bartholomew to rush to the Chancellor’s aid, and the possibility that he might be in danger himself had not crossed his mind. He looked around in alarm, but the roof was deserted.
‘He is not here,’ he replied, although Michael could see this for himself. ‘He must have fallen over the edge while we were coming up the stairs.’
He lurched towards the Chancellor and shook his shoulder. There was no response. Alarmed, he felt for a life-beat, and then stared in shock when he could not find one.
‘He is dead!’ he whispered in stunned disbelief. ‘Chancellor Tynkell … he is gone!’
The Twenty-First Chronicle of Matthew Bartholomew
The foundations of Bartholomew’s life in Cambridge seem ready to tumble, as a series of deaths – or are they murders? – threatens even his relationship with his beloved sister.
In 1358, the college of Michaelhouse is facing a serious shortfall of funds and competition from rival upstarts such as Zachary Hostel. The problems are made no easier by the hostility of the town’s inhabitants, who want the University to leave the town completely and resettle in the Fens.
This simmering tension threatens to break into violence when a well-known brewer is found dead in one of the colleges. Physician Matthew Bartholomew knows he was poisoned but cannot identify the actual substance, never mind the killer. He also suspects that other illnesses and deaths may have been caused by the effluent from his sister’s dyeworks, but his reputation as a diagnostician is threatened by the arrival of a fashionable new medicus.
Torn between loyalties to his kin and to his college, he fears the truth may destroy both his personal and professional lives, and he knows he has very little time in which to get to the heart of the matter before many more people – townsmen and scholars – lose their lives.
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Cambridge, October 1358
Bartholomew darted towards the bodies, sensing he would not have much time before the Franciscan declared himself suitable fortified and returned to his duties.
It was an unpleasant business, not only rushed and fraught with the fear that Kellawe might decide his devotions were more important than listening to Wauter burble about his Martilogium, but because of what he was obliged to do for answers: when an external examination of Lenne revealed nothing amiss, Bartholomew embarked on a more invasive one using knives and forceps. What he discovered prompted him to look inside Irby, Yerland and Segeforde as well.
‘Keep your sucura to hand,’ Cynric whispered, glancing down as he passed by on one of his prowls, although his eyes did not linger on the body for long. ‘Irby’s spirit will not like you doing that to its mortal coil, so you will need the powder’s protection for sure.’
The remark unsettled Bartholomew even more. He had no idea why, when he had long been of the belief that much could be learned from the dead and that anatomy was a valuable tool for helping the living, but it was a feeling he could not shake. He finished quickly, put all to rights, and left the church with relief. It was not long before Michael, Cynric and Wauter joined him in the graveyard, the latter pale and agitated.
‘Kellawe has some very nasty opinions,’ the Austin said, indicating that Cynric should lead the way home. ‘He will have the entire town in flames before long. Perhaps that alone is a reason for moving to the Fens – to spare the town from his vitriol.’
By the time they returned to the College, it was almost too late to go to bed. Bartholomew tried to sleep anyway, and passed two very restless hours before the bell rang to wake everyone for church. It was his turn to assist at the altar, and a cold chill ran down his spine when Clippesby passed him the Host and the candles guttered. The rational part of his mind reminded him that it happened all the time – St Michael’s was full of unaccountable draughts – but it did make him wonder again whether people were right to object to dissection.
‘Tell me again what you discovered,’ instructed Michael, when they were back in the hall, eating a plentiful but slightly peculiar breakfast of barley bread, carrots and nuts.
‘Inflammation of the stomach membranes and damaged livers,’ replied Bartholomew tersely. ‘On all four bodies.’
‘Meaning what exactly?’
‘Meaning that something is wrong, but I cannot tell you what.’
‘But it might indicate that they were poisoned?’
‘It might. All had been ill, but with different ailments: Lenne had lung-rot, Irby complained of loss of appetite, Yerland had head pains and Segeforde had some undefined malaise – the debilitas, for want of a better diagnosis.’
‘I can accept Lenne dying of natural causes, but not the other three. I think Nigellus killed them – and the logical extension of that is that he poisoned Letia, Arnold and the folk from Barnwell, too.’
‘And Frenge,’ added Bartholomew. ‘Perhaps in revenge for selling sour ale to Zachary.’
‘Quite,’ said Michael grimly. ‘So I rose before dawn and arrested him. His colleagues are furious, of course, and so is he. He thinks you put me up to it.’
Bartholomew groaned. ‘If he is innocent, he will never forgive me.’
‘He is not innocent, and I wish to God I had acted the moment we found Irby’s note. If I had, Yerland and Segeforde would still be alive. Similia similibus curantur – “like cures like”. Irby knew he had been poisoned, but was too frightened to tell his colleagues, so he wrote to you instead – a subtle yet clear plea for you to find an antidote.’
Bartholomew regarded him askance. ‘Is that what you think it means?’
‘I am sure of it, and I am only sorry that I did not understand it sooner. Twelve of his patients are dead – thirteen, if you count Frenge – while Trinity Hall has suffered two serious bouts of sickness. And do not say bad cream was responsible for the these – Nigellus did it, of that I am certain. This is what happens when medici think they are God, with the power to kill or cure.’
The Twentieth Chronicle of Matthew Bartholomew
The foundation of a new College threatens the very existence of the University, while Bartholomew and his family try to recover from their own devastating loss.
In the summer of 1358 the physician Matthew Bartholomew returns to Cambridge to learn that his beloved sister is in mourning after the unexpected death of her husband, Oswald Stanmore. Aware that his son had no interest in the cloth trade that made his fortune and reputation, Oswald had left the business to his widow, but a spate of burglaries in the town distracts Matthew from supporting Edith in her grief and attempting to keep the peace between her and her wayward son.
Meanwhile a new foundation, Winwick Hall, is causing consternation amongst Matthew’s colleagues in Michaelhouse. The founder is an impatient man determined that his name will grace the University’s most prestigious college. He has used his wealth to rush the construction of the hall, and his appointed Fellows are gaining support of Cambridge’s most influential citizens on Winwick’s behalf.
A perfect storm between the older establishments and the brash newcomers is brewing when the murder of a guildsman is soon followed by the death of one of Winwick’s senior Fellows. Assisting Brother Michael in investigating these fatalities leads Matthew into a web of suspicion, where the pressure from the problems of his college and his family sets him on a path that could endanger his own future …
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Cambridge, Lammas Day (1 August) 1358
Oswald Stanmore knew he was dying. He also knew it was time to push earthly concerns from his mind and concentrate on his immortal soul, but he could not bring himself to do it. At least, not yet. His beloved wife Edith sat at his bedside, and her good opinion was important to him – he did not want her to learn that not everything he had done during his long and very successful career as a clothier had been legal or ethical.
He had managed to destroy all evidence of his more serious transgressions – the reek of burned parchment still hung about him – but what about the rest? It had not been easy to be a merchant in such turbulent times. The interminable war with France, famine, plague, years of unpredictable weather – all had taken their toll on trade, and only the strongest had survived. Stanmore had done what was necessary to protect his family from the wretchedness of poverty.
He closed his eyes, aware that he was deluding himself, which was hardly wise at such a time. The truth was that he loved the darker side of commerce – outwitting competitors, avoiding the King’s taxes, driving a ruthless bargain. His willingness to bend the rules had given him an edge his rivals had lacked, and had made him one of the wealthiest businessmen in the shire. Edith knew nothing of it, of course, and the thought that she might find out when he was dead sent a pang of distress spearing through him. He groaned aloud.
‘Doctor Rougham will be here soon,’ said Edith, misunderstanding the cause of his anguish. Her bright smile reminded him that she had no idea of the gravity of his condition. ‘You have chosen a bad time for a fever, dearest. Matt is away.’
She referred to her brother, Matthew Bartholomew, considered by the family to be the town’s best physician. Rougham, on the other hand, was an indifferent practitioner, more interested in making money than in his patients’ welfare. Stanmore grimaced. He could hardly blame Rougham for that – a fondness for money was a failing he owned himself.
The door clanked, and Rougham entered the room. As befitting a man of his academic and social standing, he had spent a small fortune on his clothes. The material had come from the Stanmore warehouses, naturally, but there was a flaw in the weave that prevented the tabard from hanging as well as it might, and Stanmore was gripped by a sense of shame. He remembered that particular bolt, and should not have charged Rougham full price for it.
‘Marsh fever,’ announced Rougham, after the briefest of examinations. ‘It always strikes at this time of year. Indeed, I have only just recovered from a bout of it myself.’
Stanmore knew otherwise, but made no effort to say so. Why bother, when it would make no difference? Rougham and Edith began to discuss remedies and tonics, so he let his mind wander to what he had done that day.
He had spent most of it in his solar, frantically destroying records in the hope of sparing Edith worrisome discoveries – a difficult task when the deceitful was so intricately interwoven with the honest. A summons had come in the early evening, inviting him to a secret meeting. He had gone at once, hoping it might win him a little more time. It had not, for which he was heartily sorry – another day would have seen evidence of all his misdeeds eliminated, and he could have died safe in the knowledge that Edith would never learn what he had kept from her for so many years.
If he had known then that he would not see another dawn, he would have hurried home and spent his last few hours finishing the task he had started. Instead, he had attended a gathering of the Guild of Saints. The Guild was a charitable organisation that he himself had founded as a sop to his nagging conscience. He had encouraged other rich citizens to join, too, and was proud of the good work they had done. He had gone that night to ensure it would continue after his death. After all, it might count in his favour when his soul was weighed.
He had started to feel unwell during a discussion about the widows’ fund, but he had paid the signs no heed. However, when he had stood up at the end of the meeting, he had known that something was badly amiss. He had hurried home, and succeeded in burning a few more documents before pain and weakness drove him to his bed, at which point Edith had sent for Rougham.
Stanmore glanced at the medicus, who was haughtily informing Edith that the only remedy for marsh fever was snail juice and cloves. How the man could have made such a wildly inaccurate diagnosis was beyond Stanmore – Matt would certainly have seen the truth. But there was no point saying anything; it was not important. In fact, perhaps it was even better this way.
‘I have changed my will.’ Stanmore felt as though he was speaking underwater, every word an effort. ‘You will inherit this house, the manor in Trumpington and the business. Richard will have everything else. He will be pleased – he has never been interested in cloth, and this leaves him rich without the bother of overseeing warehouses.
Edith blinked. ‘You are not going to die! You will feel better in the morning.’
He did not try to argue. ‘Richard is not the son I hoped he would be. He is selfish and decadent, and I dislike his dissipated friends. Do not turn to him for help when I am gone. Zachary Steward knows the business, and can be trusted absolutely. Matt will support you with everything else. He is a good man.’
A good man who would be guilt-stricken for being away when he was needed, thought Stanmore sadly. It was a pity. He would have spared him that if he could.
‘Stop, Oswald!’ cried Edith, distressed. ‘This is gloomy talk.’
He managed to grab her hand, but darkness was clawing at the edges of his vision, and he sensed he did not have many moments left. He gazed lovingly at her, then slowly closed his eyes. He did not open them again.
Chesterton, the Feast of St Michael and All Angels (29 September) 1358
John Potmoor was a terrible man. He had lied, cheated, bullied and killed to make himself rich, and was hated and feared across an entire region. No crime was beneath him, and as he became increasingly powerful, he recruited more and more like-minded henchmen to aid him in his evil deeds. Yet it was a point of pride to him that he was just as skilled a thief now as he had been in his youth, and to prove it, he regularly went out burgling himself.
Although by far the richest pickings were in Cambridge, Potmoor did not operate there – he was no fool, and knew better than to take on the combined strength of Sheriff and Senior Proctor. Then an opportunity arose. Sheriff Tulyet was summoned to London to account for an anomaly in the shire’s taxes, and Brother Michael went to Peterborough. Potmoor was delighted: their deputies were members of the Guild of Saints, as was Potmoor himself, and guildsmen always looked after each other. He moved quickly to establish himself in fresh pastures, and they turned a blind eye to his activities, just as he expected.
Not every guildsman was happy with his expansion, though: Oswald Stanmore objected vociferously to Potmoor’s men loitering around the quays where his barges unloaded. Then Stanmore died suddenly, and those who supported him were quick to fall silent. By the time Brother Michael returned, Potmoor’s hold on the town was too strong to break, and the felon was assailed with a sense of savage invincibility. But he had woken that morning feeling distinctly unwell.
At first, he thought nothing of it – it was an ague caused by the changing seasons and he would soon shake it off. But he grew worse as the day progressed, and by evening he was forced to concede that he needed a physician. He sent for John Meryfeld, and was alarmed by the grave expression on the man’s normally jovial face. A murmured ‘oh, dear’ was not something anyone liked to hear from his medicus either.
At Meryfeld’s insistence, Surgeon Holm was called to bleed the patient, but the sawbones’ expression was bleak by the time the procedure was finished. Unnerved, Potmoor summoned the town’s other medical practitioners – Rougham of Gonville, Lawrence of Winwick Hall and Eyer the apothecary. The physicians asked a number of embarrassingly personal questions, then retreated to consult their astrological tables. When their calculations were complete, more grim looks were exchanged, and the apothecary began to mix ingredients in a bowl, although with such a want of zeal that it was clear he thought he was wasting his time.
A desperate fear gripped Potmoor at that point, and he ordered his son Hugo to fetch Matthew Bartholomew. Although the most talented of the town’s medici, Potmoor had resisted asking him sooner because he was Stanmore’s brother-in-law. Potmoor did not know the physician well enough to say whether he had taken his kinsman’s side in the quarrel over the wharves, but he had been unwilling to take the chance. Now, thoroughly frightened, he would have accepted help from the Devil himself had it been offered.
Hugo rode to Cambridge as fast as his stallion would carry him, but heavy rain rendered the roads slick with mud on the way back, and Bartholomew was an abysmal horseman. Hugo was forced to curtail his speed – the physician would be of no use to anyone if he fell off and brained himself – so the return journey took far longer than it should have done.
They arrived at Chesterton eventually, and the pair hurried into the sickroom. It was eerily quiet. The other medici stood in a silent semi-circle by the window, while Potmoor’s henchmen clustered together in mute consternation.
‘You are too late,’ said Surgeon Holm spitefully. He did not like Bartholomew, and was maliciously gratified that his colleague had braved the storm for nothing. ‘We did all we could.’
Hugo’s jaw dropped. ‘My father is dead? No!’
‘It is God’s will,’ said Meryfeld gently. ‘We shall help you to lay him out.’
‘Or better yet, recommend a suitable woman,’ said Rougham. It was very late, and he wanted to go home.
‘But he was perfectly well yesterday,’ wailed Hugo. ‘How can he have died so quickly?’
‘People do,’ said Lawrence, an elderly gentleman with white hair and a kindly smile. ‘It happens all the time.’
‘How do you know he is dead?’ demanded Hugo. ‘He might just be asleep.’
‘He is not breathing,’ explained Meryfeld patiently. ‘His eyes are glazed, he is cold and he is stiff. All these are sure signs that the life has left him.’
‘Declare him dead so we can go,’ whispered Rougham to Bartholomew. ‘I know it is wrong to speak ill of the departed, but Potmoor was a vicious brute who terrorised an entire county. There are few who will mourn his passing – other than his equally vile helpmeets and Hugo.’
Bartholomew stepped towards the bed, but immediately sensed something odd about the body. He examined it briefly, then groped in the bag he always wore looped over his shoulder for his smelling salts.
‘Sal ammoniac?’ asked Eyer in surprise, when he saw the little pot of minerals and herbs that he himself had prepared. ‘That will not work, Matt. Not on a corpse.’
Bartholomew ignored him and waved it under Potmoor’s nose. For a moment, nothing happened. Then Potmoor sneezed, his eyes flew open and he sat bolt upright.
‘I have just been in Heaven!’ the felon exclaimed. ‘I saw it quite clearly – angels with harps, bright light, and the face of God himself! Why did you drag me back from such a paradise?’
‘That is a good question, Bartholomew,’ muttered Rougham sourly. ‘Why could you not have left him dead?’
The Nineteenth Chronicle of Matthew Bartholomew
A mysteriously missing bishop, a sinister cult revolving around an executed murderer, and a vicious power struggle in the ancient abbey of Peterborough…
In the summer of 1358 Matthew Bartholomew finds himself one of a party of Bishop’s Commissioners sent north to investigate the mysterious disappearance of the Abbot of Peterborough. He and his colleagues quickly learn that behind the beautiful façade of the Benedictine monastery, there is a vicious power struggle, and that not everyone would be happy to see the prelate’s safe return.
This unrest and discontent seems to have spread throughout the town: a feisty rabble-rouser is encouraging the poor to rise up against their overlords, and there are bitter rivalries between competing shrines and the financial benefits of the relics they hold.
One of these shrines is dedicated to Lawrence de Oxforde, a robber and murderer, who was executed for his crimes, but who has been venerated ever since miracles started occurring at his grave. It is here that a murder occurs, virtually in the presence of Bartholomew and his friend Brother Michael.
At first, it seems impossible that this killing should be linked to the abbot’s disappearance, but further deaths make Bartholomew think again, and he begins to realise that the brittle tension between Church and laity, and between rich and poor, might be connected to the ever-increasing body count.
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Lawrence de Oxforde did not believe for a moment that he was going to be executed. A pardon would arrive from the King, the hangman would stand down, and Oxforde would live to fight another day. Or, to put it more accurately, he thought with a smirk, to burgle another house, because he had no intention of giving up the life that had turned him from a nameless clerk into the most celebrated outlaw in the region.
It was a grey day, clouds hanging flat and low over the little Fenland town, and the threat of rain was in the air. The scaffold had been erected on the far bank of the River Nene, and it seemed to Oxforde that the entire population of Peterborough had turned out to trail after his cart as it trundled from prison to gibbet. There were toothless ancients, brawny labourers with sun-reddened faces, maidens, children and monks from the abbey. Oxforde allowed himself a small, self-satisfied smile. It was only natural that work should grind to a halt on this of all days. He was famous, so of course everyone would want to see him in the flesh.
As the cart lumbered across the wooden bridge, he glanced behind him. Peterborough was a pretty cluster of red-roofed houses nestled among billowing oaks, all dwarfed by the mighty golden mass of the abbey church. Oxforde’s mouth watered – wealthy homes, shops loaded with goods, and a monastery bursting with treasure. It was a burglar’s dream, and he would certainly linger there for a few days once he was free to resume his life of crime.
He swaggered as he alighted from the cart, and called brash witticisms to the spectators. He was puzzled when they only glowered at him, and wondered what was wrong. He was a legend, a man who had relieved more rich folk of their ill-gotten gains than any other thief in history. The town’s paupers should be all admiration that he had eluded capture for so long.
‘Murderer!’ howled young Joan Sylle, the abbey’s laundress.
Oxforde was stung by the hatred burning in her eyes. ‘Only the rich,’ he snapped back at her. Surely she understood that he had had to dispatch the odd victim? What robber had not? The occasional slit throat was unavoidable in his line of business.
‘The potter was not rich,’ shouted Roger Botilbrig, a spotty lad who was never far from Joan’s side.
‘Neither was his wife,’ a deeper voice called out.
‘Nor his children,’ another added.
A chorus of condemnation rippled through the crowd, and Oxforde slowed his jaunty progress. He had had no choice but to kill the potter and his family – they had stumbled across him as he was poring over his latest haul. Unfortunately, he had been less than thorough, and one had survived long enough to identify him.
‘That was different,’ he said, less resonantly than before. ‘It was hardly my fault they—’
‘Keep walking,’ interrupted the priest who was behind him. His name was Kirwell, and lines etched into his thin, pale face suggested that he had not had an easy life. He was going blind, too, at which point he would lose his post as parish priest. It would not be easy for a sightless cleric to make ends meet, so Oxforde had decided to help him – and to help himself into the bargain. Kirwell had been unrelenting in his efforts to save Oxforde’s soul, and although the robber had scant time for religion, he thought Kirwell deserved some reward for his dogged persistence.
‘Do not worry about the future, Father,’ he murmured. ‘I have plans for you.’
‘It is not me you should be thinking about today,’ Kirwell whispered back, kindly but dismissively. ‘It is your immortal soul. Now ignore the crowd and keep moving. I shall stay at your side, so you will not die alone.’
‘I will not die at all,’ said Oxforde, loudly indignant. ‘My pardon will arrive soon, you will see.’
He spoke with such confidence that some folk exchanged uneasy glances. Oxforde laughed, gratified by their disquiet. Doubtless they were afraid that he might visit them next. Well, perhaps he would, because although he had amassed a huge fortune and hidden it in a place where no one else would ever think to look, there was always room for more.
The sheriff stepped forward. ‘Hurry up,’ he ordered the executioner sharply. ‘Every extra moment he lives is an insult to God.
‘And an insult to his victims,’ added Joan, while those around her nodded agreement.
‘Victims!’ spat Oxforde. ‘I am the victim here. A man has to make a living, you know.’
‘A little contrition would not go amiss,’ counselled Kirwell softly. ‘It would count for something when your sins are weighed. And they are many – too many to count.’
Oxforde sniffed to indicate that he did not agree. He climbed the steps to the scaffold with jaunty defiance, then turned to the priest, supposing it was as good a time as any to put his plan into action.
‘I like you, Kirwell, so I am going to give you something. However, there is a condition: you must never show it to anyone else. If you keep it secret, you will enjoy a long and comfortable life. But if you sell it – or even let another person see it – you will die.’
‘I do not want anything from you,’ said Kirwell, although not before hope had flashed in his eyes. He was terrified of the grinding poverty that lay ahead of him, a fear that Oxforde fully intended to exploit.
‘You will want this,’ he crooned enticingly. ‘It is the prayer I composed last night – the one thanking God for my pardon. You said it was beautiful, so I wrote it down for you.’
There was no mistaking Kirwell’s disappointment, although he accepted the folded parchment graciously enough. ‘Thank you.’
‘But remember: show it to no one.’
Kirwell nodded, but there were many who would pay handsomely for something scribed by England’s most famous thief, and the priest needed money desperately. Of course he would sell the thing. Indeed, Oxforde was counting on it.
‘It is time to think of more urgent matters,’ the priest said, shoving the parchment into his scrip. ‘Death is but moments away and—’
‘Rubbish!’ declared Oxforde. ‘The sheriff will not execute a legend.’
He continued in this vein until the noose was placed around his neck, at which point he became uneasy: the King was cutting it rather fine. He started to add something else, but the words never emerged, because the hangman was hauling on the rope.
There was a ragged cheer from the spectators as he jerked and twisted, feet kicking empty air. Kirwell bowed his head to pray, but he was the only one who did: everyone else was too relieved to see the end of the man who had plagued the shire for so many years.
When his struggles were over and the executioner had declared him dead, Oxforde was placed in a coffin. It was thicker and stronger than most caskets, and the hangman’s assistants fastened the lid with an inordinate number of nails. Most of the crowd followed as it was toted to the cemetery.
‘Are you sure it is right to bury him in St Thomas’s churchyard?’ the Sheriff asked Kirwell, as they joined the end of the procession. ‘He was impenitent to the end, and the Church does not normally let executed criminals lie in consecrated ground.’
Kirwell gestured to the long line of people who walked silently behind the coffin. ‘They have a terrible fear that he might return from the dead to haunt them, and there is a belief that only holy soil will keep him in his grave. I think they deserve some peace of mind after living in fear of him all these years.’
The Sheriff nodded his understanding, then gave a wry smile. ‘And there is a certain satisfaction in putting him in that particular hole.’
Two months before, a silversmith had been interred in St Thomas’s cemetery, amid rumours that he had bought the plot next to it for bits of his favourite jewellery. Oxforde had been in the process of digging for them when he had been caught.
So Oxforde was lowered into the pit he himself had made, and the hangman and his lads began to shovel soil on top of him. Then there was a different kind of thump, one that caused everyone to start back in alarm. Had it come from inside the coffin?
‘Continue,’ ordered the Sheriff urgently. ‘Quickly now!’
Several onlookers hurried forward to help, flinging great spadefuls of earth down so fast and furiously that even if another sound had emerged, it would not have been heard. They finished by stamping down the mound as hard as they could, and some folk brought heavy stones to pile over the top.
When it was done, the Sheriff breathed a sigh of relief. ‘There! That should hold him.’
The next morning was even more grey and dismal, with clouds so thick that it felt like dusk. Kirwell returned to the grave to petition the saints for the dead man’s soul, although he suspected he was wasting his time: Oxforde’s sins were too great and his victims too many. The prayer was on the table in his house, and he had already been offered a shilling for it. He was inclined to accept, because he did not believe for a moment that selling it would shorten his life.
He dropped to his knees, but his thoughts soon went from his devotions to Oxforde’s scribbles. Perhaps someone else might be interested in buying them, for a higher price. The notion had no sooner crossed his mind than a shaft of sunlight blazed through the clouds and bathed the grave so intensely that it hurt his eyes. He fell backwards with a cry. And then, just as suddenly, the light vanished, leaving the little cemetery as dark and gloomy as before.
‘Did Oxforde do that?’ asked Botilbrig, running over to help Kirwell to his feet. The youth looked frightened. ‘Because you were nice to him?’
‘I do not know,’ replied Kirwell unsteadily, crossing himself. But one thing was for certain. He would not sell the prayer now. Not ever.
The Eighteenth Chronicle of Matthew Bartholomew
Close to the end of Easter Term 1358, the Colleges of the University of Cambridge are at war over the creation of a Common Library.
Scholars from the poorer hostels are delighted by the scheme, but others see it as a dangerous precedent, and demand that the project be abandoned. At a meeting of all the masters to discuss the matter, a book flies through the air, striking one of their number and leaving him seriously wounded. Matthew Bartholomew is called upon for his skills as a physician, but his experience is even more in demand when a body is found floating in the pond of the library’s garden on the eve of its opening.
Meanwhile, there have been three murders in the town: these victims have all had their throats cut, and the culprits are rumoured to be a force of dangerous smugglers who lie low in the Fens.
Alongside Sheriff Tulyet and Brother Michael, Bartholomew knows he only has a week to disentangle the threads of violence that link town to gown, academic to tradesman. To fail might mean the destruction of the whole town.
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It was not often that the University at Cambridge called a Convocation of Regents – a gathering of all its masters – but one was certainly organised when Sir Eustace Dunning offered to finance a Common Library. It was a contentious matter, and while some scholars were delighted by the prospect of unlimited access to books, others thought the concept was fraught with dangerous precedents, and argued that the gift should be politely but firmly declined.
They began to arrive at the Church of St Mary the Great long before noon, when the meeting was scheduled to begin. As it was a formal occasion, they wore their ceremonial robes – scarlet gowns and hats for the seculars, and best habits for the monks and friars. Tensions were high, and spats had broken out long before Chancellor Tynkell called for silence, intoned some prayers, and declared the Convocation officially open.
There was an immediate clamour as virtually every man present strove to make his views known. Tynkell, a timid, ineffectual man wholly incapable of controlling hundreds of opinionated men, could only wave his hands in feeble entreaty, and it was left to his Senior Proctor, the plump, charismatic Brother Michael, to take charge. Once he had stilled the commotion, Michael indicated that Philip de London was to speak first.
‘Books are expensive,’ London began in a quiet, dignified voice. He and his brother were scribes, employed by the University’s stationer. ‘And only the wealthiest foundations can afford them. A Common Library will ensure that even our poorest scholars will see texts that—’
‘There are more important issues at stake here than the education of paupers,’ interrupted John Teversham, a Fellow of Bene’t College, whose exquisite robes suggested that money would never come between him and the tomes he wanted to study. ‘And I believe that such a foundation will endanger our University.’
‘How?’ asked London irritably. ‘Oxford has had one for the past thirty years, and no harm has befallen it. Indeed, its scholars say it is an excellent addition to—’
‘What that rabble does is not always sensible,’ interrupted Teversham curtly. ‘Besides, where will this collection go? We do not have a suitable building for it.’
‘Actually, we do,’ interjected Tynkell. He smiled nervously, knowing that his news would receive a mixed reaction. ‘Sir Eustace Dunning has given us Newe Inn in Cholles Lane.’
Half the scholars cheered their delight, while the others booed and hissed, and it was some time before Michael was able to restore calm again. Once the church was quiet, he let Principal Coslaye of Batayl Hostel speak first, because the man was scarlet with apoplectic rage, and Michael was afraid he might have a fatal seizure if he was not permitted to have his say soon.
‘The University cannot have Newe Inn,’ Coslaye bellowed furiously. ‘Dunning promised that building to us. To Batayl!’
‘I beg to differ,’ countered Prior Etone of the Carmelites, startled. He was a serious, unsmiling man said to be better at administration than scholarship or religion. ‘He promised it to me, and—’
‘Lies!’ screamed Coslaye. ‘Dunning would never break his word to us.’
‘Or to us,’ retorted Etone coolly.
‘Well, it seems he did both,’ said Tynkell, when Coslaye was too angry to form coherent words. He held up a document. ‘Because I have the deed of ownership here. Dunning gave it to me this morning, and if the vote goes as he hopes, Newe Inn will become the Common Library with immediate effect. He would like an official opening at the Feast of Corpus Christi.’
‘Well, he will not have it,’ roared Teversham, outraged. ‘Because only fools will favour such a scheme, and my fellow Regents will have more sense than to—’
The rest of his statement was lost amid cheers from those who opposed the ‘grace’ to found a Common Library, and catcalls from those who supported it.
‘I suggest we move directly to the vote,’ said Michael, once he had quelled the uproar a third time. ‘It is obvious that we have all made up our minds, so further discussion is pointless. All those who oppose the grace will move to the south aisle.’
There was an immediate stampede that included Teversham and Coslaye. They stood in a tight, belligerent huddle, hooting and jeering at those who remained, so that the ancient building rang with feisty voices.
‘Come over here,’ hollered Coslaye to the London brothers, his stentorian tones carrying through the din. ‘You are members of Batayl, so I order you to stand with us. It—’
‘And those who support the grace will move to the north,’ boomed Michael.
The remaining Regents hurried to where he pointed, and when the shuffle was complete, it was clear that the result was going to be close. Tense and heated, they continued to harangue each other as Michael and Tynkell counted heads. And then counted them again.
‘The grace is carried by three votes,’ announced Tynkell eventually.
There was a cheer from the north and a roar of disappointment from the south. The two sides converged in a fury of bawling voices and violently wagging fingers. And then something dark sailed through the air. It was a book with wooden covers, and its corner struck Coslaye hard on the side of his head. The Principal of Batayl Hostel dropped to the floor and lay still.
‘Who threw that?’ demanded Michael, in the shocked hush that followed.
There was silence. The University’s medical men – from both sides of the debate – hurried to the stricken man’s side, but their faces were grim as they inspected the wound.
‘He is bleeding inside his skull,’ said one. ‘I doubt he will survive. He has been murdered!’
The Seventeenth Chronicle of Matthew Bartholomew
Murder, madness and mayhem in the ancient city of York.
In 1358, the College of Michaelhouse at the University of Cambridge is in desperate need of extra funds – again. A legacy from the Archbishop of York, of a parish church close to that city, promises to be a welcome source of income. However, there has been another claim to its ownership, and it seems that the only way to settle the dispute is for a deputation from Michaelhouse to travel north.
Matthew Bartholomew is among the small party that arrives in the bustling city, where the increasing wealth of the merchants is unsettling the established order, and where a French invasion is an ever-present threat to its port. He is both impressed and appalled by what he finds in the teeming streets, the magnificent buildings and the behaviour of its citizens, but he and his colleagues are soon distracted by learning that several of the Archbishop’s executors have died in unexplained circumstances, and that the codicil naming Michaelhouse as a beneficiary cannot be found.
As they search the Minster’s chaotic library and evade the determination of those who believe the legacy should go elsewhere, it seems that even God is against their mission, sending a spring storm of such biblical proportion that the river waters surrounding the great city threaten its very fabric. But it is human wrath that is likely to spill their blood …
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The Archbishop’s Palace, Cawood, near York, 19 July 1352
William Zouche was dying. He had been unwell before the plague had swept across the country three years before, and had been sorry that the disease should have spared him, a sick man weary from a life of conflict and tangled politics, but had snatched away younger, more righteous souls.
He was not afraid to die, although he was worried about how his sins would be weighed. He had tried to live a godly life, and had been a faithful servant of the King, even fighting a battle on his behalf and helping to win a great victory over the Scots at Neville’s Cross. It was hardly seemly for an Archbishop of York to indulge in warfare, though, and he regretted his part in the slaughter now, just as he regretted some of the other things he had done in the name of political expediency.
He was particularly sorry for some of the exploits undertaken by two of his henchmen, although he knew they had been necessary to ensure the smooth running of his diocese. But would God see it that way, or would He point out that the same end could have been achieved more honestly or gently?
Opening his eyes, Zouche saw his bedchamber was full of people – officials from his minster, representatives from the Crown, chaplains, town worthies, members of his family and servants – all waiting for the old order to finish so they could turn their attention to the new. He was simultaneously saddened and gratified to see a number in tears. For all his faults, he was popular, and many were friends as well as colleagues, kin and subordinates.
His gaze lit on his henchmen – clever Myton the merchant, weeping openly and not caring who saw his grief, and dear, devoted Langelee, keeping his emotions in check by staring fixedly at the ceiling. Seeing them turned Zouche’s mind again to his sins, and the time his soul might have to spend in Purgatory. It was a concern that had been with him since the horror of Neville’s Cross, so he had started to build himself a chantry chapel in the minster, where daily prayers could be said for him – prayers that would shorten his ordeal in the purging fires, and speed him towards Heaven.
‘You will see it is completed?’ he asked his executors, the nine men he had appointed to ensure his last wishes were carried out. He loved them all, and had been generous to them in the past with gifts of money, privileges and promotion. He trusted them to do what he wanted, but his chapel was important enough to him that he needed to hear their assurances once again.
‘Of course,’ replied his brother Roger gently. ‘None of us will rest until your chantry is ready.’
‘And you will see me buried there? You will put me in the nave for the time being, but when my chapel is completed, you will move my bones into it?’
They nodded, several turning away, not wanting him to see their distress at this bald reminder of his mortality. Reassured, Zouche leaned back against the pillows. Now he could die in peace.
The Sixteenth Chronicle of Matthew Bartholomew
Thieves never prosper. But do killers?
When a wealthy benefactor is found dead in Michaelhouse, Brother Michael and Matthew Bartholomew must find the culprit before the College is accused of foul play. At the same time, Cambridge is plagued by a mystery thief, who is targeting rich pilgrims. Moreover, pranksters are at large in the University, staging a series of practical jokes that are growing increasingly dangerous, and that are dividing scholars into bitterly opposed factions.
Bartholomew and Michael soon learn that these various mysteries are connected, and it becomes a race against time to catch the killer-thief before the University explodes into a violent conflict that could destroy it forever.
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There was a fringe of ice along the edge of the river Cam, and its brown, swirling waters, swollen with recent rain, looked cold and dangerous in the grey light of pre-dawn. Frost speckled the rushes in the shallows, and John Jolye wondered whether it would snow again. He hoped so. The soft white blanket that had enveloped the town the previous week had been tremendous fun, and he and his friends from Trinity Hall had spent a wonderful afternoon careening down Castle Hill on planks of wood.
‘Have you finished yet?’ he called softly, stamping his feet in an attempt to warm them. Acting as look-out was not the most exciting of tasks, and he wished he had been allocated a more active role in the prank. It had been his idea, after all. ‘I am freezing.’
‘Almost.’ The reply was full of suppressed laughter. ‘And if this does not confound the dunces from the hostels, then I do not know what will. They will never work out how we did it!’
Jolye was not so sure about that – hostel scholars were not stupid. But he did not want to spoil his friends’ sport, so he held his tongue. Besides, it had been more than a week since members of Essex Hostel had sneaked into Trinity Hall when everyone was asleep and filled it with scores of roosting chickens, and it was becoming urgent that the challenge was answered. Honour was at stake, after all – it would not do for a poverty-stricken, lowly hostel to get the better of a fine, wealthy College.
‘Someone will come along soon!’ he hissed, becoming impatient. What was taking them so long? ‘It is already getting light, and this is a public footpath.’
‘It is far too early for anyone else to be up,’ came the scornful response. ‘There! It is done! Chestre Hostel’s boats are now standing stern to bow on top of each other, rising in a column that is almost the height of three men. When they try to dismantle it, the pegs we used to lock to boats together will drop unseen into the water, and they will assume we did it by balance alone.’
‘They will marvel at our ability to confound the rules of physics!’ crowed another. ‘Well done, Jolye! This plan was a stroke of genius.’
Jolye felt a surge of pride. At fifteen, he was one of Trinity Hall’s youngest students, and his cronies did not often praise him. He was about to respond with a suitably nonchalant remark when he heard voices from farther along the path. His classmates heard them, too, and began trotting towards the lane that would take them home.
Jolye started to follow, but he had not been involved in the warm work of lugging heavy boats around, and his feet were like lumps of ice. He tried to break into a run when the footsteps drew closer, but could only manage a totter. Suddenly, there was a hand in the middle of his back, and he was shoved roughly forward. He stumbled, and a second push sent him face-first into the river.
The shock of the frigid water took his breath away, and for a moment, all he could do was lie there. Then his body reacted, and he found himself turning and flailing back towards the bank. It was not easy, because the current was strong, and threatened to sweep him away.
‘That was a stupid thing to do!’ he gasped angrily to the three dark figures that stood by the boats. His teeth chattered almost uncontrollably. ‘Help me out.’
He held out his hand, expecting to be hauled to safety, but none of them moved. He blinked water from his eyes, trying see their faces. Were they hostel lads? But the hostel–College competition was only a bit of fun, and certainly not serious enough to warrant shoving rivals in icy rivers. Or were they townsmen, who hated the University and would love to see a scholar get a soaking? Unfortunately, the light was not good enough for him to see, and they were just silent silhouettes.
‘Please!’ he croaked. The water was so cold it hurt. ‘You have made your point. Now help me.’
He staggered forward, and had almost reached dry land when an oar touched his shoulder, and he found himself prodded backwards. He floundered, choking as his head went under. The current tugged him downstream. What were they thinking? Did they want him to drown? He managed to grab a rotten pier as he was washed past, and struggled towards the bank again.
‘No!’ he screamed, as the paddle pushed him back a second time. The river caught him, carrying him some distance before swirling him into a slack pool near the back of Michaelhouse. Again, he tried to escape the water’s icy clutch, but the silhouettes were waiting and so was the oar.
‘I am sorry,’ he whispered pitifully. He glanced at the opposite bank, knowing he could escape his tormentors if he managed to reach it, but he had never learned to swim, and it might as well be a hundred miles away. ‘Whatever I have done to offend you, I am sorry. Now please—’
The next poke propelled him into the middle of the river, where the current was strongest. Water filled his mouth and nose. He tried to call for help as he was swept under the Great Bridge, but no one heard. His head dipped under the surface and did not rise again.