Susanna Gregory

Historical crime fiction. Medieval murder mysteries.
    Restoration intrigue and treachery.

A Vein of Deceit

A Vein of DeceitThe Fifteenth Chronicle of Matthew Bartholomew

Life is unsettled in Cambridge in the autumn of 1357, and both Michaelhouse and its physician Matthew Bartholomew have more than their fair share of misfortune.

The College, which has always teetered on the edge of financial collapse, suddenly discovers itself to be bankrupt, its Master is attacked, and a much-prized pair of silver-gilt chalices have been stolen. Bartholomew has his problems, too: after a woman dies in premature labour, he discovers that some medicinal potions have disappeared from his store, including pennyroyal, a drug known to induce miscarriages.

The Michaelhouse Fellows suspect that their treasurer, Wynewyk, has been fiddling the books. Bartholomew is horrified by the accusation, as Wynewyk has always been an honest man and a decent and honourable friend. But before anyone can confront Wynewyk with the charge, he dies in bizarre and inexplicable circumstances.

With their trust in the security of Michaelhouse badly shaken, Bartholomew and his friend Brother Michael have little time to get to the bottom of the tangled mysteries before the College’s reputation is permanently damaged – and even more people die. EditionWaterstoneseBook
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October 1357

The scream echoed along Milne Street a second time. Doors were opening, lights flickered under window shutters, and voices murmured as neighbours were startled awake. Matthew Bartholomew, physician and Doctor of Medicine at the College of Michaelhouse, broke into a run. Folk were beginning to emerge from their houses, asking each other why Edith Stanmore was making such an unholy racket in the middle of the night. The noise was coming from her house, was it not?

It was cold for the time of year, and Bartholomew could see his breath pluming in front of him as he sprinted along the road; it was illuminated by the faint gleam of the lamp his book-bearer, Cynric, was holding. There was rain in the air, too, spiteful little droplets carried in a bitter wind that stung where they hit. He glanced up at the sky, trying to gauge the hour. Other than the disturbance caused by the howls, the town was silent, and the velvety blackness indicated it was the darkest part of the night, perhaps one or two o’clock.

‘What is happening?’ called one of Milne Street’s residents, peering out of his door. It was Robert de Blaston the carpenter; his wife Yolande was behind him. ‘Who is making that awful noise? Is it your sister? I can see from here that her lamps are lit.’

Bartholomew sincerely hoped it was not Edith howling in such agony. She was his older sister, who had raised him after the early death of their parents, and he loved her dearly. Stomach churning, he forced himself to slow down as he negotiated his way past Blaston’s home. The recent addition of twins to the carpenter’s ever-expanding brood meant they had been forced to move to a larger property, and he was in the process of renovating it; the road outside was littered with scaffolding, wood and discarded pieces of rope. Bartholomew’s instinct was to ignore the hazard and race as fast as he could to Edith’s house, but common sense prevailed – he would be no use to her if he tripped and knocked himself senseless.

‘It is not Edith – it is a woman in labour,’ said Yolande, seeing his stricken expression and hastening to reassure him. Bartholomew supposed she knew what she was talking about: the twins brought her number of offspring to fourteen. ‘Edith must have taken in a Frail Sister.’

Bartholomew faltered. A lady named Matilde had coined that particular phrase as a sympathetic way of referring to Cambridge’s prostitutes. He had been on the verge of asking Matilde to marry him, but had dallied too long, and she had left the town more than two years before without ever knowing his intentions. It had been one of the worst days of his life, and even the expression ‘Frail Sisters’ was enough to make him reflect on all that his hesitancy had caused him to lose. But he came to his senses sharply when he blundered into some of Blaston’s building paraphernalia and became hopelessly entangled.

‘There are more Frail Sisters than usual,’ Yolande went on, watching her husband try to free him – a task not made any easier by the physician’s agitated struggles. ‘Summer came too early and spoiled the crops, so a lot of women are forced to earn money any way they can.’

Another cry shattered the silence of the night. In desperation, Bartholomew pulled a surgical knife from his medical bag and began to hack at the rope that had wrapped itself around his foot. He could not really see what he was doing, and the carpenter jerked away in alarm.

‘I cannot imagine why you are in such a hurry,’ Blaston muttered, standing well back. ‘You are not a midwife, so you are not obliged to attend pregnant—’

‘He is different from the other physicians,’ interrupted Yolande briskly. ‘The Frail Sisters trust him with their personal ailments, because Matilde said they could.’

Suddenly, Bartholomew was free. He began to run again, aiming for the faint gleam ahead that represented his book-bearer’s lamp – Cynric, of course, was far too nimble to become enmeshed in the carpenter’s carelessly strewn materials. There were two more wails before the physician reached Edith’s house, and without bothering to knock, he flung open the door and rushed inside.

Edith’s husband, Oswald Stanmore, was a wealthy merchant, and his Milne Street property was luxurious. Thick woollen rugs were scattered on the floor, and fine tapestries hung on the walls. Not for him the stinking tallow candles used by most people; his were beeswax, and gave off the sweet scent of honey. A number were lit, casting an amber glow around the room. They illuminated Edith, kneeling next to someone who flailed and moaned. The rugs beneath the patient were soaked in blood; there was far too much of it, and Bartholomew knew he had been called too late.

‘Thank God you are here, Matt!’ Edith cried when she saw him. Her face was pale and frightened. ‘Mother Coton says she does not know what else to try.’

Bartholomew’s heart sank. Mother Coton was the town’s best midwife, and if she was stumped for solutions, then he was unlikely to do any better. He knelt next to the writhing woman and touched her face. It was cold and clammy, and her breathing was shallow. He had been expecting someone younger, and was surprised to see a woman well into her forties. Her body convulsed as she was seized by another contraction, and the scream that accompanied it was loud enough to hurt his ears.

‘It is getting worse,’ said Edith in a choked voice. ‘Do something!’

‘She took a potion to rid herself of her child,’ explained Mother Coton. She was a large, competent person, whose thick grey hair was bundled into a neat coif. ‘Pennyroyal, most likely.’

‘No,’ objected Edith. ‘I am sure she—’

‘I know the symptoms,’ interrupted Mother Coton quietly. ‘I have seen them hundreds of times. She brought this on herself.’

‘But Joan wanted this child,’ cried Edith, distressed. ‘She had all but given up hope of providing her husband with an heir, and was delighted when she learned she was pregnant.’

Mother Coton declined to argue. She turned to the physician. ‘Can you save her? You snatched Yolande de Blaston from the jaws of death after I told her family to expect the worst. God knows how – witchcraft, probably. Will you do the same for this woman?’

‘I cannot,’ said Bartholomew, hating the dismay that immediately flooded into Edith’s face. It upset him so much that he barely registered why Mother Coton thought he had been successful with Yolande – he was used to people assuming his medical triumphs owed more to sorcery than book-learning and a long apprenticeship with a talented Arab medicus, but he did not like it, and usually made a point of telling them they were mistaken. ‘I can only ease her passing.’

‘No!’ shouted Edith, beginning to cry. ‘You must help her. Please, Matt!’

Her tears tore at his heart, but she was asking the impossible. He began to drip a concentrated form of poppy juice between the dying woman’s lips, hoping it would dull the pain and make her last few moments more bearable.

‘I have never seen this lady before,’ said Mother Coton to Edith, while he worked. ‘And I know most of the pregnant women in Cambridge. Is she a visitor?’

Edith nodded, sobbing. ‘We were childhood friends, although I have not seen her for years – not since she married and left Cambridge. We met by chance in the Market Square two days ago, and she has been staying with me since. She came to buy ribbons for the baby clothes she plans to make.’

‘Then I am sorry for your loss,’ mumbled Mother Coton, in the automatic way that suggested these were words uttered on far too regular a basis.

‘Is Joan’s husband staying here, too?’ Bartholomew asked. ‘If so, we should summon him.’

‘He is lord of Elyan Manor, in Suffolk. But he did not come with her to shop for baby baubles – he stayed home.’ Edith’s hands flew to her mouth in horror. ‘Oh, Lord! What will Henry say when he learns what has happened? He will be distraught – Joan said this child means a lot to him.’

‘She came alone?’ asked Bartholomew, surprised. Suffolk was a long way away, especially for a woman at such an advanced stage in her pregnancy.

‘She came with her household priest, who had business with King’s Hall. He is staying at the Brazen George.’ Edith clambered quickly to her feet. ‘I shall send a servant to—’

‘It is too late,’ said Bartholomew, as Joan’s life-beat fluttered into nothing. ‘I am sorry.’

Edith stared at him, and any colour remaining in her face drained away. ‘Then she has been murdered,’ she declared in an unsteady voice. ‘Do not look at me in that disbelieving way, Matt. I have never been more sure of anything in my life.’

The Devil’s Disciples

The Devils DisciplesThe Fourteenth Chronicle of Matthew Bartholomew

It is ten years since the Black Death reaped its harvest in Cambridge. Now, in the stifling summer of 1357, an even more sinister visitor is at large. He claims that the plague will come again, but that he can save lives. Last time, he declares, God failed His people – but the next time, it will be in the devil’s hands.

Some folk are quick to believe the message from the devil’s disciple, an anonymous, black-hooded figure known only as the Sorcerer. Some need a little more persuasion, and for those he leaves reminders of his powers – manuals on witchcraft, a hand severed from a corpse, and desecrated graves. But there are stubborn sceptics in the town, and the physician Matthew Bartholomew is one of them.

It is in Bartholomew’s own – and urgent – interests to unmask the Sorcerer, for it is rumoured that this agent of the devil is none other than Bartholomew himself. He is, after all, a man who is no stranger to death, who has a self-professed interest in the distasteful art of anatomy, and who has an impressive array of deadly skills at his disposal. And as well as the Sorcerer’s activities threatening Bartholomew’s reputation, it rapidly becomes clear that they also threaten his life … EditionWaterstonesEbook
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June 1357

It was almost a decade since the plague had swept across the country, snatching the lives of rich and poor, young and old, good folk and bad. Father Thomas would never forget the terror of not knowing who might be struck next, or of watching his fellow Franciscans die, one after the other. At first, the friars had believed they would be spared, because the Great Pestilence would only punish the wicked, but they could not have been more wrong. Indeed, a greater proportion of priests had died than laymen, a fact that had not been lost on the general populace. More than half of Cambridge’s clerics had perished in those awful months.

But Thomas had survived. Unlike many of his brethren, he took his priestly vows seriously, and never let himself stray from the straight and narrow. When they bought themselves warm cloaks and good boots, he embraced poverty. When they pampered themselves with fine food, wine and even women, he piously declared that he had sworn to live a life of chastity and obedience. And when the plague had descended on Cambridge, he had gone among the sick and dying, giving aid where he could. He had been spared, which he put down to the fact that he was an upright, God-fearing man, and when the disease had finally relinquished its hold on the little Fen-edge town, he made sure everyone knew it.

In the years that followed, he preached fervently about the dangers of sin. People had listened at first, but as time rolled on and the hideous memories began to fade, they slowly slid back into their old ways. Thomas was on the verge of giving up – let the devil have their rotten souls, if that was what they wanted – but then he had met a fellow Franciscan named Edmund Mildenale. Mildenale had a single message: unless people repented, the Death would return, sweeping away evil-doers so only the righteous would be left. Thomas was delighted. Mildenale’s warnings matched exactly what he had been saying for the past nine years, and he spoke with a fiery conviction that was wonderful to hear. Thomas immediately joined ranks with him.

Mildenale liked to hold forth in the open air, rather than the more formal setting of a church, and encouraged his friends to do likewise. So, that morning Thomas was standing on a water-trough behind St Mary the Great, regaling passers-by with a description of what they would suffer in Hell unless they renounced evil. No one was taking much notice, which was annoying. Why could they not see that his message was important? Were they really so stupid? Then David and Joan Refham began to heckle him. Thomas loathed the Refhams – a coven of witches met in the abandoned church of All Saints-next-the-Castle on Sunday nights, and he was sure they were members.

‘God did not help the faithful when the plague came last time,’ Joan shouted challengingly. ‘So why should we waste our time in churches now? Besides, sinning is a lot more fun than praying.’

‘The Sorcerer will save us if the pestilence comes again, anyway,’ declared Refham. ‘He told us so himself, and I trust him a lot more than I trust your fickle God.’

Thomas was horrified by the number of passers-by who seemed to be nodding agreement. ‘But the Sorcerer is a warlock,’ he cried, aghast. ‘He draws his strength from Satan.’

‘Well, at least Satan listens,’ countered Refham, beginning to walk away, bored with the debate. ‘Which is more than can be said for God and His so-called saints.’

The exchange shocked Thomas, and he stopped sermonising to reflect on the growing popularity of the man everyone was calling the Sorcerer. At first, there had been nothing to distinguish him from the many other black-hearted rogues who convened sordid little gatherings in the depths of the night. All claimed they were better than the Church, and that their gods were stronger. But then tales began to circulate that the Sorcerer could heal the sick, provide protection against bad luck, and even grant wishes. Thomas grimaced. He and Mildenale had tried hard to find out the villain’s real name, but the fellow was a master at keeping his identity secret – he wore a mask when he presided at his unholy gatherings, and he seemed to vanish into thin air the moment they were over. And it was difficult to fight a man who declined to show himself.

‘Witchery is popular in the town at the moment, Father,’ said Prior Pechem, seeing Thomas’s disconsolate expression as he strolled past. Pechem was head of the Cambridge Franciscans, although Thomas did not respect him. How could he, when Pechem declined to take a firm stance against sin? ‘The Sorcerer is good at curing warts, and people admire him for that alone. But his star will fade – his kind always does – and the Church will be there to round up those who have strayed. Do not fret.’

But Thomas did fret, and thought Pechem a fool for underestimating the risk the Sorcerer posed. ‘It may be too late by then,’ he snapped. ‘The devil will—’

‘I wrote to our Franciscan brethren in London, as you asked,’ said Pechem, interrupting hastily before Thomas could work himself into a frenzy. ‘As soon as I receive the answer to your question, I shall let you know. Of course, I am sure you are mistaken.’

‘So you have said before, but I want to be sure.’ Thomas began to speak more loudly, eager to make sure Pechem understood. ‘Satan is all around us, and we must do everything to—’

‘Quite so, quite so,’ mumbled Pechem. ‘Good morning to you.’

And then he was gone, reluctant to stand around when Thomas resumed his harangue, lest people thought he condoned the sentiments expressed in it. Thomas glared at his retreating back, then decided to abandon his efforts for the day. Refham’s mention of the Sorcerer had unsettled him, and he found he was not in the mood for an impassioned tirade. He began to make his way home.

As he passed St Michael’s Church, a solemn procession emerged. The scholars of Michaelhouse had been praying for Margery Sewale, dead after a long illness. The College was the sole beneficiary of her will, and the Master was going to bury her the following morning. She had chosen an auspicious time to die, because the morrow was Ascension Day, and everyone knew that folk put in the ground on Ascension tended to spend less time in Purgatory than folk buried on other days.

Michaelhouse was Mildenale’s College, so Thomas looked for him among the mourners. He saw him walking at the back of the procession, talking to two more Franciscans – Father William and Roger Carton. Thomas nodded amiably to Mildenale and Carton, although he greeted William rather more coolly. William had argued violently with him the previous evening, and hurtful remarks had been made on both sides.

He had not gone much further along the High Street when he felt a sudden, searing pain in his head. Then something struck his cheek, and he realised he had fallen face-down on the ground. Panicky voices rattled around him, echoing and distorted, but he recognised William’s strident tones and Mildenale’s softer ones. Then another joined in, this one calm, authoritative and reassuring. It was Doctor Bartholomew, Michaelhouse’s physician, saying something about a thrown stone. Thomas raised a hand to his aching temple and felt a cut. Someone had lobbed a missile at him!

‘It was a Dominican,’ declared Father William furiously. William hated Dominicans, and blamed them for everything that went wrong, from bringing the plague to curdling his milk.

‘Yes, one might well try to kill him for speaking out against sin,’ agreed Mildenale. He made the sign of the cross. ‘If so, then God forgive them for their wickedness.’

‘Actually, I suspect it fell from a roof,’ said Bartholomew with quiet reason. Thomas saw him glance up at the nearest houses, trying to see whether a tile had slipped.

But Thomas knew exactly what had happened. ‘It came by magic,’ he said, surprised to hear his voice sound so weak. ‘A curse. The Sorcerer has set his poison on me.’

‘Poison?’ bellowed William, cocking his head as he strained to hear the whispered words. ‘The Dominicans have poisoned you?’

‘No, he said the Sorcerer did it,’ corrected Carton. He sounded fearful. ‘He did not mention Dominicans – and for all their faults, I do not think they go around cursing people.’

‘Yes, they do,’ countered William dogmatically. ‘And they have murdered Thomas because he had the courage to stand against them. They—’

‘He is not going to die,’ interrupted Bartholomew firmly. ‘The wound is superficial, and he will be perfectly well again soon. Help me carry him to the College.’

It was not long before Thomas was comfortably installed in the room Michaelhouse kept for visitors. It was a pleasant place, with clean blankets, polished wood and bunches of lavender hanging from the rafters. But Thomas was too agitated to appreciate the décor. He could not stop thinking about the Sorcerer – he was sure the man had caused the stone to fly though the air by some vile magic. The fellow wanted him dead, because he was prepared to make a stand against him. How long would it be before he tried it again? Why not that very day, while he was wounded and vulnerable? He tried to stand, but found himself frail and dizzy.

‘Lie still,’ said Bartholomew gently. He held out a cup that was brimming with a pleasant-smelling liquid. ‘And drink this. It will help you sleep.’

‘I cannot sleep,’ Thomas objected, trying to shove it away. ‘The Sorcerer has poisoned me with a curse. I must remain vigilant, to fight him when he comes.’

‘You were hit by a stone,’ said Bartholomew practically. ‘Curses had nothing to do with it.’

Thomas did not believe him. ‘The Sorcerer will kill me if I stay here, and then the devil will have my soul. I must go home…’

‘You are safe here,’ said Bartholomew comfortingly. ‘And you will feel better after a good night’s sleep. By this time tomorrow, you will be strong enough to do battle with a dozen sorcerers.’

He had a convincing manner, and Thomas was tired. Moreover, Michaelhouse had sturdy gates and porters to guard them. The Sorcerer could not come in. So Thomas snatched the proffered cup, and downed the contents in a series of noisy gulps, ignoring the physician’s pleas for him to drink more slowly. But there was no point in pussyfooting around: he had made the decision to swallow the remedy and recoup his strength, so he might as well get on with it. He lay down and closed his eyes, waiting for sleep to come. He would resume his war with the Sorcerer tomorrow.

But by the following morning, Thomas was dead.

To Kill or Cure

To Kill or CureThe Thirteenth Chronicle of Matthew Bartholomew

It is the year 1357, and the University at Cambridge is in a sorry state.

Careful examination of the University’s finances reveals serious shortfalls. Meanwhile, the town’s landlords are demanding huge rent increases for the rooms they lease to students, and the plague has left the Colleges with scant money to pay for vital repairs to their walls and roofs. But for Matthew Bartholomew, Fellow of Michaelhouse, there is another problem nearer much closer to his heart: the arrival of a certain Richard Arderne, a healer with ‘magical’ powers, who claims to be able to awaken the dead.

But Arderne cannot banish death entirely. Not when it arrives in the form of murder. Is the killer a rapacious landlord? Or the healer himself, with his spells and incantations?

Against a backdrop of rivalry between town and gown, of gambling dens and missing persons, and of dissent between the Franciscans and Dominicans, Bartholomew and his colleague Brother Michael must find the viper in the University’s midst before the entire town descends into anarchy. And before Bartholomew and Michael themselves are killed … EditionWaterstoneseBook
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March 1357

When Magister Richard Arderne first arrived in Cambridge, he thought it an unprepossessing place, and almost kept on driving. It was pretty enough from a distance, with a dozen church towers standing like jagged teeth on the skyline, and clusters of red-tiled and gold-thatched roofs huddled around each one. There were other fine buildings, too, ones that boasted ornate spires, sturdy gatehouses and forests of chimneys. Arderne supposed they belonged to the University, which had been established at the beginning of the previous century. From the Trumpington road, in the yellow blaze of an afternoon sun, with the hedgerows flecked white with blossom and the scent of spring in the air, the little Fen-edge settlement was picturesque.

However, when he drove through the town gate, he saw it was not beautiful at all. It was a dirty, crowded place, full of bad smells, potholed lanes and dilapidated houses. The reek of the river and ditches, which provided residents with convenient sewers as well as drinking water, was overpowering, and he did not like to imagine what it would be like during the heat of summer. The churches he had admired from afar were crumbling and unkempt, and he suspected there was not a structure in the entire town that was not in need of some kind of maintenance or repair. The so-called High Street comprised a ribbon of manure and filth, trodden into a thick, soft carpet by the many hoofs, wheels and feet that passed along it, and recent rains had produced puddles that were deep and wide enough to have attracted ducks.

Arderne surveyed the scene thoughtfully as he directed his cart along the main road. The servants who sat behind him were asking whether they should start looking for a suitable inn. Arderne did not reply. Was Cambridge a place where he could settle? He was weary of travelling, of feeling the jolt of wheels beneath him. He longed to sleep in a bed, not under a hedge, and he yearned for the comforts of a proper home. And he wanted patients, too, because Arderne was a healer, as anyone glancing at the astrological configurations and medicinal herbs painted on the sides of his wagon would know.

Like any medicus, the prerequisite for his success was a population that was either ailing or willing to pay for preventative cures. Arderne glanced at the people who walked past him, assessing them for limps, spots, coughs and rashes. There were scholars wearing the uniforms of their Colleges and hostels, with scrolls tucked under their arms and ink on their fingers. There were friars and monks from different Orders; some habits were threadbare, but more were made of good quality cloth. And there were finely clad merchants and foreign traders, smug, sleek and fat.

Arderne smiled to himself. Not only were Cambridge folk afflicted with the usual gamut of ailments that would provide his daily bread, but there was money in the town, despite its shabby appearance. Now all he had to do was rid himself of the competition. No magician–healer wanted to work in a place where established physicians or surgeons were waiting to contradict everything he said.

He reined in, and flashed one of his best smiles at a pleasant-faced woman who happened to be passing, knowing instinctively that she would be willing to talk to him. Ever since he was a child, Arderne had been able to make people do what he wanted. Some said he was possessed by demons, and that his ability to impose his will on others was the Devil at work; others said he was an angel. Arderne knew neither was true; he was just a man who knew how to use his good looks and unusually arresting blue eyes as a means of getting his own way.

He beckoned the woman towards him. As expected, she approached without demur. He asked directions to the town’s most comfortable inn, and was aware of her appreciative gaze following him as he drove away. Most women found him attractive, and he was used to adoring stares. Indeed, he expected them, and would have been disconcerted if Cambridge’s females had been different from those in the many other towns he had graced with his presence.

The landlord of the Angel tavern on Bene’t Street was named Hugh Candelby. He was not particularly amenable company, but Arderne soon won him round, and it was not long before they were enjoying a comradely jug of ale. Arderne’s pale eyes gleamed when Candelby described how the plague had taken most of the town’s medical practitioners, leaving just four physicians and one surgeon. The physicians were all University men, and were saddled with heavy teaching loads as well as tending their patients. Arderne almost laughed aloud. It was perfect! Now all he needed was a house where he could set up his practice, preferably one that reflected his status as a man who had tended monarchs and high-ranking nobles, and a week or two to reconnoitre and rest his travel-weary bones.

And then, he determined, Cambridge would never be the same again.

The Tarnished Chalice

The Tarnished ChaliceThe Twelfth Chronicle of Matthew Bartholomew

In the bitter winter of 1356 Matthew Bartholomew and his book-bearer Cynric accompany Brother Michael to Lincoln, so that Michael can be installed as a cathedral canon. Bartholomew is also on a personal quest, continuing his search for the beautiful Matilde.

The Michaelhouse men find Lincoln an unholy place, riven by discord, with a Bishop seemingly unable to control the wild behaviour of his cathedral clergy, and with a sheriff happily accepting bribes to give him, if not Lincoln’s citizens, a peaceful life. They also find murder, and the reappearance of a holy relic that had been stolen more than twenty years earlier.

Against their will, the Cambridge scholars are drawn into investigating the unnatural deaths, and the circumstances surrounding the provenance of the so-called Hugh Chalice, endangering both their lives and their souls as they are caught up in the maelstrom of corruption that courses through the ancient city. And through it all, Bartholomew continues his desperate hunt for the elusive Matilde … EditionWaterstoneseBook
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The Tarnished Chalice is also available in audio format, read by Andrew Wincott. It can be ordered from as an audio CD or downloaded from or iTunes.


Lincoln, December 1356

The Gilbertine Priory of St Katherine occupied a substantial tract of land about a mile south of the city, tucked between the main road and the broad River Witham. Like many convents that had been built outside the town defences, it had looked to its own security, and was protected by a high wall. Unfortunately, the wall was in a poor state of repair, suggesting it had been built in a time of plenty but the priory within was currently experiencing leaner times.

The gatehouse was similarly affected: there was worm in its wooden door and its metal bosses were rusty. The grille that allowed guards to scan visitors before opening the front door was missing, affording anyone outside an unobstructed view of the buildings within. Bartholomew saw several long, tiled roofs, indicating that the Gilbertines owned a sizeable institution, if not a wealthy one.

Opposite the gate, standing so close to the side of the road that carts would surely be obliged to alter course to avoid it, was a tall structure, liberally adorned with pinnacles and a teetering central spire. It stood twice the height of a man, and reminded Bartholomew of a roadside shrine he had seen recently in France.

‘It is probably the Eleanor Cross,’ said Suttone, when he saw his colleagues regarding it curiously. He raised his eyebrows in contrived disbelief when they continued to regard him blankly. ‘Queen Eleanor – wife of the first King Edward.’

‘Ah, yes,’ said Michael, struggling to remember his history before Suttone started to gloat. ‘When she died, Edward was so distressed that he built one of these monuments at every place her body rested on its journey to Westminster. The cortege started near Lincoln, I recall.’

‘The King left her viscera here, though,’ added Suttone, determined to have the last word.

‘Her what, Father?’ asked Cynric.

‘Viscera – innards,’ explained Suttone. ‘It is a great honour for the cathedral to have them.’

Cynric eyed him in shocked revulsion. ‘You English!’ he muttered, but not quite softly enough to escape Suttone’s sharp ears. ‘Disembowelling queens is not the act of civilised men. You are worse than the French – and that is saying something.’

Suttone opened his mouth to object, but the scholars had been spotted by the man kindling the lamp outside the priory – a small fellow with jug-like ears. Like all male members of the Gilbertine Order, he wore an ankle-length tunic of black, covered by a white cloak and hood.

‘Are you looking for lodgings?’ he asked, coming towards them with open eagerness. ‘My name is John de Whatton. We have plenty of beds and food, even for Benedictines and Carmelites, and especially if they can pay.’

‘Good,’ replied Michael ungraciously. ‘I am starving. So is my horse,’ he added as an afterthought, when Suttone drew breath to comment on his unseemly appetite.

‘We have plenty of sweet hay, too,’ said Whatton with a cheerful smile. ‘However, you may find us in disarray this evening. We have had a death, you see, but you should not let it bother you.’

‘I am sorry to hear that,’ said Bartholomew politely. ‘One of your brethren?’

‘No, thank the good Lord. One of the guests. He was murdered.’

The Mark of a Murderer

The Mark of a MurdererThe Eleventh Chronicle of Matthew Bartholomew

On St Scholastica’s Day in February 1355, Oxford explodes in one of the most serious riots in its turbulent history.

Fearing for their lives, the scholars flee the city, and some choose to travel to Cambridge, believing that the killer of one of their colleagues is to be found in the rival University town. Within hours of their arrival, one member of their party dies, followed quickly by a second. Alarmed, they quickly begin an investigation to find the culprit.

Brother Michael is incensed that anyone should presume to conduct such enquiries in his domain without consulting him, and is dismissive of the visitors’ insistence that Cambridge might be harbouring a murderer. He is irked, too, by the fact that Matthew Bartholomew, his friend and Corpse Examiner, appears to be wholly distracted by the charms of the town’s leading prostitute.

Then it becomes clear that the Oxford riot was not a case of random violence, but part of a carefully orchestrated plot, one that threatens to explode during the imminent visitation of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and do Cambridge even more harm than Oxford. EditionWaterstonesEbook
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The Mark of a Murderer is also available in audio format, read by Andrew Wincott. It can be ordered from as an audio CD or downloaded from iTunes.


Cambridge, Pentecost 1355

Dawn was not far off. The half-dark of an early-June night was already fading to the silver greys of morning, and the Fen-edge town was beginning to wake. Low voices could be heard along some of the streets as scholars and friars left their hostels to attend prime, and an eager cockerel crowed its warning of impending day. Matthew Bartholomew, Master of Medicine and Fellow of Michaelhouse, knew he had lingered too long in Matilde’s house, and that he needed to be careful if he did not want to be seen.

He opened her door and looked cautiously in both directions, before slipping out and closing it softly behind him. Then he strode briskly, aiming to put as much distance between him and his friend as possible. He knew exactly what people would say if they saw him leaving the home of an unmarried woman – some would say a courtesan – at such an unseemly hour.

He slowed when he emerged from the jumble of narrow alleys known as the Jewry and turned into the High Street. The elegant premises of the University’s stationer stood opposite, and Bartholomew detected a flicker of movement behind a window. He grimaced. If John Weasenham or his wife Alyce had spotted him, he was unlikely to keep his business private for long. Both were unrepentant gossips, and the reputation of more than one scholar – innocent and otherwise – had been irrevocably tarnished by their malicious tongues.

However, once away from Weasenham’s shop, Bartholomew began to relax. The High Street was one of the town’s main thoroughfares, and he was a busy physician. Anyone who saw him now would assume he had been visiting a patient, and would never imagine that he had spent the night with the leader of and spokeswoman for the town’s unofficial guild of prostitutes. The University forbade contact between scholars and women, partly because it followed monastic rules, but also because prevention was better than cure: the Chancellor knew what would happen if his scholars seduced wives, daughters and sisters, so declaring the entire female population off limits was a sensible way to stop trouble before it began.

It was not far to Michaelhouse, where Bartholomew lived and worked, and the journey took no time at all when the streets were quiet. When he reached St Michael’s Lane, he continued past his College’s front gates and aimed for a little-used door farther along the alley. He had left it unlocked the previous evening, intending to slip inside without being obliged to explain to the night porter where he had been. He was startled and not very amused to find it locked. Puzzled, he gave it a shake in the hope that it was only stuck, but he could see through the gaps in its wooden panels that a stout bar had been placed across the other side.

He retraced his steps, wondering which of the students – or Fellows for that matter – had crept out and secured the door when he had returned. Or had someone simply noticed it unbarred during a nocturnal stroll in the gardens and had done the responsible thing? It was a nuisance: Bartholomew had been using it for ten days now, and did not want to devise another way to steal inside the College undetected. He walked past the main gates a second time, and headed for nearby St Michael’s Church. All Michaelhouse men were obliged to attend daily religious offices, and no one would question a scholar who began his devotions early – particularly at Pentecost. He wrestled with the temperamental latch on the porch door, then entered.

Although summer was in the air, it was cold inside St Michael’s. Its stone walls and floors oozed a damp chill that carried echoes of winter, and Bartholomew shivered. He walked to the chancel and dropped to his knees, knowing he would not have long to wait before his colleagues appeared. He smothered a yawn and wondered how much longer he could survive sleepless nights, when his days were full of teaching and patients. He had fallen asleep at breakfast the previous morning, and was not entirely sure the Master had believed him when he claimed he had been with a sick patient all night.

The clank of the latch was loud in the otherwise silent church, and Bartholomew felt himself jerk awake. He scrubbed hard at his eyes and took a deep breath as he stood, hoping he would not drop off during the service. The soft slap of leather soles on flagstones heralded the arrival of his fellow scholars; they were led by Master Langelee, followed closely by the Fellows. The students were behind them, while the commoners – men too old or infirm to teach, or visitors from other academic institutions – brought up the rear. They arranged themselves into rows, and Bartholomew took his usual place between Brother Michael and Father William.

‘Where have you been?’ demanded William in a low hiss. William was a Franciscan who taught theology, a large, dirty man who had fanatical opinions about everything. ‘You left shortly after dusk and have been gone ever since.’

His voice was indignant, as if Bartholomew’s absence was a personal affront, and the physician wondered whether it was he who had barred the door. William was narrow minded and intolerant when it came to University rules, despite the fact that he did not always heed them scrupulously himself.

‘Fever,’ replied Bartholomew shortly. William had no right to question him: that was the Master’s prerogative – and Langelee was mercifully accommodating when it came to the activities of a physician with a long list of needy customers. He encouraged Bartholomew to treat the town’s poor, in the hope that this might induce some of them to spare Michaelhouse during the town’s frequent and often highly destructive riots.

‘What kind of fever?’ asked William uneasily.

‘A serious one,’ replied Bartholomew pointedly, wishing the Franciscan would begin his prayers. He did not want to elaborate on his lie – and he certainly could not tell the truth.

‘Fatal?’ asked William, covering his nose and mouth with his sleeve. His voice went from accusing to alarmed. ‘Is it the Death? There are rumours that it is coming a second time. Not enough folk mended their wicked ways, and God is still angry with them.’

Bartholomew smiled despite his irritation, amused by the way that William did not include himself among those with ‘wicked ways’. ‘It is not the plague.’

‘Then who has this fever? Anyone I know?’

‘A labourer – one of the men hired to clean the town for the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Visitation next week.’ This was true: he had indeed been summoned to tend one of the hollow-eyed peasants who worked all day for the price of a meal the previous evening.

‘I do not mingle with such folk,’ said William loftily – and wholly untruthfully, since meeting the poor was unavoidable in a small town like Cambridge, and William was not a callous man, despite his pretensions of grandeur. ‘They are beneath the dignity of the Keeper of the University Chest and Cambridge’s best theologian.’ Smugly proud of himself, he turned his attention to his devotions.

‘That is not how I would describe him,’ muttered Brother Michael, who had been listening. ‘Well, he is the Keeper of the University Chest, but he is no more a theologian than is Matilde.’

Bartholomew glanced sharply at him, and could tell from the sly gleam in the monk’s eyes that more was known about his nocturnal forays than he would have liked. The obese Benedictine held the post of the University’s Senior Proctor, and was responsible for maintaining law and order among the scholars and a good deal more besides. He had a legion of beadles who patrolled the streets, hunting students who broke the University’s strict rules – and any academic caught in a tavern or fraternising with women could expect a hefty fine. Bartholomew supposed that one had spotted him visiting Matilde, and had reported the transgression to Michael.

Bartholomew was not only Michael’s closest friend, but also his Corpse Examiner, which meant he was paid a fee to investigate any sudden or unexpected deaths among members of the University or on University property. These occurred with distressing frequency, because life in Cambridge – as in any town across the country – was fraught with danger. People were killed in brawls; they had accidents with carts, horses and unstable buildings; they died from diseases, injuries and vagaries of the weather; and sometimes they took their own lives. Bartholomew and Michael explored them all, which meant that although any beadle would think twice about actually arresting Bartholomew for visiting a woman, he would certainly not hesitate to tell the Senior Proctor about the crime.

‘You should be careful, Matt,’ whispered Michael. ‘Cambridge is a small town and very little happens that someone does not notice – even when you are being cautious.’

‘I know,’ said Bartholomew, closing his eyes prayerfully to indicate the conversation was over.

Michael was not so easily silenced. ‘I needed you earlier, and you were nowhere to be found. Then I discovered the orchard door unbarred – for the tenth night in a row.’

Bartholomew opened his eyes and regarded the fat monk accusingly. ‘Did you close it?’

Michael pursed his lips, offended. ‘Knowing you planned to use it later? Of course not! What sort of friend do you think I am?’

‘I am sorry,’ muttered Bartholomew. He rubbed his eyes again, and wished he felt more alert; Michael was the last man to lock him out, no matter what rules he was breaking. He changed the subject. ‘Why did you need me? Were you ill?’

‘There was a murder.’

‘How do you know it was murder?’

‘Because there was a dagger embedded in the corpse’s back,’ replied Michael tartly. ‘And even a lowly proctor knows a man cannot do that to himself.’

The Hand of Justice

The Hand of JusticeThe Tenth Chronicle of Matthew Bartholomew

Cambridge, February 1355 – and as the worst snows in living memory begin to melt, a long-frozen body is revealed.

As the temperature gradually rises in the Fenland town, the passions of its citizens also emerge from the winter chill. A skeletal hand has become an object of veneration, viewed by some as a holy relic and capable of curing all ills, but thought by others to have come from a local simpleton. Meanwhile, two well-born citizens, who had been convicted of murder, have received the King’s Pardon, and have now returned to Cambridge showing no remorse for their actions, but ready to confront those who helped to convict them.

And there is a dispute between the local mills, regarding which should have the right to distribute the King’s corn. When Matthew Bartholomew is summoned to one of the mills where two people have been killed by nails rammed into their mouths, he and Brother Michael know exactly who to question. But as so often in the University city, nothing is as straightforward as it seems … EditionWaterstonesEbook
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Cambridge, late February 1355

When he first saw the well-dressed young man sitting on the lively grey horse, Matthew Bartholomew thought his eyes were playing tricks. He blinked hard and looked a second time, but there was no mistake. The rider, whose elegant clothes were styled in the very latest courtly fashion, was indeed Rob Thorpe, who had been convicted of murder two years before. Bartholomew stopped dead in his tracks and gazed in disbelief.

A cart hauled by heavy horses thundered towards him, loaded with wool for the fulling mill, and his colleague, John Wynewyk, seized his arm to tug him out of its way. It was never wise to allow attention to wander while navigating the treacherous surfaces of the town’s main thoroughfares, but it was even more foolish when ice lay in a slick sheet across them, and a chill wind encouraged carters to make their deliveries as quickly as possible so they could go home.

‘This cannot be right,’ said Bartholomew in an appalled whisper, oblivious to the fact that Wynewyk had just saved his life. ‘Thorpe was banished from England for murder. He would not dare risk summary execution by showing his face here again – not ever. I must be seeing things.’

‘You will not be seeing anything if you dither in the middle of this road,’ lectured Wynewyk, watching the cart lurch away. ‘Thomas Mortimer was driving that thing. Did you not hear what he did to Bernarde the miller last week? Knocked him clean off his feet.’

Bartholomew grudgingly turned his mind to Wynewyk’s story. Mortimer’s driving had become increasingly dangerous over the past few weeks, and he wondered whether it was accident or design that it had been Bernarde who had almost come to grief under his wheels – both men were millers, and they were rivals of the most bitter kind. Bartholomew supposed he should speak to the town’s burgesses about the problem, because it was only a matter of time before Mortimer killed someone.

‘Here comes Langelee,’ said Wynewyk, pointing to where the Master of their College strode towards them. ‘What is the matter with him? He looks furious.’

‘Have you heard the news?’ demanded Langelee as he drew level with his Fellows. ‘The King’s Bench has granted pardons to Rob Thorpe and Edward Mortimer.’

Bartholomew regarded him in horror, although Wynewyk shrugged to indicate he did not know what the fuss was about. ‘Who are these men? Should I have heard of them?’

Langelee explained. ‘They earned their notoriety before you came to study here. Rob Thorpe killed several innocent people, and Edward Mortimer was involved in a smuggling enterprise that ended in death and violence.’

‘Edward Mortimer?’ queried Wynewyk. ‘Is he any relation to him?’ He nodded to where Thomas Mortimer’s cart had collided with a hay wagon, causing damage to both vehicles. The haywainer was not amused, and his angry curses could be heard all up the High Street.

‘His nephew,’ replied Langelee shortly. ‘But the return of that pair bodes ill – for scholars and townsfolk alike.’

‘So, it was Thorpe I saw just now,’ said Bartholomew. ‘But how did this come about? I thought they had been banished from England for the rest of their lives.’

‘I thought they had been hanged for their vile crimes,’ replied Langelee grimly. ‘Not merely ordered to abjure the realm. But they managed to convince the King’s Bench clerks that their sentence was overly harsh.’

‘Perhaps they are reformed,’ suggested Wynewyk. ‘It is not unknown for folk to repent of their misdeeds when they are sent away in disgrace. You may be worrying over nothing.’

‘We are not,’ said Langelee firmly. ‘They were dangerous two years ago, and they are dangerous now. I am on my way to discuss the matter with the Chancellor and the Sheriff, to see what – if anything – might be done to prevent them from settling here.’ He strode away purposefully.

‘He is exaggerating the seriousness of these fellows’ return,’ said Wynewyk, watching Langelee shoulder his way through the boisterous, cheering crowd that had gathered to watch the fist-fight between the miller and the haywainer. He glanced sidelong at Bartholomew. ‘Is he not?’

‘I do not think so,’ replied Bartholomew soberly. ‘I cannot imagine what Thorpe and Mortimer did to secure their pardons, but the fact that they are back means only one thing: trouble.’

A Killer in Winter

A Killer in WinterThe Ninth Chronicle of Matthew Bartholomew

Christmas 1354, and in Cambridge the winter is as severe as anyone can remember. But however cold the weather gets, for two individuals it is about to get even colder.

A drunken attempt at blackmail by Norbert Tulyet, an errant scholar who has enrolled in the Franciscan Hostel of Ovyng Hall, leaves him dead on that foundation’s doorstep. And in St Michael’s church, a second unidentified body holds an even greater mystery.

For Matthew Bartholomew, the murders would be difficult to solve at a normal time of year, but now he has a further serious distraction to deal with. Philippa Abigny, to whom he was once betrothed, has returned to Cambridge with the man she left him for, the merchant Sir Walter Turke.

Bartholomew hopes that the couple’s stay will be brief, but he is about to be sorely disappointed. For not only does the mysterious body in church turn out to be Walter’s servant, but events conspire to ensure that Walter will never leave Cambridge again … EditionWaterstonesEbook
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Cambridge, December 1354

The church smelled of cheap incense and damp plaster, with an underlying musty odour emanating from an array of ancient vestments that were hanging on a row of hooks near the porch. Michaelhouse’s scholars thought these grimy robes, which were liberally spotted with mould, should be either cleaned or thrown away, but Master Langelee always demurred, claiming that they might come in useful one day. Bartholomew supposed they would fester on their rusty hooks until they turned to dust, since he could not imagine anyone willingly donning the things when there were newer and less odorous ones available.

Harysone was not in the nave, so Bartholomew and Michael walked towards the chancel. Their feet on the flagstones made the only sound. The church comprised the nave and chancel, two aisles and two chapels. The south chapel was usually called the Stanton Chapel, named for Michaelhouse’s founder who was buried there. It was one of the finest examples of modern architecture in Cambridge, but the chancel was the building’s crowning glory. It was larger than the nave, and boasted simple, but elegant, tracery in its arched windows, while its walls were painted with scenes from the Bible in brilliant reds, blues, yellows and greens. When the sun shone, light pooled in delicate patterns on the creamy-white of the floor, although that day the whole building was gloomy.

Bartholomew noticed that one of the candles on the high altar had wilted, and that wax was dripping on the floor. He went to straighten it and scrape away the mess with a knife, while Michael gazed around in agitation.

‘That damned pardoner Harysone is not here!’ he muttered angrily.

Bartholomew shrugged as he worked. ‘We were at least an hour – probably longer – with Norbert’s body. I am not surprised that your quarry has left.’

Michael was disgusted. ‘Now we shall never know what he was doing.’

‘Meadowman said he may not have come in here at all. Perhaps he gave up on the latch and left. Or perhaps he exited through the south door.’

‘Why would he do that?’ called Michael testily, prowling around the Stanton Chapel, as though Harysone might be hiding behind the founder’s tomb.

‘Because the latch jammed and he found himself unable to leave through the north one?’ suggested Bartholomew, giving the pewter candleholder a quick polish on his sleeve.

‘You are right!’ exclaimed Michael triumphantly, when he went to inspect the little-used exit in the south aisle. It was larger than the north door, but Master Langelee believed that using the smaller entrance kept the building warmer. The south aisle was occasionally employed as a mortuary chapel for parishioners, but most of the time it stood empty and unused. ‘Someone has been out this way.’

The door had been left ajar, and the monk opened it fully to peer out, before shutting it again. A stout bar prevented anyone from entering from the outside, and he studied it thoughtfully before replacing it in its two metal clasps. Bartholomew pointed out that anyone might have opened it, and that it did not necessarily imply some wrongdoing on Harysone’s part. Michael listened patiently, but clearly did not agree. Seeing neither was going to accept the other’s point of view, they abandoned the discussion and headed to the north door. As Bartholomew jiggled the latch, the monk forgot his tirade against Harysone to wrinkle his nose and indicate the row of robes that hung nearby.

‘The stench of those things is growing stronger by the day. They are too rotten ever to use again, and I cannot imagine why Langelee does not throw them away.’

‘Langelee never throws anything away if he thinks it may be useful. Michaelhouse is not wealthy, and he is just being prudent, I suppose. Shoes.’

‘What are you talking about?’ asked Michael, confused.

‘Shoes,’ repeated Bartholomew, pointing at the robes. ‘I think someone is hiding from you.’

Michael followed the line of the physician’s outstretched finger and his lips compressed in grim satisfaction. Poking from under the untidy, bulky folds of material was a pair of scruffy leather shoes. Someone had evidently slipped in among the albs and chasubles in the hope that he would be hidden – as he would have been, had he not left his feet in full view. Michael marched across to the line of hooks, and ripped the gowns aside.

The face that looked back at him was not Harysone’s, however. Nor was it the face of a living man. It was a corpse, with a pallid blue tinge about its mouth and lips, and unseeing eyes that were half open, half closed.

A Summer of Discontent

A Summer of DiscontentThe Eighth Chronicle of Matthew Bartholomew

Cambridgeshire, August 1354 – and the Bishop of Ely is accused of murder.

Tom Glovere was steward to Lady Blanche de Wake, a close relative of the King. A nasty, malicious gossip, his body is discovered by the banks of the River Ouse in Ely, just days after the Bishop had publicly threatened him with such an eventuality. The Bishop, though, protests his innocence and summons Cambridge University Proctor Brother Michael to help him clear his name. After all, Glovere was a man who liked his wine, and it would not be the first time he had collapsed in a drunken stupor after a heavy night in a tavern.

When Michael and physician Matthew Bartholomew inspect Glovere’s body, they realise that the steward did not drown through his own drunkenness: someone had stabbed him carefully and precisely in the back of the neck. And Glovere was not the only person to have died in this way: two locals, both thought to have committed suicide, have also been killed in this manner. While Bartholomew and Michael struggle for solutions, the murderer claims more and more victims, and there is a race to stop him before he causes rifts between two powerful factions that will never be healed. EditionWaterstonesEbook
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The Isle of Ely, early August 1354

Tom Glovere finished his ale and wiped his lips with the back of his hand. He was aware that the atmosphere in the Lamb Inn was icy, despite the warmth of the summer evening, but he did not care. The inhabitants of Ely were too complacent and willing to believe the good in people. Glovere intended to cure them of such foolery.

‘So,’ said the landlord, turning away from Glovere to address another of his patrons. ‘It is a good summer we are having, Master Leycestre. Long, hot days are excellent for gathering the harvest.’

‘Do not try to change the subject, Barbour,’ snapped Glovere, as he set his cup on the table to be refilled. ‘We were discussing the spate of burglaries that have plagued our city for the last few days: the locksmith was relieved of six groats last night, while the Cordwainers Guild had three silver pieces stolen the day before.’

‘We know all this,’ said Barbour wearily. ‘My customers and I do not need you to tell us the story a second time. And we do not need you to make nasty accusations about our fellow citizens, either.’

Glovere smiled. It was not a pleasant expression. ‘Then you should expect these thefts to continue. Whoever is breaking into our homes and making off with our gold is a local man. He knows which houses are likely to contain the most money, the best way to enter them, and even how to pacify the dogs. The locksmith’s hound is a mean-spirited brute, and yet it did not so much as growl when its home was entered in the depths of the night. That, my friends, is because the dog knew the burglar.’ He sat back, confident that he had made his point.

The landlord regarded Glovere with dislike. It was growing late, so most of his patrons had already gone home, but a dozen or so remained, enjoying the cool, sweet ale that made the Lamb a popular place to be on a sultry summer night. Outside, the sun had set in a blaze of orange and gold, and the shadows of dusk were gathering, dark and velvety. The air smelled of mown hay, and of the ripe crops that waited in the fields to be harvested. It was a beautiful evening, and Barbour thought Glovere was wrong to pollute it by creating an atmosphere of distrust and suspicion. He turned to Leycestre again, and enquired politely after the health of his nephews in the hope that Glovere would grow bored and leave.

‘Why would an Ely citizen suddenly resort to burgling the houses in his own town?’ asked Leycestre, ignoring the landlord’s attempt to change the subject and addressing the gleefully malicious Glovere instead. ‘Your accusations make no sense. I keep telling you that it is gypsies who are responsible for these thefts. The burglaries started the day after they arrived, and that speaks for itself.’

Barbour sighed, wishing that Leycestre would keep his unfounded opinions to himself, too. The gypsies liked their ale just as much as the next man, and he did not want to lose valuable customers just because Leycestre had taken against them.

Glovere sneered. ‘The gypsies would not burgle us. They come here every year to help with the harvest, and they have never stolen anything before. You just do not want to face up to the truth: the culprit is a townsman who will be known to us all. You mark my words.’ He tapped his goblet on the table. ‘Another ale, Barbour.’

‘No,’ said Barbour, angry with both his customers. ‘You have had enough.’

Glovere gazed at him, the scornful expression fading from his face. He was not an attractive man – his complexion was florid and flaky, and the uneven whiskers that sprouted from his cheeks and chin made him appear unwashed and unsavoury, despite his neat and expensive clothes. ‘I am not drunk. Give me another ale.’

‘I did not say you were drunk,’ said Barbour coolly. ‘I said you have had enough. You have a vicious tongue and I do not want you wagging it any longer in my tavern.’

Glovere glowered at the Lamb’s other patrons, his eyes bright with malice. He held the lofty position of steward, after all, while they were mere labourers, and it galled him to think that they should be served while he was refused. ‘I am not the only one who tells what he knows. Leycestre revealed that it was Agnes Fitzpayne who raided the prior’s peach tree last year, while Adam Clymme told us that Will Mackerell ate his neighbour’s cat.’

‘That is not the same,’ said Barbour firmly. ‘Your gossip is dangerous. You have already caused one young woman to drown herself because her life was blighted by your lies.’

There was a growl of agreement from other drinkers, and Glovere at least had the grace to appear sheepish. ‘It was not my fault that she killed herself before it could be proven that she was not with child,’ he objected sullenly. ‘I only told people what I thought. And it was not my fault that her betrothed went off and married someone else, either. Was it Chaloner?’

He stared archly at a burly man who sat alone in one corner of the inn. Others looked at Chaloner, too, and none of the expressions were friendly. Chaloner was a rough, belligerent fellow who cared little for what people thought. But he knew the good citizens of Ely had neither forgotten nor forgiven the fact that he had abandoned poor Alice to marry another woman when Glovere made his accusations – accusations that had transpired to be false. He drained his cup, slammed it on the table and slouched from the tavern without a word.

‘Why Alice killed herself over him is beyond me,’ said Glovere, after Chaloner had gone, knowing that people were invariably willing to engage in chatter that further sullied that man’s already unsavoury reputation. Perhaps a conversation about the detested Chaloner would induce Barbour to forget his irritation with Glovere himself. ‘I did her a favour by saving her from marriage with him.’

‘A favour that killed the poor lass,’ muttered Leycestre under his breath.

‘It would not surprise me to learn that Chaloner is the thief,’ Glovere went on. ‘We all know he has a penchant for the property of others. Perhaps he has become greedy.’

‘And the reason we all know about his weakness for other people’s goods is because he keeps getting caught,’ Barbour pointed out. ‘But Chaloner does not have the skill or the daring to burgle the homes of the wealthiest men in Ely.’

‘The gypsies do, though,’ said Leycestre immediately.

‘I do not know why we tolerate men like Chaloner in our town,’ said Glovere, cutting across what would have been a tart reprimand from Barbour. ‘None of us like him, and Alice is better dead than wed to him. More ale, landlord!’

Barbour’s expression was unfriendly. ‘You can have more when you can keep a decent tongue in your head. And it is late anyway.’ He glanced around at his other patrons. ‘You all need to be up early tomorrow to gather the harvest, and so should be heading off to your own homes now.’ He began to collect empty jugs and to blow out the candles that cast an amber light on the whitewashed walls.

Glovere glared at him, then stood reluctantly and made his way outside. There was a sigh of relief from several customers when the door closed behind him.

Once outside, Glovere slouched towards the river. Unlike the others, he was not obliged to rise before the sun was up to spend the day labouring in the fields. He was steward to Lady Blanche de Wake, and his only task was to watch over her manor while she was away. It was scarcely onerous, and he often found himself with time on his hands. He reached the river and began to stroll upstream, breathing deeply of the rich, fertile scent of ripe crops and the underlying gassy stench of the marshes that surrounded the City in the Fens.

A rustle in the reeds caught his attention and he glanced around. Someone was walking towards him. He stopped and waited, wondering whether he had gone too far in the tavern, and that one of the patrons had come to remonstrate with him. He waited for the person to catch up, ready to dispense a few home truths if the villain intended to tell him how to behave. A slight noise from behind made him spin around the other way. Was someone else there, or was it just the breeze playing among the waving reeds? Glovere suddenly had the feeling that it was not such a fine evening for a stroll after all.

An Order for Death

An Order for DeathThe Seventh Chronicle of Matthew Bartholomew

Cambridge, March 1354, and the cause of murder is once more on the minds of physician Matthew Bartholomew and his colleague Brother Michael.

It is a time of division and denomination at the great University. The Carmelites and the Dominicans are at theological loggerheads, so much so that the more fanatical members are willing to swap rational judgement for a deadlier form of debate. And no sooner is Carmelite friar Faricius found stabbed than a Junior Proctor is found hanging from the walls of the Dominican Friary.

What was Faricius doing out when he had not been given permission to wander? How are the nuns at the nearby convent of St Radegund involved? And who is brokering trouble between Cambridge and its rival University at Oxford? The longer their enquiries go on, the more Bartholomew and Michael realise that the murders are less to do with high-minded academic principles, and more to do with far baser instincts. EditionWaterstonesEbook
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Yuletide 1353

A sharp wind gusted across the flat land that surrounded the Benedictine convent of St Radegund, rustling the dead leaves on the trees and hissing through the long reeds that grew near the river. The friar shivered, and glanced up at the sky. It was an indescribably deep black, and was splattered with thousands of tiny lights. The more he gazed at them, the more stars he could see, glittering, flickering and remote. He pulled his cloak more tightly around him. Clear skies were very pretty, but they heralded a cold night, and he could already feel a frost beginning to form on the ground underfoot.

Against the chilly darkness of the night, the lights from St Radegund’s Convent formed a welcoming glow. The friar could smell wood-smoke from the fires that warmed the solar and dormitory, and could hear the distant voices of the nuns on the breeze as they finished reciting the office of compline and readied themselves for bed.

And then the others began to arrive. They came singly and in pairs, glancing around them nervously, although the friar could not tell whether their unease came from the fact that robbers frequented the roads that lay outside Cambridge, or whether they knew that it was not seemly to be seen lurking outside a convent of Benedictine nuns at such an hour. He watched them knock softly on the gate, which opened immediately to let them inside, and then went to join them when he was sure they were all present.

The prioress had made her own chamber available to the powerful men who had left their cosy firesides to attend the nocturnal meeting. It was a pleasant room, filled with golden light from a generous fire, and its white walls and flagstone floors were tastefully decorated with tapestries and rugs. The friar was not the only man to appreciate the heat from the hearth or to welcome the warmth of a goblet of mulled wine in his cold hands.

The nuns saw their guests comfortably settled, and then started to withdraw, leaving the men to their business. The prioress and her sacristan were commendably discreet, not looking too hard or too long at any of the men, and giving the comforting impression that no one would ever learn about the meeting from them. However, a young novice, whom the friar knew was called Tysilia, was a different matter. Her dark eyes took in the scene with undisguised curiosity, and she settled herself on one of the benches that ran along the wall, as if she imagined she would be allowed to listen to what was about to take place.

‘Come, Tysilia,’ ordered the prioress, pausing at the door when she saw what her underling had done. ‘What is discussed here tonight has nothing to do with us.’

Tysilia looked as if she did not agree, and regarded her superior with innocent surprise. ‘But these good gentlemen came here to visit us, Reverend Mother. It would be rude to abandon them.’

The friar saw the prioress stifle a sigh of annoyance. ‘We will tend to them later, if they have need of our company. But for the time being, they wish to be left alone.’

‘With each other?’ asked Tysilia doubtfully. Looking around at the eccentric collection of scholars and clerics who had gathered that night, the friar could see her point. ‘Why?’

‘That is none of our affair,’ said the prioress sharply. She strode across the room to take the awkward novice by the arm. ‘And it is time we were in our beds.’

She bundled Tysilia from the room, while the sacristan gave the assembled scholars an apologetic smile. It did little to alleviate the uneasy atmosphere that now filled the room.

‘I hope she can be trusted not to tell anyone what she has seen,’ said the man who had called the meeting, anxiety written clear on his pallid face. ‘You promised me absolute discretion.’

The sacristan nodded reassuringly. ‘Do not worry about Tysilia. She will mention this meeting to no one.’

‘Tysilia,’ mused one of the others thoughtfully. ‘That is the name of the novice who is said to have driven that Carmelite student-friar – Brother Andrew – to his death.’

‘That is hardly what happened,’ said the sacristan brusquely. ‘It is not our fault that your students fall in love with us, then cast themselves into the King’s Ditch when they realise that they cannot have what they crave.’

‘It seemed to me that Tysilia knew exactly what she was doing,’ said the friar, entering the conversation. He disliked Tysilia intensely, and felt, like many University masters, that pretty nuns should be kept well away from the hot-blooded young men who flocked to the town to study. ‘Her sly seduction of him was quite deliberate.’

‘You are wrong,’ said the sacristan firmly. ‘Poor Tysilia is cursed with a slow mind. She does not have the wits to do anything sly.’

‘I do not like the sound of this,’ said a scholar who was wearing a thick grey cloak. ‘If she is so simple, how do we know she can be trusted not to tell people what she saw here tonight?’

‘Her memory is poor,’ said the sacristan, attempting to curb her irritation at the accusations and sound reassuring. ‘By tomorrow, she will have forgotten all about you.’

‘That is probably true,’ said the man who had called the meeting. ‘She certainly barely recalls me from one visit to the next.’ He nodded a dismissal to the sacristan, who favoured him with a curt bow of the head and left, closing the door behind her.

‘We did not come here to talk about weak-witted novices,’ said the grey-cloaked scholar. ‘We came to discuss other matters.’

Despite the warmth of the room, several men had kept their faces hidden in the shadows of their hoods, as if they imagined they might conceal their identities from the others. The friar shook his head in wry amusement: Cambridge was small, and men of influence and standing in the University could not fail to know each other; they could no more make themselves anonymous in the prioress’s small room than they could anywhere else in the town. The friar knew all their names, the religious Order to which they belonged, and in some cases, even their family histories and details of their private lives.

The man who had called the meeting cleared his throat nervously. ‘Thank you for coming gentlemen. I am sorry to draw you from your friaries, Colleges and hostels at such an hour, but I think we all agree that it is better no one sees us gathering together if we are to be effective.’

There was a rumble of agreement. ‘There is altogether too much plotting and treachery in the University these days,’ said the grey-cloaked scholar disapprovingly. ‘God forbid that anyone should accuse us of it.’

The friar forced himself not to smile. What did the man imagine he was doing? Secret meetings with the heads of other religious Orders, to discuss the kind of issues they all had in mind when honest folk were in bed, sounded like plotting to him.

‘I brought you here to discuss a murder,’ said the man in charge. He gazed at each one of them, his eyes sombre. ‘The murder of one of the University’s highest officials.’

A Masterly Murder

A Masterly MurderThe Sixth Chronicle of Matthew Bartholomew

Cambridge 1353. It is a damp, gloomy November day, and the body by the River Cam is just the beginning of the intrigue in store for Michaelhouse.

Physician Matthew Bartholomew recognises the deceased as the book-bearer of the Michaelhouse Fellow John Runham. The death looks like suicide – and Runham’s servant was well known for his black moods – but before Bartholomew can reach a definite conclusion, a second tragic incident occurs.

Meanwhile, at Michaelhouse, the Master announces his retirement. Everyone is astonished and dismayed – everyone, that is, except the ruthless Runham. Once he has contrived to have himself elected to the post, he moves to make his mark on the College: sacking the choir, building a courtyard the College cannot afford, and demanding that Bartholomew choose between his teaching and his medical work. But just as Bartholomew is agonising over such an impossible decision, the new Master is discovered dead … EditionWaterstones
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November 1353

‘If you do not keep still, how can I pull the sting out?’ asked Matthew Bartholomew of Brother Michael in exasperation.

‘You are hurting me!’ howled Michael, struggling as the physician bent over him again with a small pair of tweezers. ‘You are jabbing about with those things like a woodpecker on a tree. Have you no compassion?’

‘It is only a bee sting, Brother.’ Bartholomew was bemused by the fuss the Benedictine was making. ‘And if you sit still for a moment, I could remove it, and all your terrible suffering would be over.’

Michael regarded him suspiciously. ‘I have heard of bee stings proving fatal to some people. Are you trying to tell me something in your discrete, physicianly way?’

Startled, Bartholomew laughed aloud. ‘It would take more than a mere bee to make an end of Brother Michael, the University’s Senior Proctor and valued agent of the Bishop of Ely – although I have never witnessed such drama in all my life. Even children do not squall and shriek like you do.’

‘That is probably because they do not understand what you are about to do,’ said Michael haughtily. ‘Well, come on, then; get it over with.’

Imperiously, he thrust a flabby arm at Bartholomew and turned his head away, eyes tightly closed. Once he had deigned to be cooperative, it was a simple task for the physician to pluck out the offending sting and then daub the afflicted area with a salve of goose grease and juniper berries, although the monk accompanied the operation with an unremitting monologue of complaint.

They were in Bartholomew’s medicine store at Michaelhouse, the College at the University of Cambridge where they held their Fellowships. It was a small, dimly lit chamber, more cupboard than room, that was always filled with the bitter-sour aroma of the potions and salves that were stored in it. Every available scrap of wall-space was covered by overloaded shelves, and the workbench under the window was stained and burned where ingredients had spilled as they had been mixed.

It was a damp, gloomy November day, and clouds sagged in a lumpy grey sheet across the small town and the marshy expanse of the Fens beyond. University term was well underway, and Bartholomew could hear the stentorian tones of his colleague Father William, who was teaching in the hall. Bartholomew was impressed. The previous year a generous benefactor had paid for the windows in the hall and the adjoining conclave to be glazed, and for the Franciscan’s voice to carry through the glass to the other side of the College implied some serious volume. Bartholomew wondered how the other masters could make themselves heard above it.

‘Right,’ he said, as he finished tending Michael’s arm. ‘That should heal nicely, if you do not scratch it.’

‘But it itches,’ protested Michael immediately. ‘It is driving me to distraction.’

‘It will itch even more if you keep fiddling with it,’ said Bartholomew unsympathetically. ‘How did you come to be stung by a bee anyway? It is the wrong time of year for bees.’

‘Apparently not for this one,’ said Michael stiffly. ‘I bought a cake from a baker in the Market Square, and the thing decided to share it with me. No amount of flapping and running seemed to deter it, and so I was reduced to swatting it when it landed. Then it had the audacity to sting me.’

‘If you were only stung, but the bee was crushed, you can rest assured that you had the better end of the bargain. But we have been away from our students long enough. I want mine to learn about how Galen developed the Hippocratic theory of the four humours, not about how the Devil founded the Dominican Order, which is what Father William seems to be bawling.’

‘Is he really?’ asked Michael, half startled and half amused. ‘I have been in such agonies with this sting that I have not been listening to our Franciscan fanatic today – and given the volume at which he teaches, that should tell you something of the suffering I have endured.’

Bartholomew frowned. ‘William should be more discreet about his dislike of Dominicans. Master Kenyngham told me last night that one of our two new Fellows – due to arrive today – is a Dominican.’

‘I expect Kenyngham told William, too – hence this morning’s bigotry. You know how the Franciscans and the Dominicans in Cambridge loathe each other, Matt. They are always quarrelling about something they consider desperately important – usually something the rest of us neither understand nor care about.’

‘I hope William and this new Dominican will not turn Michaelhouse into a battleground,’ said Bartholomew with feeling. ‘We have managed to remain pleasantly free of squabbles between religious Orders so far, and I would like it to remain that way.’

‘It might spice things up a little,’ said Michael, green eyes gleaming as he contemplated the intrigues that might accompany such a situation.

‘It would not,’ said Bartholomew firmly, replacing the jar of salve in his bag and washing his hands. ‘William does not have the intellect to embark on the kind of clever plotting you enjoy – he is more of a fists man.’

Michael laughed. ‘You are right. But you have missed your chance to enthral your students with lurid descriptions of bile, phlegm and blood this morning, Matt, because the porter will ring the bell for the midday meal soon. Hurry up, or there will be nothing left.’

He had shot from the storeroom and was crossing the courtyard to be first at the table, before Bartholomew could reply. The physician smiled at the fat monk’s greed, finished tidying his chamber, and followed at a more sedate pace. He shivered as he walked across the yard to the hall. A bitter north wind blew, bringing with it the promise of yet more rain, and perhaps even snow. He had just reached the porch, when Cynric, his book-bearer, came hurrying towards him, shouting to catch his attention.

‘You had better come with me, boy,’ said Cynric breathlessly. ‘I have just found Justus dead near Dame Nichol’s Hythe, on the river.’