Wine of Violence
While I was looking for medieval mystery titles, I found Priscilla Royal's books listed and decided to try one.
Wine of Violence is the first in her series featuring young Eleanor of Wynethrop, who has recently been appointed Prioress of Tyndale Priory. Eleanor's appointment is a political one, overruling the usual practice of the nuns electing their own prioress.
A resented interloper by many of the nuns, Eleanor has other problems as well: wresting back control from the Prior of the men's house, managing the depleted priory funds, and within a day of her arrival, a murder.
Tyndale Priory is a double house: both nuns and monks serving a hospital. Housed separately, both serve the hospital and help support the priory.
Below is an image of the Watton Priory; it gives an idea of what the Tyndale Priory might have looked like.
The year is 1270, after Simon de Montfort's defeat. The thirteenth century during Henry III's reign, before or shortly after the de Montfort rebellion, provides a lot of fodder for medieval mysteries. Jason Vail's series is set prior to the rebellion; Royal's series takes place after the rebellion with an aging Henry III still on the throne.
Before the novel opens, Royal makes some interesting comments about double houses and the Order of Fontevraud, founded in France, the inspiration for her Tyndale Priory. She also mentions the difficulties of "portraying the people, their thoughts and feelings, from an era so distant from our own. The fiction author inevitably walks a very narrow line between making the characters sound too modern to be of the period or making them so different that the modern reader feels little in common with them."
These opening pages have so many things that interested me, including mention that homosexuality and bisexuality were acknowledged, and that although the Church disapproved of many were allowed to live in peace. On the other hand, many were tortured and executed. Sort of depended on who you were and where you were. There is also a discussion of the role of women, "the weaker vessels," with emphasis on those women like Matilda, daughter of Henry I, and chosen by her father to succeed him; Eleanor of Aquitaine, whose "intricate political and sometimes warlike maneuvering over the reigns of three English kings and one French monarch was a success story Machiavelli should have admired"; and Eleanor of Provence, wife of Henry III, whose advice was "openly and often sought...in affairs of state."
So...the plot: Eleanor, the newly appointed Prioress, arrives at Tyndale Priory and is faced with opposition from some of her own nuns and from the Prior of the men's house, or more specifically, from the Prior's assistant. During Eleanor's first meeting with the Prior, a young monk arrives. Thomas has a past that he would like to forget and took vows under pressure only as a means of escape from that past.
A day later, one of the monks is found brutally murdered. Eleanor must try to gain the respect and cooperation of her nuns and determine who is responsible for Brother Rupert's murder. Thomas assists as far as he is able, but he has another mission as well: he has been sent to discover what is amiss in the financial records of the priory.
Priscilla Royal has populated Tyndale Priory (and its surrounds) with a number of interesting and believable characters. They are all well-developed with complex personalities and purposes.
Can you tell that I really liked this novel? I liked it so well that I ordered the next two in the series and read them immediately. I will be reviewing them in the next few days.
Oh, and great bibliographic information at the end.
Read in March
Medieval Mystery. 2011. 249 pages.