The murder mystery solving monk.
The world of Cadfael is set in the Dark Ages, the time period in Europe that is between the Fall of the Roman Empire, 300 CE, and the rise of the High Middle Ages, in 1300 CE.
In the Dark Ages, civilization is slowly starting to rebuild itself after the fall of the Empire. Small, petty kingdoms are being united into larger realms. Christianity, starting as a small cult in the Holy Land, has spread and is supplanting local paganism. It is structuring itself similar to secular rulers, with a hierarchy of the Pope as king, and Cardinals and Bishops as and lords.
In England, less than two centuries earlier, William the Conqueror landed in England in 1066 to take the throne for the Normans. The structure of the Anglo Saxon kingdoms was kept, with Norman lords being put in charge. Books and learning have barely survived. What few texts and scrolls remain from ancient authors are kept preserved in private collections and in monasteries, where part of the duty is to transcribe these texts.
The lives of most people are spent toiling the soil for planting and harvesting season, with the winter spent as leisure, and a firm hope the food will not run out before spring. There is peace, sometimes. In the Cadfael Chronicles however, there is a long running civil war occurring, between King Stephen and Empress Maud.
One of the common threads in the books was the long running Civil War, between King Stephen and Empress Maud. Stephen was adopted by King Henry I, and declared he would recognize Maud, Henry’s daughter, as the next in line for throne. However, on Henry’s death, Stephen races to London to have himself crowned king.
This heralds a long, 19 year struggle between King Henry and Empress Maud. Stephen initially makes gains in taking land and castles that had sworn for Maud, even though he was captured for a time. On his release, he is crowned king a second time and lays siege to Maud’s castle at Oxford, until she escapes. Most of England then chooses to recognize Stephen, though he spends most of his later time in quelling disturbances to his reign. He dies in 1154, king of a peaceful England for less than a year.
In Shrewsbury, the civil war came in the form a siege to Shrewsbury castle by King Stephen against supporters of Maud. He captures it, and people such as Hugh Beringar swear loyalty to him and becomes deputy sheriff. In the rest of the novels, the tide of civil war is spoken of darkly and influences a number of plot developments, such as in The Raven in the Foregate.
The Dark Ages, a time when might was more powerful then the pen. Here a knight in a barrel helmet poses at a Renaissance Faire.
King Henry II and King Stephen, from a Chronicle made between 1280 and 1300.