(Caution: Contains spoilers for Episode: 12×04: The Glitch)
The Midsomer Cycling Club from Aspern Tallow – adults and young people – often go cycling, today along the old pilgrim route to an old church ruin. On the top of a hill they take a short rest. Down in the valley, the destination is already in sight: The Abbey of St Frideswide in the Valley of Midsomer Sanctae.
While some of the children continued to cycle at a fast pace, the adults stopped to chat. George Jeffers interrupts their conversation to look down at the ruins of the church.
Arriving down at the ruins, the young people and we learn a little more about the former church, thanks to George Jeffers: Pilgrimages from Causton to this abbey to pray to St Frideswide began over 700 years ago. Before that there was a Roman shrine on the site, and before that a Celtic shrine.
St Frideswide, patron saint of Oxford
It is recorded that Frideswide was the daughter of an Anglo-Saxon king. However, as is often the case, not much more is known about the saint.
The story goes that Frideswide was educated by a very Christian governess. Here she learned to love and live the Christian faith and decided to lead a spiritual life in the future. She did not become a nun, but simply lived a self-chosen life of seclusion and chastity in a religious retreat with twelve other women.
Meanwhile, the royal Mercian prince Aelfgar was courting Frideswide. To summarise the story (based on Berkshire History): Frideswide refused repeated messages of love and gifts of love, enraging Prince Aelfgar, whose honour was offended. The second time Aelfgar rode to Frideswide in anger, she had already fled Oxford with two other women to what is now Berkshire. Here they hid in the deep oak forest and built a small oratory.
But the people of Oxford betrayed their hiding place when Aelfgar threatened to reduce the city to rubble. Frideswide prayed to St Catherine and St Cecilia for her life and a miracle happened: when she was within reach of the Mercian prince, he suddenly went blind and fell off his horse into the mud. He begged for forgiveness and swore to do penance. She took pity on him, bathed his eyes and prayed for his sight – and it returned. She lived in Oxford for many years.
Contemporary with Frideswide’s life: The Christianisation of the Anglo-Saxons
By the 5th century, the Roman Empire could no longer be maintained in Britain. Power increasingly passed to Romanised princes (“reges”) and native aristocrats. At the same time, people arrived from Jutland and the Angles, as well as immigrants from the Frisian area – the Saxons. Unlike the Romanised English, they were not Catholics but pagans. These pagan beliefs were adopted more and more in the following decades, but finally the Christianisation of the Saxons (today: Anglo-Saxons) took place in the 7th century.
This Christianisation was neither uniform nor unique. Depending on the ruler of the region, the faith changed from pagan to baptised several times during the 7th century. Sometimes even within a single regency.
This chart shows the back and forth of the Anglo-Saxon faith. It also shows that by the time Frideswide was born, sometime between 650 and 700, the Christian faith was already more and more widespread.
By 660 there were Christian communities in every English kingdom, but the English Church was divided and not well organised. It was in danger of collapsing. There was also an outbreak of plague in 664 which killed many Christian clergy, including Bishop Deusdedit of Canterbury.
Pope Vitalian sent two bishops from Italy to southern England to fill Deusdedit’s vacancy and provide general stability. Theodore became the new Bishop of Canterbury in 668, and Hadrian accompanied him on his journey. A journey that lasted a whole year. Then Theodore and Hadrian went on a tour of England to assess the state of the English Church, and it was not a pleasant one. So Theodore appointed himself archbishop and filled many vacant sees with new bishops. He also took the first steps towards taking over the Roman Catholic Church in England.
This also affected the way people were buried.
Missionary work in the 6th century
A hundred years earlier, a major missionary campaign against the pagan Britons had failed. It was a missionary campaign by Pope Gregory that provided the impetus for the gradual Christianisation of southern England. His efforts were prompted by the marriage between the pagan Æthelbert of Kent and the Christian Merovingian Bertha sometime before 597. Æthelbert tolerated Bertha’s religion and converted some years after the marriage.
We can only speculate about the reasons for Gregory’s mission and Æthelbert’s conversion. Were they religious or political? What part did the Merovingians play, or Bertha of Kent?
Pope Gregory’s choice of Augustine for missionary work in the south of England was, of course, no accident. Augustine had previously been prior of Pope Gregory’s own monastery in Rome.
Gregory gave Augustine the power of a metropolitan archbishop of the southern part of the British Isles, with the help of the Merovingians. But by this time the long-established Celtic bishops, in a series of meetings, refused to recognise his authority. After the Roman legions had left, the Christians remained in Britain and – because of their distance from Rome – developed their own distinctive practices! of Celtic Christianity. These included the different calculation of Easter, the emphasis on monasteries rather than bishops, and other things like clerical tonsure.
Worship of Frideswide
The monastery founded by Frideswide in Oxford is said to have been destroyed in 1002. An Augustinian canonry was built on its walls until 1122, when it was converted into a secular canonry. The patrocinium remained with St Frideswide and from 1180 her bones were moved as relics from her tomb to the collegiate church, which became a place of pilgrimage. She also became the patron saint of the city of Oxford and Oxford University.
In 1525 the monastery was dissolved by Cardinal Wolsey and transformed into Cardinal’s College with the Abbey Church as the college chapel. Funds from the dissolution of Wallingford Priory and other priories were used to dissolve Waverley Abbey.
Five years later, however, Cardinal Wolsey fell out of favour with King Henry VIII. In 1546, the King took over the nascent foundation and converted the collegiate church into an Anglican cathedral and the patron saint from a Catholic saint to Christ – it is now Christ Church Cathedral in Oxford.
Frideswide’s small oratory in the former oak forest of Berkshire is also a place of pilgrimage. There is a chapel at Frilsham, but it dates from Norman times. It may, however, stand on the ruins of an Anglo-Saxon oratory.
Both churches, Christ Church Cathedral in Oxford and Frilsham, are further away from the filming location.
The ruins of Waverley Abbey, 32 miles (51 km) from Frilsham and 49 miles (79 km) from Christ Church Cathedral in Oxford, were used for this location.
Founded in 1128, it was the first Cistercian monastery in the British Isles. Its mother monastery was the monastery of L’Aumône in Normandy, dedicated to St Mary. “The Abbey of the Blessed Mary of Waverley was its full name.
But it lasted only 400 years and was largely demolished at the Dissolution of the Monasteries (1536). The ruins were used as a quarry over the next few centuries, including for Loseley House.
- Blair, John: St Frideswide’s monastery- Problems and possibilities. In: Oxoniensia 53 (1988). P. 221-258.
- Higham, Nicholas J.: The Convert Kings. Power and Religious Affiliation in Early Anglo-Saxon England. Manchester 1997.
- Hindley, Geoffrey: A Brief History of the Anglo-Saxons. London 2006.
- Mayr-Harting, Henry: The Coming of Christianity to Anglo-Saxon England. 3rd Edition. London 1991.
- Mayr-Harting, Henry: Functions of a twelfth-century shrine. The miracles of St Frideswide. In: Henry Mayr-Harting/R. I. Moore (Ed.): Studies in medieval history presented to R. H. C. Davis. London 1985. P. 193-206.
- Nash Ford, David: St. Frideswide – Folklore or Fact? In: Royal Berkshire History.
- Nash Ford, David: St. Frideswide. Patroness of Oxfordshire or Berkshire? In: Berkshire History.
- Reames, Sherry L.: The Legend of Friedeswide of Oxford. An Anglo-Saxon Royal Abess. Introduction. In: Sherry L. Reames (Ed.). Middle English Legends of Women Saints. Kalamazoo 2003.
- Willoughby, James: Thomas Wolsey and the books of Cardinal College, Oxford. In: Bodleian Library Record 28 (2015). P. 114-134.
Further recommended reading
Scholarly studies on early Christianisation around 600 and the back and forth afterwards
- Vosper, Emma: Migration and conversion. The Christianisation of Britain. In: Our Migrationstory (ohne Datum).
Comparison of the sources and manuscripts
- Reames, Sherry L.: The Legend of Frideswide of Oxford. An Anglo-Saxon Royal Abess. Introduction. In: Sherry L. Reames (Ed.). Middle English Legends of Women Saints. Kalamazoo 2003.
There are still desiderata for research on St Frideswide. John Blair addresses these in great detail and depth in two essays
- Blair, John: Saint Frideswide Reconsidered. In: Oxoniensia 52 (1987). P. 71-127.
- Blair, John: St. Frideswide’s Monastery Problems and Possibilities. In Oxoniensia 53 (1988). P. 221-258.
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(Caution: Contains spoilers for Episodes: 05×04: Murder on St Malley’s Day, 14×05: The Sleeper under the Hill, and 18×05: Saints and Sinners)
Three episodes of Midsomer Murders are about treasure and its theft. They come from three different eras: The Anglo-Saxon treasure of Gorse Meadow from the Battle of Hallows Beck between the Anglo-Saxons and the Vikings (14×05: The Sleeper under the Hill) and the Tudor hoard of Milson (18×05: Saints and Sinners) – both treasure heists taking place in Midsomer in the early 21st century.
But one episode also features an art theft outside Midsomer, but in Midsomer Parva. Specifically, by former Pudding Club members, now diplomats, in the last decades of the 20th century (05×04: Murder on St Malley’s Day).
Greed & Hubris
What all three episodes have in common is that the robbers claim to be able to value the treasures for themselves – and only themselves – and therefore need to save them – and, of course, are prepared to murder if necessary to do so.
At Devington School in Midsomer Parva, headmaster Jonathan Eckersley-Hyde stands with pupil Daniel Talbot in the chamber of the Pudding Club, where many treasures are kept. He seems to be preparing Daniel for his future career as a diplomat. And as an alumnus of Devington School, that includes, er, saving artefacts. He shows Daniel something from a looted museum in Kabul, the contents of which were stolen/saved and brought here by members of the Pudding Club as diplomats. This is what makes the school and its upkeep possible.
Daniel Talbot is understandably beside himself that there are countless stolen art treasures stored here, and Jonathan Eckersley-Hyde emphasises once again that these treasures have been saved thanks to Devington School.
And it’s not just Kabul artefacts that are stored in the secret vault off to the side of the Pudding Club room. Tom Barnaby and Gavin Troy identify much more in the room when Jonathan Eckersley-Hyde also enters the vault.
There is a prehistoric monument with a blood stone at Midsomer Mow. This area is part of the Gorse Meadow estate, now owned by Alex Preston. Unauthorised, the village’s New Dawn Druids use the site as a spiritual power site to celebrate their beliefs.
But landowner Preston has his own plans for the land and wants to make it work for him. While ploughing, he makes a very interesting discovery after only a few metres: he finds ancient jewellery under the ground and quickly realises that there must be much more from Celtic times. He shows his first finds to another resident, Caradoc Singer. He is very impressed, but not so much by the fact that Alex Preston wants to find out how to deal legally with a treasure find.
Caradoc Singer believes that only he has the ability to value the hoard, not Alex Preston or the government. Or the policeman Trevor Gibson, who also wants Preston’s find and wants to sell it. Caradoc Singer – who considers himself far too good to kill – takes advantage of this and has Trevor Gibson do it for him, putting him under emotional pressure.
All this is revealed during the interrogation in Caradoc Singer’s basement lair at the end of the episode, as Caradoc Singer, surrounded by all the treasures he has collected over the years, sits in an armchair and remembers the day Alex Preston showed him the precious finds.
The catastrophe for Caradoc Singers was not that Alex Preston found these treasures on his property, but that he want to report his find and take whatever might be his legal share. And once the items were in the possession of the government, Caradoc Singer could no longer try to own them. Clearly, finds Singer, Alex Preston was not appreciative enough and therefore had to die.
But an art collector like Caradoc Singers doesn’t do this kind of dirty work himself, but lets others do it, whom he makes emotionally compliant in return with small gifts – in this case the policeman Trevor Gibson. Nothing he regrets, as you can see from his arrogant grin. He is visibly proud of his emotional blackmail.
Same with Letitia Clifford, a member of the New Dawn Driuds of Midsomer Mow . She finds the right site of the buried treasures via ley lines. On a large map she connects four spiritual places with two lines. They cross at Gorse Meadow. “King Stone” she writes at the intersection. Shortly afterwards she is murdered.
John Barnaby showed the map to Caradoc Singer, who back then waved it off, to distract Barnaby. He admits this later. She was quite right that the battle was fought at Gorse Meadow. But if this had been publicised, the place would have been swarming with treasure hunters – and thus diminishing Caradic Singer’s potential possessions.
There were at least four battles between Anglo-Saxons and Vikings in Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, and Oxfordshire, but only one of it was won by the Anglo-Saxons: The Battle of Englefield, 31 December 870. (According to the calendar at that time, it was 31 December 871 because the year already began on Christmas.)
But how did it actually come to the battles? About a century after the Christianisation of the Anglo-Saxons, the Vikings sailed to the British Isles for short raids.It was not until around 850 that Vikings invade Britain – and it was during this time that the Battle of Englefield took place.
Let’s come back to Letitia Clifford for a moment. She draws two lines – called ley lines – on a map. They meet in Alex Preston’s field, though not at the bloodstone in Crowcall Circle, but a few steps away. “King Stone” she writes on the spot.
Drawing ley lines is not an idea of the screenwriter, but is based on a practice of 19th century historians. Today, their significance is strongly doubted by historians and tends to be relegated to the realm of esotericism. They were established by merchant Alfred Watkins who was also an amateur archaeologist and amateur photographer. For him, there had to be a network of straight paths connecting the historic buildings in England.
And he wasn’t alone:
- Reverend Edward Duke (1779-1852) found in 1846 that some prehistoric monuments and medieval churches were connected by a line.
- Architect and antiquarian Joseph Houghton Spencer (19th century), while exploring Taunton Castle, found a historic path connecting monastic sites. He then believed that all monasteries and monuments would once have been connected in straight lines.
- Archaeoastronomer Joseph Norman Lockyer (1836-1920) suggested that, as at Stonehenge, other prehistoric stone sites were connected on a plane based on astronomical principles.
- Historian Walter Johnson (c. 1900) found that because churches were built on prehistoric sites, ley lines are also found in them, but go back even further. Churches were built because of the positive energies along the ley lines.
Nevertheless, the vast majority of scientists today are very sceptical about the anachronistic concept of ley lines. Tom Williamson found that the density of monuments in the UK is so great that with every straight line you have several monuments on one line.
Treasures from family hoards
Cicely Milson was a martyr who was interrogated by her torturers for three weeks before she was executed. Among other things, she lost a toe during the torture. Her family fled to France to escape, but the family hoard, however, remained with Cicely. She probably lived in the 15th century – more likely towards the end. Historian Christopher Corby gives the 15th century for the painting showing her mother Benedicta Milson (in fact it shows Margaret Tudor (1489-1541), the eldest daughter of Henry VII of England).
The dig in present-day Midsomer Cicely is also attended by Penelope “Penny” Henderson, who wrote her PhD thesis on the Milson family and knows a lot about the connections and the family hoard. It is only towards the end of the episode that John Barnaby and Charlie Nelson find out from the car registration that Penny Henderson’s maiden name was “Milson”. So, she is interested in finding the treasures of the Milson family for genealogical reasons and wants to keep it. But that’s not how it works under current law in England. In the process, Penny Henderson is willing to go to extremes and becomes a murder.
Note: As with Gorse Meadow: where the scene of the dig was set up is still unknown to me and I welcome any clues.
Fraud and Murder
And then there was the Reverend Corby, who passes off the bones of a random person as the relics of St Cicely in order to gain more fame.
He steals Penny Henderson’s car with the actually bones of Cicely in it to replace them in the crypt for the bones of the fake Cicely. What he doesn‘t know is that the family hoard is in the car, too. Kam Karimore drops by in the church to examine the fake bones on display for their age. While she is still discussing the matter with the Reverend, Penny Henderson arrives. They get into arguments when John Barnaby and Charlie Nelson also arrive to join the three people in the crypt.
For a moment, Penny Henderson is surprised, that the police have discovered that she is the murderer. Then pulls out a knife and runs to Kam Karimore to take her hostage. Kam gasps. John is visibly in distress. He reveals to her that he knows of her birth name, lets her get emotional until she is not paying close attention to holding Kam Karimore down enough. Kam is able to break free. John and Charlie immediately rush towards Penny Henderson. Kam and Charlie hold Penny Henderson down, so she can be arrested.
How does it work in England when you find treasures?
This is regulated by the Treasure Act of 1996: There is a legal obligation that golden and silver objects over 300 years old found in England must be reported within 14 days of discovery. A finder’s reward is possible, but does not apply to archeologists and volunteers participating in an archeological excavation.
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- Ford, David Nash: Englefield. In: Royal Berkshire History. URL: http://www.berkshirehistory.com/villages/englefield.html
- Hutton, Ronald: The Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles. Their Nature and Legacy. Oxford/Cambridge 1991.
- Johnson, Walter: Byways in British Archaeology. Cambridge University Press 1912.
- Lockyer, Joseph Norman: Stonehenge and Other British Stone Monuments Astronomically Considered. Macmillan and Company, London 1909.
- NN: Parishes: Englefield. In: P. H. Ditchfield/William Page (Eds.): A History of the County of Berkshire 3. London 1923. P. 405-412. URL: https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/berks/vol3/pp405-412
- Williamson, Tom/Bellamy, Liz: Ley Lines in Question. Tadworth 1983.
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(Caution: Contains spoilers for Episodes: 03×03: Judgement Day & 07×03: The Fisher King)
Near to the village Midsomer Priors, on the site of today’s Midsomer Barrow, in Celtic times, during the Iron Age, 3000 years ago, there was a local chieftain: the Fisher King. He was a wealthy man and died of the dolorous stroke, a symbolic death: he was stabbed in the thigh with a spear. (Note: Paul Heartley-Reade calls it the dolorous blow, but in the context of Arthurian legend it’s called a stroke).
The backstory is, as is typical of Midsomer, somewhat convoluted and intertwined: In 1974, Paul Heartley-Reade obtained permission from the landowner, Roger Heldman, to excavate a burial mound on his estate. The excavation team included Dr Lavery, Paul Heartley-Reade and Roger Heldman himself. During the excavation, the three discovered that it was the tomb of the legendary Fisher King and found a chalice and a spear inside. However, a tragic incident occurred during the excavation: While they were still documenting, the entrance to the mound collapsed, killing Roger – or so the story goes. However, the post-mortem revealed that Roger Heldman was murdered – just like the Celtic Fisher King of Midsomer. A second alleged case occurred shortly afterwards: Paul Heartley-Reade is said to have died in a car crash. In reality, he is on the run, having murdered Roger Heldman out of jealousy: his wife had been raped by him. Roger Heldman is David’s father. (One of four paternities in Midsomer Barrow, and all by rape. What a bastard).
Paul fakes his own death and takes another name before returning to Midsomer Priors and Midsomer Barrow, Per Hansen, but we stay with his real name.
First, Paul murdered Roger’s son Gareth Heldman by using exactly the same way that the Iron Age Midsomer Fisher King died: by a stab to the thigh, which severed his femoral artery and led to a reaction between the primitive iron and the blood in his body, causing his death – so George Bullard. Shortly thereafter, Paul Heartley-Reade is deeply disappointed and feels as betrayed by his supposed son David as he did by his real father Roger: David passes off Paul’s scientific findings as his own. It is Miriam Heartley-Reade, of all people, who approaches Paul after his guided tour along Midsomer Barrow and hands him David’s book, “The Hidden Celtic Way”. We see it in the local bookshop, and a year later Elizabeth Keys from Fletcher’s Cross is holding it in her hands at the reopening of the station, talking to Tom Barnaby. At sunrise after the shortest night of the year, with a well-aimed arrow in the back. David wanted to perform a Celtic ritual to save his marriage to Miriam: Just as he shoots a flaming arrow towards the rising sun on the horizon from the top of the burial mound, another arrow hits him from behind and pierces him fatally. When he rolls down, he is already dead. (Incorrectly performed on 21 June, Summer Solstice. In fact, this ritual was celebrated back then by the Celts on Beltane, the 1st of May. The same day as the stag night.)
The Iron Age Arthurian Fisher King
We learn about the legend of the Fisher King on the aforementioned guided tour by Paul Heartley-Reade, in which Joyce Barnaby also takes part. The legend of the Fisher King was incorporated into the Arthurian legend a few centuries later. He was the owner of the Holy Grail, but he was not worthy of it and his land became a wasteland. But there is also a link from the Fisher King legend to Midsomer Barrow. Paul Heartley-Reade does not elaborate on this in this scene, but he does a little later, during the interrogation by DCI Tom Barnaby: The Fisher King did not live in Anglo-Saxon times (like King Arthur), but in Celtic times. His grave was probably found 30 years ago on Roger Heldman’s estate. He died of the same injury that wounded the Fisher King in Arthurian legend. The dolorous stroke, the thrust into the thigh with a spear or lance.
The Fisher King in the Arthurian legend
There are different versions of the legend, but what they all have in common is that Pelles (other sources call him Parlan or Pellam) was the guardian of the Holy Grail and the Spear of Longinus – the spear with which Jesus was pierced in the side and the chalice with which his blood was collected. And Pelles screwed up – what exactly is different. In any case, it was either a knight from King Arthur’s court or God himself who inflicts the dolorous stroke that seriously injured Pelles. He didn’t died, but he was doomed to vegetate. In some versions the spear was driven into his thigh (as in the Midsomer Fisher King and Gareth Heldman), in others into his genitals. He became sterile, as does his land which turned into a wasteland. Pelles had to now wait for some twenty years, badly injured, until the Knights of the Round Table set out in search of the Holy Grail and found it in Pelles’ palace. By taking the Grail and the spear, that Knight of the Round Table – be it Percival or Galahad – automatically healed the Fisher King and his land. The parallel between this knight and Jesus Christ is not accidental. But the Midsomer’s Fisher King was not Pelles, but lived some 1500 years earlier – if the Arthurian Fisher King existed at all.
Anglo-Saxon burial grounds
In this episode we see a burial mound as they became popular in the Anglo-Saxon area at the end of the sixth century and declined in the eighth century: A mound of earth and stones built over a grave. These mounds were also called tumuli or barrows. The latter gave Midsomer Barrow its name. This type of burial mound existed in central Europe and it is very likely that it came to the British Isles as part of a cultural transfer. In the 6th century there were close political links between the south-eastern Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Kent and the Merovingian kings (in what is now eastern France and south-western Germany).
For a burial, a circular area is first removed from the topsoil to provide enough space for a body. A trench was dug around this circular area. The inner area was then dug out as a grave and sealed with clay if necessary. The body was then placed in the grave. Usually the head faced west, but sometimes it faced sideways. The position of the body varied greatly: lying on its back, or stomach, or side, and with its legs stretched out, or crossed, or slightly bent or in a fetal position.
Finally, if necessary, the burial gifts were added, possibly separated from the body with wood as a single chamber. There was a funeral ceremony with certain rituals and a meal at the grave, which ended with the body being covered with cloth or wooden sticks and then covered with a heap of earth and stones.
Anglo-Saxon burial grounds are mentioned in an earlier episode. However, “Judgement Day” is best known for featuring a notorious burglar and womaniser, Peter Drinkwater, played by Orlando Bloom. Bloom was an unknown actor at the time. In the summer of 2018, Jane Wymark, who played Joyce Barnaby, said in an interview that she saw Bloom playing, was thrilled and recommended him for an episode of Midsomer Murders.
When the episode first aired on British television in January 2000, Orlando Bloom was already in New Zealand, in the middle of filming the first part of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which made him world famous as the elf Legolas. This episode with Bloom is set in Midsomer Mallow, where Annabelle “Bella” Devere lives with her husband Marcus. This year the village is taking part in The Perfect Village competition.
One of the judges is Joyce Barnaby, as the winner of a competition run by Country Matters magazine. When the four judges arrive at Midsomer Mallow, a small reception is held on the village green. Marcus Devere, as chairman of the Midsomer Manor committee, welcomes the judges and tells them that the village was probably built on an Anglo-Saxon burial ground. This means that it must have been between the 5th and 7th centuries, otherwise it would have been many individual barrows or a Christian cemetery. It’s actually the village green of Crocker End, near Nettlebed in Oxfordshire, where the reception for the judges in Midsomer Mallow took place. Midsomer Mallow is a hamlet of medieval origin, probably dating back to the 15th century, and therefore has no connection with Anglo-Saxon times.
The location of Roger Heldman’s estate at Midsomer Barrow does not suggest a possible Anglo-Saxon or even Iron Age past. First mentioned in the Domesday Book, the house belonged to William de Warrene and passed through Gerard de Gournay and a Bardolf family in the 15th century to the present owners, the Blount family (“Le Blond”).
It is not surprising, then, that there is a parsonage at Mapledurham House. During the Civil War, the family offered the house as a safe haven for Catholics, but it was besieged and sacked by Parliamentarians. The family remained Catholic, however, and suffered great financial loss after the Civil War because, as Catholics, they had to pay the punitive double land tax until the law was repealed in 1821. As a result, the Blounts were forced to sell a large collection of historical armour. The house was added to the National Heritage List on 24 October 1951. The estate also includes a watermill and a family chapel. The latter has been a chapel here since the Battle of Hastings and has been rebuilt or adapted twice (first in the 14th century and finally in the late 18th century after the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1791). The watermill has also been used as a film location, as the home of Nathan Green. It is powered by the River Thames and lies a short distance behind the manor house. The estate is partly surrounded by water and it is much quieter to arrive by boat than by a narrow path where it is difficult for two cars to pass each other.
Read more about Midsomer Murders & History
- Geake, Helen: Burial Practice in Seventh- and Eighth-Century England. In Martin Carver (Ed.): The Age of Sutton Hoo. The Seventh Century in North-Western Europe. Woodbridge 1992. P. 83–94.
- Lucy, Sam: The Anglo-Saxon way of death. Burial rites in early England. Stroud 2000.
- McKinley, Jacqueline: The Anglo-Saxon Cemetery at Spong Hill. Part VIII: The Cremations (= East Anglican Archaeology 69). Norfolk 1994.
- Meaney, Audrey: A Gazetteer of Early Anglo-Saxon Burial Sites. London 1964.P. 304–318.
- NN: Mapledurham House. In: Heritage Travel.
- Pollington, Stephen: Anglo-Saxon Burial Mounds. Princely Burials in the 6th and 7th Centuries. Swaffham 2008.
- Spurrell, F. C. J.: Dartford antiquities. Notes on British Roman and Saxon remains there found. In: Archaeologia Cantiana 18 (1889).
- Taylor, Alison: Burial Practice in Early England. Stroud 2001.
- Webseite von Mapledurham Estate.
- Wells, Calvin: A study of cremation. In: Antiquity 34 (1960). P. 29– 37.
- Williams, Howard: Death and Memory in early medieval Britain. Cambridge 2006.
- Wilson, David M.: Anglo-Saxon Paganism. London/New York 1992.
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(Caution: Contains spoilers for Episodes: 14×06: The Night of the Stag)
On a colourfully decorated village square, a very well-attended, joyous fete takes place. There are stalls and plenty of alcohol to drink. We are at the Midsomer Abbas May Fayre, which is celebrated jointly by residents from Midsomer Abbas and Midsomer Herne – always on the first of May. Malmsey wine is served in a sweet version (= the well-known sweet Madeira wine) and in a tart version. Now, a man, Reverend Conrad Walker, enters the wooden platform and speaks into a microphone and welcomes the crowd.
There is vigorous applause as the two aldermen, Samuel Quested from Midsomer Abbas and Will Green from Midsomer Herne, come on stage. The Reverend meanwhile leaves the podium. Samuel Quested takes the floor and reminds the crowd of the spring of 1370, when there was a disastrous frost that froze all the apple blossoms and the inhabitants of Midsomer Abbas faced famine. The apple harvest was the main source of income for most of the inhabitants. But help came from neighbouring Midsomer Herne, who oddly seemed not to have had problems with frost, even though they live in the neighbouring valley.
They gave away their apples and established a friendship between the two villages.
The audience is cheering as Samuel Quested symbolically hands Will Green a basket of apples and the Reverend re-enters the stage and takes the microphone.
The Micro Famine?
In 1370 there were indeed crop failures in England, coupled with a new outbreak of the bubonic plague epidemic in 1369 – for the second time in England in the 1360s – and this during the Hundred Years’ War between England and France.
Well, apparently 1370 was not only a year in the middle of the Hundred Years’ War between England and France (1337-1453), but also a year with an even more amazing microclimate because the frost apparently stopped at the valley. (Both villages were apparently spared from the bubonic plague epidemic of that year. At least it is not mentioned).
However, the crop failure of 1370 is hardly mentioned in literature or even in contemporary sources. This is not so surprising because the plague of bubonic plague was probably many times worse. It was also apparently not as devastating as the Great Famine period of the 1310s, as the Dantean Anomaly is also called.
Dante Alighieri’s “Inferno” – a field report?
Dantean Anomaly – this term was coined by Oxford geophysicist Neville Brown in his 2001 book History and Climate Change.
“Dantean” refers to the Italian author Dante Alighieri and his work “Inferno”, which has at least become world-famous since Dan Brown’s book of the same name.
In the last years of his life, Dante Alighieri experienced the Great Famine in Italy, which peaked there in 1310-1312. At the same time, he wrote his work for which he is still famous today: La Divina Commedia, the Divine Comedy. Researchers disagree on exactly when he began the work, but it was probably in the 1300s.
The first part of the Divine Comedy, the aforementioned “Inferno”, contains passages that seem like a result of his exuberant fantasy and fatalism, but were probably nothing more than his way of handling his real experiences:
“I am in the third circle, filled with cold, unending, heavy, and accursed rain; its measure and its kind are never changed. Gross hailstones, water gray with filth, and snow come streaking down across the shadowed air; the earth, as it receives that shower, stinks.“ (Inferno: Canto VI)
Crash weather events due to climate change
These extreme weather conditions occurred roughly from 1300 to 1325 and were by no means limited to England, the British Isles, or Italy. Rather, a total of 30 million people were affected throughout northern, central and, in some cases, southern Europe.
The 1310s in particular were a drastic climatic anomaly.
In the century before, an increase in solar radion and decrease in volcanic activity led to a warming and prosperous society throughout Europe with strong population growth, many new settlements and technical improvements in agriculture that made it possible to feed the population. This century of progress was then followed by periods of partly too much rain and partly too little rain from 1300 to 1325, leading into the Little Ice Age. The Dantean Anomaly was therefore nothing other than a sign of the blatant climate upheaval – which at that time led to an Ice Age.
Today we can only dream of that, although the weather events do not differ. Only we cannot expect the escapades of the climate to calm down again. The “Dantean Anomaly Junior Research Group“, a Europe-wide research project, is investigating the prehistory, development and effects 700 years ago and can already say: the weather events of the 1290s and around 2020 are damn similar. Then, as now, they were locally occurring weather events that could also differ greatly. For example, a Dominican monk from Colmar, Alsace, noted that the winter of 1303/04 was exceptionally cold in Rome, but much warmer than usual in Alsace. On the other hand, a year earlier the winter in Alsace was too cold and in Rome too warm.
The Dantean Anomaly in England
So what was the weather like during this climatic transition period in England? And can any references be made to the local weather of the filming location?
Filming took place in Oxfordshire, namely in Stanton St. John (Midsomer Herne) and Sydenham (Midsomer Abbas). Unfortunately, in the few weather records that have survived to the present day, location information is very rare. Therefore, I cannot say whether Sydenham or Oxfordshire in general was affected by a bad harvest in 1370, nor how the village or county fared during the Dantean Anomaly.
But let’s look at the weather of the years in England. I am mainly using a compilation of sources on the weather in England compiled by historian Katheryn Warner.
The consequence: The Great Famine
This frequent alternation of too hot and too dry, too wet and too cold weather led to massive crop failure, especially in 1314 and 1315. In 1315, floods destroyed one-third or one-half of the harvest. Famine was inevitable. Even King Edward had to go without food when he travelled to St Albans, as he had done so often before: There was simply no bread. It was not until 1317 that the harvest in England returned to normal, but food stocks were not fully replenished until 1322.
Across Europe, about 5-12% died in the two or three decades. Many animals also died of a highly virulent disease called murrains, which weakened the animals inexorably to the point of death – probably a kind of food-and-mouth. But people couldn’t even preserve the dead animals for their food, because salt was damp from the rainy season and also very expensive.
Parents gave their children away – not because they had a better chance of survival elsewhere, but parents only had a chance of survival if they didn’t still have children to feed. They needed the little food themselves in order not to starve. The world-famous fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel very likely originated during the Great Famine: the parents send the children off into the world, hoping they will never come back. Eventually they go to the house of a woman who is apparently so starved that she has become a cannibal.
Inflation and disease
However, it was not only the famine that caused concern, but also the political and social destabilisation of society and an inflation. The aristocracy had to watch the value of its domains collapse.
Land had to be sold, often at severely reduced prices, while many more would need to borrow to survive. Some small monasteries had to close, others sold relics to pilgrims.
The government thought it would be a good solution to install price controls and to import food from Southern Europe. Well, the rationing and regulation of food prices was a slight improvement for the consumers, but for the farmers it meant ruin because their businesses were no longer viable – and they could no longer support themselves. Therefore, the government lifted the price controls a few months later. This led to inflation and an eightfold increase in prices.
If it was “only” an outbreak of small-pox in England in 1305, the immunocompromised population throughout Europe was followed by the great plague epidemic, which occurred again and again locally until the 18th century. As elsewhere, it cost many lives immediately after the Great Famine because their immune systems had become weak from hunger. In England, the plague epidemic of 1349 alone cost 30% of human lives and was followed by others – five in the 14th century alone (1360, 1361, 1369, 1375, 1390).
The Papal Edict that Never Existed
Remember the Reverend Norman Grigor and his family’s appearance at the Midsomer Abbas May Fayre at the Domesday-like admonishing words he speaks?
He refers to the horn dance, a Beltane cult in which competing men with deer antlers go at each other to determine the strongest, most willing mate among themselves. Reverend Walker reassures us, however: this dance was toned down in the 1880s and is no more than a folk dance. We also see this in the episode.
John Barnaby later approaches Reverend Conrad Walker about these lines and Walker says they are part of a papal edict of 669 with which the Pope tried to put a stop to the pagan Beltane cult.
It should have been by Pope Vitalian at that time, but this edict does not exist. There was no edict in 669, nor was there ever an edict with this content. So it was only invented for dramaturgical reasons for the episode. But let’s be similar: it could very well have existed because there were numerous attempts at that time, as well as a thousand years later, to make the pagan cults absolete.
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- Bauch, Martin: The “Dantean Anomaly” Project. Tracking Rapid Climate Change in Late Medieval Europe” (27/08/2016). In: Historical Climatology.
- Bauch, Martin/Labbé, Thomas/Engel, Annabell/Seifert/Patric: A prequel to the Dantean Anomaly. The precipitation seesaw and droughts of 1302 to 1307 in Europe. In: Climate of the Past 16 (2020).
- Brown, Neville: History and Climate Change. A Eurocentric Perspective. London/New York 2001.
- Buttery, Neil: The Great Famine (1315-1317). In: Climate in Arts & History.
- Frank, Robert Worth: Agriculture in the Middle Ages. Philadelphia 1995.
- NN: 10 Things to Know About the Great Famine. In: Medievalists.net.
- NN: The Great Famine 1315-1317. In: British Food. A History (09/09/2020).
- Pribyl, Kathleen: The Climate of Late Medieval England. Reconstruction and Impacts. Lecture at the Town Close Auditorium, Norwich Castle Museum, 2 November 2013. Based on: Kathleen Pritbyl, Rihard C. Cordes, Christian Pfister: Reconstructing medieval April-July mean temperatures in East Anglia, 1256-1431. In: Climatic Change 113 (2012). S. 393-412.
- Sharp, Buchanan: Royal paternalism and the moral economy in the reign of Edward III. The response to the Great Famine. In: Economic History Review 66 (2013), pp. 628-647.
- Storey, R. L.: England. Allgemeine und politische Geschichte. Das Koenigtum im Konflikt mit Adelsgruppierungen. Der Hundertjaehrige Krieg. In: Lexikon des Mittelalters 3. Darmstadt 2009. Col. 1946-1958, here col. 1951.
- Warner, Katheryn: And Your Weather Forecast For The Early Fourteenth Century Is… In: Edward II (10/09/2009).
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