The Middle Ages were a particularly precarious time in history. From the black death, to the crusades, to civil wars and the internecine family feuds of a few powerful ruling families, this time in European history lends itself to many interesting scenarios. I have written before of the novels of Sharon Kay Penman and how she is able to bring to life this period of time. (Here, Here) Her in depth research transports a person back to the days of chivalry and damsels,. Her books teach us just how nasty real life happened to be back then. Penman provides us with insight into medieval times' movers and shakers.
My new find, the author Priscilla Royal, gives us another look into the world of the Middle Ages. The everyday world of the average person. She brings us into the world of those who dedicate their lives to God, nuns, priests, monks and friars. Royal explains in detail how those who took holy orders lived. She educates us as to what the townsfolk believed and how instrumental the church system was for the survival of the average person.
It is not by coincidence that the heroine of her stories is a Prioress. A nun who runs the local priory in the town of Tyndal. For many women this was their only way to lead any form of independent life (of course within the stricture of the Church). Societal rules were very dogmatic during this time and a woman did not own her person or her life for that matter. In all honesty the individual person, male or female, did not own their own life, the King did. For many who chose the Church it was the only way for them to be more than what society allowed women to be at that time.
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There is a discussion about how the Jewish people were treated and accepted by William the Conqueror and the subsequent rulers of the day. You hear the familiar names of Henry II, and Edward I. You are taken on a brief history tour of what it was like to be part of persecuted minority and how blood libels, which many still believe around the world today, actually began.
Into this morass steps the prioress to try to help sort out the reason for the murder and to find the real culprit. Meanwhile, she and the "sheriff" attempt to protect a vulnerable Jewish family from being lynched by the townspeople. Part of what is also discussed is how the Church forefathers truly viewed the Jewish people and how Jew-hatred was used by evil men for their own personal agenda. Much in the same way evil people continue to do today.
The prioress is a terrific heroine for a time in history filled with superstition and ignorance. She is the light that kept people together and the backbone of the little town of Tyndal.
Qi en Pace,