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Saint Peter's Fair

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Wikipedia article

'Saint Peter's Fair' is a Historical whodunnit by Ellis Peters. It is the fourth novel in the Brother Cadfael series of mysteries, first published in 1981. The story is set between July and September of the year 1139, during The Anarchy, in theEnglish town of Shrewsbury.

It was adapted for television in 1997.

Plot introduction

It is July of the year 1139, during the period of English history known as The Anarchy. The country is wracked by civil war between King Stephen and Empress Maud. The monks of Shrewsbury Abbey are preparing for a fair in honour of Saint Peter. The body of a wealthy merchant, Thomas of Bristol, is found in the River Severn. Brother Cadfael agrees to assist the murdered man's niece, Emma, but as he investigates the mystery deepens when two more men are murdered.Peters, Ellis 'Saint Peter's Fair' Macmillan, May 1981 UK page Back cover ISBN 0-333-31050-0 / 978-0-333-31050-2

Plot summary

Part One: "The Eve of the Fair"

13 June 1139. The feast of Saint Peter is important for Shrewsbury Abbey, which is dedicated to Saint Peter. A meeting of the monks is interrupted by Geoffrey Corviser, the town provost, and a delegation from the town's merchant guilds. They appeal to Abbot Radulfus for a share of the money raised by the fair as the civil war has taken a heavy toll on the town, parts of which need rebuilding. Radulfus listens sympathetically but his responsibilities to the monastery force him to adhere to the exact terms of the fair's charter, granted to the Abbey by the crown.

Later Cadfael watches preparations for the fair and meets Hugh Beringar and his wife, Aline, who is with child. They talk of the war. King Stephen has the advantage, the Empress Maud has strongholds in the west of England and is abroad building support for a renewed attempt on the throne. Hugh mentions Ranulf, Earl of Chester, married to a daughter of Robert of Gloucester. Robert of Gloucester is half brother to the Empress. Earl Ranulf is powerful in his own right, and has not yet chosen to stand with one or the other in this war for the crown of England.

31 July 1139. Traders arrive from far and wide for the fair. Cadfael is called to translate for Rhodri, a Welsh merchant who speaks no English. While discussing the civil war Rhodri points out a glover, Euan of Shotwick. Euan, Rhodri says, is an "intelligencer" working for Earl Ranulf. Soon afterwards a boat arrives carrying Thomas of Bristol, a wealthy and important wine merchant. Rhodri notes that Bristol is in the west country, that Thomas is in "good odour" with Robert of Gloucester. The conversation between Rhodri and Cadfael ends when young men from the town arrive to cause trouble with the visiting merchants.

Philip Corviser tries to convince the visiting merchants to support the town's cause. Thomas of Bristol dismisses the young men of the town as rabble. In an effort to pursue the debate further, Philip places his hand on Thomas's arm, and Thomas strikes him with a staff. A riot then breaks out. Philip regains his senses after the blow. He sees Thomas's niece, Emma, and is smitten by her beauty on the spot. Philip and his friends flee. Thomas and Emma are endangered by some rolling barrels. Emma is saved by Ivo Corbire, with whom she immediately falls in love.

Hugh Beringar complains about his lot in life; dragging silly but basically good young men to prison. Cadfael speaks in defence of Philip Corviser, noting that he came only to speak and never made a threatening gesture. They are interrupted by Emma searching for her missing uncle, Thomas of Bristol. Hugh, Cadfael and Ivo Corbire search for Thomas of Bristol as it is too dark for Emma to be on the streets. Corbire stumbles across his drunken and unconscious archer, Turstan Fowler, and leaves the search to carry him back to the Abbey. The search ends when a boat arrives with the naked body of Thomas of Bristol, who has been murdered with a dagger.

Part Two: "The First Day of the Fair"

Hugh, Aline and Emma discuss Thomas's death. It appears he was killed and robbed by sneak thieves. That the young men of the town committed the crime out of revenge is thought unlikely, as most were already in prison and the body not left with its clothes and valuables. Emma decides to continue trading at the fair as she believes her uncle would have wanted. Cadfael is charged to investigate the death by Abbot Radulfus who fears his decision not to aid the town may have led to Thomas's murder.

At the hearing, Emma, Cadfael and Turstan the drunken archer, give testimony about what they witnessed in the confrontation between the young men and Thomas of Bristol. Turstan claims Philip issued threats against Thomas after the riot. Philip is ignorant of the merchant's death until Cadfael specifically mentions it. Philip protests his innocence of murder, but continues as prisoner to Sheriff Prestcote. Cadfael accompanies Emma back to her boat, which has been broken into and searched by someone. Emma at first says nothing is missing, then says that several small items she did not at first notice as missing were stolen from her boat. Thomas's expensive robes are found, making theft even more unlikely. Philip is still in custody, meaning he cannot have searched or robbed the boat.

Part Three: "The Second Day of the Fair"

Thomas's stall has been broken into. Warin the ineffective is watchman bound, blindfolded, and gagged, and the strongbox stolen. Most of the previous days takings were put on Emma's boat the night before but the strongbox contained Thomas's business papers. Cadfael deduces that the murderer is searching for something of value they believed Thomas brought with him. He suspects that Emma knows more than she is telling.

Emma wants to visit Euan of Shotwick, but does not, staying with Aline instead. She claims to want a pair of gloves but Cadfael thinks she has another reason. Corbire visits Emma, for whom he seems to have romantic feelings. Emma visits her uncle's coffin in the Abbey, carefully placing a rose in full bloom with his body, before the coffin is sealed by the carpenter. That evening, Cadfael notices a petal on the floor from a rose she placed inside the coffin just before it was closed. He realises someone has searched the coffin.

Part Four: "The Third Day of the Fair"

Early in the morning, Emma seeks out Euan, for the gloves she desires. His stall is not yet open. Others notice this unexpected closure, succeed in opening his stall. Euan is found dead by Cadfael and Rhodri, his neck broken. Hugh arrives and investigates the scene, finding a dagger in Euan's hand. The blade yields clues. With Cadfael, Hugh pieces together the situation. Thomas of Bristol and Euan of Shotwick were both partisans or compatriots who had come to the fair to meet and conduct some secret business, involving an item of great value. A third man arrived and killed both of them, searching in vain for the item. Cadfael considers Rhodri as a suspect but Rhodri speaks no English and Thomas spoke no Welsh, making the Welshman an unlikely suspect.

Philip Corviser is released before noon. After his parents celebrate his return and he tidies himself up, he visits Emma to thank her for being an honest witness on his behalf. She tells him that she still wishes to see justice done for her uncle. Later Philip approaches Cadfael and tells him that he intends to retrace his steps of the evening of the murder in order to see if anyone set him up as a scapegoat for the murder.

Cadfael speaks with Brother Mark, who tells him of a man who received treatment for a knife wound to the arm. Cadfael believes that Euan managed to injure his killer with a knife when he let in what he hoped were not strangers the night before. The wounded man is identified as Ewald, a groom in the employ of Ivo Corbire. Cadfael informs Hugh. Together with Sheriff Prestcote and Corbire they confront the man, who shows his neatly bandaged arm at Beringar's request. When asked to show his cotte, he throws it in their faces, jumps on Corbire's horse and tries to escape. Corbire orders Turstan, who gave evidence against Philip at the hearing, to shoot Ewald, who is killed.

Corbire justifies his actions, saying that Ewald was a murderer and as his master, he had the right to administer justice to his villein. Cadfael reports to the Abbot, confirming Ewald was a murderer but warning that he does not think Ewald acted alone. Later Cadfael comforts Brother Mark, who is sorely distressed that someone whose injuries he recently tended was killed so soon afterwards.

Philip questions his friends seeking to learn what happened during the evening he cannot remember. They account for the early part of the evening and tell him he went to Wat's Tavern afterwards. Wat, the proprietor, tells him that Turstan came twice to the tavern, first just to look at the patrons. Philip was among those patrons. On second visit, Turstan drank only a single measure of ale, purchased a large bottle of hard liquor to carry away, and was sober when he followed Philip out of the tavern. Further, he was dressed in his proper clothes. Philip recalls that this is not what Turstan claimed when he gave evidence at the hearing, and not how he appeared. Later, while trying to find the place where he passed out from drink, Philip stumbles across the scene of Thomas's murder.

Part Five: "After the Fair"

Early the following morning Philip tells Cadfael and Hugh about his discovery. They visit the scene of Thomas's murder and consider the evidence. At the Foregate where Emma has been staying with Hugh and Aline, Ivo Corbire arrives once the ladies have risen. He offers to provide Emma with transport to her home in Bristol, saying he will be escorting his sister to a convent near Bristol from their Shropshire manor. Emma accepts, with Aline's approval for the brief time when Emma will travel unescorted with this single man. At the riverbank, Cadfael pieces together the events of the last four days. Thomas arrived bearing an item, possibly a message, for the glover Euan. Turstan the archer followed Philip and, on ensuring that Philip had no alibi, murdered Thomas and established his own alibi by dousing himself in strong liquor and feigning unconsciousness. They go to view the place where Turstan was found unconscious.

Where Turstan was found, some servants clearing up after the fair have found the empty flagon of strong liquor that Turstan bought from Wat. Cadfael realises that Ewald and Turstan must have acted on the orders of Corbire. Turstan murdered Thomas, then established his own alibi by dousing himself in liquor, not realising that the amount he used would have killed him if he had drunk it. When Corbire learned Turstan had not found the item, he sent Ewald to search Thomas's boat while everyone was at the hearing. That same night Ewald and Turstan broke into Thomas's booth, again finding nothing. The next night they tried Euan's booth, killing the glover when he defended himself and injured Ewald.

Cadfael and Hugh approached Corbire, telling him they had discovered Ewald's role in Euan's murder. Corbire made an excuse to talk to Turstan privately. He told Turstan what the situation was and to kill Ewald when ordered. When Corbiere fetched Ewald in the stable, he warned him and set up Ewald's escape attempt. Ewald fled on the horse, making it look genuine by knocking down Corbiere. Corbiere then betrayed Ewald by ordering Turstan to shoot him down. Cadfael and Hugh both believe Emma to be safe with Aline, but Philip knows that Corbire has been visiting her. He is so horrified by what he has heard that he fears for her safety and rushes off to protect her. Cadfael and Hugh realise Philip is right. By the time they arrive at the Foregate, Emma has left with Corbire and Philip has stolen a merchant's horse to give chase. Aline tells them he has three hours lead, and is concerned at her own error of judgment.

At Stanton Cobbold manor Emma discovers that Ivo Corbire has locked her in a room as he handles the baggage. She took the small packet hanging round her neck, hid it in her hair, feeling unsafe both by the locked door and the nonappearance of his sister. Corbire returns, locks them both in the room, pockets the key and instantly changes tone. He demands the letter Thomas intended to deliver to Euan of Shotwick, the glover and spy. He has searched her baggage finding nothing. He threatens to strip her naked, even to rape her, to find it if he has to. Stalling, Emma asks what letter? She never admits she knows of any letter, and keeps the braiser in between the two of them. Then she asks, what could be so important in a letter? Corbire tells her the letter is from Robert of Gloucester to Earl Ranulf, urging him to support her cause and naming fifty nobles in Stephen's camp who secretly support her. Corbire hopes the letter is worth an earldom to him. That is the price he would charge the King to have that letter, know those nobles who might change from his camp. Robert of Gloucester must prove the strength of the Empress Maud's support to gain Earl Ranulf's support, thus such a detailed list was prepared.

In a tense scene, Emma carefully removes the letter from her hair, unseen by the lordling just in front of her, to destroy it by fire in the room's brazier. Her uncle had told her nothing of the contents, only that if not delivered it must be returned, and failing that, destroyed. To assure it burns, she pushes it into the fire, with her coif net attached inadvertently, at the cost of burning her hand. The hair net took fire rapidly, then spread to the wax-sealed letter. Corbire tries to retrieve the letter without success. She knocks over the unstable brazier, setting fire to the tapestries. Emma moves to the door, doing what she can to keep the fire from reaching her. She knocks and shouts, but cannot escape, since the door is locked. She lowered herself to breathe the air coming in under the door,slowly losing consciousness.

Philip arrives to finds Corbire's manor ablaze and none of the servants willing to attempt a rescue. Instead, they have brought out of the house all the items they can save. Using an antique battle axe from the walls of the manor, Philip breaks down the door and rescues Emma. Hugh and Cadfael arrive. Cadfael tends to Philip's and Emma's injuries. Hugh arrests Turstan. He had not fled, thinking no one knew his role in the murders.

Corbire was killed by the fire, a satisfying end to such a viper. Philip takes Emma back to his parent's home in Shrewsbury. Emma has recognized the value of Philip, whose honest character is the opposite of the brutally selfish man who had taken her fancy with good looks and good manners. Further, she and he are of the same class, tradespeople. A man of Ivo Corbire's class would not have considered her seriously, she realizes in retrospect.

Cadfael recounts the events to Abbot Radulfus. After this, Radulfus summons the town provost, Philip's father, to the morning chapter meeting at the abbey. Radulfus notes that by adhering to the letter of the fair's charter he has secured the rights of future abbots, doing what he must. Now he is free to do what he will with the money earned by the abbey at the fair. He donates ten percent to the rebuilding of the town.

Hugh Beringar and his wife return to their own manor. Cadfael continues to tend to Emma's burns. At one such meeting, Emma confesses what she learned of the contents of the letter and asks whether she did the right thing. Cadfael tells her that if she has scars from these burns, she should "wear them like jewels" for the rest of her life".

Emma asks Cadfael never to tell Philip the details behind the letter and her own actions, as she considers him too innocent to deal with such matters. Cadfael agrees and privately thinks Emma is correct in her assessment of Philip, and that this bodes well for their marriage.

The novel concludes by noting that two months later on 30 September 1139, Empress Maud invaded England and established herself at Arundel Castle in West Sussex. Earl Ranulf of Chester did nothing to aid her cause.

Characters in "Saint Peter's Fair"

*Brother Cadfael ap Meilyr ap Dafydd (Cadfael son of Meilyr son of Dafydd): Born in the year 1080 in North Wales. At the time of 'Saint Peter's Fair' he is 59 years old and 16 years a monk. Joined the First Crusade at 16 as a soldier. Remained in the Middle East and learned the healing arts from Muslim and Syrian physicians. Returned to England in 1114 as a sailor, then saw army service in Normandy. In his forties, Cadfael returned to England in service to a nobleman and became a Benedictine monk and herbalist for the abbey of Saint Peter and Saint Paul town of Shrewsbury, Shropshire.

*Brother Mark: young assistant to Brother Cadfael in herbarium. Entered Abbey at 16, this is his first annual fair. Recently took his final vows, has given up the world at 18, and is sure he wants to be a priest. Short due to short commons while living with an uncle, a hard master.

*Abbot Radulfus: Head of the abbey, a real historical person in this otherwise fictional tale, just half a year in office, learning the townspeople. Described as tall with silver hair. Somewhat authoritarian in his manner. Cadfael considers him a "hard man to read", "a hard man but fair" who is "as hard on himself as others" and a man who will "chastise where he sees fault but who'll stand by his own against any power when they are threatened blameless". Cadfael concludes that he has every confidence in Abbot Radulfus and that the Abbot is a man who he would be glad to have beside him in battle.

*Hugh Beringar: Deputy Sheriff of Shrewsbury, second to Sheriff Prestcote. Became Deputy in 'One Corpse Too Many' in 1137. Holds manor at Maesbury in Shropshire. In his twenties, married to Aline Siward. Effective man of law who respects Brother Cadfael. Beringar, like his Sheriff, holds with King Stephen.

*Aline Beringar: Cherished, newlywed wife of Hugh, in early stage of first pregnancy. Beautiful woman with hair of gold. She and Hugh stay in the Abbey guest house so she can purchase items needed for the expected baby.

*Rhodri ap Huw: Cheerful Welsh merchant of wool, honey, mead, and other goods who requests a translator of the Abbey. Radulfus sends Cadfael to serve that role. Shares much in Welsh with Cadfael on other vendors at the fair, at every point in the story. By the end, Cadfael suspects Rhodri speaks many languages; asking the Abbey for a translator allows him to eavesdrop more effectively. He suggests a future connection with Cadfael, which Cadfael appears to accept. However, Rhodri does not appear in any future books.

*Euan of Shotwick: A master glove maker and important man in the court of Earl Ranulf, for whom he is an "intelligencer". Euan is described as a "meagre fellow" who is well dressed and clean shaven with a "mincing walk".

*Thomas of Bristol: A large, portly gentleman with a red face and bushy eyebrows, fashionably dressed. A highly successful importer of wine and luxury items from overseas via the port of Bristol in the west country, and "in very good odour with Robert of Gloucester." Three men sail with him: young Gregory, porter Warin, and journeyman Roger Dod. Found dead in the river Severn early the morning of the first day of the fair, by an incoming vendor.

*Emma Vernold: Niece of Thomas of Bristol, 18 or 19 years old, attractive with blue-black hair. This is her third journey with her uncle as he travels to buy and sell his goods. Her late father was a stonemason married to the sister of Thomas, also deceased. She is heiress both to her father and to her uncle. She is a young woman with presence of mind in her time of great loss.

*Philip Corviser: Son of the respected town provost & skilled boot maker Geoffrey Corviser, a young hothead often in conflict with his elders. Charmed on first sight with the visiting Emma Vernold. Physically he is "a gangling lad, not yet in command of his long limbs, being barely twenty and only just at the end of his growing". He is also said to have "a thick thatch of reddish dark hair and a decent, homely face".

*Ivo Corbire: A wealthy and handsome lordling of 28 or 29 of dark gold hair. He owns much land, multiple homes. Attending the fair to furnish a manor in Cheshire, where most of his holdings lie. Has one manor in Shropshire, Stanton Cobbold. Quickly charms Emma, the niece of Thomas of Bristol. Employs Ewald as a groom, Arald the young groom, and Turstan Fowler as an archer, his retinue. Stays at the Abbey as a guest. Man of fine manners, almost silky, also seems acceptable to Aline.

Major themes

'Saint Peter's Fair' is a Historical whodunnit set in 1139 during The Anarchy, a nineteen year period of the History of the British Isles. Its themes are intrigue and espionage in a medieval setting.

Literary significance and reception

The 2000 reprint of 'Saint Peter's Fair' quotes a Sunday Times review: "A more attractive and prepossessing detective would be hard to find"

Kirkus Reviews finds this novel authentic but not as clever as the first three.

Brother Cadfael (One Corpse Too Many, A Morbid Taste for Bones) returns in another 12th-century mystery--as stylishly authentic, though not quite as darkly inventive, as his previous three. ... Eventually, then: two more deaths follow, Emma is kidnapped by the villain, and the murder motive is revealed to have historical resonances. With colorful, convincing details on the workings of a medieval fair--a graceful and informative, if not particularly mysterious, case for Peters' engaging, herb-gardening monk.https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/ellis-peters-8/saint-peters-fair/

Publishers Weekly reviewed a 1991 audio book of this and the next novel in the series in one article, liking the historical setting more than the plots:

Murder abounds in these early chronicles of Brother Cadfael, medieval herbalist and sleuth. ... Listeners are likely to solve these mysteries long before the insightful Benedictine monk, but predictable plotting is amply compensated for by the author's wonderful re-creation of the period and actor Stephen Thorne's excellent narration. Sister M. Anna Falbo CSSF, Villa Maria Coll. Lib. Buffalo, NY December 15, 1991http://cthulhu.oppl.org:2067/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=99ed3be9-17e6-4ec4-bde9-a8c6c00432a0%40sessionmgr10&vid=9&hid=15

References to actual history, geography and current science

The novel is set in the real town of Shrewsbury in Shropshire, England. The body of the first murder victim is found in the Severn river.

The story takes place in the year 1139, during The Anarchy (a term referring to the 19 year long civil war between King Stephen and the Empress Maud).

The novel begins during a period of relative peace, with England in the hands of Stephen of England and Empress Maud in France attempting to build support for her invasion. It concludes with Empress Maud invading England on 30 September 1139 and taking Arundel Castle in West Sussex.

Abbott Radulfus was the real Abbott at this Benedictine monastery, who began in 1138 as the replacement of Abbott Heribert. In historical records he is sometimes called Ranulf.

The Saint Peter's Fair was allowed to the Abbey as a way for it to earn revenue. The three-day fair was granted either by Earl Roger or King Henry I.[http://books.google.com.au/books/about/Shropshire.html?id=PYIHAAAAQAAJ Shropshire: or Original Delineations, etc. by Joseph Nightingale, London, 1818 page 151] The Lammas Fair was allowed in the same fashion, originally on August 1, become August 12 after the change of the calendar in 1752.

Television adaptation

'Saint Peter's Fair' was the ninth Brother Cadfael novel to be adapted for television. It was the second episode of the third season, filmed on location in Hungary in 1996 and produced in Britain by Central Independent Television for ITV. The Central television series starred Derek Jacobi as Cadfael, first airing in 1997 on ITV.

Publication history

*1981, United Kingdom, Macmillan, ISBN 0-333-31050-0 / 978-0-333-31050-2, May 1981, Hardback

*1981, USA, William Morrow, ISBN 0-688-00667-1 / 978-0-688-00667-9, November 1981, Hardback

*1983, United Kingdom, Ulversoft Large Print Books, ISBN 0-7089-0933-7 / 978-0-7089-0933-1, March 1981, Hardback

*1984, USA, Fawcett Books, ISBN 0-449-20540-1 / 978-0-449-20540-2, June 1984, Paperback

*1994, United Kingdom, Warner Futura, ISBN 0-7088-1104-3 / 978-0-7088-1104-7, 1994, Paperback

*1996, United Kingdom, Sphere, ISBN 0-7515-1400-4 / 978-0-7515-1400-1, 1 February 1996, Paperback

*1998, USA, Thorndike Press, ISBN 0-7862-1074-5 / 978-0-7862-1074-9, April 1998, Paperback

*1998, United Kingdom, Chivers Press, ISBN 0-7540-1088-0 / 978-0-7540-1088-3, 1 April 1998, Hardback

*1998, United Kingdom, Chivers Large Print, ISBN 0-7540-2063-0 / 978-0-7540-2063-9, December 1998, Paperback

*1999, United Kingdom, Time Warner UK, ISBN 0-7515-1104-8 / 978-0-7515-1104-8, 19 May 1999, Paperback

*2007, United Kingdom, Hodder & Stoughton, ISBN 1-84456-181-X / 9781844561810, 5 April 2007, Audio book on CD


External References


Category:1981 novels

Category:British novels

Category:Crime novels

Category:Historical novels

Category:Novels by Edith Pargeter

Category:Novels set in Shropshire

Category:1130s in fiction

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