It’s sad to reach the end of a series. From that first midnight dream in 2007 about three mysterious strangers swapping jokes over brimming goblets of Guienne, Hildegard has taken me on an unexpectedly thrilling journey into the past.
Hildegard, as what reviewers have called, ‘a kickass medieval nun who aways gets her man,’ has more demurely urged me to try my hand at glass painting in York, singing plain chant in Salisbury Cathedral, and trying to shoot a straight arrow with the bowmen of the New Forest. I also explored castles and abbeys as well as the sinister papal labyrinth of Pope Clement, the Butcher of Avignon, and marvelled at King Richard II’s fabulous wooden angels in Westminter Hall, still magnificent six hundred years after he commissioned them.
Researching this amazing period at the end of the fourteenth century also gave me an excuse to hang out with historians and re-enactors and the followers of many strange and personal medieval passions. In so many extraordinary ways they became part of my explorations into the gritty real life of ordinary people in those extraordinary times.
Unsurprisingly there were secrets to be unveiled. Shocking revelations about the personal lives of the courtiers at Richard’s fashionable palaces were written up for all to see in the chronicles. No wonder, I began to think, that the sweaty king of the jousting circuit, Henry Bolingbroke, the football hero of the day, felt uncomfortable among the scent and silks of Eltham Palace where minstrels, like rockstars, set the tone for Richard’s court. Poor Henry, the big bad usurper who hated his cousin Richard, no wonder he felt miffed, I almost thought. But bearing in mind how that particular plot turned out I soon withdrew my sympathy from the future Henry IV. A life founded on jealousy, theft, murder, and vicious loathing is nothing to admire.
Now that my story is at an end in the Twelve Books of Hildegard and the Abbot I intend to bring you some background stories from time to time, ones that have leaped from the pages of the chronicles, from rumour, from myth, from the copious archives left by this most literate of people and from the stories written at the time that would earn their writers a hideous death in the flames of the heretics’ fires. Freedom of speech has ever been a contentious issue.
Next week, a Victorian mystery, to throw light on a medieval horror story. Check back mid-week if you want to read all about it. I hope you’ll turn up.