The Bishop’s Tale

Written by Margaret Frazer
Review by Marilyn Sherlock

England, 1434. Thomas Chaucer is dying. Administering to his needs is his cousin, Cardinal Bishop Beaufort of Winchester. Thomas dies and the family gathers to pay their respects and attend his funeral at Ewelme Manor. Totally unexpectedly Sir Clement Sharpe also arrives accompanied by his ward, Lady Anne Featherstone, and his nephew, Guy Sharpe. It quickly becomes clear that Sir Clement is neither popular nor welcome. Following the funeral service the mourners gather for the funeral feast. Sister Frevisse, as a member of the family, is seated at the High Table, Sir Clement is half way down the room. Suddenly there is a disturbance. Sir Clement is seen to be somewhat agitated, raises his voice and says ‘But if I’m wrong in this matter, may God strike me down within the hour!’ Within minutes he is struggling for breath, collapses and is carried from the hall. He, too, is dead.

Everyone is convinced that this is, indeed, the hand of God; everyone, that is, but Sister Frevisse, who is not so sure. With her companion, Dame Perpetua, she sets out to prove that this is no Act of God but ordinary, human, murder.

But how? Sir Clement was in full view of everyone in the hall throughout the meal. He ate and drank the same food and shared his platter and cup with his neighbours – no one else was affected – so how could it have been murder?

This is the latest in a long series of ‘Tales’ by Margaret Frazer, woven around life in the 15th century. Thomas Chaucer and the Bishop of Winchester are real enough and were, indeed, cousins, their mothers being sisters. This then is the setting for another tale of mystery, intrigue, jealousy and ambition, well drawn, well paced and a pleasure to read. (Fourth in series, and the latest available to British readers –ed.)