Academic Essays: Gender, Crime, and Punishment in the Middle Ages

This essay focuses on gender, crime, and punishment in the Middle Ages.

Admittedly, I have already published part of this essay here (the post about defamation lawsuits), but I wanted to share this essay in full, so some of this post may be familiar.

 

Studying medieval crime allows us to see into the world of the average person living during this time period. It also allows us to study people who otherwise would have been lost to history if it had not been for the records detailing the wrongs people had either done or had done to them. These records give us a deeper insight into the gendered world of the Middle Ages. Because exactly like in modern times, crime in the Middle Ages was gendered. Certain crimes were more likely to be committed by men than women and vise versa. The gender of the person committing the crime could affect the punishment the criminal would receive. Reactions to crimes, including slander, were gendered as well.

Defamation lawsuits were common occurrences in the Middle Ages. While “men and women tended to take different slanders to court” (Neal 186), these types of lawsuits were socially acceptable and legal ways for people to react against insults that might have had or did have an effect on the person’s everyday life. Now, while the majority of men’s lawsuits regarded “accusations or insinuations of dishonesty, especially of theft” (Neal 186), a defamation lawsuit was also an excellent way to react to an insult concerning a man’s masculinity without punching someone or resorting to other acts of physical violence. Another advantage of the defamation lawsuit was if the man won, not only did he have a court legally prove the insult was wrong and the insulter was lying, he would also get monetary compensation. However, not all of these lawsuits were brought forth by men. Some men were sued by the woman they sexually slandered and her witnesses included men the defendant had also slandered.

One such lawsuit took place in Sturrey in 1415. A woman named Alice Yarewell sued a man named John Maldon who had “declared…she was a common whore” (Neal 193) after both of her marriage prospects believed the rumor. In the process of telling men Alice Yarewell was a whore, John Maldon also claimed that another man who slept with Alice, Richard Bokeland, was not good at sex. While “John Maldon scored a few points by bragging about a sexual conquest” and “using the same story to belittle Richard Bokeland, he scored a few more” (Neal 193), things ended up backfiring for John when Alice sued him with Richard testifying as her witness.

This entire court case is extremely gendered. It involves a man ruining a woman’s reputation and her future solely based on her sexuality, while “at first…[there was] no shame or perceived danger…for these mature men in frankly discussing illicit sexual conduct” (Neal 194). It was only when Alice Yarewell could not get married and John Maldon spent the entire summer telling the story of his sexual conquest over and over again (Neal 194) did he face some consequences of his actions. Another aspect of the lawsuit being gendered is the fact Richard Bokeland probably did not testify to help Alice out of the goodness of his heart. The fact that we only know that Richard Bokeland exists, a man who would have otherwise been lost to history, is because he wanted to make sure his entire community knew he was not bad in bed as John Maldon claimed. This is significant because it implies that medieval men could freely talk about their sex lives without being considered less than. In contrast, women in medieval society could not testify that they were good at having sex, particularly unmarried sex, without being considered dirty and defiled.

Women who were commonly known to have what was considered deviant sex (fornication) and like it were considered whores. This was emphasized by the medieval view of prostitutes. According to Ruth Mazo Karras “in the Middle Ages…a woman was a prostitute (meretrix) because she was a lustful woman, not because of the specific behavior of accepting money for sex” (Karras 162). The fear and disgust of prostitutes, thus unmarried but sexually active women, led to laws being created to physically distinguish these women through marked items of clothing (Karras 164). However, by making prostitutes wear clothes distinguishing them as prostitutes it not only shamed them but had an unintended effect: now potential customers knew who to go to when they wanted to buy sex.

Now, female prostitutes were not the only ones who were considered deviant. Men who had sex with other men were also thought of to be practicing deviant sexual behavior (Karras 161). However, unlike prostitutes, the behavior of men who had sex with other men was considered just that: behavior. The idea “that sexual acts between men were the markers of a certain type of person” (Karras 162) did not exist. Compare that concept to the idea it was a prostitute’s “sinfulness [that] made her behave badly, her behavior did not classify her as a sinner” (Karras 162). The medieval belief was that being lustful and sinful was inherently part of a woman’s nature versus for men the same lustfulness was merely behavior one could control. This certainly relates to the idea that to be masculine meant that a man had lots of “self-restraint” (Neal 198).

But not all men had the self-restraint needed to be masculine. In late medieval Bologna theft was mostly a crime committed by men. Trevor Dean found that “in the period 1450-69, 261 named individuals were tried, and mostly convicted, of theft [and] of these, 251 were male, and 10 (4 per cent) were female” (403). This implies that thefts were an extremely masculine crime, or at the very least, male thieves in Bologna were terrible at thieving without getting caught. And contrary to popular belief, when women in Bologna stole, they did not just steal items meant for “immediate consumption” (Dean 399) such as food and other “household goods” (Dean 404). In fact, “it is the men, not the women who steal food for immediate consumption” (Dean 405). When you disregard the cases of men stealing food, both Bologna men and women stole the same sorts of items. These items include “coins, jewels, cloth and clothing” (Dean 405-406).

Medieval English women were documented to have stolen similar items as their Italian counterparts as well. Court documents from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries show that women stole coins, cloth, and wool pelts (Goldberg 243-246). However, quite a few English women were caught stealing items meant for “immediate consumption” (Dean 399) as well as “household goods” (Dean 404). Fourteenth-century peace rolls from Lincoln recorded that a woman named Margaret de Staynrop stole a brass pot and that she will be hanged for doing so (Goldberg 243). English documents from other towns recorded women being tried for stealing malt, “18 geese,” “spoons…a platter, a pewter salt” (Goldberg 244), “a bushel of beans,” another “brass pot and a plate…a cloak,” “one blanket…and other necessaries,” chickens (Goldberg 245) and other types of livestock (Goldberg 246) as well as “a brazen pan, three pecks of wheat, and a loaf of bread” (Goldberg 246). It appears that English medieval women were more likely to steal things related to the domestic sphere than Italian women in Bologna. The implication is that these women did not have access to the goods that they needed.

Physical items were not the only things that could be stolen in the Middle Ages. The gendered crime of ravishment included the theft of people. Ravishment did not just happen to wives. Heirs of both genders who were still in their minority could be ravished too. Now, the definition of ravishment in the medieval period did not mean rape, however, on occasion rape happened while a woman was being ravished (Walker 237). However, sometimes ravishment, especially in the case of women who were of age, was consensual. In fact, “women allowed themselves to be abducted in order to affirm their own choice of a husband and force their families to accept the relationship” (Walker 237). Women also “allowed themselves to be abducted in order to leave their husbands” (Walker 237-238).

Due to the fact married women were considered the property of their husbands, these records show that the only way for a medieval woman to chose who to marry or to leave an abusive situation was to plan and commit what society and the law considered a crime. It is interesting to note that whenever one of these “consensual abductions” (Walker 239) occurred, the woman trying to leave her husband was not forced to go back to him. Instead the woman’s husband “had to be satisfied with damages that were usually close in the amount to the value of the chattels” (Walker 246). In contrast, underage heirs who had been ravished “could be recovered as well as damages” (Walker 246).

In conclusion, crime in the Middle Ages was gendered in different ways depending on the century and the location of the crime. Who committed crimes, what kinds of crimes they committed and the punishment of such crimes depended on what the negative effect of a person’s actions were (perceived or otherwise). Defamation lawsuits were an excellent way to remind people, men in particular, that their speech had consequences, even if they did not feel those consequences themselves. Persecution of sexual deviancy kept people in check, even if sexuality was thought of as merely behavior for men or something that was part of your morality for women. Which sex committed crimes further enforced the idea of medieval masculinity and femininity, even if these ideas seemed to be reversed in certain European locations. Finally, the fact that women were considered property was further emphasized by the punishment of ravishment: paying the man the property damage of the woman you “stole”.

 

WORKS CITED

Dean, Trevor. “Theft and Gender in Late Medieval Bologna.” Gender & History, vol.20, No.2 August 2008, pp. 399–415.

Goldberg, P. J. P., editor. “Law and Custom”. Women in England, c. 1275-1525: Documentary Sources. Manchester University Press, 1995, pp. 223-260.

Karras, Ruth Mazo. “Prostitution and the Question of Sexual Identity in Medieval Europe”. Journal of Women’s History 11. 1999, pp. 159-171.

Neal, Derek. “Husbands and Priests: Masculinity, Sexuality, and Defamation in Late Medieval England”. The Hands of the Tongue: Essays on Deviant Speech. edited by E. Craun. Kalamazoo. 2007, pp. 185-208.

Walker, Sue Sheridan. “Punishing Convicted Ravishers: Statutory Strictures and Actual Practices in Thirteenth and Fourteenth-Century England”. Journal of Medieval History. 13. 1987, pp. 237-250.

 

FURTHER READING

Cannon, Christopher. “The Rights of Medieval English Women: Crime and the Issue of Representation”. Medieval Crime and Social Control.edited by B.A. Hanawalt and D. Wallace. University of Minnesota Press. 1998. pp. 156-185.

Hanawalt, Barbara A.. Of Good and Ill Repute: Gender and Social Control in Medieval England.Oxford University Press. 1998.

Hanawalt, Barbara A.. “Violence in the Domestic Milieu of Late Medieval England”. Violence in Medieval Society.edited by Richard W. Kaeuper. Boydell Press. 2000, pp. 197-214.

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Academic Essays: Religion During The Wars of The Roses – Saints and Cults

This is the final part of my essay on religion (specifically Christianity) during the Wars of the Roses.

You can read about Henry VI’s Cult here.

And the other part about nobility and the Church here.

 

Henry VI was not the only person, unofficial saint or official saint, to have a cult dedicated to them. In fact, “the fifteenth…[century] witnessed a revival of enthusiasm for certain older cults…but the same period also witnessed the adoption and growth of some new devotions” (Groom 384). Some cults were dedicated to extremely specific things such as “the Holy Name of Jesus” (Groom 384). But many of these cults were dedicated to Christ or saints, of whom may include members of Christ’s family.

A few popular ones that had been revived were for “Sts George, Katherine of Alexandria and Margaret of Antioch” (Groom 384). The main reason people worshiped saints in this manner was due to what they wanted in return. It was thought that if a person “‘adopted’ specific saints…he or she would be adopted and protected in turn” (Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars 161). This makes sense in the context of the political system at the time. If you were loyal to the king or other members of nobility you could expect them to reward you for your loyalty and dedication.

Because dedicating yourself to saints was supposed to result in protection from said saint it makes sense that different types of people worshiped certain saints depending on what they needed help with. For example, “women…[were] more likely to be devotees of female saints, especially the virgin martyrs” (Groom 387). While it is not entirely clear why virgin martyrs were so popular with women there are several theories.

One theory being that the virgin martyrs were attractive people to pray to due to their “observance of strict chastity” (Groom 387) which was also expected of medieval women at the time. This theory also speculates that the virgin martyrs would help women “during the perils of childbirth” (Groom 387). Another theory considers “that [the] less dramatic aspects of the lives of the virgin martyrs…were explicitly constructed as models for medieval women” (Groom 388).

However, I believe that there is a strong possibility virgin martyrs were popular for both reasons. After all, both theories make sense and have certain truths to them. During the Middle Ages, a woman’s virginity was the most important thing she could own and childbirth was extremely dangerous. Women needed all the help they could get during childbirth. Virgin martyrs were good role models in the sense that they were virgins and they were dedicated to God. They had the traits that medieval society considered valuable for women to have.

Because saints were so loved, it makes sense that people put “reminders of them…everywhere in late medieval England” (Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars 155). Images of saints were put onto panels and hung in churches. Some of these decorations were created due to the patronage of the gentry. For example, “the wealthy Bristol widow Alice Chester…funded an extensive…renewal of [her local] church’s…devotional imagery” (Duffy, Religious Beliefs311). Now, the gentry did not just donate money to their local churches. Gentry would also found chapels and as a result, their chapel and its clergy were under the control of the founder.

The priests in the chapel had many duties and “besides [saying] masses and the other daily offices…[they were] required…at specific times to recite the prayers written on tables” (Richmond 122). It was extremely important for the priests to say these prayers because they helped the founder’s soul get into Heaven after they died. If they were not prayed for, then their soul would spend a longer time in purgatory than necessary (Richmond 128-129). The gentry founding chapels is important because it implies that they had enough money to do so. It also implies that the Wars of the Roses either did not negatively affect the gentry financially at all, it only negatively affected the gentry financially an insignificant amount, or it positively affected the gentry’s financial status.

In conclusion, while the Wars of the Roses did not have much of an effect on the Church, the Church had an effect on the Wars of the Roses. Due to their sermons on divine right, the clergy could use their power to help influence the people’s opinions on who should be king. The clergy also used their power to create legal documents concerning kingship and which dynasty deserved it. And they were mostly able to do whatever they wanted politically without the risk of death. While the conflict did not have an effect on the Church, it should be noted that it did have an effect on religion. Henry VI’s death and consequent honorary sainthood influenced the ways the lower class worshiped and believed. Saints grew to be increasingly popular and as a result, the gentry paid for their images to be put onto decorations in churches and chapels. The gentry also used their money to make sure they always had someone praying for their soul every day. Overall, the Wars of the Roses were certainly important in the lives of both ordinary and extraordinary people.

 

WORKS CITED

Duffy, Eamon. “Religious Beliefs”. A Social History of England 1200-1500,edited by Rosemary Horrox and W. Mark Ormrod, Cambridge University Press, 2006, pp. 293-339.

Duffy, Eamon. “The Saints”. The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England 1400-1580,Yale University Press, 2005, pp. 155-200.

Groom, Matthew. “England: Piety, Heresy and Anti-clericalism.” A Companion to Britain in the Late Middle Ages,edited by S.H. Rigby, Blackwell Publishing, 2003, pp. 381-393.

Richmond, Colin. “The English Gentry and Religion, c.1500”. Religious Belief and Ecclesiastical Careers in Late Medieval England, edited by C. Harper-Bill, Boydell & Brewer, 1991, pp. 121-150.

FURTHER READING

Shinners, J.R., editor. Medieval Popular Religion, 1000-1500: A Reader, University of Toronto Press, 2007.

Academic Essays: Religion During The Wars of The Roses – The Nobility and The Church

Almost a year ago I wrote a blog post about King Henry VI’s cult. That post was an excerpt from a much larger essay about the effect the Wars of the Roses had on popular religion at the time.

Here I’m posting the first third of that essay. Here, I’m focusing on the nobility and the Church itself.

 

It’s obvious that the Wars of the Roses had a massive impact on English royalty and nobility. However, what was its impact on religion and the Church during the time the Wars occurred? The Wars of the Roses must have had some sort of effect, even if it was only a subtle one. After all, religion was a major factor in the lives of medieval people. The Church had a massive influence on society and it shaped every aspect of a person’s life either directly or indirectly. So how exactly did religion cause the Wars of the Roses to change and vise versa?

One way religion factored into the Wars of the Roses was with the idea of divine right. Nobility often used the clergy to justify their claims to the crown (Davies 137). This could be in the form of sermons or official documents. One such document was a letter that was signed by the Archbishop of Canterbury as well as the bishop of Exeter (Storey 83). In 1461 “the archbishop…and…the bishop of Salisbury…[decided] that Edward of York should assume the crown” (Storey 83). After all, bishops and priests were considered to be voices for God. If they were saying that a certain nobleman should be king, that meant God wanted him to be king.

However, if you ignore divine right, the Wars of the Roses had a very small impact on the Church’s hierarchy and vise versa. Of course clergymen, especially higher up clergymen, supported different sides of the conflicts but very rarely did these men seem to be severely punished for doing so. Most of the time, “in terms of personal hurt, the episcopate was afflicted surprisingly little” (Davies 141). However, when bishops and other clergymen were punished their punishments were usually the equivalent of being gently slapped on the wrist and told what they did was bad and they should feel bad.

Of course, there were harsher punishments, but the clergyman usually had to push his luck a lot. For example, Archbishop George Neville “after Edward [IV] had bided his time, was seriously punished” (Davies 141) by being imprisoned. However, “the archbishop was released quite quickly…and in theory restored to full authority” (Davies 141). And just because clergymen were involved in politics, it did not mean they had enough experience to know what they were doing. In Edward IV’s case, he “could not use many of [the clergy] in public life, not for their lack of loyalty but for lack of the right skills” (Davies 138).

 

 

WORKS CITED

Davies, Richard G.. “The Church and the Wars of the Roses”. The Wars of the Roses, edited by A.J. Pollard, MacMillan Press, 1995, pp. 134-161.

Storey, R.L.. “Episcopal King-Makers in the Fifteenth Century”. The Church, Politics and Patronage In the Fifteenth Century, edited by R.B. Dobson, Alan Sutton Publishing, 1984, pp. 82-98.

 

FURTHER READING

Shinners, J.R., editor. Medieval Popular Religion, 1000-1500: A Reader, University of Toronto Press, 2007.

Academic Essays: Why Edward IV Was A Relatively Good King

This blog post is a part two of sorts to this post about England’s Henry VI.

I say of sorts because both are part of the same essay I wrote on kingship during the Wars of the Roses.

However, back in July 2018 I only posted the first half of the essay.

That half focused on bad kingship.

This half will focus on good kingship. (Or relatively good kingship at the very least.)

 

In contrast, Edward IV can be considered a relatively good king. Christine Carpenter even goes as far as to say, “he should be acknowledged as one of the greatest of English kings” (205). When comparing the second half of Edward IV’s reign to the entirety of Henry VI’s reign this is a safe statement to say. Unlike Henry VI, Edward IV was not afraid of conflict. After all, he had usurped Henry VI as king when Henry VI could not do a good job. Another way Edward IV was not afraid to get his hands dirty was when he managed to mend a large feud happening between noble families in the 1470s (Carpenter 216). When dealing with local conflicts Edward IV had the extremely valuable trait of being “prepared to change his mind…when he decided that he was backing the wrong party…once he realized that he was acting…against local wishes” (Carpenter 194).

However, he did make a few errors, especially in his early years, which resulted in fatalities. These fatalities can be easily chalked up to “the inexperience of youth” (Carpenter 92). When Edward IV first took the throne, he was eighteen years old and eighteen-year-olds are not known for their decision-making skills. One such mistake Edward IV made that ended up causing a domino effect into war was his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville. Elizabeth Woodville was not considered good queen material. She was the daughter of a knight, thus not high up in the social hierarchy, a widow with children, thus not a virgin, and she was English when most kings at the time married foreign women for political reasons (Laynesmith).

By secretly marrying Elizabeth Woodville, Edward IV ended up isolating his kingmaker, Warwick, who had arraigned Edward IV to marry a French princess (Carpenter 170). However, in the Crowland Chronicle Continuations, the author argues that it was not just Edward IV’s marriage that insulted Warwick. It was a combination of the queen “in accordance with the king’s will, arraign[ing] the marriage of [some family members] and many other affairs likewise, against the earl’s will” (115). Either way, Edward IV insulted Warwick and it is generally not a good idea to insult the person who made you king, for they can try to take your crown away, which is exactly what Warwick attempted to do. Warwick failed, but it resulted in several battles and many deaths.

Even so, Edward IV brought stability back to the country, even if it was extremely fragile (Horrox 232). However, this bloodstained stability was smashed to pieces thanks to his brother, Richard III. While both Richard III and Edward IV were usurpers and their crowns were gained by spilling blood, Richard III is widely to be considered an extremely bad king, even though “as king, it cannot be denied Richard did his best” (Carpenter 210). Unlike Edward VI, Richard III did not overthrow a regime that was slowly but surely tearing the country apart. Instead, after his brother’s death, Richard III was made “protector of the kingdom” (Crowland Chronicle 157) and as a result, he took the throne from Edward IV’s heir. Like Edward IV, Richard III killed the person who he usurped the crown from. However, Edward IV’s two heirs were children and killing children, especially the children of a beloved king, is generally frowned upon. Thus, Richard III was not particularly popular from the start of his rule.

It should also be noted, when one is a usurper, the survivors of the previous dynasty and their allies need to be paid off or eliminated. Unfortunately for Richard III, “there was no relying on the loyalty of men who have been bought” (Carpenter 211). This caused a chicken and egg scenario where Richard III had enough resources for those loyal to him, but not enough for those who could be bought. Like Henry VI, Richard III “lacked…the political mastery without which the [kingship] was ultimately impossible” (Carpenter 211).

Following the fates of the kings before him, Richard III was usurped as well. He was killed in the battle of Bosworth and Henry VII took over the throne. Like the kings before him, Henry VII had claimed he was the rightful heir due to his ancestry. However, to further solidify his claim for the crown, Henry VII married Edward IV’s eldest daughter, Elizabeth of York as he had promised he would do if he defeated Richard III (Laynesmith 36). Henry VII was also considered a good king. His kingship “rested on a sound financial basis, on putting the nobles firmly in their place and on effective order, secured by wise legislation and the disciplining of nobility” (Carpenter 220-221). In short, Henry VII was the exact opposite of Henry VI.

In the end, good kingship was extremely important during 1450-1500, mostly because there was a huge lack of it. Kings either did not have the mental capabilities needed to rule, the good decision making needed to rule, the charisma, or the slightly better ancestry their rivals had. However, the Wars of the Roses really can be traced back to one person: Henry VI. Because Henry VI was mentally incapable of good kingship, either from general immaturity, mental illness, or perhaps even an undiagnosed mental disability that hindered his capacities, one event leads to another and the end result was a conflict that lasted nearly fifty years and cost many people their wealth, land, and lives.

 

 

WORKS CITED

Carpenter, Christine. The Wars of the Roses: Politics and the Constitution in England, C.1437-1509. Cambridge University Press, 2006.

Horrox, Rosemary. “England: Kingship and the Political Community, 1377-c. 1500.” A Companion to Britain in the Later Middle Ages, Blackwell Publishing, 2003, pp. 224–241.

Laynesmith, J. The Last Medieval Queens: English Queenship 1445-1505. 2004.

Pronay, Nicholas, and John Cox, editors. The Crowland Chronicle Continuations: 1459-1486. Alan Sutton Publishing, 1986.

 

 

 

Book Review: Princesses Behaving Badly by Linda Rodriguez McRobbie

 

If you read my blog, you probably know that I’ve been reading a lot of fiction (more specifically mysteries), lately. Well, for this book I wanted to read something different. I usually don’t read nonfiction, but I decided to give Princesses Behaving Badly a go! And my god, am I glad that I did.

Princesses Behaving Badly by Linda Rodriguez McRobbie is about real life princesses who, well, don’t behave in ways society generally thinks princesses should behave. The book is separated into seven different categories (Warriors, Usurpers, Schemers, Survivors, Partiers, Floozies, and Madwomen) and each category has mini-biographies of historical women. Each biography is several pages long (sometimes longer, but I believe never longer than fifteen pages) and packed with historical context. This historical context is especially useful when reading and understanding each woman’s life. Because the biographies are so short (perfect bedtime story length!), they aren’t overwhelming.

McRobbie also does a great job when it comes to discussing her sources. Some of the information we have about these princesses (especially ancient ones) comes from men. Thus, there is a historical bias concerning how men are describing them. McRobbie will point out that the information given is skewed and helps the reader think critically. Of course, McRobbie isn’t without bias herself (no one writing about history ever is), but as a reader, it’s easy to see when her biases are coming out.

Princesses Behaving Badly is a very informative book. It’s a great jumping off point for people who are interested in historical women but don’t really know where to start learning about them. As an added bonus, McRobbie’s selected bibliography is formatted in a way that is easy to read. (Sometimes nonfiction books’ bibliographies need some editing when it comes to layout.)

Overall, Princesses Behaving Badly is an excellent book.

Book Review: Death in Holy Orders by P.D. James

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WARNING! SPOILERS AHEAD!

 

If you’ve read my book reviews before, you probably know I’ve been on a bit of a mystery kick lately. Death in Holy Orders by P. D. James is no different. The book is the eleventh is the Adam Dalgliesh series. However, I didn’t know that when I found the book at one of those “take a book, leave a book” stands. As I previously stated in my review of Death at Chinatown, I like to read book series in order. That way things make some semblance of sense. In this book, sometimes the backstories are clear and other times they really aren’t. But you can kind of piece them together.

Death in Holy Orders takes place at a failing seaside theological college named St. Anselm’s that’s located somewhere in East Anglia. The book starts off with the housekeeper finding the body of a student, Ronald, on a beach. Things go downhill from there. The housekeeper is murdered, but everyone thinks she had a heart attack. When our detective, Adam Dalgliesh, arrives at St. Anselm’s to investigate the student’s death as a favor to Ronald’s father, the visiting Archdeacon is also murdered. Now Adam must investigate both deaths. A lot more happens as well. Including another murder, several subplots about money, incest, bad parents, students falling in love with professors, a priest with PTSD from World War Two, and who is going to inherit the college when it inevitably closes. There seem to be about a million characters in this book and I had a very hard time keeping track of who was who.

To put it frankly, Death in Holy Orders is unnecessarily confusing and complicated. A lot could have been edited out and the story still would have made sense. I think P.D. James was trying to write something based more on the characters rather than the plot. Which is fine, I like books that focus on individual character arcs, but a mystery novel really isn’t the place to do that. At least not to the extent James did it. Also, despite all this focus on the characters, they were all kind of boring and dull.

Each character got the spotlight, but due to the sheer amount of them, it was kind of impossible for James to develop them in meaningful ways. There were even times were James would introduce characters who I thought were new to the story, but in reality, had been in the story since the beginning. We just hadn’t seen them in a while and I forgot they existed.

Another thing James made unnecessarily confusing was the actual clues. Every clue is hopelessly vague, yet repeated several times in even hopelessly vaguer ways. Or maybe they weren’t hopelessly vague and I simply don’t remember. And it’s not ideal for your reader to forget the important clues because of the fifteen different plotlines going on.

It was difficult to keep track of everything is what I’m saying.

There are a lot of coincidences in this book. Now, I like coincidences in my media. I think they are fun. I love the whole “I Just Happened To Be Here And You Just Happen To Be My Long Lost Sister!” type of thing. However, in Death in Holy Orders, there are so many coincidences they are, again, extremely difficult to keep track of.

Maybe I’m having all this trouble because it took me eleven days to read this book (I usually average at about a book a week, sometimes less). Or maybe it’s because the book is just needlessly complicated. I don’t know. Either way, by the end I felt like I was slogging through it. There were several points where I wanted to put the book down and stop reading it, but by those points, I was already halfway through. I was in too deep to stop reading it. I invested too much time and effort to give up and by God, did I want to include this book on my GoodReads Reading Challenge. Besides, it was a free book.

Death in Holy Orders is not fun enough to be a beach read and it’s not interesting enough to have any literary merit. While the characters do lampshade mystery tropes, they don’t do it enough to make the book a parody or a satire or any more entertaining. Instead, it’s just shoehorned in there as if the author herself is also acknowledging that the plot is stupid (and not in a silly good way) and what the characters are doing is a tiny bit absurd.

Overall, Death in Holy Orders is a poor book.

No Spoilers TV Show Review: Good Omens

For this review, I’m going to do something a little different. Usually, when I review things, I add in spoilers. But today I’m going to do one without spoilers. Because I intend on watching this series again, I’ll probably write a review of each episode that does include spoilers.

But this isn’t that kind of article.

 

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Good Omens poster

 

Yesterday I finished watching Amazon Prime’s latest original series, Good Omens. I was six minutes into the first episode when I knew that this was going to be a good one. I don’t binge-watch television very often, but this series was definitely one I binge watched! I watched the entire series in less than twenty-four hours. Granted the series is only six episodes and each episode is less than an hour long, but I don’t like to watch TV for more than an hour and a half (YouTube is a different story though). When I watch TV for longer than that time, I feel like I’m not doing anything. 

But I digress.

Good Omens is based on a book by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, by the same name. I haven’t read the book yet, so my opinion of the series is entirely based on the show itself. However, I have read some of Terry Pratchett, and thanks to the show’s narration, his quippy writing style is heavily included. But of course, I haven’t read the book yet, so I could just be seeing something that isn’t actually there. (However, according to a few reviews on Amazon, the show does follow the book rather faithfully.)

The overarching plot of the show is rather simple: an angel and a demon must stop Armageddon but they’ve lost track of the Antichrist. There are a bunch of other subplots that include, but not limited to, a witch also trying to find the Antichrist, an old witch hunter who’s not very good at his job recruiting new witch hunters, the Four Horsemen of the Apocolypse causing chaos, and the Antichrist coming into his power. These plots are woven together extremely well and are easy to follow along. As a bonus, every plotline is interesting. While watching Good Omens, I never dreaded the show switching over to one of the subplots.

All of the characters in Good Omens are captivating and extremely fun to watch. The casting is absolutely perfect. You can also tell that David Tennant and Michael Sheen (the demon, Crowley and the angel, Aziraphale) are both having a good time playing their characters. And of course, the costumes/character design in this show is amazing and effective. Due to the costumes, it’s clear which characters are angels and which are demons. I also want to give the designer kudos for succeeding to make the supernatural characters unnerving, but not entirely repulsive to look at. This is especially true for the demons.

Finally, most of the show was paced well. While the last episode was a bit of an outlier, the show managed to wrap everything up nicely. (I’m afraid I can’t go into too much detail in this regard, lest I reveal some spoilers.) There were no loose ends, only a potential plot hook for a season two.

Overall, Good Omens was an excellent show and you should go watch it.