Melissa Julian-Jones, Murder During the Hundred Years War (Pen & Sword, 2020)
Who killed William de Cantilupe in 1375, and why? We may never know, but that does not stop Melissa Julian-Jones from analysing the evidence and suspects. She also uses this murder to cast her gaze around the wider social, economic, and political contexts of an often turbulent England still at war with France.
Julian-Jones opens with a brief overview of the crime and the major theories surrounding it. With that out of the way, she starts digging into the background of the victim and his family, which is mostly a sordid tale ending in a reconstruction of William’s murder. Then, as in all the best mysteries, Julian-Jones lines up her suspects for a more detailed background check, of which there were quite a few if you include aiders and abettors. After who might have done it comes why they might have done it with a search for motives. That amounts to money, sex, and the intriguing notion of ‘communal vengeance’ against a cruel lord. Julian-Jones turns to the mechanics of law enforcement particularly with regard to the Cantelupe murder. Then we are into the trial and its aftermath. Julian-Jones concedes that there are many questions we cannot answer about William Cantelupe’s murder. She winds her book up with some appendices from the contemporary records.
Historical murders act as useful conduits into the period when they were committed. Trials and other records provide instant histories; snapshots for historians to explore and analyse. Julian-Jones seizes that opportunity for William Cantelupe’s murder to present a fascinating social history, including the inner workings of the mediaeval social system centred on the manor house. As such, this is a very good read, though I perhaps might question the analytical structure for a public history audience. But, if you want to have a wander around 14th Century England, you will no doubt enjoy Julian-Jones’ book.