TO CATCH THE CONSCIENCE OF THE KING : Martin White
A graphic beginning to this novel as Brother Stephen witnesses a trial and vicious execution of Hug le Despenser. Chained, a hood of his head, guilt was be stated and the end result he is hanged and his body cut up and taken apart, the story begins with his death and that of one other as Brother Stephen is enlisted by a man named Dunsheved, a Dominican, to take on the job or task of rescuing King Edward. Things spiral out of control as Brother Stephen becomes involved with Dunsheved in order to rescue King Edward as he is now in the custody of his own queen, Isabella. But, why him and what is his reaction as he is given no choice but to succumb to the wishes of this man and joins Isabella’s party as travels to Gloucester after the two executions. But, Stephen becomes feverish, incoherent and remains ill for some time. At his lodging or priority in that town Brother James administers to Stephen in the infirmary having taken seriously ill. But, before he deals with the rescue of Edward, he needs to get well. He is subsequently abused by and falls out with Brother James and then is sent to Berkeley, where Edward is to be imprisoned and where Stephen is asked to not only listen to his confessions but also become a spy for the Queen. Stephen is under the care of Brother James and cannot seem to get around on his own. Even with the special preparation he uses to warm his legs and limbs it takes time for Stephen to recover and recount what happened at the executions.
Delirious, confused at times and with high fevers Stephen struggled to defeat his illness for almost a month. When he finally did recount to Brother Walter what happened at the trial of the men executed and he learns about King Edward being deposed, things will take on a different turn as Edward’s son is slated to take his place. Even Dunshelved seems disoriented at times meeting with Stephen. We find Stephen at Berkeley to deal with the authorities and those in charge like Lord Thomas Berkeley and his brother-law, Sir John Maltravers and the various restrictions they impose.
Before setting out for Berkley Stephen faces many obstacles, many discussions before coming face to face with the now Sir Edward. His role would be to hear his confessions, make sure that he is safe and watch those that are guarding him but Stephen faces health issues first. Some of the discussions with Brother Walter suggest that some of the priors are using inappropriate behavior towards other younger monks. Added in we learn more about his illnesses, how it affects his mind and why when asked to do this job he appears reluctant at first. The role is confessor but the impact can be dangerous.
While speaking with those in charge in Berkeley Stephen is given stringent rules, regulations and made to understand that the queen has approved his service, he is to consider Sir Edward the enemy and that he needs to follow whatever they tell him to do. Sir Edward is not that affable at all and what he learns when relating to him will go against much of the confessions as he is expected to admit his crimes, sins and misdeeds and this might work against him. The conversation between Sir Edward and Brother Stephen makes readers wonder who’s in charge as Edward seems to take control of the discussion and Stephen pours out his life and soul. After the meeting Stephen begins to reflect on what was said and wonders about Sir Edward’s personality and just what he was trying to do. Hearing Edward recant his feelings for Isabella, the betrayals of his own minions, the abduction of his son, the ire that fostered out of him in every word and yet Stephen provided in some respects a true introspection of his words, trying to calm him down and hopefully give him some type of absolution let thinking that in some aspects he did not succeed. The author takes us inside the minds of both men, each different yet each bearing his own cross to deal with in life and in short maybe in the afterlife. Edward is a cunning man and he falls prey even though he’s manipulative and smart to Sir John’s con and Maltravers who are both out to get not only him but Stephen too. Dunsheved does manage to free Edward and during that time Stephen withdraws into himself and yet is required to spend time in the empty cell. When Edward is finally returned he resumes his talks, hears his ramblings and when he tries to warn him of the impending danger he gets violent. Maltravers and Berkeley stage or orchestrate Edward’s demise but it’s not Edward who pays the ultimate price its Stephen. Several people arrived at the castle before Edward’s next release and their purpose was to deal with Edward and get rid of Stephen. Sir William Beaukaire, one of Berkeley’s retainers, William de Ockley and Thomas Gurney and several others that were in on the conspiracy to gain control over Edward. The last part of the book vividly describes in deal what Stephen experiences after he is gone. Imagine witnessing your on funeral and your own autopsy or post-mortem. Imagine reliving incidents that had a strong impact on you when alive. Reliving his times at Corfe Castle with Edward, his own embalming and evisceration, witnessing the same for another person close to him named Kent and hearing the voices of those that regale in the torture of others. Imagine Stephen’s dead body used in a fake funeral for Edward before he escapes, arrives in Italy and takes his place as a Dominican. It’s like Stephen’s body is embodied in Edward and now they are one and the same in two separate worlds. Take the journey to the afterlife with Stephen, see the images that he sees, relive the events and hear the planetary music, Join Edward as he embarks on a new life realize that he’s old, his senses are fading and his life has been mapped out but in a different direction. If Stephen left anything over the centuries as the story it would be the centuries of “mould and putrefaction, which followed. It was a sense of rightness and satisfaction as their bones eroded into dust and their detritus or material made of rock fragments or organic particles that results directly from disintegration. Some lives are worthy of people anointed but Edward learned and paid a large price for a wife that committed adultery, his bad choices and placing his trust in others. Stephen paid too for believing that the was truly needed at the castle and never saw his demise coming as author Martin White penned a story doing extensive research into the events and time period as we all enter the cell with Stephen and learn how TO CATCH THE CONSCIENCE OF THE KING!
Fran Lewis: Just reviews/MJ magazine