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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Hanged Man, 22 Jun. 2006
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This review is from: The Hanged Man: A Story of Miracle, Memory, and Colonialism in the Middle Ages (Paperback)
What a wonderful book; but I should have expected that after reading Bartlett's The Making of Europe and his England under the Norman and Angevin Kings; 1075-1225. It tells the story of William Cragh, a Welshman, hung for homicide at Swansea in around 1290. He had been sentenced by his feudal lord, William de Briouze, Lord of the Marcher lordship of Gower. Briouze's young wife, Mary, had pleaded unsuccessfully for mercy but, after the hanging, William allowed her to have the body. She prayed for assistance to Thomas de Cantilupe, the Bishop of Hereford, who died in 1282. William was then restored to life and made a pilgrimage with Mary to Hereford cathedral to give thanks. We know of the case because in 1307, after much prompting from Cantilupe's successor, Richard Swinfield, a papal commission considered evidence prior to deciding whether to recommend whether the late bishop should be canonised.

In a beautifully structured, scholarly tour de force Bartlett brings the story to life with great understanding. He peels away layer after layer revealing more and more of the detail. We find out that Cragh was not an ordinary murderer but a supporter of one of the last Welsh rebellions against the English. We learn of the two Williams de Briouze, father and son, and their hostile attitude to Cragh as well as the softer Mary, step mother of the younger William. We hear the words of the soldier who was in charge of the execution squad and the men present when Cragh showed signs of life. The story links the quiet Sussex villages of Wiston and Findon to Swansea to Hereford to Gascony to Avignon to Cyprus. He are told of the men who gave their evidence in London and at Hereford and the foreigners who provided most of the Commissioners. Bartlett tells us a great deal about the nastiness of medieval execution practices, and how medieval man remembered events and dates as well as how they measured time. The well organised inquisitorial papal inquiry system becomes understandable. The sweep of Bartlett's story also encompasses the fate of the Knight Templars, Anglo-Welsh relations in the crucial thirteenth century and the phenomen of the comfortable, upper class widow of the period. The development of the notorial system in England adds more interest. The complications of conducting business in a multi-lingual society are shown, the witnesses gave evidence in three different languages and the record was kept in Latin. And we learn about the `little people' too. The story of Roger of Conway, a little boy who was saved from harm through Cantilupe's saintly intervention when he fell into the moat of Conway castle as a little boy, so touched one of the Commissioners, Bishop Ralph Baldock of London, that he provided for his future.

To tell this story, Bartlett has used brilliantly not only Latin, English, French, German and Welsh printed sources but manuscripts now at the Vatican, Oxford, Hereford, the British Library and The National Archives at Kew. He even manages to trace Mary's lady-in-waiting, in an eyre roll. A book to recommend thoroughly.
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