A case of medieval justice and magic - seeking opinions

An interesting case, somewhat tangential to the Order, has arisen in my saga and I wondered what other folks would make of it.

Lord Henry de Say, baron of Clun, wishes to bring suit against the Cluniac Priory of Wenlock. Some years ago, Lord Henry granted a manor to the Priory of Wenlock in exchange for prayers for the gentle rest of his wife's spirit. Lord Henry is now alleging that the Priory failed in this duty and demanding the return of his manor. Lord Henry's case is based on the revelation that his wife's ghost has been quietly haunting him for years in an effort to drive him mad. It has been revealed that, after the death of the lord's wife, one of his retainers employed a witch to raise her ghost and bind it to haunt Lord Henry. Lord Henry's neighbor, the Lady Rosamund, has the Second Sight and saw this ghost. She acquired a magical charm from a wizard and used it to banish the ghost, revealing it's presence to Lord Henry's entire court in the process. Numerous witnesses can testify to these facts.

Lord Henry argues that he paid the monks of Wenlock handsomely for their prayers to lay his wife's spirit to rest, only to have the task accomplished years later but his troublesome neighbors.

Since Wenlock is a Cluniac foundation, Lord Henry plans to bring his suit to the mother house at Cluny but is seeking royal support for his case.

(From the Hermetic side, the Ex Miscellanea witch who originally summoned and bound the ghost has already been convicted and executed by the Tribunal for interference and dealing with devils. The Merinita magus who indirectly aided in the banishment of the ghost provided the charged item used to a companion in a lawful and appropriate manner.)


That would be remarkably foolish on the part of Lord Henry de Say. The prayers of monks are not like a cosmic vending machine, you put prayer in and you get something out. The monks are asking God or one of the saints for something and God or the saints does as he wills. If the prayers were not listened to,it must be that God knew more about the situation than the monks and allowed the spirit time to bring his crimes to light.

Lord Henry de Say would be much better off casting doubt on the whole situation, claiming that it is all an illusion caused by the neighbor trying to wreck his reputation. Obviously his wife has been put to rest long ago, the monks have been praying for her since he made the donation, and how dare Lady Rosamund cause such a scene?

Since any court case would presumably take place in ecclesiastical court, the second plan seems much more reasonable.

No. Of course the prayers of monks are effective. That's the point of giving money to monasteries in exchange for prayers for someone's soul. Calling that into question undermines far too much.

Edit: Furthermore, if magic works in the setting than so does prayer. There is no reason for the spells of a magus to succeed where the prayers of a score of monks have failed, unless it it is the monks who have failed.

If the monks did pray as ordered, I would say they are on the clear. The Lord's ways are weird, so the prayers do not always work.
However, if they did not, he has a case to fight for. I would still this will fall to an intrigue roll between the advocates of both sides, but the table is set for a legal battle to be fought over the manor. If the noble has the support of the king, I would expect him to be able to reoccupy the manor without much fuss, especially if he can bring charges of neglect on their duties to the monks. He might be excomunicated by the monks, but as long as no higher authority recognizes such excommunication he might be able to get his blessings from his chaplain anyway and be in the clear with the Almighty.

This is how we would play it :slight_smile: We would also make some of the monks have prayed, while others have not, basically to mud the water as much as we can and have fun with the trial.

Actually, the "buying" of prayers was pretty formalized in the middle ages; they would come in specific, "standardized" packages. For example, you could stipulate that the monks would say a mass for the deceased every week etc. So bringing up a case about the monks having failed in their duties would be about as hard as bringing up a case, say, against a cattle owner who'd failed to provide you with one calf out of ten in exchange for grazing rights. What you have to do is a) find some proof about the nature of the obligation (in the monk's case most likely a written contract, so probably easy) and b) find some witnesses able to testify that the obligation was not fullfilled -- say, the monks said for the deceased only one mass a month rather than one mass a week.

If the monks were lax in their duties and didn't do what they said they would, there's definitely a case.

However, the situation with the ghost (that was dealt with) is certainly not evidence of a failure by the monks. After all, they offered prayers and God saw to it that the unquiet ghost was indeed laid to rest.

The fact that God chose to act through the intermediary of a Merinita magus making a charm for a companion doesn't change the fact that God evidently interceded. That the Merinita magus didn't realise he was acting as an instrument of God's will isn't relevant. :slight_smile:

Is the fact that the companion and magus didn't banish the spirit until it had been haunting his lordship for seven years relevant?

Still, I think Lord Henry's argument shall be that the appearance of his wife's ghost is at least sufficient evidence to call for a visitation of the priory by Cluny and an investigation as to whether or not the monks were lax in their duties.

The intriguing point is why the ghost afflicted him. Yes I know it was called up by a witch - that much is absolutely clear, and the monks can not be blamed for it. However did her corpse not receive proper Christian burial? That would appear to be the greater issue - why was her ghost able to be summoned by the witch? The monks are however clearly lax and yes I think the baron has a case - after all, they should have on discovering the failure of their early attempts, called upon the Bishop, or an ecclesiastical superior, who should have despatched a team of accomplished exorcists. Every Diocese has exorcists -- and they should have managed to lay the spirit. I suspect diabolic impersonation of the dead lady - while an idea that will not be theologically common for another three hundred years (it becomes a mainstream belief on ghosts during the Reformation - See Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 1 for a classic example) the possibility is known even now. Did the ghost manifest as a physical revenant, as in the ghosts of the Bylands Fragment, as a non-corporeal apparition or as in some medieval ghosts only in the dreams of the afflicted baron? And can he find sworn witnesses to the ghost persecuting him? Also is the case being brought under Common Law at an Assize or under Canon Law at a Bishop's Court?

cj x

The question of whether or not she received a proper Christian burial is one Lord Henry, who is largely ignorant of the Laws of Magic, has not considered... but one sure to arise as more knowledgeable people discuss the case. She was buried at Wenlock priory, as she was a patron of that foundation. What is known of her subsequent summoning is that Lord Henry's trusted captain Sir Adaemar, grieving for her death, went to the witch and asked her aid in restoring the lady. At the witches instruction, he defiled her grave and brought the witch her skull, which was subsequently used to call the lady's shade forth. This is known from testimony given by Sir Adaemar under question prior to his exile from Lord Henry's estates. Several such skulls, though not the one belonging to Lord Henry's wife, were found among the witch's possessions when she was executed. The location of the lady's skull remains unknown.

Lord Henry's household will, reluctantly, testify that the shade visited him as an unseen apparition which whispered to him in the night, driving him to drink and nearly to madness before it was laid to rest. It was an open secret among his court, known by all but spoken of by none. Apart from the moment of its banishment, when the shade appeared to all the court, only two can testify to actually seeing it... Lady Rosamund and Hob, a mute dwarf acrobat who sometimes preformed at the court, both of whom are known to have the Second Sight. (Hob communicates using a debased from of monastic sign language, interpreted by the minstrel who he performs for. Bertoleme the minstrel is of noble blood but has a reputation of fae madness.)

The possibility of an infernal spirit bedeviling Lord Henry in his wife's guise is certainly a viable defense by the monks of Wenlock. It is supported by the facts that the apparition was known to have driven Lord Henry to drink and madness, and further - based on the nocturnal arguments the household heard between their drunken lord and this unseen shade - to have advised harsh policies, cruel revenges and sinful abuses... which, they will hasten to add, Lord Henry piously resisted. Lord Henry's only counter-argument is the claim that he knows well his own wife well enough to recognize her shade.

Certainly a Canon court is the appropriate place for the suit --- as the monks are unambiguously subject to canon law, and the case really seems to be around the monks failing in their religious duty (which is not a secular concern). However, it is unclear whether the mother house at Cluny has the appropriate jurisdiction.

The local bishop is absolute judge/ruler of his diocese (in clerical matters at least). I think that case should be taken to his court (or his archdeacon's court). Then, there will be a political calculation on the bishop's behalf as to whether he imposes his own decision, or somehow consults with Cluny, and, of course, the Wenlock monks might seek legal assistance from Cluny, but they will be seeking legal assistance to fight the case in the bishop's court (or to appeal to the pope).

Actually, because it's a Cluniac priory, the local bishop doesn't have jurisdiction. According to The Church, Cluny, and it's daughter houses, answer directly to the Pope. Even a papal legate needs special instruction direct from the Pope himself to intervene in or examine a Cluniac house. A Cluniac priory is subject only to the Abbot of Cluny, the Pope and God (As one of my NPCs said "... and I'm not sure about the last two.")

If it was a dispute between Cluniac monks, yes, but Lord Henry is not a monk.

I think that it would be more natural for Lord Henry to bring a case in the bishop's court. Lack of jurisdiction is definitely an argument the monks could make (perhaps, only if they believe the bishop will rule against them), which is why it then becomes a political decision as to whether the bishop rules or declines jurisdiction.

Historically, yes, the popes had to decree that the Clunaic order was not answerable to local bishops. However, the reason the popes had to do this was in response to local bishops attempting to do just that (assert jurisdiction over the Order). Some of these issues appear clear to us looking back, but you have to remember that at the time many bishops questioned the exact extent to which they were answerable to the pope themselves. So, little enclaves of monks claiming immunity to scrutiny by their bishop because "the pope said so" was not necessarily an argument that was universally accepted.

Then, I think, if either the bishop declines jurisdiction or if Lord Henry doesn't bother going to the bishop's court (perhaps if the bishop is an ex-monk, for example), then he would go to the papal court for a ruling, rather than the mother house of the Clunaic order. Remember he wants a ruling against the Order and a confiscation of the Order's property.

Actually, as long as punishment for the Cluniac monks is discussed, the Abbot of Cluny does have jurisdiction.
This is true no matter where the offense took place (but it's doubly true if on Cluny's lands), and no matter who the offended party is (at least as long as we remain in lands recognizing the authority of the Pope).

The lord certainly has a case, but not a win by default(Cj and ezz).

I should think that the prior of Wenlock will try verrry hard to dissuade Lord Henry from his plan.

Given that Wenlock was indeed remunerated handsomely to include Lord Henry's wife in its prayers, the monastery will have updated its main book used in all the services held by the monks. This book is the big bible or evangeliary always kept on the altar or in the sacresty, and for every day of the year it contains the list of the dead to then be prayed for: former monks from Wenlock, from other Cluniac monasteries, bishops, benefactors, and also Lord Henry's wife. So the prior can show this to Lord Henry, and explain the daily use of the book in the liturgy as well.
He can also stress, how the liturgy is the raison d'être of the monks of the priory, and that he in person is responsible for it to be performed sumptuously and correctly. The prior might then mention in the very best faith, that he can confirm the correct celebration of the liturgy and the prayers for Henry's wife under solemn oath to his superiors in Cluny - and that this should really remove any doubt that Lord Henry might have.

What can Lord Henry still do after this? If he insists, makes a ruckus and appeals to Cluny, the dirty laundry of his family, retainers and priests will be on display there, and in the kingdom. In front of the solemn confirmation of the prior any stories about Lady Rosamund, charms and local wizards will just look quaint and backwards, and rather discredit Lord Henry.
if that is not enough for Lord Henry, he can look up those who witnessed the deed, with which he bestowed the manor upon Wenlock in exchange for the place of his wife in the monks' prayers. Is the local bishop among the witnesses? Or the royal official in charge of the local high justice? This might give him some leverage to involve the bishop or the king - but what would these do in front of the solemn confirmation by the prior and in front of the simple fact, that the Cluniac monasteries exist to celebrate the liturgy?
In the end, the outcome is most likely the full acquittal of the monks, and a very bad reputation for Lord Henry.

So why would the prior still try to dissuade Lord Henry, if possible at all? The reputation of Wenlock would also suffer seriously under this loud and unconvincible benefactor, hence future potential benefactors might rather consider other monasteries - unless the monks can really make Lord Henry look like a fool in all the kingdom. And having to do so is not really conducive to monastic contemplation and peace of mind.

If the monks come to know the following at some time, they have the means to proceed decisively and for good against Lord Henry:

"So Lord Henry's henchman defiled the grave of Lord Henry's wife, and instead of apprehending him and delivering him to be processed and executed, the good Lord let him escape and now persecutes the monks whose church got defiled?" I see him at least doing public penance for this, like his namesake Henry Plantagenet - and likely paying through the nose in goods and favors to come off that lightly.


Lord Henry is a Marcher lord with the right of High Justice on his own lands and over his own people. Technically, he was the proper authority for trying and punishing Sir Adaemar and stripping of him of his lands and holding and exiling was the punishment Lord Henry decided upon.

It's worth pointing out, just for references sake, that the monks would very much like to avoid a visitation from Cluny or any formal investigate at all. :slight_smile: I shall therefore be making good note of the defense OneShot offers.

Unfortunately, the prior's solemn word will carry slightly less weight than it probably ought... that Tainted with Evil flaw really is a nuisance. :smiling_imp:

I see. So you get to know the characters. :wink:
I suppose Lord Henry has invited the monks of Wenlock priory, as a main damaged party, to attend Sir Adaemar's trial, and even if they didn't appear at least informed them thoroughly of the result. As the lady's skull was never found, the monks will know - or at least heavily suspect - that her mutilated corpse could not be properly laid to rest, and her tomb not fully be reconsecrated.
Then the crucial point becomes, whether they took the manor and pledged their services before or after Sir Adaemar's trial. If - as I gathered - they took it before, they can with some reason lay all the responsibility for the lady's spectral condition, or some demon appearing as the lady, upon Sir Adaemar, and all the burden of it upon his then liege, Lord Henry. While they continue to pray for the the lady's soul according to the deed of their manor.
How fine they are as theologians in exalting the values of the sacraments for souls with bodies not properly laid to rest you need to determine. For this you could read newadvent.org/cathen/13295a.htm to avoid the most common traps, and the story of the prayer of Gregory the Great on behalf of Trajan (best from the Legenda Aurea or from Augustine) for inspiration.

So you get to know the characters. :wink:
Would they like to avoid any investigation of the tomb that Adaemar defiled, too? :smiley:


I'll look into that. Thanks.


There is also the question of where is the lady's skull after all. Adaemar didn't have it. The witch didn't have it. Hmmm....

To fill in some more blanks, just for fun and to see what what folks think...

The Prior of Wenlock is secretly a necromancer, a magus (in my saga this is ok under the Code) and an infernalist.

The chapter of canon's of the cathedral (in whose dioceses Lord Henry's lands reside) contains a secret covenant of magi. They know the Prior is a magus and a necromancer, and suspect but cannot prove he is an infernalist. They are responsible for the capture and destruction of the Ex Misc witch... who they (correctly) suspect learned necromancy from the Prior. They have an ambivalent relationship with the Merinita eremite hedge wizard who lives on Lady Rosamund's estate and provided the charm which banished the ghost. The covenant would very much like an ecclesiastical investigation of the priory, as they hope to insert an agent if not one of their own number into the party to investigate the allegations of infernal necromancy. They are therefore encouraging Lord Henry in his case, and supporting him in appealing to the king and the church authorities... but subtly as they know full well they are dancing on (and merrily over) the line of the Interference clause.

Interestingly, the only PC's involved in all this are Lady Rosamund and her court... most of this is stuff going on in the background, setting the stage for future adventures (the PC's have already have the Necromancer as a foe, albeit one who dismisses them as an annoyance unworthy of his full attention).

What ever it's worth, there is a canon magus who is also the prior of a monastery: Eloi / Brother Eligius from Cunfin near Clairvaux in the Normandy Tribunal (TLatL p. 109).