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Literature: Brother Cadfael
Series of historical mysteries by Ellis Peters, comprising 20 novels and 3 short stories, published 1977-1994.

Brother Cadfael is the herbalist in the Benedictine monastery in 12th-century Shrewsbury. He is a former soldier who became a monk in later life and consequently has a more worldly experience and outlook than many of his colleagues.

Inspired the 1990s TV series Cadfael, with Derek Jacobi in the title role. The BBC has adapted five of the books for radio, the first two with Glyn Houston as Cadfael and three more with Philip Madoc.

    Books in this series 
  • A Morbid Taste for Bones (1977)
  • One Corpse Too Many (1979)
  • Monk's Hood (1980)
  • Saint Peter's Fair (1981)
  • The Leper of Saint Giles (1981)
  • The Virgin in the Ice (1982)
  • The Sanctuary Sparrow (1983)
  • The Devil's Novice (1983)
  • Dead Man's Ransom (1984)
  • The Pilgrim of Hate (1984)
  • An Excellent Mystery (1985)
  • The Raven in the Foregate (1986)
  • The Rose Rent (1986)
  • The Hermit of Eyton Forest (1988)
  • The Confession of Brother Haluin (1988)
  • A Rare Benedictine: The Advent of Brother Cadfael (1988). Short story collection. The first story takes place almost two decades prior to the original Cadfael novel.
    • A Light on the Road to Woodstock
    • The Price of Light
    • Eye Witness
  • The Heretic's Apprentice (1990)
  • The Potter's Field (1990)
  • The Summer of the Danes (1991)
  • The Holy Thief (1992)
  • Brother Cadfael's Penance (1994)

This series provides examples of:

  • Amateur Sleuth: Cadfael
  • Arranged Marriage: A frequent trope for obvious reasons. Many specific instances are listed on the trope page.
  • Asshole Victim
  • Badass Grandpa:
    • Cadfael.
    • In the Leper of Saint Giles, there's the leper, who despite being seventy and maimed by his disease, manages to best a man in single combat, despite being unarmed while his opponent has a dagger, and then throttle the guy. Never underestimate the power of a just cause.
  • Benevolent Boss: Cadfael's monastery has two abbots over the course of the series, both benevolent.
  • Bluffing the Murderer:
    • Cadfael does this in A Morbid Taste for Bones.
    • Ermina Hugonin in The Virgin in the Ice.
  • Dead Guy Junior: Hugh Beringar and Aline Siward's son is named Giles after Aline's brother.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: The characters adhere to medieval values, such as unquestioning loyalty to one's lord, going on crusades, absolute chastity before marriage and ordeal by battle. Cadfael is not so resolute about many of these ideas but he doesn't protest them either. There are heroic characters who think "outside the box" such as protagonist Cadfael or Earl Ranulf and others who are very strict, imbued to the core with feudal values such as Olivier. The noble, landowning characters also put an emphasis on maintaining and adding to their patrimony that may not sit well with modern readers. Even honorable characters like Hugh Beringar are sympathetic to those who switch sides in order to save their property and raiding for loot or extending borders by force is accepted as a matter of course.
  • The Exotic Detective: Cadfael
  • Faking the Dead
  • Fix Fic: The Reveal in One Corpse too Many offers a possible explanation for a historical action (kill all ninety-four defenders of the Empress' claim to Shrewsbury) by King Stephen that was totally Out of Character for him.
  • Friend on the Force: Sheriff Hugh Beringar is Cadfael's.
  • Good Bad Girl:
    • Avice of Thornbury aka Sister Magdalen.
    • Eluned from The Raven in the Foregate, a sweet girl who can't say no.
  • Good Is Not Dumb:
    • Brother Cadfael is a very intelligent man, quite good at medicine, reading people and bringing the most unnoticeable clues together. He is also remarkably kind and compassionate.
    • Hugh Beringar is a good and honorable person — and devious and ruthless as well.
  • Good Shepherd: Abbot Heribert, in particular.
  • Historical-Domain Character: Many of the secondary characters in the Cadfael novels were based on real persons, including both the abbots, Prior Robert Pennant, King Stephen and Empress Maud, all of the princes and earls mentioned, and even some of the Shrewsbury residents.
  • Historical Fiction: The Cadfael series has been cited in books of Medieval Life for the excellence of its period detail.
  • Ironic Echo: In One Corpse Too Many, Hugh Beringar and Brother Cadfael are competing to find stolen treasure. When Beringar thinks he's won, he offers to toast Cadfael's success "against all opponents but Hugh Beringar." A few paragraphs later, when it's clear how comprehensively Cadfael outwitted him, Cadfael hands him a beaker of wine, and toasts his success — against all opponents but Cadfael.
  • Karmic Death
  • Late-Arrival Spoiler: In One Corpse Too Many, Beringar is introduced as a possible antagonist, not to mention one of the people Cadfael suspects of the murder. Anyone who's read one of the later books will know he's not guilty.
  • Literary Allusion Title: An Excellent Mystery (from the Book of Common Prayer).
  • Luke, You Are My Father: In the Cadfael novel The Virgin in the Ice, Olivier de Bretagne turns out to be Cadfael's son by a woman he loved in his young roving days. This has ramifications later in the series, particularly in the final novel.
  • Moustache de Plume
  • Murder By Inaction: In Raven In The Foregate, it turns out that the victim wasn't murdered (by being hit on the head and thrown in the river) at all. The man who was the prime suspect simply didn't help him when he slipped on some ice, hit a tree stump and slid down the riverbank unconscious.
  • My Master, Right or Wrong: Olivier to Empress Maude. He is presented as pure and noble for it instead of gray.
  • Needle in a Stack of Needles
  • Never Suicide: Or at least never acknowledge that it is suicide - a mortal sin that would deprive the victim of Christian burial.
  • New Old Flame: Richildis, in the Cadfael novel Monk's-Hood
  • Origins Episode: The short story "A Light on the Road to Woodstock", for Brother Cadfael
  • Patronymic: When introducing himself in Wales, Cadfael uses two levels of patronymics: Cadfael ap Meilyr ap Dafydd.
  • Pointy-Haired Boss: Prior Robert Pennant. In Monk's Hood when the abbot is demoted it looks like we're going to see a Tyrant Takes the Helm story, but he is crushed when another man is chosen to be the new abbot.
  • Poisoned Chalice Switcheroo: The truth behind The Potter's Field.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Abbot Radulfus. Saint Peter's Fair shows him both maintaining the traditional rights of the abbey and making accommodations for war-damaged Shrewsbury.
  • Seeking Sanctuary: The Sanctuary Sparrow.
  • Stealth Pun: The title of The Rose Rent ostensibly refers to the annual rent of a single white rose paid by the Abbey to the owner of a house. However, it could equally refer to the climactic moment in which the bush from which the roses are taken is deliberately damaged (i.e. "rent") and its defender pays with his life.
  • Stigmatic Pregnancy Euphemism
  • Sweet Polly Oliver:
    • 'Godric' in One Corpse Too Many.
    • Brother Fidelis in An Excellent Mystery. With some Sweet on Polly Oliver, as Brother Urien attempts Sexual Extortion when he sees something that implicates "him" in a disappearance.
  • Taking the Heat:
    • In The Devil's Novice, this almost gets a double treatment. A lord's second son and The Unfavorite stumbles across his beloved elder brother trying to hide a dead man. He immediately assumes that his brother is the killer, and tells him to get away and establish his alibi. The lord then catches the second son with the corpse and assumes in turn that he is the killer. The young man agrees to become a cloistered monk to spare the family name—but neither the heir nor the second son is the actual murderer. This would be a full-on double example except that the elder son had never had any intention of Taking the Heat himself—he was just trying to dispose of the body after his co-conspirator and friend committed the murder.
    • In The Potter's Field, a young man tries to take the blame for a murder he believes his father committed—to protect the family name. As it happens, his mother knows the truth and it's not what anybody expects.
  • Taking the Veil:
    • Avice of Thornbury in The Leper of St Giles has been a noble's mistress for years. She becomes a nun after his murder as a career not a vocation. Cadfael reflects that with her energy and ability she's likely to end up an Abbess or even a saint. She returns later in the series as Sister Magdalena, and is very much a Distaff Counterpart to Cadfael.
    • In Monk's Hood, Cadfael's New Old Flame Richildis thinks that she's the cause of a gender-flipped version — that Cadfael took the cowl because she married another man. Cadfael doesn't disabuse her of the notion.
    • Also gender-flipped in A Morbid Taste For Bones — Cadfael's sidekick became a monk because his young lady turned him down. It doesn't last.
  • That Old Time Prescription
  • Trial by Combat: Used in One Corpse Too Many. If the murderer was tried normally, evidence distressing to Beringar's love interest would be exposed. In order to keep it secret, Beringar demands the case be settled by combat instead.
  • Uriah Gambit
  • Viewers Are Morons: Some recent American editions change Peters's spelling of Celtic and Norman names, apparently because the publishers think readers are morons. The worst: changing Olivier de Bretagne into Oliver.

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