The Hermit of Eyton Forest

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The Hermit of Eyton Forest
First edition
Author Ellis Peters
Series The Cadfael Chronicles
Genre Mystery novel
Publisher Headline
Publication date
Media type Print (Hardcover, Paperback), audio book & e-book
Pages 224 (Hardcover) 240 (Paperback)
ISBN 0-7472-0037-8
OCLC 604439564
Preceded by The Rose Rent
Followed by The Confession of Brother Haluin

The Hermit of Eyton Forest is a medieval mystery novel by Ellis Peters, set in the autumn of 1142. It is the 14th novel in the Cadfael Chronicles and was first published in 1987 (1987 in literature).

The mystery is set in the Anarchy, the continuing battles between King Stephen and Empress Maud, now besieged in Oxford Castle. Sheriff Hugh Beringar and Brother Cadfael work together to untangle the threads of this mystery brought to them by both the civil war and the cruel ways of lords in other shires.

Plot summary[edit]

On 18 October 1142, Richard Ludel, lord of Eaton manor, dies of wounds taken at the battle of Lincoln in February 1141. Sheriff Hugh Beringar has charge of the manor lands for King Stephen, with the steward John of Longwood to run the manor. Abbot Radulfus is guardian of the son. Brother Paul informs young Richard, 10 years old, that he is orphaned, and lord of Eaton manor. Richard is educated at the Abbey per his father's wish. His grandmother, Dame Dionisia Ludel does not believe in such education for a lord. Her goal is to marry the boy to Hiltrude, daughter of Fulke Astley, who will inherit the estates on either side of Eaton manor: Wroxeter and Leighton. She aims at increasing family lands and her own power.

Dame Dionisia gives the hermit Cuthred and his helper Hyacinth a disused hermit's chapel. The local folks rapidly accept the hermit in their midst. He and his helper are present at the funeral of Richard's father. Otherwise, Cuthred never leaves his small residence.

In November, Eilmund, forester for the Abbey, reports unusual damage in the Eyton Forest to young trees and plants. Cuthred sends Hyacinth to tell the Abbot this is punishment for Richard being kept at the Abbey. Needing a friend to tell him about his lands, Richard approaches Hyacinth. They form a pact. Returning to the hermitage, Hyacinth saves Eilmund in Eyton Forest. He rolls a fallen willow tree off him. Local men carry Eilmund to his assart. Hyacinth runs ahead to warn Annet, Eilmund's daughter. She asks Hyacinth to fetch Brother Cadfael to set her father's broken leg.

Hugh Beringar shares the latest news in the conflict between King Stephen and the Empress Maud. She is held under siege in Oxford Castle. The Empress sent a messenger from there to Brian Fitzcount, Lord of Wallingford. Renaud Bourchier's horse was found, with empty saddlebags, and no sign of the man.

Drogo Bosiet and his groom Warin of Northamptonshire arrive at the Abbey, hunting a villein named Brand, who fled his manor. Abbot Radulfus is not well inclined to Drogo's goal, so recommends him to the sheriff for aid. After Vespers, Brother Jerome, ever righteous, meets with Drogo to tell him that the hermit's helper bears resemblance to the villein Brand. Richard overhears this threat to his new friend Hyacinth, and rides his pony to warn Hyacinth, finding him in the Eyton Forest. Hyacinth avoids the hermitage, as Richard heads back to the Abbey. That day, Brother Cadfael rides back from Eilmund's assart, leaving in darkness. Cadfael encounters Drogo's horse, then the body of Drogo Bosiet, killed by a knife in his back. In the morning, Hugh Beringar and Cadfael inspect the corpse and the scene. Drogo was stabbed in the back as he walked his horse on the forest path en route to the Abbey. No knife is found. The motive for the murder is not obvious. The Abbot added Brother Jerome's conversation, revealing Drogo's destination to the hermitage.

Cuthred tells Hugh and Cadfael that Drogo visited him the day before, but Hyacinth has been absent since then. Cuthred met Hyacinth, a beggar at the gates of the Cluniac priory in Northampton, at the end of September. Cadfael learns that Richard has not been seen in the Abbey since the day before at Vespers. Hugh sets a manhunt for both Richard, suspected kidnapped, and Hyacinth, suspected of murder.

Cadfael talks with Rafe of Coventry, of the Earl of Warwick, staying at the Abbey. At the alms box, Cadfael sees a coin from Rafe is struck with the image of the Empress. Rafe comes from Oxford. When Cadfael asks if he is come to find the murderer of Bourchier, Rafe says no.

Cadfael finds the much-sought Hyacinth by following Annet as she meets him. Annet, Eilmund and Hyacinth bring Cadfael in on their secrets. Annet loves Hyacinth and her father approves it. They hide Hyacinth during this manhunt. Hyacinth was with Annet at the time of the murder. Innocence is not sufficient; he is not safe until the manhunt is stopped. Hyacinth describes his bad treatment at Drogo's hands. Bosiet distrained Hyacinth's father's lands before his death, leaving Hyacinth landless, but with skill in fine leather work. Hyacinth ran after he beat up the steward when he chanced on him raping a local girl. Cadfael promises to keep Hyacinth's secret, at odds with his promise to Hugh.

Drogo's son Aymer arrives at the Abbey still focussed on finding the villein. Once Aymer gives up his chase and takes his father home for burial, Cadfael can resolve the conflict of the two promises he made to Hugh and to Hyacinth.

Hyacinth seeks Richard at Leighton, the manor not yet searched. Hearing a young woman travelling with her father Astley on horseback in the darkness, he knows he is right. He finds Richard locked in a room, but cannot free him. Learning that the hermit Cuthred will act as the priest, Hyacinth persuades Richard to go along with the ceremony. After the marriage ceremony, Richard gains respect for Hiltrude; he shares why he agreed to the ceremony. She is delighted. They plan Richard's escape. Richard begins his ride after the midday meal. Astley becomes aware of the missing Richard. He is angry and in immediate pursuit.

They arrive dramatically in the Abbey courtyard, Richard first on his pony. Richard falls off the pony and grabs the Abbot's legs, making clear where he wants to be. The courtyard is full, as Vespers has just ended. Astley and Abbot Radulfus face off. Astley wants his son-in-law. The Abbot takes control. Before a rapt audience, Richard shouts out why he agreed to the ceremony, that Cuthred is not a priest. At this, Rafe slips away. Abbot Radulfus plans to meet Cuthred the next morning, with Astley. Hugh Beringar returns from Leighton on a wild goose chase for Richard. He is not kindly inclined to Astley, so mutes him with mention of kidnapping charges. Aymer Bosiet has not yet left the Abbey, still a threat to Hyacinth.

At the unexpectedly silent hermitage, Hugh sees Cuthred lying dead at the foot of the altar, his own knife near his hand. Everything is orderly except the sprawled body. A small casket is broken open and empty. Hugh and Cadfael notice the absence of the breviary. Blood shows on the tip of Cuthred's knife. Dame Dionisia arrives. She is jolted by the sight of the dead man, realising how death can come at any moment, even hers.

Aymer Bosiet recognises the face of the dead hermit. He and his father had met him at Thame one night. He was dressed differently, hair cut in the Norman style, a man who wore weapons, but rode no horse. They played dice and chess with him. Thus is explained the murder of Drogo. The hermit would not risk discovery by a chance-met stranger. Aymer leaves the Abbey. Cadfael brings Hyacinth out of hiding. Hugh calls off the manhunt, as they go to Eilmund's place. When Hyacinth and Cuthred met, Cuthred was well dressed. Hyacinth stole a habit for him at the priory, for his transformation to hermit. When Cuthred told Dame Dionisia he was a priest, she believed him, but it was not true. Hugh tells Hyacinth he is free to seek work in the town. In a year and a day, he will come to ask for Annet as his wife.

Rafe seeks Cadfael to treat his long knife wound. Rafe de Genville, vassal to Brian FitzCount, loyal to the Empress will restore to Brian what is his, recovered in a fair fight between Rafe and the hermit. Rafe found the jewels he sought in the reliquary. A personal letter was hidden in the breviary, already read by the dead man—seal broken. Rafe asks, was his action sin? In his day, Cadfael would have done the same.

Cadfael tells Hugh that he let Rafe go. Horse with no man, man with no horse, Cadfael had linked these together. Hugh recoils upon realising the full horror of the first crime that Renaud Bourchier committed, fouler than murder. Deliberate dishonor from the thievery and the potential for blackmail of the Empress, if the Empress's husband in Normandy sought divorce—these are the calculations Bourchier was making. Hugh is persuaded Rafe acted rightly.

Honour is upheld, the lovers are united, and Richard is safe at school.


  • Brother Cadfael: Herbalist in the Benedictine monastery at Shrewsbury, about 62 in this story. Though long a monk here, he lived as Crusader and sailor before settling near his native Wales. His besetting sin is curiosity.
  • Abbot Radulfus: He is head of the Abbey of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, based on the real abbot of that year.[1] He was introduced in Monk's Hood.
  • Prior Robert Pennant: He is a monk of aristocratic upbringing,and expectations. He succeeded as abbot after Radulfus, and was introduced in A Morbid Taste for Bones.[1]
  • Brother Paul: He is the monk in charge of the education of the novices and the four young boys at the monastery for schooling.
  • Brother Jerome: He is clerk to Prior Robert and confessor of the novices. He likes to report on others, to hear the sound of his own voice, and is rather critical of Brother Paul's ways with the education of the young.
  • Brother Winfrid: He is newly assigned to help Cadfael in the herbarium and gardens. He is a monk of about 20 years old; strong but slow, he will do for Cadfael.
  • Richard Ludel: He is the only son of Sir Richard Ludel, now 10 years old. He is educated at the Abbey at the direction of his father, in the charge of Abbot Radulfus per an agreement made in the prior year. Richard's mother died earlier; his paternal grandmother is the relative left him. Of the aristocracy, he is the lord of Eaton Manor on his father's death. He is a lively and observant boy, and persistent.
  • Sir Richard Ludel: He was the Lord of Eaton Manor southeast of the Abbey, whose liege lord was once William FitzAlan who sided with the Empress; the lands were taken by King Stephen. Sir Richard supported the King by joining the Battle of Lincoln, where he took an ultimately fatal wound. Widowed, he made an agreement for Abbot Radulfus to care for and educate his son until he was of age. He dies at age 35 as the story opens.
  • Dame Dionisia Ludel: She is grandmother to young Richard, and a strong woman with desires to enlarge the family's property by her grandson's marriage. She is more distant than fond with her grandson, about 55 years old.
  • John of Longwood: He is the steward of Eaton Manor, responsible to Hugh Beringar until young Richard is of age. He manages it fully since the father returned wounded from the battle of Lincoln.
  • Hiltrude Astley: She is heir to two manors either side of Eaton Manor. Her father and Richard's grandmother want her to marry young Richard to merge the manors. Hiltrude prefers a young man nearer her age of 22.
  • Sir Fulke Astley: He is the father of Hiltrude, and owner of manors at Wroxeter and Leighton. He is a strong man, nearing 50 years old.
  • Hugh Beringar: He is Sheriff of Shropshire, with manors in Maesbury in the north of the shire. About 27 years old, he is married to Aline and father of young Giles. He is King Stephen's man, and a close friend, minds and ethics alike, with Brother Cadfael. He was introduced in One Corpse Too Many.
  • Cuthbert: He is the hermit who recently entered Shropshire. Dame Dionisia Ludel gave him the use of an old stone chapel with a room attached. He was recommended by monks at the Savigniac house of Buildwas, a small monastery nearby, and quickly accepted as a saint of the Celtic sort (that is, no need for the canonisation process) by the local people.
  • Hyacinth: He is about 20 years old, and arrives with Cuthbert to run his errands, as the hermit is bound to his chapel. He is an attractive and strong but wiry young man, who heard the "old story of a youth of that name" from a priest, as Hyacinth related to Abbot Radulfus. An "unnerving fairy thing" in contrast to the hermit of Eyton forest. He has reddish brown hair, the colour of copper beeches.
  • Eilmund: He is the Forester for Abbey lands to the southeast of the Abbey, the Eyton Forest.
  • Annet: She is the daughter of Eilmund and resides with him in their forest cottage. She loves Hyacinth.
  • Drogo Bosiet: He is the Lord of a manor in Northamptonshire, travelling a long ways solely to find an escaped villein they call Brand, both to punish the man and have the value of his skills. He is in his mid-fifties.
  • Warin: He is groom to Drogo Bosiet, and a testament to the cruel nature of his master, suffering wounds from almost every encounter with Drogo. So close to Wales and freedom from his villein status, he does not run because he has a family at the Bosiet Manor.
  • Aymer Bosiet: He is the elder son of Drogo, travelling separately in this hunt for the escaped villein. He is much like his father in favouring hate over love, power over stronger ties with others., and about 30 years old.
  • Renaud Bourchier: He is a knight in the service of the Empress Maud, sent before the siege of Oxford to carry a message and funds to Brian Fitz Count. He never reached nearby Wallingford Castle, but his horse was found along the way, with evidence of theft and violence. His body was not found.
  • Rafe of Coventry: He is another late fall visitor to the Abbey, falconer to the Earl of Warwick, travelling on his lord's business. He is armed and travelling alone; of quiet habits, and of a size with Cadfael.

Themes and Setting in History[edit]

The story is set in Shrewsbury and environs. Shrewsbury Abbey continues, and its history notes Abbott Radulfus (sometimes known as Ranulf) and Prior Robert Pennant as real people in its history.[1] Remains of some of the places stand today,[2] and can be seen from one of the trails.[3] The manors at Wroxeter and Leighton are real places close to Shrewsbury.[4]

The Anarchy, a period of dispute over who was rightful king, was deep in its tangle. King Stephen held the crown, while his cousin Empress Maud claimed she was the rightful successor to her father King Henry I. She and her forces engaged in battles with King Stephen's forces. The prior year, King Stephen had been taken and imprisoned for several months, as his own brother, Henry, Bishop of Winchester turned his coat twice. Even with the field thus clear, Empress Maud was unable to garner sufficient support in the key city of London to be crowned.

King Stephen's wife, Queen Matilda, led the army when her husband was imprisoned, and succeeded both in pressing London with their forces just outside the city and in taking Robert of Gloucester as prisoner. Robert was the main support of his half-sister, allowing negotiation for the release of King Stephen. Immediately after that drama, Empress Maud moved to Oxford. King Stephen's brother, the powerful Bishop Henry, again supported the King, even worked to sway supporters of Maud to join the King for the sake of the nation. After a period of illness, King Stephen began again to take strategic towns, like Wareham and besieged Empress Maud in Oxford, all as related in the story. Geoffrey of Anjou, second husband of Maud and father of their children, was more interested in conquests in Normandy, where he was in the time of this novel, than in helping his wife in any way. Robert of Gloucester was sent, nonetheless, to persuade Geoffrey to help his wife. He returned at the end of October to Wareham[5] as the siege of Oxford continued, with Empress Maud trapped in Oxford Castle by that siege.[6][7][8]

Empress Maud would not stop battling, but could not win for herself.

The plot of the novel arises from the very real chaotic political situation of fall 1142 in England. Brian Fitz Count was one of her strongest supporters on the battlefield and in the long run.[9] It was rumoured that they were lovers. During the siege of Oxford, Brian Fitz Count was running low on funds at his place in Wallingford Castle, supporting soldiers in her cause.

Hermit monks of the Anchorite following were a feature of medieval England.[10][11]

The choice of the name Hyacinth for the attractive and handsome young man who arrives in the novel as the boy to assist the hermit Cuthred is also of the medieval period. In our modern era, it is simply the name of a spring flower. In Greek mythology, Hyacinth is killed because two of the gods pursue him for his beauty; from his blood sprang a beautiful flower. In pre-Hellenic myths, he was the "classical metaphor of the death and rebirth of nature", which well suits the villein who is fought over by his lord, disappears from his home to reappear in a new place, fall in love, make new friends and a new life. Hyacinth relates a very brief version of the Greek myth as an "old story" he heard from a priest, when Abbot Radulfus asks about his name when the two first meet. Abbot Radulfus mentions having heard of a bishop by that name. Perhaps he means the man who later became Cardinal Hyacinth and at the end of his long life, Pope Celestine III,[12][13] or a Cardinal Hyacinth mentioned as a correspondent to Thomas Becket.[14]

Many characters in this novel, beyond the Benedictine Abbey itself, were of the landed gentry, with manors to direct, to gain by marriage, and to inherit. In the feudal system, they owed allegiance to their liege lord, and had both free and villein workers doing the work on the land or in the house.[15] The group of characters who were either free men or villeins held distinctly different views of the Sheriff, and the law in general, as a protector of their life and property. Where the landed gentry relied on the Sheriff to serve them, the class with skilled trades or who worked the land knew their innocence had to be completely proved before facing the Sheriff.

The themes of the novel include the medieval sense of honour; loyalty, and its reverse in a nation, treason.


This novel earned some high praise, along with disappointment in the characters.

Kirkus Reviews found this novel worthy of praise:

Another in the ever-fascinating Brother Cadfael chronicles (The Rose Rent, etc.). taking the reader back to 12th-century England, where Cadfael's Benedictine Abbey in Shrewsbury is relatively untouched by the country's civil war. There's a different war being waged there, however, after the death of Richard Ludel, Lord of Eaton. His ten-year-old son and heir Richard, placed in the care of Abbot Radulfus years before, has been kidnapped from the Abbey by his imperious grandmother Dionisia in a scheme to marry him to Hiltrude, daughter of neighbouring landowner Fulke Astley, and thus to magnify the holdings of both. Stalwart, clever Richard was entrapped by his own good will towards Hyacinth, a runaway serf, object of a vindictive manhunt by brutal Drogo Bosiet and his son Aymer. Now Hyacinth, acting as servant to hermit and self-designated holy man Cuthred, is forced to hide, with help from new-found love Annet. And when Bosiet pere is found stabbed to death in the forest, the hunt is truly on—not only for his killer but for the missing Richard. Cadfael teams with Sheriff Hugh Beringar, as he has many times before, to solve those puzzles, a second murder, the mystery of an older, never-solved crime, and the part played in all of it by reticent Abbey visitor Rafe De Genville. Swift-moving, intricate plotting, richly tapestried background, and unpretentious but literate style in the telling once again work their magic as Peters continues to enthrall.

Pub Date: March 15th, 1988

Publisher: Mysterious Press—dist. by Ballantine[16]

Publishers Weekly was not impressed with the characters:

Unfortunately, most of the characters are glibly superficial: lovers are fair and pure; villains cruel and swarthy. In his 14th appearance, however, Brother Cadfael remains as shrewd and unpredictable as ever. (March)[17]

By contrast, Library Journal, writing about the audio book, said

No one is exactly what they seem, and more than one character has a past that bears closer examination. Add to this several subplots and a large amount of political intrigue, and you have a great story. Although Brother Cadfael is more an observer than an actor in this work, bodies and red herrings pile up in a satisfying way before all the puzzles are solved."[17]

Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly and Library Journal write reviews about a month in advance of a book's first publication. The first two reviews were written in 1987, with the third a few years later when the audio book was released.

Publication history[edit]

Fantastic Fiction lists six hardback editions in English, from 1987 to 2001. The first edition was issued in June 1987 by Headline Book Publishing, ISBN 0747200378 / 9780747200376 (UK edition); the latest in June 2001 by Chivers Large print, Chivers, Windsor, Paragon & C, ISBN 0754015904 / 9780754015901 (UK edition). There are nine paperback editions from 1987 to 2002; the latest in April 2002 by Chivers Large print (Chivers, Windsor, Paragon & C, ISBN 0754024512 / 9780754024514 (UK edition). Four audio cassette editions from 1994–98; two audio CD edition from 2001 and the latest in May 2013 by Blackstone Audiobooks, ISBN 1470886820 / 9781470886820; and an MP3 edition in February 2012.

The Kindle edition was released in July 2013, ISBN B00E1X36MQ.[18]

Goodreads lists 33 editions of The Hermit of Eyton Forest, in English, Italian, French, German, Polish, Dutch. Editions are in hardback, paperback, audio cassette, audio CD, and MP3 player, published from 1988 to 1 March 2012.[19]

  • French: L'ermite de la forêt d'Eyton (Frère Cadfael, #14), Published 31 August 2002 by 10/18, Mass Market Paperback, 280 pages, Serge Chwat (Translator) ISBN 9782264033406
  • Italian: L'eremita della foresta, Published 1998 by Longanesi, La gaja scienza #550, Hardcover, 228 pages, Elsa Pelitti (Translator) ISBN 9788830414693
  • German: Der geheimnisvolle Eremit [The Mysterious Hermit] (Bruder Cadfael, #14), Published 1991 by Heyne Deutsche Erstausgabe, Paperback, 284 pages, urgen Langowski (Translator) ISBN 9783453048416
  • Dutch: Het stille woud [The Silent Forest], Published 1990 by De Boekerij, Paperback, 208 pages, Pieter Janssens (Translator) ISBN 9789022511367
  • Polish: Pustelnik Z Lasu Eyton, Published 2006 by Zysk i S-ka, 275 pages, ISBN 9788372989215

In addition to editions in English, French, German and Spanish, WorldCat lists a 2000 book edition in Korean.[20]

  • Spanish: El Ermitaño de Eyton Forest, Published by Grupo Editorial Random House Mondadori : Debolsillo, 2002, [Barcelona], María Antonia Menini ITranslator), Los Jet de Plaza & Janés, 283 pages, ISBN 9788497591737
  • Korean: 에이튼숲의은둔자 : 엘리스피터스장편소설 / Eit'ŭn sup ŭi ŭndunja : Ellisŭ P'it'ŏsŭ changp'yŏn sosŏl, Author: 김훈옮김 ; Ellis Peters, Published by 북하우스, Sŏul-si : Buk Hausŭ, 2000, ISBN 9788987871523


  1. ^ a b c "History". Shrewsbury Abbey. 
  2. ^ "Brother Cadfael Car Trails in the Shropshire Countryside". Shropshire Tourism. 
  3. ^ "Trail Map A of Trail showing Eyton". Shropshire Tourism. 
  4. ^ "Ordnance Survey of Great Britain New Popular Edition, Sheet 118 – Shrewsbury". Retrieved 27 November 2012. 
  5. ^ Bradbury p 86
  6. ^ "Oxford Castle, Oxfordshire". Retrieved 2012-11-27. 
  7. ^ "Siege of Oxford, History of England". World History Database. Retrieved 27 November 2012. 
  8. ^ Rob Attar (February 2010). "Oxford Castle". BBC History Magazine. Retrieved 27 November 2012. 
  9. ^ "Brian Fitz Count mini biography". Retrieved 27 November 2012. 
  10. ^ "The Rule of St. Benedict, c.530". Fordham University. Retrieved 27 November 2012. 
  11. ^ Rotha Mary Clay (1914). "The Hermits and Anchorites of England". Retrieved 27 November 2012. 
  12. ^ "Pope Celestine III". Ashgate. Retrieved 27 November 2012. 
  13. ^ John Doran, Damian J. Smith (2008). Pope Celestine III (1191–1198): diplomat and pastor. Ashgate. Retrieved 27 November 2012. 
  14. ^ Sharon Turner (1853). "The History of England Middle Ages Vol I" (First ed.). London: Longman, Brown, Green and Longmans. p. 238 Note 124. 
  15. ^ "Villein". Middle Ages Website. 
  16. ^ Ellis Peters. "The Hermit of Eyton Forest". Retrieved 27 November 2012. 
  17. ^ a b "Editorial Reviews". 
  18. ^ "The Hermit of Eyton Forest, Kindle edition". FantasticFiction. July 2013. Retrieved 2 August 2013. 
  19. ^ "The Hermit of Eyton Forest". GoodReads. Retrieved 2 August 2013. 
  20. ^ "The Hermit of Eyton Forest". WorldCat. Retrieved 2 August 2013. 


Jim Bradbury (2001). The Routledge Companion to Medieval Warfare. Google Books. Retrieved 10 January 2012.