Authors: Susanna Gregory
Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #General, #Historical
Chancellor Tynkell ascended to the dais when he saw all parties were present, and an expectant hush fell over the assembled
scholars. Bartholomew was some distance away, but he could still detect the stale odour that always
emanated from the University’s figurehead. Tynkell believed that any form of washing was dangerous, and avoided contact with
water if he could. It was rumoured that he did not even like Holy Water on his skin, a tale that had given rise to some wild
speculation about his religious beliefs. Bartholomew knew nothing about Tynkell’s personal theology, but he did know that
the man was plagued by all manner of digestive complaints. When he had had the temerity to suggest that if the Chancellor
rinsed his hands before meals he might lead a more healthy life, Tynkell had promptly dismissed him and hired Rougham instead.
‘Good morning,’ announced Tynkell in his reedy voice. He rubbed his stomach, indicating that he was suffering from whatever
he had last eaten. ‘This is the last of our public debates this term, and the outcome of today’s
Disputatio de quodlibet
will determine which of the Colleges may lay claim to owning the University’s strongest and best disputants. You will be
aware that the “Scholars of the Holy and Undivided Trinity, the Blessed Virgin Mary and St Michael”
the “Scholars of the Hall of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin—”’
‘If he means Michaelhouse and Gonville, then why does he not say so – simply?’ demanded Deynman in a loud whisper that had
the scholars of Gonville howling in derisive laughter and his Michaelhouse colleagues ready to teach them a lesson for their
poor manners. Langelee went to silence Deynman, to ensure he did not embarrass them with further outbursts.
‘Lord!’ muttered Michael, looking around him uneasily. ‘I hope this does not degenerate into a brawl. Being Senior Proctor
is not easy at the best of times, but it is worse when we have five hundred war-thirsty scholars packed into a confined space.’
‘You cannot ban public debates because scholars
squabble,’ said Bartholomew, suspecting that Michael would like to do just that. ‘And not everyone is spoiling for a fight,
anyway. Some are here because they want to hear a good argument.’
‘Have you heard what the Question might be?’ whispered Wynewyk, as Tynkell launched into a tedious account about who had won
quodlibetical disputations in the past. ‘It would be beneficial to think out some of our arguments in advance.’
‘I have not,’ said Michael haughtily. ‘That would be cheating. You know perfectly well that the Question is kept in strictest
secrecy, and that Tynkell is very careful about it. Believe me, I had a good look in his office last night after he had gone
home, but I could find nothing.’
‘I have decided that Master Warde of Valence Marie will preside,’ intoned Tynkell. This was no surprise. Warde was considered
one of the best mediators the University had, and was known for his integrity and even-handedness. He was a good choice.
Warde had apparently anticipated that he would be selected, because he was already waiting. When he heard his name, he climbed
stiffly on to the dais and stood next to the Chancellor. Bartholomew saw him wince when he moved, and supposed he was still
bruised from when Thomas Mortimer had knocked him down the previous Wednesday. He recalled the flailing hoofs and the miller’s
drunkenness, and supposed Warde should consider himself lucky to be alive, given what had happened to Lenne and Isnard a few
moments later. Warde began to cough, and Tynkell was obliged to hammer on his back until he stopped.
‘What is the Question?’ called Langelee, bored with the ponderous preliminaries and keen for the event to begin in earnest.
‘What will they be discussing?’
‘Damn this tickle!’ rasped Warde. There were shocked intakes of breath from those scholars in religious Orders
who disapproved of cursing in church. ‘It is driving me to distraction.’
‘It is driving
to distraction, too,’ mumbled a grey-haired Fellow called Thomas Bingham, also from Valence Marie. ‘You keep us awake at
night with it, and it disrupts our teaching during the day.’
‘The Question is as follows,’ announced Tynkell. There was absolute silence in the nave. He took a breath, relishing the fact
that he had everyone’s attention: it was not often that academics listened
Frequens legum mutato est periculosa
‘A too frequent change in the law is dangerous,’ translated Bartholomew under his breath. ‘I am not the best person to take
part in this particular affray. Most of what I know of the law I find contemptible. It fails to prosecute Thomas Mortimer
for killing Lenne, and it sells pardons to convicted felons.’
‘You cannot withdraw,’ said Wynewyk in alarm. He gestured to the other Michaelhouse Fellows who had gathered to discuss the
topic in low, excited voices. ‘Father William, Clippesby or even Langelee himself might offer to take your place. And then
Gonville would defeat us for certain.’
‘This is a good topic for you,’ said Michael to the lawyer. He shot Bartholomew a stern look. ‘But you must keep your opinions
about our legal system to yourself. We will lose points if you launch into a tirade, no matter how much you long to expose
the law’s idiosyncrasies. But do not worry: the three of us will do the subject justice.’ He sniggered. ‘If the words “justice”
and “law” can be uttered in the same sentence, that is.’
‘We will lose for sure if you make jokes like that,’ said Wynewyk irritably. ‘Do not—’
Tynkell clapped his hands. ‘Commence!’
Wynewyk was the first to speak, and Bartholomew was
impressed, as always, by his colleague’s precise logic. The scholar from Gonville who stepped forward to refute his points
was Bottisham, the kindly Carmelite lawyer who had visited Isnard two days before. He spoke well, without recourse to the
scornful viciousness some scholars employed when attacking their opponents’ reasoning. Michael argued against Bottisham, and
in turn was refuted by Gonville’s second speaker, Richard Pulham. Pulham was a fussy little Cistercian, with the largest ears
Bartholomew had ever seen on a man. When the Master of Gonville was away from Cambridge, which he was most of the time, the
running of his College usually fell to Pulham, who held the post of Acting Master.
Then it was Bartholomew’s turn. He found Pulham’s points easier to refute than he had anticipated, and felt he comported himself
fairly respectably. Debating in front of hundreds of sharp-minded scholars certainly helped to hone the wits, he thought.
The last person to speak was Gonville’s William Rougham. Rougham allowed himself the luxury of a sneer before he began, as
if he considered his fellow physician’s logic seriously lacking.
Rougham was not an attractive man, either physically or in terms of his personality. He had lank black hair that was smoothed
over a shiny pate, and a close-shaven beard was obviously intended to conceal the absence of a chin. His teeth were large,
brown and decayed, so that his breath smelled, and Bartholomew often wondered why he did not pay a surgeon to remove the offending
fangs before they rotted and fell out of their own accord. In terms of scholarship Rougham was pedantic and trivial, and Warde
was obliged to reprimand him several times for making bald statements, rather than using logic to underline his points. Rougham
became flustered, and finished speaking somewhat abruptly.
Once the main arguments had been laid out, the debate
gained momentum and Bartholomew was forced to focus hard, lest Gonville slipped an invalid statement past Michaelhouse. The
scholars in the nave cheered when one College scored a particularly cunning point, and time flew past. Bartholomew’s head
began to ache from the effort of intense concentration, and from the noise and heat inside the building. But eventually Warde
raised his hand to indicate that the Question had been sufficiently discussed. He held up a waxed tablet on which he had been
keeping a tally and, once again, there was an excited hush among the scholars.
‘This was a close-run battle, with clever and elegant postulations and refutations from both sides. However, the arguments
of one College were slightly superior and more succinct than those of the other.’
He stopped speaking and began to cough. There was an audible sigh of irritation throughout the church, and Michael stepped
forward to thump his shoulders, rather vigorously considering the man was about to make an important judgement that reflected
the honour of Michaelhouse.
‘An excess of phlegm,’ announced Rougham, seizing the moment to engage in a little self-promotion. ‘An inconvenient problem,
prescribe a syrup of honey and boiled nettles.’
‘I tried that,’ wheezed Warde. ‘And it did not work.’
‘Then I shall suggest something stronger later,’ said Rougham shortly, not liking the fact that Warde had just denounced his
cure as ineffectual in front of most of the University. ‘But let us return to the business in hand. You were about to announce
‘Yes,’ said Warde, his eyes watering furiously, either from coughing or from Michael’s slaps. ‘I declare the winner is—’ He
faltered a second time when there was a commotion near the west door.
All heads turned at the rattle of spurred feet on the flagstones, and an agitated whispering broke out. The man who caused
the disturbance was cloaked, and had not bothered to remove his sword, as was customary when entering religious houses. He
elbowed his way through the throng to the dais.
‘Now what?’ murmured Michael uneasily. ‘I see from his livery that he is from the papal court in Avignon. Why would the Pope
send a message to anyone in Cambridge?’
‘Perhaps Innocent the Sixth is dead, and we have another French puppet in his place,’ suggested Bottisham, not without rancour.
‘This schism between Avignon and Rome is a ridiculous state of affairs. It is time the papacy was wrested from French control
and returned to Rome, where it belongs.’
Warde agreed. ‘We are at war with the French, and it is not fair that they should exert power over us through the Church in
‘Which one of you is Chancellor Tynkell?’ asked the messenger in a clear, ringing voice. ‘And Richard Pulham, Acting Master
of Gonville Hall?’
The two men stepped forward unwillingly. In an age when it was easy to make accusations of treason and heresy – but far more
difficult to prove innocence – no one liked being singled out for special attention from a man like the French Pope.
‘I have news from Avignon,’ said the messenger in a voice that was loud enough to be heard at the other end of the town. Bartholomew
sensed he was enjoying himself, with his dramatic entrance and town-crier-like pronouncements. ‘From John Colton, the Master
of Gonville Hall, who, as you know, has been engaged on important business in the papal curia.’
‘Hardly!’ muttered Michael in Bartholomew’s ear. ‘Colton’s only “important business” has been to further his
own career by following Bishop Bateman of Norwich all over the world. When Bateman went to Avignon in the King’s service,
there also went Colton. The man is like a leech.’
Bartholomew refrained from pointing out that Michael was in the service of a bishop himself, and might well follow him to
Avignon, if he thought it might be worth his while.
‘Colton wishes me to inform you that Bishop Bateman is dead,’ said the messenger. ‘He was murdered – perhaps
– at Avignon on the sixth day of January this year.’
The death of the popular Bishop of Norwich was a significant event in Cambridge, even though the town was officially under
the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Ely. People were saddened by the news, especially since Bateman’s demise was rumoured to
have been at the hand of an enemy. The scholars of Gonville were especially distressed, because the Bishop had been instrumental
in founding their College, and had been generous to them with his time and his money. Bateman would be missed, and most scholars
felt the world was a poorer place without him in it.
The atmosphere in the church changed after the announcement, and the excited discussions about whether Michaelhouse or Gonville
were better disputants were forgotten as scholars exchanged reminiscences of Bate-man’s gentleness and integrity. Bottisham
was affected particularly. His face was grey and sad, and Bartholomew thought he had aged ten years within a few moments.
‘I cannot tell you how much we will miss him,’ he said to Bartholomew. Rougham was nearby, and came to join them. ‘I hope
Gonville will not flounder now he is not here to protect us.’
‘I do not see why it should,’ said Bartholomew, surprised that Bottisham should think his College so frail. ‘It is well
established, with its own endowments and properties to pay for its running. Michaelhouse lost its founder within three years,
but we are still here.’
‘However, we are talking about a superior institution when we discuss Gonville,’ interposed Rougham haughtily. ‘Not some run-down
place like Michaelhouse.’
Bartholomew gaped at him, thinking it was small wonder that so many academic institutions were at each other’s throats if
they made a habit of issuing such brazen insults. Unwilling to allow such rudeness to pass unremarked, he addressed Rougham
icily. ‘Our theologians are second to none, and Wynewyk is one of the best civil lawyers in the country.’
‘Michaelhouse is a mixture of good and bad,’ said Rougham, his voice equally chilly. ‘Suttone, Kenyngham, Wynewyk, Clippesby
– and even the hedonistic Michael – are acceptable. Langelee and William are not. You
be, if you paid more heed to traditional wisdom and less to heretical notions invented by men like Roger Bacon.’
‘I was most interested in Bacon’s analysis of the rate of time-drift at the equinox,’ said Bottisham hastily, hoping to prevent
a quarrel. ‘He calculated that the removal of a day from the Julian calendar every one hundred and twenty-five years – rather
than the Gregorian adjustment of three days in every four hundred – will hold the equinox steady.’