Death of a King


P. C. Doherty


Mystery / Thriller


Date Reviewed:

January 21, 2022

fter reading and enjoying Spy in Chancery by the remarkably prolific P. C. Doherty, I decided to dig up the first novel that he wrote (published way back in 1985): Death of a King. It seems clear that this novel lead to the successful Hugh Corbett series that soon followed; Satan in St. Mary's, the first book in the Hugh Corbett series, was published in December of 1986. Like the Hugh Corbett books, Death of a King stars a Chancery clerk, in this book the clerk is named Edmund Beche. Beche is summoned to the royal court. The king (in this case, it is Edward III, whereas Hugh Corbett answered to Edward I) demands that Beche investigate the death of his father, Edward II. It is a strange request, because Edward II has been dead for sixteen years - just what exactly is it that King Edward III wants Beche to determine?

Beche quickly learns that there are a number of inexplicable circumstances regarding the death of Edward II. Edward II was not a well-loved king. He was rumored to have had male lovers. His closest advisors were the much reviled, greedy Despensers; Hugh the Elder and Hugh the Younger. Eventually, Queen Isabella, the wife of Edward II, grew so disgusted with the king's behavior that she led a revolt against the king, abetted by the equally greedy Roger Mortimer. The Despensers were executed, and King Edward II was held prisoner in Berkeley Castle. A raiding party led by the loyalist Dunheved brothers attacked Berkeley Castle and attempt to free King Edward II, but although they got inside the castle walls, they were driven off. Most were killed, the rest were captured and subsequently all died in prison of "goal fever". Mortimer and Queen Isabella's rule lasted by five years, after which Edward III successfully claimed his father's throne, had Mortimer executed, and his mother, Queen Isabella confined to house arrest.

Beche wants to know why Edward the II was not buried at Westminster like all the other English royalty. Instead Edward II was entombed at Gloucester cathedral.

Why weren't the royal physicians used to dress the body? Instead, Queen Isabella had a local old crone prepare Edward II for burial. The whereabouts and the identity of this unknown old woman remain a mystery.

There were three gaolers charged with guarding Edward III at Berkeley Castle - John Maltravers, Thomas Guerney, and the hunchback William Ockle. Although the castle is owned by Thomas Berkeley, Lord Berkeley wisely kept his distance from the confinement of the king. What was the fate of these ruffians, and why did Edward III specifically say to Edmund Beche: "...your task is to research the background of my father's death. Not, I repeat, not to hunt down his murderers. That is the task of others."

With so many questions, and the case sixteen years old, and most of the witnesses long since disappeared, Beche embarks on his search for information. He interviews the few people still alive who might know some information, including the ruthless and dangerous Queen Isabella. Unlike Hugh Corbett, Edmund Beche proves to be handy with weapons and capable of fighting - which comes into play more than once. Medieval England was a dangerous place, murder and violence were commonplace. Beche is constantly on guard, and beset by forces that would prefer that he doesn't uncover the truth.

I had just recently finished another novel set in the reign of Edward III - The Lady Chapel by Candace Robb. It was interesting to see Edward III appear again as a character in another mystery novel. Apparently, the death of Edward II is an actual historical mystery - not as famous as the disappearance of the two princes from the Tower of London under Richard III, but a mystery nonetheless. It is widely presumed that Edward II was murdered. Doherty has Beche follow the clues and offers the reader a possible explanation of what might have occurred.

Like Spy in Chancery, Death of a King is a fast read at just 176 pages. Doherty's style is crisp and plot driven. Beche ends up in Edward III's army and participates in the famous Battle of Crecy - and this major battle is detailed in just a few pages. Each chapter in this book is presented as a letter from Beche to his trusted friend, Richard Bliton, Prior of Crowland Abbey. The mysteries and discoveries that Beche uncovers are too amazing and dangerous for Beche to bear alone, and so with each letter to Richard, Beche describes his harrowing investigation, his conclusions from the available clues, and next steps he intends to take.

Once again, P. C. Doherty has entertained me with his medieval mystery, so I hope to find the first Hugh Corbett tale and read that next.