Steve C's LOGO
[ Home > Cadfael > The Author ]


Ellis Peters 1913-1995

adfael was written by the author Ellis Peters. Ellis Peters is the pen name of Edith Pargeter.

Born in Horsehay in Shropshire on 28th September 1913, with her brother Ellis and sister Margaret, she grew up in an atmosphere rich in the love of music, literature and culture. Edith attended Coalbrookdale High School, and even in those days, was known as the girl who never stopped writing.

When World War II broke out, Edith left her job as chemist's assistant to join the WRNS as a teleprinter operator, at Western Approaches HQ in Liverpool. In recognition of the role she played, she was awarded the "British Empire Medal", which she always insisted was for the whole of her watch, of which she was only a part.

By VE day Edith already had ten novels to her credit, including "She Goes to War" and the "Eight Champions of Christendom".

In 1947 she and Ellis joined a young workers summer school in Czechoslovakia, and immediately felt an affinity with its people, and made lifelong friendships. Edith taught herself Czech and translated many of their major literary works. They awarded her a gold medal in 1968 for her accomplishments.

Many more novels followed, but it is for her historical novels of the Shropshire Welsh Border country that she will be remembered. "The Brothers of Gwyned Quartet" and "The Heaven Tree Trilogy" Edith considered to be here best works. Most of all she will live on as the creator of the Shrewsbury Abbey Based medieval sleuth "Brother Cadfael", who often gave voice to her own philosophy of life and religion. The twenty Cadfael novels are published in countless languages, and talking books, and the television series staring Derek Jacobi, is shown in many countries, drawing visitors and fans from all over the world to present day Shrewsbury. They come both to see the home of Cadfael, but also to revel in an area steeped in very real history.

It is therefore appropriate that Edith is remembered with a permanent memorial in the Abbey Church which she loved.

She also was awarded the British Crime Writers Association's Cartier Diamond Dagger Award, the coveted Mystery Writers of America's Edgar, an OBE (Order of the British Empire) from Queen Elizabeth II, an honorary MA from Birmingham University, and numerous other awards. She died in 1995 at the age of 82 in her beloved Shropshire, England.

Writing in 1988, she said:

Brother Cadfael sprang to life suddenly and unexpectedly when he was already approaching sixty, mature, experienced fully armed and seventeen years tonsured. He emerged as the necessary protagonist when I had the idea of deriving a plot for a murder mystery from the true history of Shrewsbury Abbey in the twelfth century, and needed the high mediaeval equivalent of a detective, an observer and agent of justice in the centre of the action. I had no idea then what I was launching on the world, nor to how demanding a mentor I was subjecting myself. Nor did I intend a series of books about him, indeed I went on immediately to write a modern detective novel, and returned to the twelfth century and Shrewsbury only when I could no longer resist the temptation to shape another book round the siege of Shrewsbury and the massacre of the garrison by King Stephen, which followed shortly after the prior's expedition into Wales to bring back the relics of Saint Winifred for his Abbey. From then on Brother Cadfael was well into his stride, and there was no turning back.

Since the action in the first book was almost all in Wales, and even in succeeding ones went back and forth freely across the border, just as the history of Shrewsbury always has, Cadfael had to be Welsh, and very much at home there. His name was chosen as being so rare that I can find it only once in Welsh history, and even in that instance it disappears almost as soon as it is bestowed in baptism. Saint Cadog, contemporary and rival of Saint David, a powerful saint in Glamorgan, was actually christened Cadfael, but ever after seems to have been familiarly known, as Sir John Lloyd says, as Cadog. A name of which the saint had no further need, and which appears, as far as I know, nowhere else, seemed just the thing for my man. No implication of saintliness was intended, though indeed when affronted Saint Cadog seems to have behaved with the unforgiving ferocity of most of his kind, at least in legend. My monk had to be a man of wide worldly experience and an inexhaustible fund of resigned tolerance for the human condition. His crusading and seafaring past, with all its enthusiasms and disillusionments, was referred to from the beginning. Only later did readers begin to wonder and ask about his former roving life, and how and why he became a monk.

For reasons of continuity I did not wish to go back in time and write a book about his crusading days. Whatever else may be true of it, the entire sequence of novels proceeds steadily season by season, year by year, in a progressive tension which I did not want to break. But when I had the opportunity to cast a glance behind by way of a short story, to shed light on his vocation, I was glad to use it.

So here he is, not a convert, for this is not a conversion. In an age of relatively uncomplicated faith, not yet obsessed and tormented by cantankerous schisms, sects and politicians, Cadfael has always been an unquestioning believer. What happens to him on the road to Woodstock is simply the acceptance of a revelation from within that the life he has lived to date, active, mobile and often violent, has reached its natural end, and he is confronted by a new need and a different challenge.

In India it is not unknown for a man who has possessed great power and wealth to discard everything when he reaches a certain age - recognisable to him when it comes not by dates and times, but by an inward certainty - put on the yellow robe of a sannyasi, and go away with nothing but a begging bowl, at once into the world and out of it.

Given the difference in climate and tradition between the saffron robe and the voluminous black habit, the solitary with the wilderness for his cloister, and the wall suddenly enclosing and embracing the traveller over half the world, that is pretty much what Cadfael does in entering the Rule of Saint Benedict in the Abbey of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, at Shrewsbury.

Thereafter, on occasions and for what he feels to be good reasons, he may break the rules. He will never transgress against the Rule, and never abandon it.


Written by SteveC