‘The Purple Mustard’

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For quite a long time, in between being born, and being buried, I was the Bishop of Norwich. King Henry had been persuaded that I was the most knowledgeable out of a number of possible appointees, on all matters related to the wool trade. I rarely discussed religion with the King, because we both thought there were others better qualified to counsel him on matters of faith. However, what I could describe as my ‘extra curricular’ activity, meant that we would meet on a regular basis, and we got to know each other quite well. The King had a generous disposition, and a mischievous sense of humour. It was His Majesty who started calling me ‘The Purple Mustard’, a pseudonym which I have since taken up for the stories I write. My actual name was Everard, and later in life, I became known as ‘Everard of Calne’, after the town in Wiltshire, where I was born.

My family home was a manor house, built on an estate gifted to my ancestors by King Alfred. It was a reward for military assistance repelling Viking invaders in 878 at the battle of Edington. More recent generations of the family were sheep farmers, including my father, a kind and peace loving man, who enjoyed walking his land, and much preferred doing so to managing the estate. Taking decisions in relation to matters financial, was not something that came easily to him. My mother’s parents owned the local inn. They were well known and respected, but could contribute nothing tangible to the marital alliance that my father wished to make with their daughter. The successful outcome of his courtship, owed much to the fact that my grandparents considered their prospective daughter in law’s commercial acumen, would be of more value to the management of the family finances, than a few worldly treasures of which we had no real need.

In my character and way of thinking, I followed in my mother’s footsteps. At an early age, I realised that I was more suited to commerce, than the church vocation for which I was destined. However, as the youngest of three male siblings, my future had been marked out for me, and it was not a matter for debate. The seminary was where I was headed! From the seminary, I moved to London, where I became understudy priest at the Church of Saint Edmund the King and Martyr, now known as St Sepulchre-without-Newgate, on Holborn Viaduct. It was here that I was introduced to Stephen Harding. He was acting as Latin tutor to a group of young seminarists, some of whom were part of my congregation. We became good friends, and after a while agreed to share lodgings close to St Pauls. The year was 1086.

Stephen’s family were also West Country landowners, and he too had been educated in a seminary, and expected to pursue a career in the church. We both spoke English with a bit of a West Country dialect, but this is where the similarities between us ended. Stephen was devoid of ambition, devoted to his faith, and had the mental strength of a Spartan. For him, the established church had lost its way, corrupted by association with the nobility and their financial largesse. And he was right. Jealousy, greed and hypocrisy, had taken the place of charitable thoughts and deeds. It was not the right place for Stephen.

Developing his skills as a linguist, he became a travelling scholar, which earned him just enough to pay for his food and lodgings. As well as English and Latin, he was fluent in French and Norman. I, on the other hand, began to find my feet in my new vocation. I started to see that ambition and a political train of thought had a place in the hierarchy of the Church, and as these attributes came quite naturally, it gave me something of an advantage in terms of vocational advancement. It was not that I did not value my religion, it was more that my attachment was not strong enough to overcome my ambition, and the two made poor bedfellows in the practice of an honest faith. Something had to give, and it was usually my christian values that succumbed. The half hearted excuse I always made myself, was that these conflicts were not of my own making.

The wool from our farms went to market in Norwich, and from there it was purchased by merchants from Flanders, to be made up into garments and textiles. Although my elder brothers had assumed responsibility for farming our land, my discussions with them, and the knowledge I gained from my mother, had provided a good understanding of how the market in wool worked, and in particular, how important it was to the King. Over half the King’s revenues derived from the taxes on wool, and as Norwich was the main market for wool in England, the town had become a centre of commerce second in importance only to London. Consequently the See of Norwich, was one of the most lucrative and coveted prebends in England, and I had it firmly in my sights.

An industrious and skilled workforce had made Flanders the undisputed leader of textile production in the lands known as Europe. When Flanders independence was threatened by France, many weavers would leave and come to England to carry on their activity. Welcome as they were, it was in England’s interests for the State of Flanders to remain independent, or at least, in friendly hands. It was also in the King’s interests to have a Bishop of Norwich who understood the market in wool. The See had become vacant upon the death of the founder of Norwich cathedral, Herbert de Losinga, in 1119, and after a lengthy period of political jousting, with my allies actively promoting my credentials to King Henry and his supporters, in 1121 my appointment was confirmed.

The Church and monarchy in England took a keen interest in religious developments in Europe, in particular at Cluny in Burgundy, so that my official duties required me to travel extensively. This in turn facilitated what might be described as my ‘intelligence gathering’ activities, basically keeping abreast of changing political alliances which might impact on English commerce and trading, in particular in wool. The revenues generated by my official duties, provided more than adequate remuneration, and enabled me to purchase estates between London and Norwich, which became more extensive than those owned by my family in Calne.

At the other end of the spectrum, my friend Stephen Harding, while returning from a pilgrimage to Rome, had come upon a small Benedictine monastery at Molesmes, to the north of Dijon. The monks were living a life of poverty and deprivation, without any of the material comforts or financial interests that I enjoyed. Stephen of course, was overjoyed. He believed he had discovered, after God, his reason for living. The monks of Molesmes followed the Rule of St Benedict to the letter, foregoing the many and varied ‘dispensations’ which had been introduced at the Abbey of Cluny to make life a bit easier, and which Stephen deprecated with a vengeance. When ‘dispensations’ also started to appear at Molesmes, Stephen and a number of his like minded brethren sought permission to establish their own Abbey, and in 1098 they founded the Cistercian Order at Citeaux, 23 km to the south of Dijon.

The new Order’s attachment to poverty, somewhat surprisingly to me, attracted much interest, and many followers. After a number of difficult early years, when by reason of self imposed hardship the Cistercian Order almost ceased to exist, it began to flourish. When a young nobleman from Dijon, blessed with an infectious enthusiasm, together with 30 of his followers joined Citeaux in 1108, it provided the impetus for expansion across the whole of Europe. The noble’s name was Bernard, and he was later to become Saint Bernard of Clairvaux.

The Cistercian Abbey at Citeaux and the Benedictine Abbey at Cluny, became the apotheosis of different strands of religious practice in the western world. The monks at Citeaux, following the example and leadership of my friend and former room share Stephen Harding, were minimalist followers of the Rule of Saint Benedict in all its stringency. At Cluny, the Benedictine monks were the masters of ornate decoration, multiple dispensations, and trading absolutions to the nobility in return for land and financial support. An inevitable tension developed between them. By reason of my friendship with Stephen, and dealings with Cluny, the art of gentle persuasion being one of my undoubted talents, I was often drawn in to moderate. We always ended our discussions, as you would expect, sharing a glass of wine. At the time, Cluny was rather more advanced than Citeaux in terms of vineyard ownership, but with the Cistercians’ dedication and aptitude for work, their wines quite quickly developed a strong following, particularly the Meursault, and from the vines at Vougeot.

With the spread of the monasteries from Burgundy into England, came greater opportunities for commerce. Burgundy was a source of salt from the Jura mountains, had been famous for its wines for centuries, and was renown for the production of mustard. On my return trips to England, I would bring back products from Burgundy that could fit into the sacks of my travelling entourage. Wine and mustard in particular were popular in the Royal Court, and over the course of time, in my Bishop’s purple apparel, with flagons of red wine and pots of mustard in my saddle bags, the King started referring to me affectionately, as ‘The Purple Mustard’.

Stephen resigned his position as Abbott of Citeaux at the age of 73 due to physical infirmity. I was with him towards the end of that year, in 1133. He was worrying as always, that the Order of which he was a founding father, would itself be corrupted by growth and associated noble financing. Stephen was right, the practice of a true faith can only be conducted if its practitioners are separated from the acquisitive and protective human instincts that tend to attach to financial gain and fortune. I knew it, but had never been able to accept the consequences.

However, I also was approaching the end of my mortal life, and I wanted to close my final chapter at peace with a conscience that had troubled me from my early days in the seminary. I believe Stephen instinctively knew this. Throughout the entirety of our relationship, he had never once reproached me, asked a favour, or for support of any kind, but before I left him for the last time, he took my hand, and said very simply, ‘It’s time for a change’. It was all the encouragement I needed. Over the succeeding years, I transferred all of my substantial accumulated wealth to the benefit of the Abbey of Citeaux. In 1145 I resigned my position as Bishop of Norwich, and departed England for the last time for the Cistercian Abbey of Fontenay. My life came to an end shortly after, in 1146, however my spirit, freed from conflict, began to write stories dedicated to Stephen.

You might think at this point in the narrative, that it has taken me quite a long time to get something published. All I can say, is that literary agents have always been a fickle lot, and the particular subject that I was writing about, at any given time, never seemed to quite fit the bill!

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