Presenting our Murder Mystery
Here’s the lecture with some modifications based on the way I felt it went, and how I’d like to improve it for another time. I would definitely really like to make the character cards and hand them out in an envelope next time.
First, I set out what the handouts were for, and directed the audience members to the family tree on the front and the table of suspects on the back. If I’d made the cards, I would have suggested they be laid out on the table in front of them in a grid, space permitting.
To begin at the beginning…
First, I laid out the family’s context.
CONTEXT: Flag this up to the audience as setting up possible motives. Stick to relevant facts and elaborate on them with sources to emphasise various points (and provide the academic portion of the lecture!)
“Let’s begin with the victim. Our William Cantilupe is marked in red at the bottom right of the screen, and his brother is in yellow. William was from an old and important family. Most members of the family were called William, unfortunately, and three Williams in a row appear in the thirteenth century as the household stewards and counsellors of King John and his son King Henry III. When this line of the family died out in the male line, all the estates the Cantilupes had amassed across England got divided up between the surviving daughters and their husbands, and the family name itself survived through a cadet line, a cousin also named William, whose own children proceeded to amass more lands for themselves and were not as important in the royal court but nevertheless were wealthy and influential. The family seat became their manor at Greasley, in Nottinghamshire, and they also had many manors and lands across Lincolnshire, Derbyshire, Northamptonshire and Yorkshire.
In 1346, two years before the outbreak of the Black Death in England, our victim’s grandfather Nicholas (2) – seen on the family tree with a red circle around his name – fought with King Edward III at the battle of Crécy during the Hundred Years War.
Nicholas (2) was not just a good soldier and social climber, but also a pious man – this was far from being an incongruous attitude in medieval times. He founded Cantilupe Chantry at Lincoln Cathedral, where he was entombed, and Beauvale Priory in Nottinghamshire. Instead of leaving everything to his only son, for some reason – what, we will probably never know – Nicholas (2) cut him out of his will completely and left everything to his grandsons, the two brothers we are concerned with tonight, imaginatively named Nicholas and William.
They are shown at the bottom of the screen, Nicholas in yellow and our William in red.”
Now we move on to flag up Sir Ralph Paynel’s involvement with the Cantilupes, noting that the Paynels, Cantilupes and Nevilles had previous social and professional relationships but that the relationship between the Cantilupes and Paynels had soured before William’s murder.
CONTEXT: Flag up that this is another ‘motive’ section; Sir Ralph appears on the suspect list, so it’s worth going into the background of the family’s involvement with the Cantilupes and the strange circumstances of Nicholas and Katherine’s marriage…
I highlighted the ignominy of the annulment and the fact that Katherine then failed to gain the castles she sued for – and the fact that Sir Ralph was wealthy and influential enough to pay someone to commit the crime for him. He was also powerful enough to shelter others from the law…
Moving to Maud Neville, I looked at marriage norms to build a picture of their life together as man and wife, the fact that William was away a great deal of the time, that Maud therefore had stronger personal relationships with the servants than William did, especially given that they were at her manor of Scotton, Lincs, at the time of the murder.
Where the servants were concerned, I laid out some information about what it was like to be a servant and the general demographic – servants tended to be young men, and if they were not ‘professional’ servants, then they were only in service for a few years. The aim was to earn money and learn skills needed for adult life, like an apprenticeship. A servant who killed their master would be tried for petty treason, a more severe crime than murder, just like a wife convicted of killing her husband. For enough money, though, and the promise of protection – and the fact that the majority of the servants would be young and therefore inexperienced, perhaps more vulnerable to manipulation or more reckless – a servant may be persuaded to turn against a master to whom the bonds of personal loyalty were flimsy.
I ran through roles in the household too – the butler, the chamberlain, the steward, the esquire, the maid – and explained what each of them did, who had access to the domestic rooms, and who had access to knives. This was flagged up as ‘means’.
Everybody had the opportunity, apart from Sir Ralph, who was nowhere near the manor at the time of the murder: but did he fund it? Was he the mastermind? Or was he simply supporting Maud out of concern for her, since their families knew one another?
After flagging up the means and motives, there was a brief pause for people to think and guess.
Finally, Poirot-style, the jury’s conclusions and outcome of the case was explained and critiqued. The general conclusion is that Sir Ralph, Maud and her lover the sheriff were in it together, and Gyse and Coke took the fall.
>Perhaps this could be told some other way, or in another style?
It would be interesting to hear suggestions for variants!