In The Sanctity of Hate: A Medieval Mystery, Priscilla Royal explores 13th-century English anti-Semitism.
How did your 30 years working for the Social Security Administration affect your fiction?
Half of that career was spent working initial claims and the first level of appeals. I learned incredible tales of suffering and courage from survivors of WWII, the Great Depression, refugees from all over the world, as well as victims of fraud, abuse, and other human tragedies. Prioress Eleanor may have gotten her motivation to render balanced justice from her belief that her deity demanded a higher wisdom and compassion, but I learned from my years at Social Security that justice is best served when we look to the broader intent of the law and avoid rigid interpretation.
How did your series come about?
My love of the medieval period. I opted for clerical sleuths over secular ones because the religious of the era were as motivated by worldly concerns as seculars, but those serious about the demands of their faith had more motivation to strive for greater wisdom. This choice also let me illustrate the power struggles between church and secular rulers, the variety of faith even within monasteries, and the surprising amount of time monastics spent outside the walls.
Did any of your research surprise you?
Ecclesiastes, my favorite grump, reminds me that human nature has not changed, that society moves from times of killing to times of healing and from eras of social compassion to those of tyrannical hate. My research into the era has supported that concept more than I expected. The other surprise is how much social pragmatism existed then as it does now. If a commonly accepted premise became impractical, an argument for the practical was developed. Example: although women were deemed weak, illogical, and should never rule men, a wife (or other trusted female relative) was often put in charge of the business, the nation, or the castle if the husband was gone.
What shocked you about the anti-Semitism of the time?
Having grown up after the Shoah, the anti-Semitism of 13th-century England shocked less than it angered me. William the Conqueror had invited Jewish merchants to relocate to England to revitalize an economy devastated by war, and, since Christians were not supposed to loan money, he assigned that function to the Jewish community. In return, he made them “the king’s people” and promised protection at a price. By the time of Edward I, the community was a less profitable resource, so the king turned to Italian merchants and abused the Jews to gain favor with the barons as well as provide an easy target because of the ongoing failure of the crusades.