True Love: Barefoot in Her Shift

The Sanctuary SparrowI just watched The Sanctuary Sparrow, the second episode of the TV series based upon The Cadfael Chronicles, the Edith Pargeter novels about an unusual 12th century monk, Brother Cadfael, who solves murders and generally delights us by being more enlightened than his comrades.

I won’t go into the details of the plot, but if you are interested, Wikipedia provides a thorough description. What’s most interesting to me is the character named Iestyn—kind of the Welsh version of Justin. He is in love with Susana, the complex and sympathetic antagonist. In the end, she is killed (a fact the Wikipedia synopsis strangely neglects to mention). Iestyn cries over her body and says, “And I would have taken her barefoot in her shift.”[1] He is referring to the fact that she insisted upon having money before they married; he required no such thing.

Iestyn is in no way a bad man. In fact, his devotion to the wronged but angrily pro-active Susana strikes me as heroic. Of course, 12th century English mores do not allow anyone to publicly admit this. Iestyn is bad because he took Susana’s side, while Susana’s soulless father who cares only for gold is good. At the end of the episode, we don’t find out exactly what happens to him. Sheriff Hugh Beringar tells a young married couple, “He’ll not hang if my voice is heard.” And then Cadfael and he speculate about Iestyn’s future life:

Beringar: Does Iestyn really have a life before him—one worth living?

Cadfael: It will be a minor devotion. But yes, he’ll marry and breed yet.

Beringar: And forget her?

Cadfael: Have I said so? Time will ease his pain, but he’ll carry the wound of her love to his grave.

Ah! Love![2]


[1] In this context, a shift is probably an old dress.

[2] I recommend watching the Cadfael series. For those who will always regret the terrible film adaptation of Umberto Eco’s wonderful novel The Name of the Rose, Cadfael is a welcome salve.

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