Edith Mary Pargeter popularly known by the pen name Ellis Peters was born just before the beginning of First World War on September 28, 1913, in Horsehay, Shropshire, England. She was daughter to Edmund Valentine, a clerk and timekeeper at a local ironworks and Edith Hordley Pargeter. Ellis was the last born in a family of three children. Her brother and eldest sibling was named Ellis, the name she later adopted as her pseudonym while her sister who preceded her was named Margaret.
The family lived in a small community dominated by the Horsehay works and situated a short distance from Dawley in the center of the east Shropshire coalfield. The family loved music and the children had been encouraged to start reading from a tender age. The atmosphere at Peters’ home was sympathetic, encouraging and vibrant. Her mother happened to have influenced her life and that of her siblings greatly, as the novelist was quoted once saying.
Ellis attended Dawley Church of England elementary School in Shropshire and later Coalbrookdale High School for Girls. When in elementary, she had to walk four times a day, to and from school as there was no provision for lunch at the time. All through school she would show interest in composition and art. She participated in various contest and competitions where she scooped a number of wards and certificates. It was while in high school that her special interest and passion in writing was realized and encouraged and eventually turned out to be a great part of her life.
As she neared the end of her time in Coalbrookdale, she took the Oxford local exam and passed and later in 1931 she did the Oxford Higher exam. After she left school she stayed at home to study for the executive division of the Civil Service. The contest for a place was great and even though she did great in written English exam, she couldn’t do as well in Mathematics. It was also in the 1930s that she worked as a pharmacist’s assistant and in the early 1940s she served in the Women’s Royal Navy Service. It was while at the Royal Naval Service that her writing career set off and her first books were published.
Her Writing Life
Edith Mary Pargeter had a Welsh ancestry and this influenced most of her writing. Many of her short stories and books happen to have been set in Wales and its borderlands, with others even having Welsh protagonist evidence.
Starting in the mid 1930’s, Edith Mary Pargeter would write historical fiction and crime novels. She would at times write using her real name and sometimes under several of her pseudonyms. She had written her fist book when she was only 15 years old and still in school. This she sent to Heinemann the publishers. Her first novel to ever be published was, Hortensius, Friend of Nero’ and this was before she had even reached the age of 20. The book had first been rejected but in 1936 it was published. It was this first stride of success that marked the start of her 60 year writing career in which she published more than 70 books. Between 1936 (when she made her first publication) and 1947, Edith is recorded to have written 14 books including a War time trilogy that boosted her profile to a national level.
Her first novel was published as she still worked as an assistant pharmacist. Between 1940 and 1945 while she served at the Naval Service where she even received the British Empire Medal (1944), Edith happened to develop an interest in Czechoslovakia. It was at the same time that World War II was still on. She felt haunted by the Western powers’ betrayal of that country at Munich.
In 1947 she and her brother visited Czechoslovakia in the brief period between the end of the war and political changes as a result of the nation’s incorporation within the Warsaw pact. Just like many other, Edith felt that the politicians in the country before the war had let the people down. In what appeared like a simple interest and sympathy for the people of Czechoslovakia turned out to become a lifetime interest in their culture, language and stories of the country. She visited the area numerous times in her next 21 years. When the war ended, she translated numerous volumes of prose and poetry from Czech and Slovak and kept on writing on her own fiction.
In 1951, she published her first detective book, Fallen into the Pit’, which featured George Felse ( a policeman) and his family. The characters appeared in more books including Death and the Joyful Woman’ and Rainbow’s End (1979). She used the name Ellis Peters on all books written about Felse family mysteries. In these series the Felse family is caught up in the middle of serious crimes with George huddled up with the task to unravel the truth that will distinguish the culprits from the innocent.
In 1977 she started writing a series of detective novels set in and around the Benedictine abbey at Shrewsbury in the 12th C. The first book in the series was A Morbid Taste for Bones: A Medieval Whodunnit . In the book series’ she combined detailed depiction of medieval life with the investigation of a crime and a sub-romantic plot. The books enjoyed immense popularity. The sub-romantic sub- plot in some of her works gained lots of importance in the series she worked on. The main character who also happens to be the detective in the series is monk Cadfael, a former crusader that tends to the abbey’s garden. Some titles of the series books include Saint Peter’s Fair (1981), The Virgin in the Ice (1982), The Confession of Brother Haluin (1988), One Corpse Too Many (1979), The Raven in the Foregate (1987), The Devil’s Novice (1984), and The Heretic’s Apprentice (1989). Most of the Cadfael mystery books were adapted for Television with Derek Jacobi playing the main role.
Edith passed on at her home in Madeley, Shropshire after having returned from hospital following a stroke. She was 82 when she died on 14th October 1995. In 1997, in efforts to honor her memory, a stained glass window depicting St.Benedict was put up in Shrewsbury Abbey.
Books in order of publication by series
|Fallen into the Pit||(1951)|
|Death and the Joyful Woman||(1961)|
|Flight of a Witch||(1964)|
|A Nice Derangement of Epitaphs||(1965)|
|The Piper on the Mountain||(1966)|
|Black is the Colour of My True Love’s Heart||(1967)|
|The Grass Widow’s Tale||(1968)|
|The House of Green Turf||(1969)|
|The Knocker on Death’s Door||(1970)|
|Death to the Landlords||(1972)|
|City of Gold and Shadows||(1973)|
Heaven Tree Books
|The Heaven Tree||(1960)|
|The Green Branch||(1962)|
|The Scarlet Seed||(1963)|
Brothers Of Gwynedd Books
|Sunrise in the West||(1974)|
|The Dragon at Noonday||(1975)|
|The Hounds of Sunset||(1976)|
|Afterglow and Nightfall||(1977)|
Brother Cadfael Books
|A Morbid Taste for Bones||(1977)|
|One Corpse Too Many||(1979)|
|St. Peter’s Fair||(1981)|
|The Leper of Saint Giles||(1981)|
|The Virgin in the Ice||(1982)|
|The Sanctuary Sparrow||(1982)|
|The Devil’s Novice||(1983)|
|Dead Man’s Ransom||(1984)|
|The Pilgrim of Hate||(1984)|
|An Excellent Mystery||(1985)|
|The Raven in the Foregate||(1986)|
|The Rose Rent||(1986)|
|The Hermit of Eyton Forest||(1987)|
|The Confession of Brother Haluin||(1988)|
|The Heretic’s Apprentice||(1989)|
|A Rare Benedictine||(1988)|
|The Potter’s Field||(1989)|
|The Summer of the Danes||(1991)|
|The Holy Thief||(1992)|
|Brother Cadfael’s Penance||(1994)|
|Hortensius, Friend of Nero||(1936)|
|Murder in the Dispensary||(1938)|
|The City Lies Foursquare||(1939)|
|Death Comes By Post||(1940)|
|Masters of the Parachute Mail||(1940)|
|She Goes to War||(1942)|
|The Eighth Champion of Christendom||(1945)|
|The Fair Young Phoenix||(1948)|
|Holiday with Violence||(1952)|
|This Rough Magic||(1953)|
|Most Loving Mere Folly||(1953)|
|The Soldier at the Door||(1954)|
|A Means of Grace||(1956)|
|The Will and the Deed||(1960)|
|Funeral of Figaro||(1962)|
|A Bloody Field by Shrewsbury||(1972)|
|The Horn of Roland||(1974)|
|Never Pick Up Hitch-Hikers!||(1976)|
|The Marriage of Meggotta||(1979)|
Short Story Collections
|The Assize of the Dying||(1958)|
|The Lily Hand and Other Stories||(1965)|
|The Trinity Cat and Other Mysteries||(2006)|
|The Coast of Bohemia||(1950)|
|Strongholds and Sanctuaries||(1993)|