I don’t know about you, but I feel quite uncomfortable being so closely scrutinized by a member of the ovine tribe. It happens now and then as I tramp the lanes and byways of Much Wenlock.
This one was in the field opposite Wenlock Priory ruins, which interestingly had much to do with sheep rearing in the early Middle Ages. In fact the sale of wool from its flocks was an important source of the Priory’s wealth. And so you may imagine the brotherly fury (even to the point of murderous intent) that was roused when, in the late 1200s, the then Prior, John de Tycford, engaged in some dirty dabbling in the futures market and sold 7 years’ wool crop in advance and then kept the proceeds.
One monk, William de Broseley was so incensed, he left the Priory and gathered a gang in the woods, all set to ambush and kill the Prior. News of this plan did not go down well with the higher authorities, who instructed sheriffs to arrest ‘vagabond monks of the Cluniac order.’ William was duly captured and received his just deserts (not defined by chroniclers, but doubtless deeply unpleasant).
Meanwhile the Prior, who also went in for monastic asset stripping as well as having a history of fraternizing with money-lenders, had friends in a very high place: first King Henry III and then his successor-son, Edward Longshanks, aka Edward I. De Tycford, it seems, was good at political intrigue and had been royally employed on a diplomatic mission to nearby troublesome Wales. It did not seem to matter that he had run the Priory into debt. When he left Much Wenlock in 1285 it was to take up an appointment as Prior of Lewes in Sussex, not only another grand Cluniac house, but also a politically sensitive location. The army of Henry III had retreated into the Priory in 1264 during the barons uprising led by Simon de Monfort. This had caused serious division between the monks, many of whom were later punished or banished back to France.
And so it goes. It’s how the world runs. Power and money control ALL aspects of our lives, although we’re mostly too distracted to see how deep and wide this goes. Perhaps the sheep is trying to tell me something. Perhaps I ought to tell it: I am not a sheep.