Cadfael’s Most Memorable Cases

As a crime-solving monk in medieval England, Brother Cadfael always has his work cut out for him. Here are just some of the unholy whodunits which have vexed this man of God…

Derek Jacobi as Cadfael


One of the best things about Cadfael is its turbulent historical context. The series is set during the "Anarchy", an early English civil war between two contenders for the crown, and some of the whodunits are directly related to this epic conflict. In one memorable case, King Stephen wipes out a garrison of soldiers loyal to the rival Empress, and Cadfael has to help give dozens of corpses a Christian burial. A grisly enough undertaking, you might think. But things get even murkier when Cadfael realises there is one body too many - a murderer has used the battle to hide his victim's body amid the war dead. What unfolds is a saga involving deceit, missing treasure, and far more than even this veteran sleuth bargains far...

Derek Jacobi as Brother Cadfael in 'The Leper of St Giles'.

Derek Jacobi as Brother Cadfael in 'The Leper of St Giles'.


Cadfael might be a monk, but he's also a bit of a romantic, and can't resist a couple in need. This leads him into all sorts of intrigue - like when he becomes involved in the lives of two young star-crossed lovers forbidden from being with each other because the woman has been betrothed against her will to an older, powerful, cruel baron. When this baron is murdered just before the wedding, the prime suspect is the lady's true love, and it's time for Cadfael to prove who the real killer is. And then there's the question of Lazarus - not the biblical character, but the mysterious leper who is on the scene, and may hold the keys to the mystery...


Some cases are very person for Cadfael. One of the most gripping involves a young novice monk who helps him in the abbey's herb gardens. Brother Oswin's seemingly idyllic life is left in tatters when he's set upon by a group of ruffians one frosty winter's night, and is discovered in a state of hysteria, raving and babbling in fear. Then, in an even darker twist, the body of a murdered nun is found in the vicinity - entombed within the ice of a stream frozen solid by the harsh weather. When Brother Oswin falls under suspicion of the appalling crime, Cadfael knows he must stop at nothing to clear his friend's name and uncover the real villain.

Derek Jacobi as Brother Cadfael and Anna Friel as Sioned in 'A Morbid Taste For Bones'.

Derek Jacobi as Brother Cadfael and Anna Friel as Sioned in 'A Morbid Taste For Bones'.


A dispute over holy relics? Not the sort of behaviour you'd expect from monks. But that's what happens when brothers from another abbey arrive, seeking the bones of St Winifred. They say their own abbey has better claim over the relics than Cadfael's, due to the apparent religious visions of a novice monk. When the relics then go missing, an engrossingly complex case ensues, involving the monks, an arrogant aristocrat, a missing serf girl, and a precious necklace. Look out as well for the medieval methods for solving disputes, including "trial by water" and even "trial by Bible".


The monks of Cadfael's abbey hold themselves up to the highest standards of virtue. So you can imagine the sense of creeping unease when they begin to speculate that one of their number may be guilty of murder. This is what happens when the body of a dead woman is found buried in their land. She is suspected to be the long-missing wife of a man who had taken his religious vows and joined the abbey late in life. He claims innocence, and then there's a sudden question mark over the true identity of the corpse. It's down to Cadfael to once again use his grey matter to decipher the truth, but he soon realises the culprit may never be brought to justice.


What is the meaning of goodness? That's the profound question posed in this case, which involves a priest new to the area. On the face of it, he is the perfect cleric: supremely knowledgeable about the Bible, rigidly sticking to religious dogma, and exuding the air of a true leader. Yet he has not an ounce of compassion or sympathy, and refuses to hear the confession of a desperate young pregnant woman. The poor girl is then found dead, and - shockingly - the priest himself is killed. Cadfael must work out whether the girl was a suicide or a murder, and what became of the callous priest whose hard-hearted pursuit of perfection might be regarded as a sin in itself.