Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, September 30, 2016


The Murder of Sir Edmund Godfrey by John Dickson Carr (1936)

It was a Saturday, October 12, 1678, when noted London magistrate Sir Edmund Godfrey walked out of his house and disappeared.  Five days later, his murdered body was found.  The case was a sensation -- rumors of a Popish plot to overthrow the throne of Charles II were rife and, eventually a dozen poeple were brought to trial.  Three men were found guilty and executed; their innocence was later proved beyond all doubt.  Ever since then, scholars and historians have tried to resolve the question of who killed Sir Edmund Godfrey -- with suspects as improbable as Queen Catherine and Smauel Pepys,

This was not some insignificant murder.  It ehlped set the stage for the political turmoil of the late Seventeenth century, helped set the dividing lines between Whig and Tory, and came close to stoping the reign of James II even before he ascended to the throne.  

Charles II, a canny politician, spent his reign battling parliament over efforts to limit the rights of the crown, amid a nation-wide fear of the Catholic church.  Charles' crown, because he had no issue with his wife and refused to divorce her (although he had no problem with the royal avocation of messing around), would go to his brother James upon Charles' death.  James, however, had adopted the Catholic faith -- a cause for concern while Charles lived, but not a real problem; many Catholics supported the Protestant Charles.  The Green Ribbon opposition to Charles was trying to foment rebellion, as well as urging a war with Catholic France.  France could not afford a war and kept the pot from boiling over by secretly bribing influential members of both sides.  In short, the political situation was a mess, although Charles seemed able to skate his way through the morass.  About then, the priest Titus Oates, produced "evidence" of a Popish plot to poison Charles.

That's the background, soon to be followed by the disappearance and subsequent murder of Godfrey.

Carr, an anglophile and lover of history, wrote only two nonfiction books in his career, this and a biography of Arthur Conan Doyle.  He investigates this murder with the eye of a novelist.  Although well-researched and accurate as possible, The Murder of Sir Edmund Godfrey is presented as a detective novel. with an eye for detail as the author presents the many fascinating people who revolved around both the court and this case.  His conclusion matches that of several historians and defies that of others, but -- following the rules of the detective novel -- comes to a logical conclusion.  
We will never know if Carr is right in his deductions, but he gives an intimate and revealing  look at the time and at the people involved.

Recommend for those who love 1) history, 2) murder, 3) John Dickson Carr, or 4) any of the above.


  1. I've read about a dozen John Dickson Carr mysteries. And, maybe a dozen "Carter Dickson" mysteries. He's great in small doses!

  2. This is new (and fascinating) to me. Thanks for the review.