The Dennis Wheatley Library of the Occult
Evelyn Eaton
Sphere, 1976

The early chapters of this book by Evelyn Eaton concern a very ancient custom which many readers will be surprised to learn continued to be observed in England as late as the XIV century. It is the killing of a Scapegoat, and to this sacrifice Sir George Frazer devoted a whole volume in his famous twelve-volume work The Golden Bough.

In early times, when tribes occupied lands only a few miles distant from one another and were frequently enemies, villages were often raided without warning. It was therefore of the first importance that the Chief of a tribe should be alert-minded and physically formidable so that he was always thinking of new measures to protect his people and, if they were attacked, could lead them against the enemy with the utmost vigour. In consequence, every seven years the elders held a council. If they decided that their Chief had passed his prime the custom was to kill him off and elect from his family a suitable young successor.

But there were cases in which Chiefs having a strong individuality, although middle-aged, were most averse to dying so they coerced their people into selecting a substitute, who was sacrificed in the Chief’s place. For the year before his death this Scapegoat, who had to be of the Chief’s family, was treated like a king and allowed to indulge his every whim. It is interesting to note that this custom became common practice not only in Asia and Europe but also in Mexico before the discovery of America by Columbus.

At the time this story opens, 1330, the handsome Edward III later warrior King, was on the throne. As he was a fine, strapping young man of eighteen, there could be no question of sacrificing him (by secret murder) in the seventh year of his reign and Roger Mortimer, Earl of March, had been chosen as the Scapegoat. Mortimer was the lover of the Queen Mother – popularly known as the ‘She Wolf of France’. Between them they had ruled England during the King’s minority and they did so still. The Earl was immensely powerful. He had caused the King’s uncle to be murdered, exiled many nobles loyal to the throne and surrounded the King with barons hostile to him; for he had no intention of becoming the Scapegoat. Instead, he planned to murder the King, who was on his way to visit him at Nottingham Castle.

The central figure of the tale is a poor knight, Sir Hugo de Masci. He succeeds in conveying to the King a warning of what is afoot, and receives from the Countess of Salisbury – the King’s mistress, who is with him at the time – a ring, as a token to a group of nobles who are Mortimer’s enemies.

In England at that period Christianity had, for many years, been the official religion. But the greater part of the common people and, in secret, a considerable number of the nobility, still worshipped the Old God. Such was the case with the King and the Countess whom, the author tells us, had the Round Tower at Winchester built for the special purpose of their witches’ coven celebrating Satanic rites in it. Sir Hugo is also of the old faith and spends several years having shipped over from France blocks of stone for the building of the Tower that have been quarried from ancient Pagan sites. He too, is in love with the beautiful Countess.

Some years later the Countess dies and the King takes his cousin, the lovely young Princess Joan as his mistress. According to this story it is she who dropped a snakeskin garter from below her left knee onto a ballroom floor in Calais, and the King, snatching it up, cried ‘Honi soit qui mal y pense’ (Evil is he who evil thinks) to protect her from the Christian prelates who were present – because wearing that type of garter could have led them to accuse her of being a witch. He then founded the Order of the Garter. It consisted of two covens of thirteen with himself the Chief of one, the Prince of Wales of the other, and the regalia of each Knight included one hundred and sixty-nine garters, equalling thirteen covens of thirteen.

In the above scene I fear the author has been guilty of distorting history for, according to Professor Margaret Murray, the greatest living authority on such matters, the occurrence took place at Windsor and it was the Countess of Salisbury who dropped her garter.

But, that apart, this is an excellent period romance. The suspense in the early chapters, the description of the defence of the Castle of Werk when attacked by the Scottish army and the Siege of Calais by the English, are all admirable.