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Andrew B. Watt (Arvon@ari.net)

The Diocese of Ketton

and the Earldom of Eberen

A medieval setting for ARIA

This is an overview of the Diocese of Ketton, a dangerous border region in the kingdom of Pryfed. The author designed it after doing some research for a paper on the history of the city and diocese of Durham, England.

Some names have been modified to more French or more Celtic-sounding names from the names of the actual people of Durham. For those who are sticklers about years, the dates have been shifted back some 62 years. Thus, 1004, the year of the Invasion, is in our world 1066.




Environmental Summary


The town of Ketton is sited on a tall, narrow hill in a hairpin bend in the river Wantyr. Housing perhaps three thousand souls, it is guarded by strong walls on the steep slopes which climb up from the river. At the north end of the peninsula is Ketton Castle, a stone motte-and-bailey castle for the defense of the northern frontier. On the highest point of the hill is a gigantic cathedral, and in its shadow an ancient cloister.

Within the cathedral, the voices of monks chant with solemn dignity every day, seven times a day. They chant the one incontrovertible truth of the cosmos: There is one God, the creator, who alone is worthy of praise. Bow down before him, all peoples, and pray to him for the salvation of your souls.

It is with only slightly less authority that they sing the other truth of this place: Cormac is a saint, eternally in the company of God most high. For in a chamber behind the main cathedral altar there is an elaborate shrine, carved of wood and overlaid with gold and silver, which houses the coffin of Saint Cormac. Over a thousand miraculous events have ocurred here: crutches and articficial legs and all manner of votive offerings hang on the walls, silent witness to the power of this saint. Within the tomb itself, partly visible through a dark window of rock crystal, is the uncorrupted body of the saint himself, sleeping until judgement day.

Perhaps because of the presence of this holy relic of God's power in the world, the kings of Pryfed have always been a little reluctant to govern this part of their great kingdom a little more gently, and at a greater distance. Therefore, much of the north is under the control of the bishop of Ketton, who rules the countryside with the proper mixture of justice and mercy as only a prince of the Church can.


In 618, a young shepherd named Cormac had a vision of the death of Abbot Aidan, the bishop of a local monastic community. The saintly Aidan was lifted into heaven by a choir of angels, singing the praises of this devout man of God. The monks of Aidan's community at Clonafer later confirmed that Cormac, now burning with desire to be a monk himself, had the vision at the very same time as Aidan had died.

By 623, the community of Clonafer had realized Cormac's own holiness for many years, because of the marvelous visions he received and the miraculous events which occured in his presence. He was made bishop, despite his objections, and served Clonafer in that role for two years more, when he died. Many believed that he was likely a saint, and several miracles at his tomb supported this contention.

It was not until 623, however, that his tomb was opened, and his body was found to be miraculously uncorrupted! The flesh had not rotted, and to all appearances, Cormac was merely sleeping until the end time, when God would call all the living and the dead to be judged. Cormac, it appeared, was so holy that God could not bear to see the flesh rotting on his bones in the grave. And so, his body had been spared, while his soul waited in Paradise. His tomb became an important pilgrimage site, and the community of Clonafer grew extremely rich from the many offerings of land and goods donated to the abbey.

The Wandering Saint

Such wealth did not go unnoticed, however. In 812, the Northmen in their longships came from across the sea. Clonafer, a small island with virtually no natural defenses, was an easy target. After four successive raids in a single year, the monks of Clonafer chose to abandon their abbey in favor of a more secure site. In 826, they settled at Heseldon, where they remained for many years.

The wooden church at Heseldon, however, was too small to accomodate either Cormac's shrine or the community of monks which wandered with his tomb. Inadequate as it was, however, no more suitable place was found until 933, when a stray cow was found on a wooded height in a bow of the river Wantyr. The cow, although lost for many weeks, had clearly ate well, and seemed at home in this fortress-like site, which appeared to fulfill a prophecy which Cormac had made at his death: "I shall lie in the bow of Cowshome."

Securing the permission of Joavan, the Earl of Eberen (the area which included the site), the monastic community moved from Heseldon to Ketton in September of 933. Lord Joavan mobilized the local population to help in erecting a church, though much encouragement was not needed. Cormac was holy enough to attract attention; people wanted to work for the benefit of his shrine and his community, who had been wandering so long. Ketton began attracting pilgrims immediately, despite the lawlessness which affected the whole north country, the Earldom of Eberen included.

The Conquest

In addition, as lawlessness ravaged the north of Pryfed, the monks of Clonafer gradually were secularized, until many of them were married and had families. This was the final state of the clergy of Clonafer in 1004 when Duke Guillaume of Norvalle arrived in late September to claim the Crown of Pryfed.

King Culman challenged that claim at Mulville on October 14. The battle was a rout, however. The Norvallans became masters of Pryfed, and Guillaume became known as King Guillaume, the Usurper. He immediately set about securing his kingdom, and sent 700 men north under the command of Lord Robert Cumin, one of his best lieutenants.

Cumin and his forces secured the Earldom for the new Norvallan overlord, and held it until February 4, 1005, when under cover of night, a small Pryfedan force struck hard into the garrison, killing almost all 700 men, among them Lord Robert.

Guillaume the Usurper was extremely angered. In March of 1005 the bishop and clergy at Ketton fled back to Clonafer, taking the body of St. Cormac with them, as Guillaume raged over the countryside of Eberen for many weeks before Bishop Aethed convinced him to accept the submission of him and his priests.

In June, at the new king's command, they returned from Clonafer and re-installed St. Cormac in his shrine. King Guillaume demanded to see the body of the saint, and was about to insist on the coffin being opened, but the saint afflicted him with a terrible fever for three days for daring to suggest such sacrilege. When he recovered, the Usurper confirmed Cormac's sainthood by gifts to the relic's keepers of land all through the borderlands of his kingdom.

Guillaume was no fool, however. He had no intentions of leaving the reins of power, and control of his borders, to rebellious subjects. After Bishop Aethed was convicted of robbery and embezzling from the cathedral treasury, Guillaume installed one of his own men, one Guy de Walcher, as bishop of Ketton.

William de Sant-Carileph

Walcher lasted nine years as bishop, from 1009 to 1018. Lord Watheof, the Earl of Eberen in those days, had rebelled against King Guillaume. In exchange for his support, Walcher had been made Earl by Guillaume after Watheof's execution in 1014. However, Walcher was not as good a royal manager as he was a spiritual bulwark. Unable to supervise his officers properly, they became corrupt, and the people of Ketton and the surrounding countryside rebelled. Bishop Walcher was dragged from his horse and murdered by a knife-wielding peasant.

Guillaume was not about to make the same mistake twice. He appointed Alberich d'Abray Earl, and William de Sant-Carileph as Bishop of Ketton. Bishop William was installed in early January of 1019.

Bishop William was disgusted by the state of affairs in Ketton, however. A monk himself, he was appalled that a monk-saint should be watched over by married clergy. He therefore dispersed the community living around the White Church, and brought in monks to watch over the shrine.

There was a period of disagreement between Bishop William and the king, and from 1026 to 1029, the bishop lived in exile. When he was allowed to return, however, he confessed that his exile was probably due to disfavor with St. Cormac, and so the following year, he began construction of a lavish new cathedral to house the shrine. The White Church was torn down. Even after Bishop William's death in 1034, the work went on.

The Present:1038

The bishop's throne remained empty for three years, until the election of the present bishop in late May of last year. His Grace, Ranulph Flambard, formerly dean of Abingdon and a favorite of King Guillaume's son King Rufus, has encouraged work on the cathedral, now nearly complete. In addition, the King named him Earl of Eberen, and now his Grace has authority over nearly the entire frontier. He has begun work on a series of new keeps along the frontier, to secure the border against foreign raiders and to help preserve the peace in this lonely region, and is rebuilding Ketton Castle as a small palace for himself. Even the ancient monastic buildings, left over from the days of the White Church, are being rebuilt and refurbished. Ketton is becoming a busy, growing metropolis.

More exciting than the new prosperity which Bishop Ranulph's many projects has engendered, however, were the recent revelations from the monks' cloister. When the body of St. Cormac was moved into the new cathedral shrine back in August, the casket was opened. The word has spread like wildfire through the city and all the surrounding countryside: the body is still uncorrupt! Even a loaf of sacramental bread enclosed in the tomb was still edible after all these centuries. The people of Ketton stand ready to face new challenges, hoping eagerly for the future for the first time in many years. The saint's blessing is upon us still!

Envronmental Summary

ARIA values are listed in italics at the end of each section.

Scope and Society Age

Ketton and the Earldom of Eberen are two nearly contiguous regions in northern Pryfed along the border. Largely empty land and wilderness, it is a difficult region and climate in which to eke out a living. Human (and possibly unhuman) bandits, and even worse things, prey on lone persons and small groups. The region is small but difficult to administer because of the wide distances between settlements: Ketton is virtually the only large town.

From north to south, the diocese and earldom are approximately 55 miles wide; from east to west, about 75. Ketton lies at the western end, some 12 miles from the sea, on the Wantyr river. The village of Tyrmouth serves as Ketton's port, small as it is; the journey inland from Tyrmouth to Ketton takes about three hours at an easy gait on horseback. Few other roads are as well maintained. It can take weeks to cross the entire Earldom; Ketton and Tyrmouth provide the only easy access to the rest of the kingdom. However, these links are valuable, and are kept open as much as possible through trade and regular reports by the bishop to his superiors in both Church and State.

Eberen has been under the nominal rule of the House of Norvalle for only twenty years. However, the Usurper and his successor have largely left the border systems unchanged and unthreatened; the Earl of Eberen has no major powers which he would not have had 80 years ago. Even the bishop of Ketton possesses few new powers which are not part of his traditional authority. What is unusual is that both these important offices are vested in one person. However, as a whole the society can be characterized as contiguous with the ancient kingdom of pre-Invasion Pryfed.

As a result, the goals of the Norvallan Invasion are lessening, especially here in the north. The intent was to annex Pryded to Norvalle, but that plan is mutating rapidly. Norvalle had been only a small dukedom, where Pryfed is an entire kingdom. Men and women wield more power here than they did at home. Thus, an equilibrium is setting in. The native Pryfedans are coming to accept Norvallan nobles as their overlords, and the Norvallans are growing into their new roles, not as petty barons but as the new dynasty in an old kingdom in need of only a few new ideas. The result is a strange tension, which will only be relieved by time.

[Age Value: 5; Philosophical Orientation: Equilibrium; Aspects: Tradition (Pryfedan), Revolution (Norvallan); Isolation: 7; Interaction: 9.]


Ketton's technology is largely that available to the Pryfedan peasantry. Bloom iron is available from local mines, and pottery and weaving are to be found almost everywhere. Bronze, gold and silver, while available, are generally not common. Copper is more frequently seen. Glassblowing, though highly developed, is found only in Ketton, where most of the glassblowers are working on the windows for the cathedral; and a few of the nearby villages with access to large quanitites of the necessary wood.

The Pryfedans were not unsophisticated, but the Norvallans have made numerous contributions to the available technology, especially with regard to weaponry. Weapons and armor are both usually iron. Some plating is available, but by and large only mail is affordable and widely available, although still expensive. These days, only the Norvallans can be expected to own warhorses. Oxen are commonly used for plowing in most places, and sheepherding is a widely practiced art.

[Average Tech value: 11; Dominant Materials: 10; Powersources:11; Agriculture: 10; Building: 11; Transport: 10; Military: 10; Misc: 11; RoAdvance: 8; RoAssimilation: 7.]

Subsistence and Mobility

The people of Eberen and Ketton are agricultural, with a significant minority of the peasantry involved in sheepherding, and a smaller minority engaged in fishing and hunting.

As a general rule, they are not very mobile. The wild lands between communites are generally not very safe. New communities are started only reluctantly, and generally at a safe distance of a mile or two from the nearest other town. The eastern part of the Earldom is very sparsely inhabited; more than 80% of the population live in the eastern half of the region. As a result, the eastern nobles (who tend to be native Pryfedans) are a little more restless, a little more independent, and a little more rough, than their western kin. Fights are not uncommon in the bishop's court; His Grace Ranulph has been known to draw his sword in order to calm the assembly in his hall when they do.

[Fully Agricultural; Sedentary; some herding, hunting, fishing.]

Politics and Kinship

Ketton and Eberen exist within the larger kingdom of Pryfed, which itself is a limited Monarchy. Out in the borders, however, this verges far closer to an separate monarchy than the King would generally find pleasing.

His Grace Lord-Bishop Ranulph is at the top of the pile, being (at least locally) first in the Church and first in the State. Bishop Ranulph makes local canon (church) law in consultation with his clerks; and is also responsible for interpreting royal law in his civil court, as well. The dual nature of his office confuses many Pryfedans, especially those with rebellious thoughts. They are used to obeying the bishop in many matters; however, obeying a Norvallan seems somehow counter-intuitive.

His Grace isn't nearly so picky, or so confused. On the borders, a long way from the capital and the king, and secure in his secular and sacred power, the bishop is determined not to show weakeness. Not to the raiders from across the border, not from dissention from within his jurisdiction. He dispenses a rough justice designed simply to deter second offenses and eliminate third offenses entirely; hangings and other executions are regular, but not common or indiscriminate, ocurrences.

Kinship is a common question in the borders. Like all Pryfed, Eberen is largely patriarchal. However, the networks of kinship are ancient and powerful, and so the society is largely cognatic, as well. While one's father is an important piece of information to the Church and to the King, it is a minor detail in the wider web of familial relations, even if there is a little friendly sheepstealing on the side. Inheritance is through primogeniture among the nobility; among commoners, it is much more usual for property to be divided, although the Norvallans are working to change this, gradually.

[Limited Monarchy; Authority 8; Consent 5; Power 7; Constitutional constraint 4; Legal Complexity 3; Patriarchal Cognatic kinship; partible inheritance (Pryfedan); Primogeniture inheritance (Norvallan).]

Interests of Society

Coinage is the most popular way of doing business in Eberen and Ketton. However, coinage is not always available. Sometimes business is conducted through the medium of exchange of wool, widely common in Eberen and of value elsewhere. In villages, barter is the most common system within the community, although coins must usually be used for outside relations.

Eberen's coins are minted by the bishop's mint in Ketton. Being so far away from the royal mints, it would be difficult to keep enough coinage in circulation, since many people hoard money when they can. Two coins are usually minted: the silver 'Shrine', marked by a picture of St. Cormac's shrine; and the copper 'mite', a small denomination worth about 1/10th of a Shrine. A mite is usually enough to buy a meatless midday meal in a village; two or three will buy the same in Ketton. A tankard of ale is about the same. Armor and weapons usually run into hundreds of Shrines, however, and are usually paid either on installment, or through a wool exchange. As a result, much of Eberen's wool flows out of the Earldom.

There is a wide recognition that Eberen has a vast store of potential resources to call on, partly because so little of the countryside is inhabited. Matters arecomplicated by the lack of people to work them, however; and by the presence of bandits and other things which endanger the lives of ordinary workers. The resources which can be exploited are thus exploited very heavily, but more remains untapped. Summer remains the best time to trade with people and places outside Eberen, though some trading goes on all year round.

His Grace is responsible for calling out the feudal levies on behalf of both himself as bishop, and himself as earl. His total available troop strength amounts to about 2,600 peasant troops with makeshift polearms, 150 knights mounted, and a company of 100 archers. By utterly stripping the border defenses, the bishop could mount another 500 peasants, 40 knights, and 35 archers. Finally, the garrison at Ketton consists of another 8 knights, 20 men-at-arms, and 12 archers, who are all elite troops of the bishop's own household.

[Coinage, with some barter, medium of exchange and credit; Shrine=EU; Resources: 11; Exploitation: 14 (70%); Trade: 12. Feudal levies, some professional troops]

The Humanities

Religion is the most widely practiced of the humanities in Eberen. Not only rare, but downright odd, is the village which lacks a stone church with tower and priest. Ketton, with its three thousand citizens, offers not only the cathedral, but some six other churches inside and outside the city walls. However, only worship of the One God is tolerated. To be called a pagan here isn't just an insult, it's an accusation for a punishable crime. Blasphemy and Sacrilege are similarly punishable. Mobs have been known to form at a derogatory mention of St. Cormac, as well. Monasticism is popular; Clonafer was refounded forty years ago, and there are more than a dozen monastic communities in Eberen, for both men and women. The Church is a popular place to send second sons and daughters; those consecrated to priesthood often rise far in the civil service, and Ranulph is not the only bishop and earl in the kingdom.

The arts are expressed principally through religion: for example, the stained glass windows of the cathedral and the many sculptures. Some minor weaving and embroidery is common on clothing, and jewelry is popular, but most major artwork is done in the context of the faith. Lavish self-adornment is seen as prideful, a serious failing in a population which looks to a monk as its patron saint.

Likewise with scholarly pursuits. The Church is the only serious source of learning; village priests teach children the basic stories of the scripture and how to sing and count. Beyond that, most people do not have any regular formal education, although many merchants do read and write. The Cathedral, and many of the monastic communities, have quite large libraries. The cathedral boasts a collection of eighty-five books not directly connected with the sacred rituals of the church and shrine, as well as many chests of the records of St. Cormac and his community from Clonafer.

Magic is theoretically illegal, according to both Church and State. On the borders, however, it is useful enough that practicioners are merely frowned upon rather than formally punished. Practicing mages are not permitted to join religious communities or use magic in churches, and they may not partake of the sacraments until they renounce magic. Many mages do so when they sense death is near; the promise of eternal life in the next life is stronger than the much darker and dangerous opportunities to extend life in this one. This is not to say other methods are not tried, however. On winter nights when the wind is howling, many taverns become quiet as some wandering storyteller will weave again the story of the magus Dregin and his bargain with the Unnamed to live forever. Dregin's wailing and the wind are much alike.

Religion Tolerance 16, Prevalence 14, Diversity 3; Arts Tolerance 13, Prevalence 7, Diversity 6; Scholastics Tolerance 13, Prevalence 6, Diversity 9; Magic Tolerance 6, Prevalence 3, Diversity 2.]

Hierarchy of Social Estates

The Hierarchy of Status

Eberen, like the wider society of Pryfed, sees the formal hereditary lines of nobility as extremely important. Even the old families of Pryfed which survived the invasion are treated cautiously by the new Norvallan nobility; after all, their own claim to power rests on their own bloodlines.

However, these traditions are not firm. The Norvallan custom of knighting the bravest commoners in battle has won a certain number of converts among some, and of course the Church has always provided an excellent route for advancement. However, despite these opportunities to rise, an understanding of class is vital to survival. Most nobility brook no reduction of their authority by those of a lower class, and most of them have the powers necessary to remind subordinates of their lower station, without trial.

[Status Foundation:Tradition (Kinship); Capability (Martial) and Philosophy (Religion) are also very important.]

Freedom Aspects: Vertical -- (Kinship - Nobility): Those of noble lineage have the right of self-defense and trial by combat, to own property and selves.

Horizontal -- (Status - Privleged/Ruling; Heritage - Norvallan): Only those of the privleged class or higher are permitted to own or bear swords, horses, or land; Only Norvallan nobles may be earls, dukes or the king.

               Vocational                             Status
Archetype      Clusters        Sample Occupation      Level

Ruling Agency  Political I     King of Pryfed          20
Ruling Class   Bureaucratic I  King's Minister         19
               Political II    Duke, Earl             18-19
               Ecclesiast I    Archbishop, abbot      16-19
Privileged     Political III   Baron, other noble     17-18
               Warrior I       Knight                 15-16
               Bureaucrat II   clerk, scribe(priests) 13-14
               Ecclesiast II   priest, monk, prior    10-14
Professional   Professional I  Lawyer, doctor         09-15
               Merchant        merchants, traders     08-13
               Artisan I       craft-master           07-12
               Art             architect, musician    04-10
               Warrior II      Archers, mercenaries   04-09
Labor          Artisan II      journeyer              05-06
               Labor I         farmers, fishers       04-07
               Labor II        herders, hunters       02-05
Marginal       Artisan III     apprentice             01-03
               Labor III       Bonded serf            01-02
               Fringe          outlaw, prostitute,    00-02
                               thief, mage