27 May 2021

Special Guest Post by Jacquie Rogers, Author of The Governor’s Man: A Quintus Valerius Mystery

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Roman Britain 224AD: When silver from the Emperor’s mines goes missing, Roman Imperial Investigator Quintus Valerius reluctantly returns to Britannia. With his British assistant Tiro, Valerius uncovers a conspiracy of fraud and rebellion. The plot involves a resurgence in Druid activity, and the murders of potential witnesses. Even the investigator’s former lover, Lady Julia, seems connected to the crimes. Valerius begins to piece together clues that tell a shocking truth — and cast a terrible light on his own past.

Inspiration for The Governor’s Man

In 2013 my husband Peter and I moved to a small village in the Somerset Levels. That’s the area of Somerset inland from Weston and Burnham, and bounded by Glastonbury and Wells to the east. It’s a very atmospheric place of willows and water, mostly unknown to the visitors who roar past, on their way south along the M5 to Devon and Cornwall. I myself knew nothing about the county either, so I took myself off to the Museum of Somerset in Taunton to find out.

I was wowed to see there the Shapwick hoard, the largest trove of Roman denarii ever found at that time in the Western Empire. What’s more, the silver had been neatly buried in a large, previously-unknown courtyard villa on a slight ridge in the Polden Hills, right in the middle of nowhere, barely eight miles south of my home. The villa was excavated in 1998, and carbon dating established that the hiding of the silver coincided with the demolition of the villa in 224AD, possibly after a fire.

The nearby Mendip Hills held a wealth of lead and silver, right up to Victorian times. This mineral treasure was known to the Romans, and was one of the prime drivers for Vespasian to push his legions quickly west at the time of the Roman conquest. On display in the British Museum is a lead ingot, fraudulently over-stamped to look as if the silver has been extracted from the ore, when in fact it was still present.

Someone was stealing silver from the Emperor, who retained rights to any silver mined. You could see why —soldiers were paid in silver denarii, and soldiers were the power that kept an Emperor on the throne. To steal Imperial silver was a capital offence.

My research

On that day in summer 2013, as I stood gazing at the glinting mass of over 9,000 coins, I knew I had to write this story. Of how the silver, the destroyed villa, and the falsely-stamped lead ingot all came together.

I located a company — in the US, of course — who make available online transcripts of archaeological digs around the world. They supplied me with a report by archaeologists R Abdy, RA Brunning and CJ Webster of their dig in 1998, snappily entitled The discovery of a Roman villa at Shapwick and its Severan coin hoard of 9238 silver denarii.

The villa is now reburied and totally invisible, in a lumpy field on a farm which shall remain unnamed. I confess I went there though, scrambling over blackberry briars to find the site. I stood a long time, looking at the sloping views north to an RSPB reserve, and beyond to the Mendips. East was the clear outline of Glastonbury Tor. South, and slightly uphill, is the Roman road linking the Polden Hills with the Fosse Way, the main Roman highway from Exeter to Lincoln.

What a story, I thought. All I need is a detective.

I went to the British Library in London where I found accounts of the Frumentariate, a corps of senior officers set up by Emperor Hadrian to investigate crimes threatening the Emperor’s personal interests across the Empire. These officers were detached from their legions and headquartered in Rome. In the absence of any kind of police force, the corps carried out a wide variety of tasks that these days might fall to the Border Force, MI5/6, Special Branch, or the military police. Thus was Frumentarius Quintus Valerius born.

Crimes and investigator I now had. But cui bono? Well, there never was a shortage of would-be Emperors with the right personal connections hoping to seize the throne… So I looked into the political history of Britannia, circa 220-225 AD. And found —virtually nothing. Apparently nothing of any note occurred in the remote island province between the withdrawal of Caracalla and his legions in 211, after the Severan campaigns in Caledonia ended, and the 260s, when Britain joined the short-lived breakaway “Empire of the Gauls”. Caracalla did split Britannia into two provinces, so my story strictly speaking happens in Britannia Superior. The only other potential factoid I uncovered was that a Governor, who might have been called Aradius Rufinus, might have served in Britain around the same time.

They say where there is a dearth of fact, fiction will flood in. I had a framework for a mystery plot in place, but I wanted my story-telling to reveal a deeper side to Roman Britain at the height of the Empire. At nearly two centuries after the Roman invasion, Britain must have been a place of mixed identities, of clashes of tradition and innovation, and the deeply-rooted experience of the colonised who can no longer remember life before the colonisers. 

So I gave Quintus two significant British companions, who have their own voices in this story and the books to follow: Tiro, his reluctant new assistant, who is passionate about his beloved vibrant London; and Lady Julia Aureliana, wealthy resident of Bath, trained healer, traditional leader of the Durotriges tribe and who knew Quintus in happier times. These characters are entirely fictitious, but I have researched both what little is known of the preceding British/Druid culture, and also the experiences of people living under other Empires. Specifically our own days of colonisation and empire.

My aim with The Governor’s Man was to write a pacy, twisting tale of murder, intrigue and treachery, set in a little-known period of RomanoBritish history. I hope I’ve also given breath to complex characters who thought of themselves as both Romans and Britons, being part of a great Empire whilst continuing to live traditional lives on the fringes of civilisation.

If you enjoy The Governor’s Man, do follow me and please let me know your thoughts. The follow up book is due out in 2022.

Jacquie Rogers

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About the Author

Jacquie Rogers had several careers, including advertising and university teaching, before realising that writing held more allure. Her short stories have been published in several countries. In summer 2020 she was Runner Up in the Lincoln Book Festival story competition. Lockdown gave her the opportunity to write the Roman mystery novel she’d been working on for a while. The Governor’s Man, the first of a trilogy set in third century Roman Britain, was published by Sharpe Books in May 2021. Jacquie lives in the Malvern Hills of England. She walks daily with her husband and a lunatic Staffie cross. When not masked and socially distanced, Jacquie loves long-distance travel on a Triumph motorbike, and discussing politics, travel and books with friends. She spends a lot of time in tea shops and pubs. Find out more at Jacquie’s website https://jacquierogersauthor.com/ and follow her on Twitter @rogers_jacquie

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