Sherlock Holmes: his people
In “The Marriage of Mary Russell,” as the cover copy tells us:
Mary Russell is delighted by Sherlock Holmes’ proposal of marriage. After all, they have become partners-in-crime, and she has recently come into her inheritance: what remains but to confirm the union with her mentor-turned-partner with the piece of paper? Russell’s pragmatic side tells her to head straight to the registry office—until Holmes surprises her with a sentimental wish to be married in the chapel of his ancestral manor.
Knight, squire, yeoman, and knave: four levels of Britain’s fighting caste.
By the time we climbed a spiral stairway—the ancient clockwise sort designed to free a swordsman’s arm against invaders—I would not have sworn that we weren’t on the outskirts of Oxford, if not London.
According to Arthur Conan Doyle (in “Greek Interpreter”) Holmes tells Watson, “My ancestors were country squires.” A squire, in the Middle Ages, was a knight’s right hand man—bearing his shield, helping suit him in his armor, feeding his horses and ransoming him when he was taken in battle. In the process, the squire took on the skills for his own training, although the apprentice position later solidified into a status of its own, with the squire an inherited rank of gentleman a notch below actual the actual peerage.
Dukes would come and go, earls were made and moved up the hierarchy, but the squire remained a figure of solidity and authority in his area, one generation after another inhabiting the manor, overseeing the tenant farmers, settling disputes, and coming between the whims of the peers and the needs of the working classes. Their homes tended to be solid, though not grand:
As we stood pressed among the rhododendrons that flanked the entrance drive, my mind trying (and failing) to see any signs of Holmes in this most conventional of English façades, a sudden play of head-lamps came from the lane behind us. We ducked down, watching a lorry pass by. To my surprise, it came to a halt at the front entrance. A man in formal dress came out of the door, followed by a footman and maid who, under the other man’s direction, helped the lorry’s driver unload a number of anonymous crates.
And thus the mystery begins…