Shardlake Ending: Who is the Killer?

The historical fiction show, ‘Shardlake’ presents a mystery-ridden narrative as an initial investigation into a monastery murder unravels other related conspiracies. The show follows Matthew Shardlake, a lawyer who travels to a remote abbey in Scarnsea as Lord Cromwell’s emissary after the latter’s previous commissioner falls victim to a brutal murder. Therefore, undertaking the murder investigation, Matthew and his companion, Jack Barak, explore the secluded monk community in an effort to prove their treachery to King Henry VIII. In doing so, Barak hopes to bring the St Donatus monastery’s surrender to his Lord to commence the dissolution of such an establishment under Henry VIII’s rule, while Matthew remains focused on extracting the cold, hard truth.

Within the span of four episodes, the season charts a riveting murder-mystery investigation in the unique setting of the Tudor era. As the plot thickens, new matters of intrigue and bodies pile up, increasing the situation’s gravity. Thus, much like Matthew and Jack, viewers must also seek answers about the mystery killer’s identity. SPOILERS AHEAD!

The Killer in the Monastery

Initially, the story picks up with the murder of Robin Singleton, Lord Cromwell’s commissioner, who’s staying at the St Donatus monastery in Scarnsea. Under Henry VIII’s rule of the dissolution of monasteries, Cromwell wishes to procure Abbot Fabian’s surrender of his land and wealth. Nevertheless, the surrender becomes difficult to obtain since the argument that the monastery hasn’t been disloyal to the crown remains. For the same reason, Robin and his companion, Doctor Goodhap, must remain under Fabian’s hospitality. However, one fateful night, the hospitality turns sour after the monks discover Robin’s beheaded body in the community’s kitchen building.

Abbot Fabian maintains that the death was a result of an outside attack at the monastery to steal a holy relic, the hand of the penitent thief. Therefore, the Abbot wishes to clean his hands off the matter by claiming Robin died as collateral damage in a theft against the monk community. Nonetheless, as tragic as Robin’s death may be, it offers the perfect opportunity for Cromwell to procure the monastery’s surrender. If one can prove Robin died in an assassination by the monks, Cromwell can force Fabian’s surrender by labeling his abbey as traitorous toward the crown.

For the same reason, Cromwell decides to hire Matthew Shardlake, his favored lawyer, who is known for his rigorous investigative methods. Consequently, Matthew— alongside Jack Barak, the Lord’s emissary sent to accompany the lawyer— arrives in Scarnsea and undertakes the investigation. After initial observation of Robin’s dead body— sliced in two pieces by the neck— Matthew deduces that a skilled swordsman of average height must have killed the unfortunate man.

While the monks assert they live a peaceful life, free of a sword’s violence, a few, such as Brother Mortimus and Edwig, previously served in the army as soldiers. Therefore, the possibility of one of the monks committing the murder remains. Even so, rather than pursue some unattainable confession, Matthew decides to snoop into things further to get the bigger picture. As a result, he seeks out the monastery land sale records that Robin observed before his death in an effort to establish a motive. Furthermore, his attention is brought to Simon, one of the younger monks disliked by his peers for his clumsy disposition.

Despite his reservations about colluding with the lawyer, Simon opens up to Matthew, reacting to the man’s empathic behavior towards him. However, after he expresses his desire to speak with Matthew, his health mysteriously declines in the short window when the lawyer is out of the monastery. Still, Simon manages to inform Matthew of a previous death that occurred in the abbey prior to Robin’s gruesome beheading. Even though the boy dies shortly after— falling to his death in a poisoned frenzy— his clues lead Matthew to the monastery pond.

As it would turn out, the pond holds many secrets, including one excellently crafted sword— the likely murder weapon behind Robin’s death. More surprisingly, after draining the pond, Matthew finds the skeleton of a young woman on the pond bed. Thus, the lawyer realizes the case has gone from one murder to three. The third discovered victim from the pond is Orphan Stonegarden, one of the women who worked in the abbey as the medic monk, Guy’s assistant— a role now fulfilled by Alice. Upon further inquiry, Matthew learns that Stonegarden was accused of theft in her last days at the monastery before disappearing.

It isn’t long before one of the morally conflicted monks, Gabriel, comes out and confesses that Stonegarden was often on the receiving end of unwanted sexual advances by other monks. However, the confession only gets Gabriel killed in broad daylight, as an arrow pierces his chest from across a distance. The same, paired with the sword’s discovery, confirms that the killer belongs to the monastery. Even so, it isn’t until Matthew’s other stream of investigation pays off that an answer emerges.

Although Lord Cromwell’s rival attempts to hinder Matthew’s discovery of the same, the man manages to procure comparative records of the monastery’s land sale tax collections, showcasing that the establishment has evidently been stealing from the crown. Since the same evidence is all Cromwell needs to force a surrender from Fabian, the revelation of the same at a planned supper leads to the automatic discovery of the man behind the theft: Brother Edwig, the bookkeeper.

As the thread unravels, the truth emerges about Edwig’s unwanted advances toward Stonegarden. After the girl repeatedly turned him down, the monk snapped and killed her, disposing of her body in the pond. Even though Simon and Gabriel— friends of Stonegarden, didn’t know of the entire story behind the girl’s death, they knew enough to portray Edwig as a possible suspect. For the same reason, the man killed his monk brothers after they got close to Matthew. Ultimately, Edwig is revealed as the killer and meets a suitable demise— death at Matthew’s hand in a feat of self-defense— for his deeds.

Robin Singleton’s Murderer

Although Matthew undertakes the monastery’s case in pursuit of Robin Singleton’s killer, he finds a different mystery in Stonegarden, Edwig, and the land sale taxes. Yet, once the latter mystery is solved, Robin’s killer remains unidentified. However, Matthew’s simultaneous pursuit after every lead ensures that answers present themselves to the lawyer in time. While the pond uncovers Stonegarden’s murder, it also reveals the sword that was used to murder Robin Singleton.

Therefore, during the investigation, Matthew takes a short trip to London, where he visits a knowledgeable weapons master to observe the sword and identify its maker. Thus, he learns of the sword’s connection to John Smeaton, Mark Smeaton’s father. Mark Smeaton was the man who was executed for adultery after confessing to be Queen Anne Bolyen’s lover. Even though Matthew keeps faith in his King and believes thaKinge late Queen met a just punishment for her actions, his stay at the monastery introduces him to a different possibility.

According to Brother Jerome, an outcast monk who was a relative of Queen Jane Seymour, Mark Smeaton was forced to confess to his alleged affair with Anne Bolyen falsely. Furthermore, a cryptic conversation with Lord Cromwell reveals Robin’s possible involvement in forcing Smeaton’s confession. For the same reasons, Matthew deduces that Robin was possibly killed by someone close to Mark Smeaton in an action of revenge.

Thus, after a visit to the prison where Smeaton was last kept captive, Matthew realizes that Alice is actually behind Robin Singleton’s murder. Alice, the woman who works at the monastery, is actually Mark Smeaton’s cousin, who was set to marry the man before his unjust execution. As such, once Robin arrives at St Donatus, Alice sees the opportunity to serve her own personal justice and kills the man using her family sword.

However, unlike Edwig, Alice meets a different end due to her budding relationship with Jack. Consequently, after Matthew decides to take Alice back to the King, Jack agrees to keep watch over her and allows her the opportunity to slip away. Since Jack himself was proven to be a killer— albeit an accidental one— after he stabbed Goodhap, he’s empathetic with Alice’s situation and allows his love for her to cloud his sense of duty. Mirroring the same, Matthew allows Jack’s indiscretions to remain hidden. In the end, five murders in the monastery reveal three different killers— each one discovered by Matthew Shardlake.

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