It occurred to me the other day that I don’t have anything in the way of character biographies on here. I know I mention them in passing—namely in order to explain a scene or concept—but I think I should introduce them a little more fully.
Name and Origin: Anselm Johnson
Anselm is named after St. Anselm, an Archbishop of Canterbury, who died in 1109. He was born well before most people had last names, and he still doesn’t put much emphasis on his last name. He chose “Johnson,” though, when last names became required culturally, because when he was growing up, he was known as “Anselm, John’s son,” which is exactly how the name “Johnson” was derived.
Date and Place of Birth: Summer 1219, Boughton-Under-Blean, (Kent) England
As Anselm points out to Kalyn in the first book, he was born during the third year of the reign of King Henry III, which was actually a very common way of figuring years in the middle ages, since calendars and dating conventions were still undergoing some growing pains (we won’t even discuss spelling conventions… or the lack thereof).
Why did I choose Boughton-Under-Blean to be his village of origin? Because I thought he ought to live near Canterbury. Not that he couldn’t have lived somewhere else in England with a name like “Anselm,” but I just thought it was tidy. But Anselm didn’t grow up in a city (his father was a woodcutter, after all), so I pulled out our British atlas and looked at villages and small cities around the Canterbury area and found Boughton. I have always been fascinated by British place names that come in threes (like Stratford-Upon-Avon, home of Shakespeare), and that was the most prominent one in that region.
A quick internet research shows that it existed in the middle ages, and was actually mentioned in The Canterbury Tales. Apparently it was directly on the route from London to Canterbury, and hills in the area afforded the first glimpse for pilgrims of the cathedral in the distance. Also, the area still appears to have woods around it, so it would have certainly been wooded when Anselm grew up there.
Parents: John and Cecilia
John was a vampire, although Anselm did not know this growing up; Cecilia was his wife and Yaechahre. Living in groups was, by and large, out of style at the time—especially for vampires living in Western Europe—and John was the only vampire between London and Canterbury.
He was, of course, sterile, so he and Cecilia couldn’t have children of their own. When a dark-haired baby boy was abandoned at the local church a few years after they were married, Cecilia begged the priest for him. Glad to be free of having to raise a baby, the priest gave him to her. No one knew where the baby came from, but as the town was on the route between two important cities, it was likely that he had been abandoned by a woman passing through. Anselm’s black hair, light eyes, and taller-than-average stature served as a reminder, for as long as he lived in Boughton, that he was not born from the local stock.
When Anselm was six, they adopted a two year old girl who had been orphaned. She died, however, when she was twelve from small pox. This strongly affected Cecilia, who began to cycle through depressive periods, and she withdrew more into her faith. She died at the age of 49 after a lingering illness. John took his wife’s death hard, and he and Anselm (who was already a vampire by this time) ended up wandering around England for a while, before getting caught up in the Hundred Years’ War. John was killed fighting at Crecy.
Religion: Anselm was raised Catholic, but is not currently practicing. He still has his faith and some of his habits (he does still cross himself when he mentions God or Christ by name), but he doesn’t go to church, for several reasons.
For one thing, the Catholic service that he grew up with no longer exists. Yes, he believes the Mass should be said in Latin. And chanted. And he’s not exactly sure how he feels about chairs or pews in a church.
Secondly, he doesn’t practice because he can’t receive communion. He painfully feels Leviticus 7:27—Whatsoever soul it be that eateth any manner of blood, even that soul shall be cut off from his people. Communion is not just about communing with God, but also with the people around you; it is an act of community (there’s a reason why the words are etymologically related). Because he can’t share in it, he feels as if he is cut off from his people. To go to church but not receive communion is to forever be an outsider.
Lastly, the Catholic Church long ago excommunicated vampires, declaring them to be unnatural and agents of the Devil. Even if Anselm went to church, the faith of his childhood says that it doesn’t make any difference—his efforts don’t count unless the excommunication is lifted. Anselm doesn’t really believe that he is predestined to go to Hell—namely because he doesn’t think he’s an agent of the Devil—but the ban does make him feel unwelcome in church—especially given that Joshua has approached a number of popes, asking them to lift the excommunication, only to have all of them turn him down or give him no answer one way or the other.
How He Was Turned: Anselm actually tells the story of his turning in the first book. In short, while he was felling a tree (when he was twenty-seven or twenty-eight years old), the head of his ax broke off and it came back and caught him on the inside of the left leg, cutting a deep gash and nicking the femoral artery. His father, who was with him at the time, turned him in order to save his life.
Bet You Didn’t Know: Anselm’s first love (whom he talks about in the first book) was named “Agnes.” He didn’t have any romantic interests again until he met Marie during the Napoleonic Wars. They had a love affair for about a year, but when Anselm asked Marie to marry him, she turned him down, saying that he didn’t love her as much as he ought to, and that if they married, they’d only both end up miserable. Her rejection stung, and they parted ways on less than amicable terms, but over the years he got over it, and after coming to the U.S. in the 40’s, he started vacationing at her house in Charleston once every year or two, and they became good friends. Which is why he was in Charleston when he happened to find Ciaran.