‘Shardlake’ (2024) Recap & Ending Explained: Did Matthew Close St. Donatus?

England in 1536, a time when King Henry VIII started beefing with the Catholic Church because divorce was a hard ask even for a King back then. Jokes aside, the age of Reformation brought a whole lot of changes to the country, and big and powerful monasteries got the worst end of the bargain. Based on C. J. Sansom’s series of epic historical fiction novels, Arthur Hughes is Matthew Shardlake, a king’s emissary who must ensure the dissolution of Saint Donatus.


Spoilers Ahead

Why does Lord Cromwell send Shardlake to Scarnsea? 

Lord Cromwell receives a letter from the monastery informing him that his commissioner, Robin Singleton, has been murdered in the kitchen of Saint Donatus. Cromwell’s advisor Jack Barak suggests that an investigation must follow, and he seeks the hunchback lawyer Matthew Shardlake to go to Scarnsea and find out what happened to Singleton. Singleton’s job was to look for unlawful activities in the monastery so that they could be forced to surrender to the crown. Before he leaves London, the Lord of Norfolk abducts Matthew to interrogate him about Cromwell’s intentions. After all the fuss, Matthew and Jack travel to the Benedictine house, where dark secrets lie under the name of God. 


How much does the monastery claim to know about the murder?

Upon their arrival, Matthew and Jack see Brother Mortimus bullying a scrawny boy named Simon. They are not introduced to the Abbot, as he is engaged. They see Brother Edwig, who’s the bookkeeper of the monastery, and Brother Jerome, who composes choral songs. Matthew demands to see Singleton’s assistant, Doctor Goodhap, who’s become paranoid after Singleton’s death. He refuses to leave his room until he’s in London and in safety. He is still brought out of his room, and he tells Matthew that Singleton left his room in the darkest hour of the night. The physician of the place, Brother Guy, was the man who discovered Singleton’s body. He claims that he saw no footprints or anything else when he saw a beheaded Singleton. Matthew asks if there’s any way out of the kitchen, but apparently there’s only one door for entering and leaving. Seeing the body, Matthew deduces that the cut is so clean that it’s the work of a trained swordsman. The search for a swordsman begins, but the scrawny Simon knows a secret. A mysterious attacker hit him on the head while he was eating food crumbs off the floor. When Matthew goes to visit him, Simon blabbers that Singleton wasn’t the first one killed, and he had warned the previous victim before she died.

Why does Jack slay Doctor Goodhap?

Matthew takes Brother Guy out to the kitchen at midnight. Brother Guy repeats everything he experienced when he found the dead body of Commissioner Singleton. The Abott and the brethren refuse to accept that the commissioner’s death is their responsibility. Abott claims that a rare artifact and holy relic were stolen on the night of the murder. Their argument is that the thief who stole the valuables killed Singleton on their way out. Matthew and Jack refuse to buy the story, and they believe the killer is not an infiltrator but one of the people who live inside the monastery. Singleton looked into the accounts of the monastery and investigated the land sales, but his findings remain unknown. Matthew visits the town to meet Justice Copynger, a man who’s on Cromwell’s payroll. Matthew asks Cromwell to check each of the documents and match them with the crown’s. For further investigation, Cromwell is asked to personally meet every buyer and see if there’s any inconsistency in the selling price. Copynger, seemingly loyal to the crown, works for another man and promises to give the documents to him before Shardlake arrives. Inside the monastery, the unstable Brother Jerome agrees to talk with Matthew. He reveals how Cromwell framed Queen Anne Boleyn for adultery. Jerome was held in the same tower as Boleyn’s apparent lover, Mark Smeaton. Mark Smeaton was tortured into confessing a lie, and he spent his last days in guilt and regret over his own weakness. This revelation is so big that Matthew and Jack both blow it off, thinking it’s the words of a madman. 


Meanwhile, Simon woke up and fled from his bed. Matthew chases him to the tower, where Simon looked like he was mocking Matthew for his gait, but he was physically hurting. Simon falls from the top and dies, and Matthew finds out that after he woke up, all of the senior monks came to talk to him. Matthew finds it absurd to believe that the insignificant novice nobody cared about suddenly gained this many well-wishers. He senses that the secrets won’t stay secrets for long, and he’s in the right direction. Jack isn’t on the same page as Matthew, and he thinks they’re wasting time, and Cromwell might throw them to the dogs if they fail. When he sees Doctor Goodhap preparing his horse to go back to London, he uses his sword to kill the doctor. Jack hopes that if the truth isn’t coming out, this could become the truth and will be enough to shut down the monastery. But the brothers choose to hide Goodhap’s body and claim he left at dawn.

Why does Jack search for clues in the pond?

Matthew sees a little cross Simon once made floating in the small pond of the monastery. He understands that the cross’s presence on the water is a signal Simon left before his death. Matthew asks Jack to jump in the pond to see if he can find something, and Jack hesitantly goes into the water. The brothers watch over the search anxiously, and Jack finds the murder weapon. He takes out a gloriously fine-looking sword, just the perfect tool to slice Singleton’s head off. Jack orders them to drain the drain off, and the eventual discovery makes things harder for the brothers. They find a rotten corpse of a woman underneath the waters, and the body is that of Brother Guy’s former assistant, Orphan Stonegarden. 


Why was Brother Gabriel killed?

After Orphan’s body is found, Brother Gabriel asks Matthew to come with him, as he has something to confess. The man couldn’t still blame his fellow brethren, but he tells Matthew about some of them being molestors, both young and old monks. Just when he was about to say something more, someone shot an arrow at him, and he died soon after. Matthew realizes that Simon was poisoned because he knew about Orphan, and Gabriel too got the same punishment. Matthew leaves immediately for London to track down the owner of the sword, and he finds Doctor Goodhap’s stallion just before he boards the ship. Matthew meets the other passenger on the ship, Master Crowe, and both of them reach London together. In the port, Matthew is attacked by one of Crowe’s men, and Crowe steals nothing from him but his time. 

Who is the owner of the sword?

Matthew finds out the sword belongs to John Smeaton, the late father of Mark Smeaton, who’s also dead. The little castle stamped on the sword indicates the maker of the sword received his training in Toledo, Spain. Matthew goes to visit Lord Cromwell, but to his surprise, he’s busy in a meeting with Lord Norfolk. After a long waiting period, Matthew finally meets the man. He lets him know that he’s not investigating one murder now, but three. Cromwell is furious, and he doesn’t care about who died for what reason; he wants the letter of surrender from the abbot. Cromwell clearly says we must tell our own truth when things are not in our favor. Before taking leave, Matthew asks him about Anne Boleyn and shows him the letters from Jerome claiming Mark Smeaton’s innocence. Cromwell burns the letter and tells him not to worry about insignificant things. Matthew explains how Singleton’s role in executing Mark might be a possible motive behind his death, but Cromwell states Mark had no friends or family except one older sister. Cromwell knows Mark was just a sacrificial lamb, but he doesn’t regret it. He orders Matthew to complete his job as soon as possible. 


Matthew then goes to visit Lord Norfolk, who has now cracked a deal with Cromwell to get a share of the monastery’s gold. The mysterious man Master Crowe had been working for was Norfolk all along, and he only delayed Matthew so that he could make this happen. Norfolk asks Matthew to go back and finally take the credit he deserves and expose the fraudulent land sales. Matthew leaves not for London but for the tower where Mark Smeaton was kept. He finds out that a woman and a priest visited Smeaton at different times, and Matthew now understands that one of these two people knew the truth and possibly killed Singleton in revenge. Meanwhile, Jack and Alice have grown to love each other, and Jack finds a secret passage in the kitchen sometime later. Jack understands the escape route of Singleton’s killer was this easy. Matthew visits Justice Copynger, and this time he knows he’s playing both sides. He gets the deeds of the owners of the lands, and now he’s got enough proof to burn St. Donatus to the ground. Matthew arrives at the monastery and tells the gatekeeper to wait for a messenger from London, who’s supposedly bringing the name of the woman who visited Mark Smeaton that day in the tower. 

Did Matthew Shardlake close St. Donatus?

Matthew now wants to solve every secret the monastery is trying to hide. He finds Alice and Jack together, and although heartbreaking, he doesn’t react much to it. He encounters the spirit of Singleton, who says he had no choice but to execute Smeaton. He was nothing more than a bird from Peruland who only repeated the message his master gave him. Matthew confronts the brother, telling him to give up the house and surrender to the crown. The abbott refuses to give up, and he claims the sins of one man cannot be enough to hold an entire Benedictine house responsible. Matthew says the true reason this house will be shutting down isn’t the murders, but the land sales. Matthew shows the papers where the monastery’s account shows less than the amount the land was actually sold for. Brother Edwig, the bookkeeper, stole hundreds of pounds from the crown, and now he stays silent when he’s been caught red-handed. Edwig finally stands up and says the real mistake isn’t in the books, but in themselves. So much so that they abandoned their church and God for the adulterer King Henry. He soon runs away from the dining hall, and everyone starts to look for him.


Abbott Fabian is forced to surrender the House to the Crown, and the messenger arrives, and Matthew gets the name of the woman. It was Alice, and she was supposed to marry Mark Smeaton a few days later. When Alice is about to be interrogated, she asks Jack if he wants to elope with her to France. Jack can’t do it, as he’s not confident in how his life will be if he gets back to being poor. Alice admits that she killed Singleton because of the injustice he allowed to happen. Now Alice must be presented in a court of law, and Matthew can’t do anything about it. Jack requests that he let her be his prisoner till the morning, and Matthew allows it. As he falls asleep, Brother Edwig emerges from the shadows to kill Matthew. The man had enough of the devil’s intervention, even though he himself was the murderer and a liar. Matthew manages to get the better of him and stabs him in the chest. Before this, Edwig had admitted to killing Orphan because she refused his advances, and Simon and Jerome because they could expose him. The actual killer of this monastery is now finally dead, thanks to Shardlake’s excellent detective work. 

Matthew sees that Jack has let Alice escape. Matthew realizes that Jack found the secret passages when he was back in London. Matthew lets it pass and makes up the story that Alice must’ve been caught in the mud and silt and swallowed by the quicksand. Matthew also figured that Jack killed Goodhap so that their report of failure wouldn’t reach Cromwell. Matthew and Jack shake hands, never talking about their experience in Scarnsea ever again, and they both ride off after a successful closing of a house of God, which only had filth inside it.


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Aniket Mukherjee
Aniket Mukherjee
Aniket is a literature student pursuing his master's degree while trying to comprehend Joyce and Pound. When his head is not shoved in books, he finds solace in cinema and his heart beats for poetry, football, and Adam Sandler in times.

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