Ellis Peters was born Edith Mary Pargeter on September 28, 1913, in Horsehay, Shropshire, England, the daughter of Edmund Valentine Pargeter and Edith Hordley Pargeter. (Ellis Peters is a pen name that she adopted in 1959 after having published numerous books.) She attended Dawley Church of England Elementary School in Shropshire and Coalbrookdale High School for Girls and earned an Oxford School Certificate. She worked as a pharmacist’s assistant and dispenser in Dawley from 1933 to 1940. During this time, she also began writing novels on a wide range of historical and contemporary subjects; the first was Hortensius, Friend of Nero (1936). From 1940 to 1945, she served as a petty officer in the Women’s Royal Naval Service, receiving the British Empire Medal in 1944. During World War II she developed an interest in Czechoslovakia because she was haunted by the Western powers’ betrayal of that country at Munich. After the war, she translated many volumes of prose and poetry from the Czech and Slovak and continued writing her own fiction.
Her first detective novel, which she published as Edith Pargeter in 1951, was Fallen into the Pit. It initiated a series of thirteen novels featuring the Felse family, a series that continued until 1978. Peters wrote five other detective novels and numerous detective short stories during this period as well. Her interests in music, theater, and art are reflected in several of these works. In 1977, she began publishing the Brother Cadfael novels.
As both Edith Pargeter and Ellis Peters, this writer received much recognition for her work, including the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Allan Poe Award in 1963 for Death and the Joyful Woman (1961), which was cited as the best mystery novel of the year; the Czechoslovak Society for International Relations Gold Medal in 1968; and the Crime Writers’ Association’s Silver Dagger in 1980 for Monk’s-Hood (1980). She was awarded the Crime Writers’ Association’s Cartier Diamond Dagger for lifetime achievement in 1993. Peters died on October 14, 1995.