Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding.

I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop...
It was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Death of King Edward III

Today is the 640th anniversary of the death at Sheen Palace on June 21 1377 of King Edward III.

It is said that his mistress Alice Perrers snatched the rings from the dying kings hands when she realised what was happening. If the story is true it marks an undignified end to areign of just over fifty years and one mrked by signal victorie sin France and Scotland and was period crucial to the develiopment of English national identity. The King is buried in Westminster Abbey.

There is an online biography of the King at Edward III of England


The funeral effigy of King Edward III at Westminster Abbey

 Image: westminster-abbey.org

The King died of a stroke at Sheen Palace on 21 June 1377. A torch lit procession accompanied the coffin which first stopped at St Paul's cathedral. His funeral took place in the Abbey on 5 July and he was buried near his wife's monument in the chapel of St Edward the Confessor. His bones lie in the tomb chest

The wooden effigy, which was carried at his funeral, is preserved in the Abbey collection and the face (a plaster mask fixed to the wood, slightly distorted on the left side of the mouth) is thought to be taken from a death mask.

On his Purbeck marble tomb is a gilt bronze effigy, with long hair and beard, which is possibly by John Orchard. He wears his coronation robes and holds the handles of two sceptres (the rest being broken off). He has small buttons on his cuffs and decoration on his shoes. On the flat  tomb top are niches, some of which still hold small gilt angels. The pillow below the king's head is a replacement from 1871 (given by Queen Victoria), the original having been lost. The lion at his feet (shown in an engraving of 1677) has now gone. The inscription can be translated:

"Here is the glory of the English, the paragon of past kings, the model of future kings, a merciful king, the peace of the peoples, Edward the third fulfilling the jubilee of his reign, the unconquered leopard, powerful in war like a Maccabee.  While he lived prosperously, his realm lived again in honesty.  He ruled mighty in arms; now in Heaven let him be a king".

Originally there were bronze weepers (or statuettes) of twelve of his children round the tomb but only six of these now remain on the south side - Edward the "Black Prince", Edmund of Langley, William of Hatfield, Lionel of Antwerp, Mary of Brittany and Joan of the Tower. (Those that are now missing were to Isabel, Dame de Couci, William of Woodstock, John of Gaunt, Blanche of the Tower, Margery Countess of Pembroke and Thomas Duke of Gloucester, with their enamelled coats of arms below).

Above the tomb is an elaborate wooden tester by Hugh Herland. The arches terminate in half-angels as pendants. The soffit has a rich ribbed vault of six bays with cusping and bosses carved with human and beast-heads, many of which are missing. Four large enamelled shields (showing the cross of St George and the arms of France and England quarterly) remain on the south side of the tomb chest.

A state sword, seven feet long, was traditionally associated with this king and was kept near his tomb for many centuries. Also a shield covered with canvas and black leather, now much mutilated.

During the Great War the effigy was stored in the crypt of the Chapter House. Both effigy and tester were evacuated to a country house during the Second World War.

Tomb dimensions in metres: length 2.90. width 1.35. height 1.70.

The funeral effigy,  state sword and the shield will be on show in the new Jubilee Galleries, due to open in mid 2018.

From the Westmister Abbey website


King Edward III
The tomb effigy in Westminster Abbey

Image westminster-abbey.org


 King Edward III from the paintings in St Stephen's Chapel in the old Palace of Westminster and dated to the early 1360s

Image: royal.uk

He was succeeded by his grandson King Richard II.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

The Kingdom of Georgia

The online news service Royal Central had the following post today which is perhaps worth sharing more widely....


Georgia considering restoring the monarchy

by Oskar Aanmoen


The Republic of Georgia is considering a restoration of the monarchy and turning the nation into a parliamentarian constitutional monarchy after the same model as western European monarchies. The Georgian church also has recommended looking at the possibilities to see if this is possible.


“We could think of Georgia as the oldest monarchy in the world,” said Ilia II, who is the Patriarch of the Georgian Orthodox Church. He added that a shift to a constitutional monarchy is a long process and cannot be done in the near future. “We must analyse the past, present, and future,” said the Patriarch.

Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia Ilia II. 
Photo: David1010 via Wikimedia Commons.
Chairman of the Georgian Parliament, Irakli Kobakhidze, met with the monarchist Patriarch on Monday to discuss the possible restoration of the monarchy in the small republic which lies on the border between Europe and Asia. Parliament member and leader of the Georgian Legal Issues Committee, Eka Beselia met with the press after the meeting. He said that the Patriarch’s initiative is a notable idea, but that people need to understand the idea first.
Before meeting with the Patriarch of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Chairman of the Georgian Parliament, Irakli Kobakhidze, said that a monarchy would bring back stability to Georgian politics and the Georgian state life. In addition, other members of the parliament have spoken warmly about the restoration of the monarchy; parliament member Volski said to the press, “The monarchy would bring positive changes to Georgia.”

The Crown of Georgia. 
Photo: Fyodor Solntsev via Wikimedia Commons.
The Kingdom of Georgia, also known as the Georgian Empire, was a medieval monarchy that emerged in the year 1008 and fell in 1490. As of today, there are two pretenders to the Georgian throne. They are David Bagration Mukhrani of the Bagrationi Dynasty and Nugzar Bagration-Gruzinsky of the House of Gruzinsky. It is unclear which of the two would become King of Georgia if the monarchy was restored today.
The monarchists in Georgia today make up an enormous political group. In 2013, a survey was conducted questioning the population on their opinions of the monarchy being reinstated; then, 78.9% of the respondents favoured a monarchy over the current republic.

St Alban

Whether you observe St Alban on June 20th, which we lost with it falling on a Sunday this year, and raises the question as to why he is only a memoria given that he is the proto-martyr of Britain, or on his dies natalis of June 22nd it is worth saying that a visit to St Alban's shrine church of the Cathedral and Abbey Church of St Alban is well worth while

It is a while since I visited it but it is a deeply moving building, one that has survived the ravages of time, including partial collapses of the nave in the middle ages and partial rebuildings, of the upheavals of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, neglect, a drastic and heavy handed "restoration" in the late nineteenth century and much besides. It still has one of the richest collections of surviving medeival art in a major church, with wall paintings and sculpture of the highest quality. Its survival at all is almost miraculous, and in that time honoured cliche it is a sermon in stone not only of English church history but also an eloquent one of the survival of the Church amidst all that the world can do to it.

There is an online account of its history at St Albans Cathedral and the informative cathedral website can be seen at  The Cathedral and Abbey Church of Saint Alban

Today the restored shrine base is the focus of prayer and devotion to St Alban, even if his relics are lost, or possibly in part in Germany.

Related image

The restored Shrine of St Alban

Image: Wikiwand

A reconstruction of the Abbey and its buildings on the eve of the dissolution
A painting by Joan Freeman

Image: Wikipedia


The abbey before Lord Grimsthorpe's "restoration"

Image: Herts Memories

Lord Grimsthorpe's drastic restoration campaign did save the building from collapse and his west front is more impressive than its predecessor, and probably what at least of the type at least one medieval abbot intended. Other changes to the main windows of the transepts, the re-roofing and the addition of buttresses cutting through medieval work are more than questionable, as is the loss of the " Hertfordshire spike" from the tower.

 Related image

The south wall of the nave built partly of reused Roman brick from Verulamium and local flint. The early fourteenth century cloister arcading is brutally cut by Lord Grimsthorpe's nineteenth century buttresses.

Image: vidimus.org

St Albans had agreat tradition of  chronicle writing in the middle ages, and is best known for the work of matthew paris in the thirteenth century and Thomas Walsingham in the later fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries.

As someone who already knew the abbey I was interested to find in my research on Bishop Richard Fleming a link. Like all self-respecting medieval Bishops of Lincoln - in whose diocese the abbey lay but with its autonomy protected by a series of Papal privileges - and with an Abbot qually keen, indeed obliged,  to uphold the status of his house as an anney nullius there was the inevitable clash of jurisdictions and furious exchanges of letters in the 1420s. This afforded a great insight into the exempt status of the abbey both then and throughout its history. It was fascinating to see how the monastic Archdeaconry of St Albans, transferred to the diocese of London from that of Lincoln in 1550 survived until the mid-nineteenth century, only being reconfigured in 1845 and close to the foundation of the modern diocese. There is something of its history at Archdeacon of St Albans

Humphrey Duke of Gloucester sponsored by St Alban before the Blessed Sacrament and Christ as the Man of Sorrows circa 1430-40


There is perhaps something of an irony that Humphrey Duke of Gloucester, a great patron of the abbey and is buried there, was to be Bishop  Fleming's principal adversary in the conflict over Fleming's failure to become Archbishop of York in 1424-6. The St Albans factor may have added to the attendant disharmony.

St Alban pray for us

Monday, 19 June 2017

Emperor Maximilian of Mexico

150 years ago today the Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico and two of his generals Miguel Miramón and Tomás Mejía were shot by firing squad at Santiago de Querétaro in central Mexico. Their deaths took place in the Cerro de las Campanas  - the Hill of the Bells.

I recently read a story, and which I am not sure if it is true, about an exchange between the Emperor and General Miramón just before they were shot. The Emperor asked if it would be painful. The General replied "I don't know. It's the first time for me too." 

In 1900 diplomatic relations were restored between Austria and Mexico and in 1901 Emperor Francis Joseph paid for a chapel to be erected on the site of his brother's death. There are accounts of that chapel and of the site at Maximilian's memorial at El Cerro de las Campanas and at Emperor Maximilian Memorial Chapel

There are not a few depictions in art and commemorative images, often inaccurate, as well as in photographs of the death of the Emperor and his comapnions, and Édouard Manet painted a series of five pictures of the event, indicative of the impact on public consciousness at the time.

The most certain is this photograph:


The Emperor was shot first, and the two Generals last words were "Viva el Emperador!"

General Mejia is on the left, General Miramón in the centre, the Emperor on the right

Image: Wikipedia

In 1868 the body of the Emperor was returned to Austria and burie din the Imperial vault in the Capuchin church in Vienna.


Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico

One of many images of what was hoped to be


There are a number of biographies of the Emperor and an online one at Maximilian I of Mexico

There is a useful illustrated piece about his relationship with his brother the Emperor Francis Joseph and the divisive matter of the family pact removing Maximilian and his possible heirs from the Austrian succession here.

A monarch of liberal intentions, who was perhaps naive in many ways, and unaware of the vicious and factious nature of Mexican politics he remains a tragic and sad figure.

Inspired with German medievalist Romanticism he lived out achivalric code in a situation that was conducted by anything but that. This can be seen in his refusal to escape, or to countenace shaving off his whiskers to disguise himself as detailed in the account of his life linked to above.

He and his consort are interesting in the number of images that were created in a short perios of him and his Empress Charlotte/Carlota - they had clearly embraced the new technologies as well as traditional paintings to celebrate the monarchical image.

I have posted earlier in the year about Empress Carlota on the anniversary of her death. 

Interest in this brief episode in the history of Mexico remains strong - the Emperor is far better known than the previous Mexican Emperor Agustin I in the 1820s, and his monarchy far better known than that of Brazil which was much more successful and survived from the 1820s to 1888/89.

In having him shot Juarez made Maximilian a martyr - and that was a political mistake. As Joan Haslip points out in her life of him Imperial Adventurer a failed Emperor ejected from Mexico and living out a shadowy exile on the fringes of the Austro-Hungarian court was little threat to Juarez and his successors and would have slipped from public consciousness. The firing squad on the Hill of Bells made the Emperor and his Generals world famous and martyrs for a cause.

With the second, and as with the first, Mexican Empire there is an element of what might-have-been. Had either prospered it is possible that Mexico might have had a less violent and troubled two centuries and that the type of reformist traditionalism Emperor Maximilian embodied and offered would have served it better than so many of the regimes it has witnessed.

Being childless the Emperor had adopted two of the grandsons of the previous Emperor Agustin I of the house of Iturbide as heirs. According to biographers what he really wanted was one of his brother Archduke Karl Ludwig's sons to succeed him - which might indeed have led to avery different fate for Archduke Franz Ferdinand or Archduke Otto and his son Bl.Charles of Austria.

As events turned out it was the Iturbides who inherited what was left of Emperor Maximilian's claim. Their history can be read in The Iturbide Dynasty Genealogy and at House of Iturbide.

The first inheritor of that claim was Agustín de Iturbide y Green, the de jure Emperor Agustin II who became an academic at Georgetown and died 1925. There is more about him at Georgetown University's Imperial Prince 

From him the claim passed to the daughter and then the two grandaughters of his cousin. So technically there were three Empresses of Mexico  - Maria I 1925-49, Maria II 1949-62, and Maria III 1962-99  - and currently there is the son of the last named the titualr Emperor Maximilian II based in Australia.


  Arms of the House of Iturbide granted by Emperor Maximilian I in 1865

Image: Wikipedia

Emperor Maximilian and his Empress were never actually crowned and the actual crown itself was destroyed as is mentioned in Imperial Crown of Mexico but replicas do survive:


Replica of the Imperial Crown of Mexico
Made for the obsequies of Emperor Maximilian I in Vienna and now in the Imperial Furniture collection

Image: Wikipedia


Arms of the Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico

Image: Wikipedia 

Corpus Christi in Oxford

Yesterday was the Corpus Christi Procession here in Oxford and this is the account on the Oxford Oratory website, to which I have added a few extra words of commentary:

O Sacrament Most Holy!


Many hundreds braved the sweltering heat yesterday to walk through the streets of Oxford with our Eucharistic Lord. For the first time we were able to close streets to traffic along the way, by the courtesy of Oxford City Council, and this made for a smooth procession and an excellent witness.

The Blessed Sacrament is exposed:


The Blessed Sacrament is taken from the Oratory:


Parishioners'gardens provided petals to strew along the Processional route:



The Procession heads along St Giles':



The canopy bearers were from the Conventual Franciscans house in Oxford

The Witney Town Band performed valiantly and rousingly a selection of marches and hymns to the Blessed Sacrament:


At Blackfriars, where Fr Robert Ombres O.P. preached:


The Gospel is read:




The Procession leaving Blackfriars:


This year the Procession was, as the website mentions, very effecively re-routed round the churchyard of St Mary Magdalene's church and past the Oxford Martyrs Memorial, erected to commemorate Cranmer, Latimer and Ridley in 1841 as a riposte to the Oxford Movement... :


Archbishop Cranmer doesn't appear to approve. The Clever Boy will add that in 1555 Cranmer, together with Latimer and Ridley, were brought out from their prison to watch the Corpus Christi Procession that year and definitely did not approve - one of the bishops dived into a shop doorway to avoid the spectacle... :


In Magdalen Street:



The corner of Balliol is the site of the Catherine Wheel Inn where the four Oxford Catholic Martyrs of 1589 were arrested:



St Michael's Street, passing the Oxford Union:




New Inn Hall Street:


St Ebbe's:



Benediction was given in the Newman Rooms at the University Chaplaincy:

Fr Daniel gives Benediction:


At last, tea!


Images: Oxford Oratory website

As always this was a splendid witness to our belief in the Blessed Sacrament and Our Lord's Presence amongst us, and I was delighted once again to be a participant.


Saturday, 17 June 2017

Memories of Imperial Russia in Oxford

The website Royal Central has the following post today which has a special resonance for those of us who live in Oxford:

An Oxford House and Imperial Russia

by Elizabeth Jane Timms

A building in a suburb of Oxford has a remarkably unique history. At first glance, it could be yet another late-Victorian townhouse, although the presence of its distinctive blue double-doors suggests something more unusual. Although now split up into apartments, the building hints at having once been something else, despite having been flats for over 30 years. The building replaced the apothecary and almshouses of the Cutler Boulter Charity on St Clement’s Road. It remained the main dispensary for this East Oxford suburb until 1948 and is, therefore, historically significant to the area. The building had incidentally also been the main A.R.P telephone station for Oxfordshire until 1945. Several years after this, it attracted the interest of the person with whom it is now most closely associated.

Charles Sydney Gibbes with Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna 
Image: Romanov family Flickr / Wikimedia
Charles Sydney Gibbes, who became a well-recognised figure in Oxford, was originally from Yorkshire and educated at St John’s College, Cambridge. Gibbes initially went to Russia to teach English to the aristocracy but was later summoned to the Russian Imperial Court to be considered as tutor to the daughters of Tsar Nicholas II, the Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia. In 1913, Gibbes became English tutor to the nine-year-old Tsarevich Alexei, the heir-apparent to the throne.
Following the Tsar’s abdication on 2/15 March 1917, the Imperial Family was detained under the Provisional Government, interned as prisoners within their residence of the Alexander Palace at Tsarskoe Selo (Tsar’s Village) outside St. Petersburg. Initially, the Imperial Family was moved to the 'Governor's House' at Tobolsk in Siberia, but in April 1918, orders were issued to move the Tsar and his family again, this time to Ekaterinburg. The Imperial Family was housed at the Ipatiev House (also dubbed the House of Special Purpose) where on the night of 16/17 July 1918, the entire family - together with their faithful retainers, the maid Anna Demidova and the former court physician Dr Botkin - were shot in the cellar of the house by Bolsheviks. Gibbes had not been allowed contact with the Imperial Family and was only able to enter the Ipatiev House later, following the murder, in the subsequent period when Ekaterinburg was briefly under the control of the White Army.
Gibbes returned to England and enrolled in an ordination course at St Stephen’s House in 1928; although, he subsequently decided against a career in the Anglican Church. On his return to Harbin, he was received into the Russian Orthodox Church as a tonsured monk, taking as his new name Father Nicholas, after the murdered Tsar Nicholas II. Gibbes again returned to England, moving to Oxford in 1941, where he established an Orthodox congregation in the medieval chapel at Bartlemas, which borders the recreation grounds of Oriel, Jesus and Lincoln Colleges. It was after the end of the Second World War when Gibbes found himself looking for somewhere permanent to settle that he came across the building in Oxford.
Father Nicholas purchased the house in 1949 and converted one ground-floor room of the house into a chapel dedicated to St Nicholas the Wonderworker, where the Russian Imperial Family was mentioned in the services which were celebrated there. It was within this chapel that Gibbes displayed many of the relics which he had preserved and carried with him across the world. Most poignantly perhaps, was the chandelier of red and white glass tulips which hung originally in the ‘House of Special Purpose’ at Ekaterinburg, which Gibbes had salvaged. Among the icons hung in the chapel were those which had been personally given to Gibbes by the Imperial Family or were those rescued from the dustbins and stoves of the ‘House of Special Purpose.’
Elsewhere, Gibbes carefully preserved his other relics of the Imperial Family, which included a handkerchief, pencil-case and bell owned by the Tsarevich Alexei. There was also a pair of Tsar Nicholas II’s felt boots which were kept near the altar. Gibbes established a library behind the chapel, which contained some exercise books of his Imperial pupils Grand Duchesses Maria and Anastasia, as well as some of his photographs. Other items included a coat-of-arms from the imperial yacht Standart and a collection of sleigh bells.
The house was subsequently split into flats, and the chapel that held such poignant relics of the Imperial Family was also turned into a flat. Nothing remains of Gibbes's time there. Much of his collection was sold to the Wernher Collection at Luton Hoo where a memorial chapel was made to house them, consecrated by Archbishop Anthony of Sourozh. When Luton Hoo became a luxury hotel, the Wernher Collection moved to Greenwich and was managed by English Heritage. The Gibbes collection, however, is now in private hands.
The house was successfully nominated as a heritage asset in 2015. It is also a building of spiritual importance regarding the history of Oxford’s Orthodox communities, as the Russian Orthodox Chapel in Oxford was only established much later and not within Gibbes’s lifetime. Appropriately enough, the chapel today contains an engraving of Gibbes in its main entrance hall, showing him as the white-bearded figure in black that he had familiarly become in 1950s Oxford. Fittingly, the chapel contains also icons of the Russian Imperial Family in its window niches, who were finally recognised - following much debate - as Passion Bearers by the Moscow Patriarchate in 2000.
Gibbes died aged 87 in 1963 and is buried in Headington Cemetery, his gravestone bearing the three staves of the Russian Orthodox Cross. In 2013, a memorial service took place at Headington Cemetery to mark his 137th birthday, attended by the Russian Orthodox Community. The service took place in deep snow; ironically enough, it was a scene that fittingly could have occurred in Russia.

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Ember Saturday after Pentecost

This morning I attended the traditional Mass for the Ember Saturday following Pentecost at Holy Rood here in Oxford. This had been sponsored by the Latin Mass Society.

The Mass was celebrated by Fr Daniel Lloyd from the Ordinariate who is now parish priest of Holy Rood, and it was good to be able to attend so ancient a part of the liturgy in a modern church and celebrated by a young priest.

The texts for the Mass can be read in translation from Deacon John Giglio's blog here.

Afterwards a group of us, including the Chairman of the Latin Mass Society and his family, went off for a convivial pub lunch together at the Head of the River by Folly Bridge.

Dr Shaw has subsequently posted on his website pictures of the Mass with comments about the celebration of the traditional Rite in a modern church - Holy Rood was built during the pontificate of Pope John XXIII. His post can be viewed  here

The sharp-eyed amongst my readers may spot amongst the photos the Clever Boy who is sporting a sling to support his right forearm. This problem, some rheumatic condition related to gout, is on the mend, though the sling is something of a handicap ( no pun intended, but unintentionally appropriate...)