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.

Saturday, 1 August 2015

A tour of Reformation Oxford

Last Wednesday I gave a tour of Oxford sites associated with the period 1547-1603. This was for a study week based at Rewley House, the University's Continuing Education section, and followed on from the previous two years when the same tutor and in several cases the same students looked at fifteenth century Oxford and at the period 1485-1547. They have booked me for next year for Jacobean and Caroline Oxford - so I must be doing something right.

Ralph Agas' map of the city from 1578 and the Beerblock drawings of the colleges enable one to visualise the city as it was. It is estimated that the population increased by 50% in the period 1558 -1642, and Hollar's map from the 1670s shows the effect of this on the building pattern.

We walked across the site of the Carmelite friary and looked at Worcester College. Originally built as Gloucester College for Benedictine monks and closed at the dissolution of the monasteries it was bought by Sir Thomas White, the founder of St John's College, and became a centre for recusancy. Gloucester Hall as it became known provided accommodation for the Catesby family, one of whose children was born there recusants, the sibling of Robert, the brains ( if that is the right term? ) behind the Gunpowder Plot. Students from the Hall used to slip away to Mass at the recusant centre at the former nunnery at Godstow a couple of miles upstream.

St John's College on St Giles was also founded by Sir Thomas White, using the former Cistercian St Bernard's College. The college still possesses two banners from the chapel consecration at the refoundation. Two of the most famous recusant martyr priests were members of St John's - the former chaplain St Cuthbert Mayne, the protomartyr from 1577, and St Edmund Campion, a Fellow in the 1560s, and Jesuit mission priest active in 1580-81 when he was captured and executed.

Oppsite is the modern home of Blackfriars in Oxford. In the reign of Queen Mary Spanish Dominicans were in Oxford seeking to understand as well as counteract the spread of Protestantism. Amongst these were Bartolome Carranza, later Archbishop of Toledo, who himself fell foul pf the Spanish Inquisition as can be seen here.

Passing the Martyr's Memorial of 1841 - a curiously backhanded compliment to the Oxford Movement - we looked at the site of the Catherine Wheel inn, at the junction of Magdalen St East and Broad St. It was here in 1589 that two Catholic priests and two laymen were arrested. The landlady was imprisoned for life and the four men were executed on the gallows at the end of Holywell St, where there is now a modern memorial. This incident points, I think, to the part played by inns as meeting places for recusants - as in John Gerard's autobiography in Norwich- and as Catholic "safe-houses"

In Broad St there is the site of the burnings of Latimer and Ridley in 1555 and of Cranmer the following year. At the time this was the remains of the city ditch, overlooked by the city wall. I am very skeptical of the claims that the scorching of the former gates of Balliol are from these fires - to do so would have required a pyre big enough to burn down central Oxford ...

Before their execution the three degraded bishops were held in the Bocardo prison which was in and over the Northgate of the city and adjoined the tower of St Michael at the Northgate.

The Bocardo in 1770

Bocado just before its demolition in 1771


It was from the top of the tower that Cranmer was forced to watch the death of his two colleagues. Whilst all three were held there the previous year they were taken out to watch the restored Corpus Christi procession - which they of course saw as idolatrous, and one of the bishops hid in a shop doorway to avoid witnessing it. A door from Bocado is preserved in the treasury at St Michael's.

Bocado and St Michael's from the south


In St Michael's - itself a fascinating text book of parish church evolution - we looked at the font. This was brought from the church of St Martin at carfax, of which only the tower survives. the particular interest of it is that Shakespeare may well have stood by it in old St Martin's when his godson, the son of the owner sof the Crown Inn where he stayed on journeys between London and Stratford, was baptised. The Crown still exists as apublic house and I understand there is still a room there with sixteenth century painted decoration similar to that to be seen in Pizza Express in the former Golden Cross Inn.

It was along Cornmarket that Queen Elizabeth I made her entry into the city in 1566. She stayed in Christ Church, where anmongst the loyal addresses was was one delivered by the young Anglican Deacon Edmund Campion. As Alice Hogg points out in her excellent God's Secret Agents the government had already lost the sympathy of many within the University by this date, and mot oxford colleges provided martyrs for the Catholic cause.

The Queen came into Oxford from Woodstock manor, where she had been held under house arrest in the mid-1550s, so it was not perhaps a place of happy memories for her.

Jesus College, founded in 1571, is the only Oxford college founded in her reign. it was sdpecifically designed to be a college for students from Wales, and still keeps St David's day as its principal feastday, although the actual Welsh connectiuon has, I gather, largely disappeared. Over High Table in the Hall is afine portrait of Queen Elizabeth I.

Trinity College was founded in the reign of Queen Mary by Sir Thomas Pope. this was in 1554, and like St John's was part of the attempt to re-Catholicise the country. This is discussed in Eamonn Duffy's recent study Fires of Faith, which shows how much was achieved in a short period. Like St John' s it had been amonastic college, Durham College, for the Benedictines from the northern province. Sir Thomas' letters to his stepson, a very reluctant student at the new college are a reminder that time does not change generationakl conflict within families about future career plans.

We looked at the Bodleian, and how Sir Thomas Bodley (1545-1613) saved the Library from the decay into which the pillaging by the Royal Commissioners under King Edward had reduced it, and how he created the basis upon which it has developed, including the copyright status. His memorial in Merton chapel, where he had once been a Fellow has the delicate touch that the pilasters flanking his bust are composed of two piles of books.

The Bodley Memorial - Photo © Robin Stevens, used under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license

The Bodley monument in Merton Chapel
Image: merton.ox.ac.uk

All Souls College survived the threat of dissolution along with the other chantries in 1548

St Mary's University church witnessed the trials and condemnation of the three Anglican bishops burned in the 1550s,a nd they and aselection of Oxford martyrs of all traditions from the 1530s to 1681 are commemorated on a modern plaque in the church. In the chancel - which always strikes me as conveying much of what many churches must have looked like four centuries or so ago, lacking stained glass, whitewashed, stripped of colour and most decoration - is the grave of Amy Robsart, whose mysterious death at Cumnor Place outside Oxford in the autumn of 1560 cast a serious shadow over the ambitions of her husband, Lord Robert Dudley.

It was in the church that Edmund Campion left 400 copies of his Decem Rationes, printed in secret at Stonor for the commencement ceremony on June 27th 1581 - a typical act of bravura. His capture occurred soon after at Lyford Grange where he was on July 14th and15th when he was apprehended.


St Edmund Campion1540-1581


There is a useful set of links about St Edmund at The Jesuit Institute - St Edmund Campion SJ

Facing the church is Oriel, and on the High Street facade a statue of Cardinal Allen (1532-1594), of whom there is an account here.
Allen, an Oriel and St Mary's Hall man founded the seminary at Douai which helped maintain the supply of priests to England, later supplemented by the Jesuits. He was a key figure in maintaing the Catholic community, and, placed alongside Newman one could argue Oriel has produced the two most important post-Reformation Cardinals. Manning would, I think, be a close runner up - but he was a Balliol man...

That more or less concluded the tour - we had already run over time, so there was not the hope of talking about how Magdalen College's records recount changing liturgies and musical accompaniment through the purchase of new part books and such like, or to tell stories of an Edwardian Fellow there, Thomas Bickley profaning the Reserved Sacrament, and after exile under Queen Mary becoming an Elizabethan Warden of Merton and Bishop of Chichester ( 1586-96 ). Incidentally regular readers may recall I was thurifer at a 450th anniversary Requiem for Cardinal Pole in the chapel at Magdalen, his college, in 2008.

Nor was there time to look at a house of about 1600 just off the High Street that is now a Thai restaurant ...

Ah well, such are the historic treasures and associations to be found on a short walk around Oxford.



The August illumination in the Très Riches Heures of the Duke of Berry is attributed to Jean Limbourg. In the foreground it depicts an aristocratic falconry party. The young man on the leading horse as well as the huntsman or groom wears a straw hat that looks very contemporary to the modern viewer, and is presumably the type of headgear, "a sorry straw hat", in which Henry Beaufort  Duke of Somerset was recorded as wearing on his head whilst jousting in 1463. Here once again the fashionable members of the aristocratic world of the early fifteenth century are out and about enjoying themselves in traditional country pursuits, and also courtly dalliance.

In the background are a group of bathers enjoying swimming in the warm weather whilst others gather in the harvest. The mood is relaxed and prosperous, suggesting long lazy days for some, and, for those working, warmth and sunshire, and the promise of plenty for the coming autumn.

In the background is the Château d'Étampes. Today, as the link explains, only the keep remains of the castle. This great tower of Étampes is of particular interest to me as it may have inspired the design of Clifford's Tower at York in the thirteenth century, and that in turn may have influenced, in the fourteenth century, the design of the great tower, the so called Round Tower, of the castle in my home town of Pontefract, and that at the nearby castle at Sandal.

In August 1415 King Henry V was in the last stages of preparing to invade France. At the very beginning of the month his whole plan of campaign was threatened by the discovery of the Southampton Plot, about which there is an online account and discussion at here.

With that problem dealt with,  on August 11th the King and his army sailed across the Channel, and began the siege of Harfleur.

Friday, 31 July 2015

Calais crisis

I know I am a bit odd but when I hear of MPs wanting troops sent to Calais or see newspaper headlines such as "Army ready to act over Calais crisis" I begin to wonder if I, or the media, have time-travelled back to 1436, when Duke Humphrey saved the day, or 1558, when we lost Calais to the French after 211 years.

Are we going to liberate the town and Pale so that it can once more send, as it did from 1540 until 1558 two MPs to Westminster? Has we retained that bridgehead on the continent our view of Europe might well be somewhat different. It could be our Ceuta or Mellila.

Could this be for the government what the Crimea has been for Vladimir Putin?

St Neot

July 31st is the feast, inter alia, of St Neot.

By way of introduction I will reproduce this piece about the church of St Neot in Cornwall from Wikipedia:

The original dedication may have been to 'St Anietus', with whom the Saxon Neot has been confused. In the 11th century a small monastery existed here; the early medieval church building (of which the tower remains) must have been smaller than the one in existence today. Rebuilding in granite was undertaken in the 15th century and the fine stained glass windows are from about 1500. The stained glass is partly original and partly from a restoration done by John Hedgeland, circa 1830. There are 16 windows of 15th or 16th century workmanship unless indicated: 1: the Creation window; 2: the Noah window; 3: the Borlase window; 4: the Martyn window; 5: the Motton window; 6: the Callawy window; 7: the Tubbe and Callawy window; 8: an armorial window (Hedgeland); 9: the St George window (15th century); 10: the St Neot window (12 episodes from the legend); 11: the Young Women's window (four saints with the 20 donors below); 12: the Wives' window (Christ and three saints with the 20 donors below); 13: the Harris window; 14: the Redemption window (Hedgeland); 15: the Acts window (Hedgeland); 16: the chancel window depicts the Last Supper (Hedgeland; copied from the earliest representation in the British Museum).
Nearby is the holy well of St Neot. Legend tells that the well contained three fish, and an angel told St Neot that as long as he ate no more than one fish a day, their number would never decrease. At a time St Neot fell ill, and his servant went and cooked two of the fish; upon finding this, St Neot prayed for forgiveness and ordered that the fish be returned to the well. As they entered the water, both were miraculously returned to life.

There is another piece about the church from the Cornwall Historic Churches Trust at  www.chct.info/histories/st-neot/   This makes the point that after Fairford in Gloucestershire this is the most complete schenme of late medieval glazing to survive.


St Neot

St Neot Parish Church, Cornwall

Image:© David Coppin

Gordon Plumb has posted the following piece on the Medieval Religion discussion group, which I have copied in its entirety and which looks at the cult of the saint and its depiction in stained glass

 St Neot, St Neot, Cornwall, nVII:

Glass of c1530 showing the story of St Neot. Neot was a monk and hermit who gave his name to St Neot, Cornwall and St Neots, Cambridgeshire (formerly Hunts). He joined the Glastonbury community early in his life and moved from there to a spot near Bodmin Moor as a hermit, and there he founded a small monastery. He was buried in the church where, later, his relics were enshrined on the north side of the sanctuary.

In 972-7 Earl Leofric founded a monastery at Eynesbury in Huntingdonshire with monks from Thorney abbey. These monks obtained by gift or theft the greater part of the relics of Neot from the Cornish shrine. That is what the accepted medieval version of Neot's life says, but G. McNeil Rushforth in his article on the St Neot's glass says "It is a far cry from Huntingdonshire to Cornwall, and it seems more probable that there were two distinct saints - a Saxon Neot, perhaps founder of St Neot's Priory in Huntingdonshire where he was buried, and a Celtic or Cornish Neot (whose real name may have been Aniet or Niet), founder of a monastery or college which existed till the Norman Conquest. About the end of the eleventh century the Norman Abbey of Bec acquired a cell at Cowick, near Exeter, and it is suggested that here the monks may have heard of the Cornish St. Neot and the stories about him. In an uncritical age it was not to difficult to identify the two Neots and then to suppose that the body of the saint had been brought to Huntingdonshire from Cornwall".

The town of Eynesbury was then called St Neots. The priory was refounded c1086 from Bec in Normandy. Anselm declared that its relics were authentic and complete except for an arm left in Cornwall. Anselm gave to Bec a relic of Neot's cheekbone, presumably from the shrine at Eynesbury.

Neot is claimed to be of royal blood - either the East Anglian or Wessex dynasties. According to the Oxford Dictionary of Saints he was so small that he needed a stool to stand on when saying mass! The life written at Bec, one of three Latin lives (plus one Old English life) related incidents borrowed from the lives of Irish saints - including that of stags being yoked to the plough to take the place of oxen stolen by robbers. This Bec life is the source of this window at St Neot, donated by the young men of the parish in ?1528 (the date is missing in records of the glass before restoration).

The window was subjected to considerable restoration by J.P.Hedgeland in the later 1820's who, according to one writer "supplied deficiencies in a manner so perfectly like the former, as not to be distinguishable from it"! Hedgeland did plates of the restored windows in a book published in 1830..

Here are details of the panels of the window and an indication of their subject matter

Panel 3a, Neot abdicates in favour of his brother, on whose head he places the crown:

Panel 3b, Neot becomes a monk at Glastonbury:

Panel 3c, Neot saves a doe from a hunter:

Panel 3d, Neot finds three fish in his well:

Panel 2a, Neot bids his attendant bring him the fish for his meal:

Panbel 2b, Neot's attendant takes two fish from the well, grilling one and boiling the other:

Panel 2c, attendant brings Neot two fish fo9r his daily meal:

Panel 2d, attendant takes two fish he has cooked back to well and throws them in as ordered by Neot, and they are restored to life:

Panel 1a, theft of Neot's oxen:

Panel 1b, deer replace the oxen in ploughing:

Panel 1c, The thieves restore the stolen oxen:

Panel 1d, Neot at Rome receiving the Pope's blessing.

Here is my photograph of the Hedgeland plate of the restored St Neot window, photographed from my copy of the book:

The glass of St Neot is discussed, other than in the 1830 book by Hedgeland by:

G[ordon] McN[eil] Rushforth, The Windows of the Church of St Neot Cornwall. Transactions of the Exeter Diocesan Architectural And Archaeological Society, Vol. XV, 1937. Later separately reprinted innthe same year as a 43pp. pamphlet

Mattingley, Joanna, "Stories in the Glass - Reconstructing the St Neot Pre-Reformation Glazing Scheme, Journal of the Royal Institution of Cornwall, New Series II, Volume III, Parts 3 and 4, 2000, pp. 9-55.

 St. Mary's - St. Neots Parish Church

The parish church of St Mary at St Neots in Huntingdonshire


Wednesday, 29 July 2015

A fateful marriage

Today is the 450th anniversary of the marriage at Holyrood of Queen Mary I of Scots to Henry Lord Darnley, whom she had created Duke of Albany and who through his marriage became King Consort of Scots. There is a biography of him, illustrated with several portraits, at Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley

King Henry and Queen Mary
A painting of 1565, now at Hardwick Hall

Image: Wikimedia

The marriage potentially reinforced both their claims to the English throne as close relatives of Queen Elizabeth, and as Catholics, or at least sympathetic to Catholicism, likely to receive the support of conservative minded Englishmen in the event of the throne becoming vacant.

In reality the marriage was far from placid, with suspicion and the threat or reality of violence, such as the murder of Rizzio. Their one child, the future King James VI was born in June 1566, but in February 1567 King Henry was murdered at Kirk o Field, followed by the reaction against Quen Mary, her deposition and imprisonment and the passing of the crown to their son, who was crowned as King of Scots two years to the day after his parents wedding. The following year Queen Mary escaped from Loch Leven, was defeated and fled to England, and nineteen years of house detention before she died by the headsman's axe at Fotheringhay.

Is it to indulge in superstition to reflect in passing that the only other royal wedding held on July 29th was that in 1981 of the Prince of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer? Furthermore the only previous royal nuptials celebrated in St Paul's were those of Prince Arthur and Catherine of Aragon in 1501 - and think what that led to. These were not good omens.

St Olaf's Day

Apart from being the feast of St Martha today is also the feast of St Olaf (Olav) of Norway, the patron saint of the realm and 'perpetual King of Norway.'

My previous posts about him can be seen at St Olaf's day, St Eystein and St Olav

The detailed and informative Wikipedia article about him appears to have been updated and in its present form can be viewed at Olaf II of Norway

This is therefore a day upon which I remember and pray for my own Norwegian friends, and for the King and people of Norway.

May St Olav continue to intercede for them.


Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Oratorians commemorate St Philip Neri in Florence

A friend has very kindly sent me the link to a video of some of the celebrations last week in Florence to mark the 500th anniversary of the birth of St Philip Neri. These included the unveiling of a plaque on his birthplace, as can be seen in the clip by following the link at  https://youtu.be/NWzfIwdg9y4