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, 4 March 2017

Imperial gifts to British godchildren

The news agency Royal Central has the following story:

A set of silver gilt and cloisonné enamel which stirred interest in the antique world since it was recently consigned as going to auction, sold today for £20,000. This champlevé cutlery set told a story that links the future Tsarina of Russia's visit to the Yorkshire town of Harrogate in 1894, where she had gone to take a cure.

Princess Alix of Hesse and the Tsarevich Nicholas of Russia, an official photograph in Coburg at the time of their engagement, 1894.

Eduard Uhlenhuth [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Princess Alix of Hesse was advised to take a 'cure' in Harrogate in 1894 for sciatica, a complaint from which she had been suffering for some time. One of Queen Victoria's favourite grandchildren, the Queen was present in Coburg in April 1894, for the wedding of Alix's beloved brother, the Hereditary Grand Duke of Hesse, Ernst Ludwig, to Princess Victoria Melita "Ducky" of Edinburgh, daughter of her second son, Prince Alfred, Grand Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha and his wife, Grand Duchess Marie Alexandrovna of Russia. Among the many guests, at what was one of the great gatherings of European royalty in the last years of the 19th century, were Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany and the Tsarevich Nicholas, the future Tsar Nicholas II of Russia.

The couple became engaged while at Coburg after which the Tsarevich Nicholas returned to Russia and Princess Alix left for England. It was agreed that she would begin to undertake Russian lessons while in Windsor and visit a spa town to use the sulphur baths so as to as to try and alleviate her sciatica. Quite why Harrogate was chosen is not entirely clear; however the Yorkshire town was famous for its healing waters, and its popularity for the visiting aristocracy had grown considerably during this period, also becoming highly fashionable with the British elite. Alix left for Harrogate in late May 1894, accompanied by the Russian lectrice, or 'reader' to her sister, Elisabeth, Grand Duchess Sergei of Russia and her lady-in-waiting, Baroness von Fabrice.

Alix spent her time at Harrogate quietly, using the baths, visiting the surrounding towns, during which she also took her Russian lessons. She stayed at Cathcart House, a 19th-century boarding house which allowed her a certain degree of privacy as she was staying incognito, under the alias of 'Baroness Starckenburg' - Starkenburg being one of her lesser titles as Princess of Hesse, referring to the historical area surrounding Darmstadt, the regional capital. Cathcart House still stands today and is split up into flats - a brown plaque was unveiled in 2007 by the Sanctuary Housing Association to commemorate the house's history and its links with Princess Alix. Despite travelling incognito, her identity was guessed by the townsfolk of Harrogate, and the interest in her, especially in the light of her recent engagement to the Tsarevich, made it difficult for her to go out unobserved.

The brown plaque on Cathcart House, Harrogate, unveiled in 2007*

 Betty Longbottom [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

During Princess Alix's stay in Harrogate, her landlady Mrs Allen gave birth to twins, a boy and a girl, whose names were chosen by the honoured guest who was to become their godmother - Nicholas and Alix. Princess Alix attended their baptisms in the close-lying St Peter's Church. She bought little gifts in Harrogate for the christening of the babies, but the commitment as godmother was not forgotten, even after her marriage. The following year, she sent two little cutlery sets for the boy and girl for their first birthdays, and it was thought that the gifts for the girl Alix could no longer be traced. Until now.

The cutlery sets were made by Grachev, and each contained a knife, fork, spoon, napkin ring, salt cellar and spoon. The godmother of the two Allen children was now since November 1894, the Tsarina of Russia and the gifts that were sent to the children were fittingly imperial.

Alix took her role as godmother remarkably seriously, and her gifts did not cease as the children grew older. Presents from Russia continued to be sent, with special occasions being remembered, such as confirmations and 21st birthdays. The boy Nicholas's son, Michael Allen, gave the gold Faberge cufflinks that his father had received from the Tsarina in 1910 for his confirmation to the Royal Pump Room Museum in Harrogate, together with the gold pins that he had kept. The gifts continued, even into World War One.

On her return from Harrogate, Princess Alix went first to the house her sister Princess Victoria of Battenberg had rented at Walton-on-Thames, where she was joined by the Tsarevich Nicholas; shortly afterwards, they continued to Windsor Castle as the guests of Queen Victoria. It was an idyllic time for them both, probably the happiest of their lives. The Harrogate visit coincided with the period of her engagement, and both she and Nicholas would reflect on this happy time in their lives, for the rest of their lives.

*The Clever Boy would draw attention to the numerous errors in the plaque - which are to be regretted and should be changed.
He would also add that he recalls in the 1970s seeing on local television in Yorkshire the godson with various items that had been given to him including cufflinks in the form of the Imperial Eagle and a cross on a chain for the neck. He recalled the problem caused when the Princess insisted on adding her and her fiancé 's names to those of the twins after their birth had been registered; I think the Registrar agreed when it was pointed out that this was at the request of the Queen's granddaughter.

Also in the late 1970s I visited the Pateley Bridge Museum in Nidderdale, close to Harrogate. There alongside British coronation and jubilee mugs was a coloured enamel beaker with the monogram and crown of Emperor Nicholas II from his coronation in 1896. Slightly bemused by this I commented on it to a volunteer who told me such beakers did occasionally turn up in Nidderdale. This made the penny ( or kopeck ) drop - an enterprising local dealer must have imported a consignment of such mugs knowing of the local connection with the new Empress. A corner of Yorkshire that is forever Imperial Russia?

Image result for Nicholas II Coronation mug

Enamelled Mug from the celebrations of the Coronation of the Emperor Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra in 1896

Image: Pinterest

Wednesday, 1 March 2017


The Château de Lusignan, situated in Lusignan in the modern dèpartement of Vienne, was the seat of the Lusignan family, Poitevan Marcher Lords, who distinguished themselves in the First Crusade and held the crowns of two Crusader kingdoms, the Kingdom of Jerusalem and the Kingdom of Cyprus, and also claimed the title King of Armenia.

Lusignan was constructed, occupying a natural strongpoint: a narrow promontory that overlooked steep valleys on either side. It was already so impressive in the twelfth century that a legend developed to the effect that its founder had faery aid, in the guise of the water spirit Melusine, who built it and its church through her arts, as a gift for her husband Raymondin.

Lusignan at its height in the early fifteenth century, is illustrated in the Très Riches Heures of Jean, Duc de Berri, for whom it was a favorite residence until his death in 1416. It rises in the background of the miniature for the month of March, clearly shown in perspective, with its barbican tower at the left, the clock tower - with the exterior chute of the garderobe to its right - and the Tour Poitevine on the right, above which the gilded dragon flies, the protective spirit of Marc Lacombe.

After the Duc de Berri's death, Lusignan became briefly the property of the Dauphin John, who died in May 1417, and then passed to his brother, Charles, the future King Charles VII.

The village which developed into the town of Lusignan grew up beneath the castle gates, along the slope; it formed a further enceinte or surrounding fortification when it too was later enclosed by walls. Lusignan remained a strategically important place in Poitou, in the heart of France. About 1574, during the Wars of Religion, a plan was made of the castle's defences which is now in the Bibliothèque National. In the following century Lusignan was reinforced in the modern manner by Vauban for King Louis XIV. It was a natural structure to be used as a prison, and later housed a school.

The château was long used as a local quarry of pre-cut stone before it was razed by the Comte de Blossac in the nineteenth century, to make a pleasure ground for the town. Today the remains are largely portions of the foundations, some built into steep hillside, part of the keep, the base of the Tour Poitevine, cisterns and cellars, and remains of a subterranean passage that probably once led to the church.

With acknowledgements to the article on the château on Wikipedia

To those points I would add that the depiction of this and, over the succeeding months, other châteaux associated with the Duc de Berri and his family, indicate a delight in their possession, and convey the fact that these medieval castles, however defensible, were essentially homes in the country, replete with medieval domestic comforts and surrounded with agriculture and other peaceful pursuits.These are residences, more than they are fortifications. The same sense is conveyed, for example, by surviving images of English castles in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries.

The plough oxen in the foreground are a reminder that for centuries the ox was the beast of burden in Europe, and their use continued later than one might expect. I have, for example, seen a photograph of someone still ploughing with oxen in Wiltshire in about 1900.

As with the other scenes in the manuscript the landscape is perhaps unnaturally tidy, altough the ploughman in the foreground is wearing patched clothing, and the grey and green tones do convey something of the climate and mood of March as the farming year demands hard work from the husbandmen.

The wayside shrine at the cross roads in the middle distance is an indication of the type of monument which may well have been common, but of which we have few surviving examples - although more modern examples are still to be found in Catholic areas of Europe.

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

A poetic reflection for Shrovetide and Lent

Today I found myself quoting T. S. Eliot's "Little Gidding" from the " Four Quartets"

Looking it up online it seemed to me to be very apposite at the beginning of Lent, so here for others to reflect upon is the complete text:

Midwinter spring is its own season
Sempiternal though sodden towards sundown,
Suspended in time, between pole and tropic.
When the short day is brightest, with frost and fire,
The brief sun flames the ice, on pond and ditches,
In windless cold that is the heart's heat,
Reflecting in a watery mirror
A glare that is blindness in the early afternoon.
And glow more intense than blaze of branch, or brazier,
Stirs the dumb spirit: no wind, but pentecostal fire
In the dark time of the year. Between melting and freezing
The soul's sap quivers. There is no earth smell
Or smell of living thing. This is the spring time
But not in time's covenant. Now the hedgerow
Is blanched for an hour with transitory blossom
Of snow, a bloom more sudden
Than that of summer, neither budding nor fading,
Not in the scheme of generation.
Where is the summer, the unimaginable Zero summer?
If you came this way,
Taking the route you would be likely to take
From the place you would be likely to come from,
If you came this way in may time, you would find the hedges
White again, in May, with voluptuary sweetness.
It would be the same at the end of the journey,
If you came at night like a broken king,
If you came by day not knowing what you came for,
It would be the same, when you leave the rough road
And turn behind the pig-sty to the dull facade
And the tombstone. And what you thought you came for
Is only a shell, a husk of meaning
From which the purpose breaks only when it is fulfilled
If at all. Either you had no purpose
Or the purpose is beyond the end you figured
And is altered in fulfilment. There are other places
Which also are the world's end, some at the sea jaws,
Or over a dark lake, in a desert or a city--
But this is the nearest, in place and time,
Now and in England.

If you came this way,
Taking any route, starting from anywhere,
At any time or at any season,
It would always be the same: you would have to put off
Sense and notion. You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid. And prayer is more
Than an order of words, the conscious occupation
Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying.
And what the dead had no speech for, when living,
They can tell you, being dead: the communication
Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living.
Here, the intersection of the timeless moment
Is England and nowhere. Never and always.


Ash on an old man's sleeve
Is all the ash the burnt roses leave.
Dust in the air suspended
Marks the place where a story ended.
Dust inbreathed was a house-
The walls, the wainscot and the mouse,
The death of hope and despair,
This is the death of air.

There are flood and drouth
Over the eyes and in the mouth,
Dead water and dead sand
Contending for the upper hand.
The parched eviscerate soil
Gapes at the vanity of toil,
Laughs without mirth.
This is the death of earth.

Water and fire succeed
The town, the pasture and the weed.
Water and fire deride
The sacrifice that we denied.
Water and fire shall rot
The marred foundations we forgot,
Of sanctuary and choir.
This is the death of water and fire.

In the uncertain hour before the morning
Near the ending of interminable night
At the recurrent end of the unending
After the dark dove with the flickering tongue
Had passed below the horizon of his homing
While the dead leaves still rattled on like tin
Over the asphalt where no other sound was
Between three districts whence the smoke arose
I met one walking, loitering and hurried
As if blown towards me like the metal leaves
Before the urban dawn wind unresisting.
And as I fixed upon the down-turned face
That pointed scrutiny with which we challenge
The first-met stranger in the waning dusk
I caught the sudden look of some dead master
Whom I had known, forgotten, half recalled
Both one and many; in the brown baked features
The eyes of a familiar compound ghost
Both intimate and unidentifiable.
So I assumed a double part, and cried
And heard another's voice cry: "What! are you here?"
Although we were not. I was still the same,
Knowing myself yet being someone other--
And he a face still forming; yet the words sufficed
To compel the recognition they preceded.
And so, compliant to the common wind,
Too strange to each other for misunderstanding,
In concord at this intersection time
Of meeting nowhere, no before and after,
We trod the pavement in a dead patrol.
I said: "The wonder that I feel is easy,
Yet ease is cause of wonder. Therefore speak:
I may not comprehend, may not remember."
And he: "I am not eager to rehearse
My thoughts and theory which you have forgotten.
These things have served their purpose: let them be.
So with your own, and pray they be forgiven
By others, as I pray you to forgive
Both bad and good. Last season's fruit is eaten
And the fullfed beast shall kick the empty pail.
For last year's words belong to last year's language
And next year's words await another voice.
But, as the passage now presents no hindrance
To the spirit unappeased and peregrine
Between two worlds become much like each other,
So I find words I never thought to speak
In streets I never thought I should revisit
When I left my body on a distant shore.
Since our concern was speech, and speech impelled us
To purify the dialect of the tribe
And urge the mind to aftersight and foresight,
Let me disclose the gifts reserved for age
To set a crown upon your lifetime's effort.
First, the cold fricton of expiring sense
Without enchantment, offering no promise
But bitter tastelessness of shadow fruit
As body and sould begin to fall asunder.
Second, the conscious impotence of rage
At human folly, and the laceration
Of laughter at what ceases to amuse.
And last, the rending pain of re-enactment
Of all that you have done, and been; the shame
Of things ill done and done to others' harm
Which once you took for exercise of virtue.
Then fools' approval stings, and honour stains.
From wrong to wrong the exasperated spirit
Proceeds, unless restored by that refining fire
Where you must move in measure, like a dancer."
The day was breaking. In the disfigured street
He left me, with a kind of valediction,
And faded on the blowing of the horn.


There are three conditions which often look alike
Yet differ completely, flourish in the same hedgerow:
Attachment to self and to things and to persons, detachment
From self and from things and from persons; and, growing between them, indifference
Which resembles the others as death resembles life,
Being between two lives - unflowering, between
The live and the dead nettle. This is the use of memory:
For liberation - not less of love but expanding
Of love beyond desire, and so liberation
From the future as well as the past. Thus, love of a country
Begins as an attachment to our own field of action
And comes to find that action of little importance
Though never indifferent. History may be servitude,
History may be freedom. See, now they vanish,
The faces and places, with the self which, as it could, loved them,
To become renewed, transfigured, in another pattern.
Sin is Behovely, but
All shall be well, and
All manner of thing shall be well.
If I think, again, of this place,
And of people, not wholly commendable,
Of not immediate kin or kindness,
But of some peculiar genius,
All touched by a common genius,
United in the strife which divided them;
If I think of a king at nightfall,
Of three men, and more, on the scaffold
And a few who died forgotten
In other places, here and abroad,
And of one who died blind and quiet,
Why should we celebrate
These dead men more than the dying?
It is not to ring the bell backward
Nor is it an incantation
To summon the spectre of a Rose.
We cannot revive old factions
We cannot restore old policies
Or follow an antique drum.
These men, and those who opposed them
And those whom they opposed
Accept the constitution of silence
And are folded in a single party.
Whatever we inherit from the fortunate
We have taken from the defeated
What they had to leave us - a symbol:
A symbol perfected in death.
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
By the purification of the motive
In the ground of our beseeching.


The dove descending breaks the air
With flame of incandescent terror
Of which the tongues declare
The one dischage from sin and error.
The only hope, or else despair
Lies in the choice of pyre of pyre-
To be redeemed from fire by fire.

Who then devised the torment? Love.
Love is the unfamiliar Name
Behind the hands that wove
The intolerable shirt of flame
Which human power cannot remove.
We only live, only suspire
Consumed by either fire or fire.


What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make and end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from. And every phrase
And sentence that is right (where every word is at home,
Taking its place to support the others,
The word neither diffident nor ostentatious,
An easy commerce of the old and the new,
The common word exact without vulgarity,
The formal word precise but not pedantic,
The complete consort dancing together)
Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning,
Every poem an epitaph. And any action
Is a step to the block, to the fire, down the sea's throat
Or to an illegible stone: and that is where we start.
We die with the dying:
See, they depart, and we go with them.
We are born with the dead:
See, they return, and bring us with them.
The moment of the rose and the moment of the yew-tree
Are of equal duration. A people without history
Is not redeemed from time, for history is a pattern
Of timeless moments. So, while the light fails
On a winter's afternoon, in a secluded chapel
History is now and England.

With the drawing of this Love and the voice of this Calling

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree

Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always--
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flames are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.

A Lenten thought

Last night I had a slightly curious thought - I rather doubt if I would call it a vision, and I don't think it was a dream - that was perhaps in some ways seasonal....

I was somehow looking from a slight distance across a churchyard at my own grave in which my body was newly interred and a voice was pointing out to me the slightly shadowy figures of various historical figures in whom I have a research interest and who were standing around the grave to welcome me into their company.

It was slightly strange, but oddly comforting. Intriguing.

Friday, 24 February 2017

More on Heirs Apparent

Yesterday evening I gave the second of my talks to the Oxford University Heraldry Society on the arms and appurtenances of Heirs Apparent.

Last November I spoke about the Prince of Wales and his English and Scottish titles and emblems. This time the lecture was a clockwise tour of Europe from France through the Low Countries, Scandinavia, Russia, Germany and Austria-Hungary, the Balkans, Italy, Portugal ( with a quick look at Brazil ) and ending up in Spain.

Image result

Arms of the Dauphin

Image: Wikipedia

Standard of the Tsesarevich

Image: Wikipedia

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Arms of the German Crown Prince

Image: Wikipedia

In the last part of the lecture I spoke about the titles and arms of the Prince - now Princess - of Asturias. This originated in Castile with a suggestion of John of Gaunt in 1388, and is based upon the English and french precedents of the Prince of Wales and the Dauphin. Since 1975 and in recognition of the other constituent realms of Spain other titles for the heir to the lands of the Crown of Aragon, including the Kingdom of Majorca, and that for the Kingdom of Navarre were revived with appropriate arms for the present King and these have now been inherited by HRH Princess Leonor.
The arms and titles are outlined at the online articles Prince of Asturias and Coat of arms of the Prince of Asturias

As the weather was very blustery the attendance was small and I have been asked to repeat the lecture in the autumn. This will be in Christ Church on October 19th, 5pm for 5.30pm.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Humphrey Duke of Gloucester

Today is the 570th anniversary of the death at Bury St Edmunds of Humphrey Duke of Gloucester (1390–1447), prince, soldier, and literary patron.

The excellent concise life of him by G.L.Harriss in the Oxford DNB can be accessed here,
and there is another illustrated account here.  The full length biography Humphrey Duke of Gloucester by K.H.Vickers from 1907, which is still useful, can be viewed on Project Gutenberg here.

Humphrey Duke of Gloucester
A sixteenth century copy by J.Le Boucq in a manuscript at Arras


The youngest son of King Henry IV he received his Christian name as a tribute to the family of his mother Mary de Bohun.

I have posted previously about the Duke and the events of 1425 in particular in Stand off on London Bridge.

On Matt's History Blog

One of the recipients of Humphrey's patronage was the abbey at St Albans, and it was there that he had chosen to be buried:

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



Duke Humphrey and his second wife Eleanor Cobham
From the Benefactor's Book of St Albans 1431

Image: Wikipedia  

Duchess Eleanor was disgraced and imprisoned after a witchcraft scandal in 1441. Her life and downfall are set out, again with skill and economy, by G.L. Harriss in the ODNB at Eleanor (c.1400–1452). Her alleged principal necromancer Roger Bolingbroke was an Oxford man, principal of St Andrew's Hall. He may well fit in with the contemorary Oxford tradition of astrology - and the risk of serious charges ensuing if politics, let alone the succession to the Crown, was addressed.  There is an account of him and the prosecution at Roger Bolingbroke and a more detailed one with extracts from a contemporary chronicle at  ExecutedToday.com » 1441: Roger Bolingbroke, “hanged, hedyd, and quartered" Eleanor herself, divorced from the Duke, and sentenced to perpetual imprisonment died at Beaumaris castle in Anglesey in 1452.

Humphrey lived in the style appropriate to the son, brother and uncle of Kings, and some hint of that can be seen not only in manuscripts he owned but also in the rare survival of a piece of plate from his collection:

A cup bearing the arms of Duke Humphrey and his Duchess Eleanor,
now in the possession of Christ's College Cambridge

Image: Project Gutenberg


Duke Humphrey from the Talbot Shrewsbury Book 1443-45
BL Royal MS E VI f.2v.

Image: Wikimedia 

It was Humphrey who built the first royal residence at Greenwich in the years after 1428 and which was to be taken over by his nephew King Henry VI and his Queen Margaret. renamed the Palace of Placentia and rebuilt under King Henry VII it was to remain an important royal residence until the Civil War, and then, after the Restoration and possible plans for a new royal palace there, to become eventually the great Naval complex we see today. 

Related image

Greenwich Palace

Image: National Maritime Museum


St Saviour's Hospital Bury St Edmunds
The hospital built in 1184-5. This is the lower half of the west range, which was 100ft long


St Saviour's Bury St Edmund's where Humphrey died was the largest of the six hospitals in Bury
and there is the VCH Suffolk account of it here.  A small part of the buildings survive near Bury St Edmunds railway station.


The tomb of Humphrey Duke of Gloucester at St Albans, adjacent to the shrine of the saint


The coffin and crypt of Humphrey Duke of Gloucester at St Albans
The painted crucifix is of great interest. Whether it still survives I do not know.


Thre is an illustrated article about the Duke's tomb, and something about the circumstances of his death and burial, in the article about it as Monument of the Month in May 2010 for the Church Monuments Society here 

He has another enduring monument in Ocford - Duke Humfrey's Library, which still uses the older spelling of his name. A book collector and patron of Italian humanists Humphrey made two substantial gifts to the University of  Oxford. In 1439 he gave 129 manuscripts and in 1444 another 134. Oxford responded by adding an extra storey to the Divinity School they were building to house these and their other books and named it in the Duke's honour. The building was not completed until 1488, but it still retains his name. There is more about it, with links, at Duke Humfrey's Library.
The remainder of his library had been promised but went instead to King Henry VI's foundation in Cambridge of King's College. Humphrey's interests and importance in this reception of contemporary culture are considered in the life by Harriss in the ODNB linked to above.

Friday, 17 February 2017

Alternative facts - a century on

The BBC News website has this interesting story about false news in the Great War and how it was manufactured for propaganda purposes. It can be viewed at  The corpse factory and the birth of fake news and is subtitled How did a gruesome story fool the world 100 years ago?

As we know, and as the author of Ecclesiasticus observed, there is nothing new under the Sun* and the debate about Fake News and Alternative Facts is a continuing one...

* No pun intended.