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.


Friday, 15 June 2012

Exploring Civil War Oxford in the rain


Yesterday I was booked to give a tour of the Oxford of King Charles I and the Civil War for a group of intending A-level students. It is some time since I gave a guided tour with this theme and it proved to be agood opportunity to revise and amplify it in the light of more reading and research. Despite the drizzle and then rain I think it worked well, although we eventually decided to cut it to a shorter length because of the rainfall.

Nevertheless it was possible to consider the court culture exemplified by Archbishop laud's Canterbury Quad at St John's, opened by the King in 1636 and to talk about the world that he and his courtiers inhabited. From that curtain raiser  we moved on to see where the King entered Oxford after Edgehill in October 1642, and similarly the site of the gateway by which he left in April 1646 to place himself in the hands of the Scots.

I outlined the defensive workks built to protect the city as the Royalsit capital, and emphasised my view that although it sounds romantic, for everyone, from the King downwards those years in Oxford  must have been frequently strained and uncomfortable. The city was in the forefront of the Royalist bid to take London, and they remained stuck here. For the other side the King the great prize for the Parliamentarians to take. As a result he had on occasion to be smuggled out of the city to protect him from capture.

Oxford itself suffered outbreaks of typhus and plague as well as aserious fire in on epart in the autumn of 1644. The colleges were taken over as provisional governmental offices or munitions stores, the Royalist part of Parliament met in the Bodleian - which famously pointed out to the King that even he could not borrow a book from it - and the colleges found themselves accomodating old members who moved in with families, retainers and troops. Batchelor dons found themselves much put out by such disturbances to their routine.

At Christ Church the places used by the King can still be seen and at Merton there is still the Queen's Room which was used by Queen Henrietta Maria during her stay in 1643-4. My own college of Oriel, then newly rebuilt, housed the Privy Council.

The weather prevented us going to look at the site of the Mint, which operated from early in 1643, and produced coins, using college plate amongst other donations and requisitions for bullion, such as those illustrated here. In addition to these there is the 1644 Oxford Crown - almost the only British coin to depict a city and a magnificent piece of numismatic art:

http://wwwdelivery.superstock.com/WI/223/4030/PreviewComp/SuperStock_4030-2833.jpg

Image:superstock.com

http://www.ashmolean.org/images/HCRoxfordcrown.jpg


A slightly more worn example, actual size(?)

Image:ashmolean.org

This was a tour which, I hope, fired the imagination of the students to learn more about the significance of such things as the Laudian porch of St Mary's or to imagine Prince Rupert and Prince Maurice living in the High, just below Carfax, or Rupert and the King playing tennis in a court whose remains survive within Oriel, and the sheer problems of living in an increasingly beleagured city under threat. It is easy to evoke the spirit of the times and of place - the buildings are one's lecture notes, and that is one of the pleasures of living in Oxford.

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