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.

Tuesday, 24 March 2020

1208 Revisited

Some people have already commented that the closure of churches and the cessation of celebrations of the Mass or other liturgies is the first such formal suspension by the episcopate since Pope Innocent III imposed his Interdict in 1208. Today a priest friend shared with me this post from the Magna Carta Project  blog six years ago that gives a good account of the episode. Interestingly it commenced on March 23rd, just where we are now and it seems particularly apposite to post a link to it now at: http://magnacartaresearch.blogspot.com/2014/03/23-march-1208-interdict-is-laid-on.html

King John was relatively unperturbed and the Interdict continued until July 2nd 1214. Political events led the King to negotiate with the Papacy - an increasingly restive baronial elite and, nearly a month after the end of the Interdict, on July 27th the final collapse of his strategy in France when his nephew and ally the Emperor Otto IV was defeated at the battle of Bouvines by the forces of King Philip II.

Pope Innocent III was a resolute Pope at handing out such Interdicts and generally in  engaging in disputes with his contemporary monarchs, but, as I remember being taught years ago, they were equally adept at ignoring him and them. Pope Innocent might well have seen himself as Father of Kings and Princes but he had a very disobedient family.

One legacy of the Interdict and its resolution is the beginning of the self-governance of Oxford University. When the Papal Legate restored normal ecclesial life one thing he did was resolve the dispute between the scholars and Masters of Oxford and the townspeople: in 1208 two students, protesting their innocence, were hanged by the local authorities, accused of the murder of their landlady. The teachers and student body withdrew and found somewhere else to teach and learn, a county town called Cambridge. When many returned to Oxford after the Interdict ended to an institution for the first time led by a Chancellor of their own and with legal protection against the townspeople, others remained on the edge of the Fens and hence the establishment of another centre of academic life in Cambridge 

Sunday, 22 March 2020

Medieval Hygiene 

With all the current concern about hand washing  and avoiding proximity to others I was interested to come across, by chance, an online article that looks at medieval practice. Setting aside the slightly jokey beginning and the irritating intrusion of advertisements it makes some good and balanced arguments that helps to reject the far too frequent, and unthinking, modern idea that everything was dirty, grimy, dull and crude in the period. 

Indeed I would add that for most of the western world not that much changed before 1900.

The article is "Medieval Hygiene: Practices Of The Middle Ages", and it can be viewed here: https://www.healthyway.com/content/medieval-hygiene-practices-of-the-middle-ages/

One book it cites is the truly enticing Ernest L. Sabine "Latrines and Cesspools of Mediaeval London"  I don’t think you could make that up, could you? Now is that not a Must Have book?

Sunday, 5 January 2020

Happy Christmas Foula

The Shetland island of Foula has continued to follow the Julian calendar, going back to the Romans, long after the rest of the country gave it up. 

The residents of Great Britain’s remotest inhabited island will celebrate Christmas on January 6, nearly a fortnight after the rest of the UK and much of the world in accordance with a centuries-old tradition.

The 30 or so people who live on the island of Foula in Shetland celebrate their winter festivals according to the Julian calendar, which was abandoned by the rest of Scotland in 1600 and was last observed in 1752 in England and Ireland when the Gregorian calendar was adopted.

Foula adhered to the Julian calendar by keeping 1800 as a leap year, but it did not observe a leap year in 1900. As a result, Foula is now one day ahead of the Julian calendar and 12 days behind the Gregorian, celebrating Christmas on January 6 and New Year on January 13.

Every Christmas Day, all the islanders congregate in one house where they exchange gifts and sing songs. The group includes ten children.

Inhabitants of the island, which is situated 200 miles north of John O’Groats in Scotland, and twenty miles west south west of the other Shetland islands, preserve a strong Norse cultural tradition of music, festive foods and folklore tales. Their ancestors spoke Norn, an ancient form of the Old Norse language, until the start of the 19th century.

The northern isles were acquired by the Scottish Crown in 1469-72 as part of the marriage settlement of King James III and his Queen Margaret of Denmark. Foula itself remained under Norse udal law till the late 16th century (when Scottish laird Robert Cheyne acquired Foula from the last Norse owner, Gorvel Fadersdatter), the Old Norse language was commonly spoken until the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries. The island’s Old Norse (ON) name is Fugla-ey – ‘bird island’; Noup is gnípr – a steep mountain with overhanging top; and Kame is kambr – a comb or crested ridge of hills. The last person to speak Norn was thought to be Jeannie Ratter (née Manson), who died in 1926.

Jacob Jacobsen, the Faroese linguist, visited Foula in 1894. He "found the folk lively, intelligent and of excellent memory" and corresponded with Robert Gear for many years. At the end of the 19th century, the island supported over 250 people.

Adapted by the Clever Boy from an article on the website of The Independent, from Wikipedia and from the website shetlandvisitor.com

Saturday, 4 January 2020

Bishop Barron on "The Two Popes"

I do not watch Netflix- it looks to be a very dubious outfit - though I hope to make an exception for their recent production of "The King" as a retelling of Shakespeare’s account of the career of King Henry V.

On the basis of the article on Zenit yesterday by Bishop Robert Barron I am most definitely not inclined to want to watch, let alone actually do so, Netflix’s "The Two Popes". I am only posting this to draw attention to the Bbishop’s critique of what would appear to be a dreadful travesty of Papal personalities and politics. You might do better (sic) with the recent saga on that much maligned Papal family the Borgias...

Bishop Barron’s article can be read at https://zenit.org/articles/bishop-barron-the-one-pope/?

Friday, 3 January 2020

A Duchess called Gladys...

Today’s Mail Online has an article based on the new version or edition of Hugo Vickers’ biography of Gladys ( pronounced Glaydus by her husband ) the second wife and Duchess of the ninth Duke of Marlborough. 

The American-born Duchess was responsible for the parterre and water garden on the west side of Blenheim Palace, which is decorated with sphinxes bearing her famous profile, and for the painting of her famously blue eyes and those of the Duke on the coffering of the portico on the north, entrance side of the Palace.

I skim-read the earlier version of the biography when it first came out and this new account looks a tempting read for the future. I wonder if the shop at Blenheim will stock it.

The online article “Socialite Gladys Deacon plotted for 15 years to wed married Duke” can be viewed at https://mol.im/a/7850041

Medieval Clothing

By chance last night I came across this post and its attendant links on Pinterest and I think they are worth sharing with others.

In one sense old clothes are always a bit dismal to look at being, of their essence, past their best, but in another, and much more important sense these are wonderful. That they have survived at all is amazing, given the fragility of their nature. In most cases they are from the wardrobes of the social elites of their respective eras, but that fact has enabled their survival and gives a glimpse of the past. Some I had seen before (and in the case of Emperor Louis IV’s dalmatic featured on this blog) but others were a revelation - not least the Empress Matilda’s tunic with its Imperial eagles.

Above all they are a reminder of the richness of the material culture of medieval Europe. Too easily we forget this due to the scarcity of surviving evidence, and the contemporary tendency to underestimate the achievements of previous eras. 

As the saying goes, enjoy....