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 2020

The problem with Uncle Frank

July 30th, if you follow the Julian calendar, or August 10th, for those on the Gregorian version, is the anniversary of the hanging, drawing and quartering of the Jacobite Col Francis Towneley, together with some of the other officers of his Manchester Regiment, at Kennington in London in 1746.

There is an updated biography of the somewhat flamboyant Towneley, who always stood to the fore when a town was occupied and King James III proclaimed in that heady march to Derby, which can be seen at Francis Towneley

The Manchester Regiment itself is described, including its membership, at Manchester Regiment (Jacobite)

In 2014 The Guardian published an article by 
Katharine Grant, the Colonel’s great great great great great niece about the Towneley family’s relic of Francis - his head, which after his execution was initially placed above Temple Bar in London. It is worth noting that when, four years later, in 1750, Prince Charles Edward paid his extraordinary visit to London he stayed just around the corner in Essex Street off The Strand and he must have seen it on its pike with that of at least one other victim of 1746. Her article, which goes on to give an insight into the world of such recusant families rather in the style of Nancy Mitford, can be read at Uncle Frank's severed head

Australian addendum

After I had posted Much Ado About Nothing Down Under yesterday about the “Palace Papers” in Australia I came across another Wikipedia article about the development of the Australian monarchy during the twentieth century. This adds considerably to the account of the place of the monarch within the Australian constitution which I linked to, and is well worth looking at. It shows the organic and legal development of the institution under successive sovereigns, and how it has changed as the British Empire transformed itself into the Commonwealth. It can be viewed   at History of monarchy in Australia

Friday, 31 July 2020

A High Imperial Theme

Over the last generation there has been a great deal of very interesting work reconstructing the facial appearance of skulls that have been recovered from archaeological excavations. Some are better than others, but they have included rulers such as King Robert I and King Consort Henry ( Darnley ) in Scotland and King Richard III and Archbishop Sudbury in England. There have been equally interesting ones of nameless remains who do recover personality through the process.

A more recent development has been in the copying, accurate colouring and transferring archive film from say the Great War to enable us to see the formerly jerky black and white marionettes as real men in real time.

Elements of both these techniques have been used by Daniel Voshart during this time of quarantine to bring to life the 54 Roman Emperors of the Principate. Combining evidence from portrait busts and from coins as well as authorial descriptions he has produced portraits which are more lively than cold marble and which look very credible. Indeed they look almost surprisingly normal.

His project is available in an introductory file and then in four which give details of the faces in their order of succession. 

Much Ado About Nothing Down Under

[Personal Standard of Queen Elizabeth II in Australia, proportions 22:31]

The Personal Standard of the Queen of Australia

A fortnight or so ago there was quite a bit in the newspapers and online about the release by the Australian National Archives of what have become known as the “Palace Pspers” - that is, the correspondence between HM The Queen, her Private Secretary and the Governor General of Australia at the time of the dismissal by the Governor General, Sir John Kerr, of Gough Whitlam as Prime Minister in November 1975. The background to this archive and the story of its release as being state papers rather than private correspondence can be seen at 

The Guardian covers the story at Australian papers reveal Queen's thoughts on Charles as governor-general and this last one has a link to all 1200 pages of the files, making it a useful resource for researching the topic further.

The BBC News website also has an article by their Australian correspondent about the archive and the author of the biography of Gough Whitlam, Professor Jenny Hocking. Now Auntie BBC gets quite a bit of flack for bias, and reading this piece one can clearly see why, with its choice of phrasing and emphasis. It also manages to avoid pointing out that Prof Hocking is, as I understand it a committee member of the Australian Republic Movement ( ARM ). This piece can be viewed at The historian, the Queen and the secret letters

So whilst Prof Hocking and anyone else interested can now pore over the correspondence what does seem to emerge very clearly is that there is nothing really to report that was not known already about the events of 1975 and that there is no smoking gun in Her Majesty’s handbag...

The letters do reveal some interesting points about the Prince of Wales showing genuine interest in acquiring an estate in New South Wales and the discussions about that, which can be seen at Queen banned Prince Charles from buying Australian country retreat and Palace Letters release: Prince Charles, Yammatree, and the secret meeting with Gough Whitlam

Having said that this archive is also of interest in that it does show to some extent, as have one or two other escaped documents and incidents,  how The Queen does exercise her rights and responsibilities as Queen of Australia - and presumably her other realms and territories. The constitutional position is outlined at Monarchy of Australia

It is quite right that the details of those processes should remain out of the public gaze unless strictly necessary, but it is of genuine interest to those of us who believe in monarchical government. So we too can take something positive from this archive release.

On a tangential matter related to the Crown of Australia I came across a post on Quora about the official residences of the Governor General and the Govrrnors of the States which is of interest in how they present the public face of Her Majesty’s government and representives in Australia. It can be seen at If the Queen ever decided to move to Australia, where are some places she might live?

Thursday, 30 July 2020

Papal Ceremonial of Yesteryear

The New Liturgical Movement has a post today with two pieces of archive film from 1961 of a Cardinal’s Requiem in St Peter’s and of Pope John XXIII and senior figures in the hierarchy attending meetings in the Vatican.

The post can be seen at The Funeral of Cardinal Tardini, 1961

Looking at the two short films one is transported to a world that now, less than sixty years later, seems as remote as Rome before 1870 or before the 1790s or indeed of the age of St Philip Neri. In that sense it is deeply moving and sad that so much had been lost or abandoned in so short a time of the heritage of the Church, of the Holy See, and for no appreciable gain. 

Looking Sheepish?

Yesterday’s MailOnline had a piece about the scientific work of examining the Van Eyck brothers’ Adoration of the Mystic Lamb from the Ghent Altarpiece in connection with its recent restoration. The article and photographs concentrate on the figure of the Angus Dei and how later restorations and repainting subtly changed the face of the Lamb, reducing its humanoid character. The article, with photograph and a video link can be seen at Scientists prove the Lamb of God restoration is correct

The more human quality to the face with its forward stare is slightly more disturbing, more compelling - and that is doubtless as it was intended to be.

The central Adoration of the Mystic Lamb panel. 
The groupings of figures are, from top left anti-clockwise: the male martyrs, the pagan writers and Jewish prophets, the male saints, and the female martyrs.
Image: Wikipedia 

The painting is so well known and so often reproduced that we tend, I suspect, to take it for granted. It is rich in detail and its characterisation of the Heavenly
Host at what does have the quality of a Celestial Garden Party - all very decorous and dignified, with none of the swirling energy with which a Baroque artist would have infused it. It is very much the world of the Burgundian court of Duke Philip the Good. 

Although the Apocalypse has been illustrated many times in manuscript illuminations it appears relatively rarely in a medium such as that used by the Van Eycks.

There is a detailed online account of the whole altarpiece, its history and vicissitudes as well as its iconography, and with an extensive bibliography, from Wikipedia which can be viewed at Ghent Altarpiece

It is perhaps also worthwhile reflecting upon it not just as what it is, a work for devotion and indeed adoration, but also as a link to the 1420s and early 1430s when it was commissioned, designed and created, and to marvel that we can still see and appreciate it.

Down Argentine Way

LifeSiteNews today has a report about an
Argentine bishop who is closing his seminary because the seminarians refuse to accept mandatory communion in the hand.  The story can be read at Vatican backs bishop in closing down seminary over priests’ resistance to giving Communion on hand

This is clearly very disturbing and I can but wish the young men well. The closure of a seminary on such a slender pretext is deeply worrying, especially one that appears both thriving and orthodox. It does suggest a “clericalist” attitude on the part of the Bishop, the very sort of thing the present Pope so often inveighs against.

However I can see also signs of hope. Firstly that the Argentine Church has something like forty seminarians who do respect tradition, and secondly, that if the closure goes ahead and they are dispersed that they will either offer their vocations to such recognised groups as the article suggests, or, if unhindered, be a leaven in other seminaries.

Tuesday, 28 July 2020

Reflections upon Hagia Sophia

Having posted about Hagia Sophia only yesterday my sense that this is a story that will ‘run and run’ was confirmed by two things which came into my e-mail inbox this morning.

The first is taken from the latest bulletin from LifeSite News, which provides a well documented news service on a wide range of Catholic matters, not just Pro-Life issues. The writer examines the Islamic thought behind the surahs used in the first Muslim Friday prayers in Hagia Sophia since it reverted to being a mosque. It can be read at Muslims’ first prayer service in former Catholic basilica explicitly rejects Christianity

The style of the post might be a little more forceful than one might feel entirely comfortable with, but it does show the limits to inter-faith dialogue if traditions are to be true to themselves. That fidelity is in so many ways preferable to seeking a ‘lowest common denominator’ compromise. One can respect the other, whoever that may be, without sacrificing one’s beliefs.

The other mailing I received was from a friend who now lives in the Balkans and is from an English language Orthodox newspaper. Being Orthodox it does have occasional sharp things to say about Catholicism but it, and the three
appended comments are, dare I say, not unsurprisingly, more critical of other fellow Orthodox...

That said the article and comments are well worth reading and bear out that the decision and implications about the use of Hagia Sophia will not be one that will go away. They makes good points about how we, as societies, present the past, and what we choose and do not choose to celebrate. The ownership of the past is not by any means a simple matter of title deeds and admission charges. 

They also raise issues about how Orthodox believers and societies might seek to respond. Whilst being specifically Orthodox in their terms of reference the same issues are there for the Latin West and its affiliates as much as for the Greek East.