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.

Thursday, 27 January 2022

Vestments in fifteenth and sixteenth century paintings

Shawn Tribe has a beautifully illustrated article on the Liturgical Arts Journal website about the depiction of liturgical vestments by artists in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

It appears clear that these are paintings of actual vestments or at very least ones that correspond to what would have then existed in sacristies across Latin Christendom.

The ones shown in the article are not dissimilar to surviving examples such as those of the Order of the Golden Fleece which are preserved in Vienna or other surviving pieces and fragments of medieval textiles in museum collections.

The article with its fine selection of illustrations can be seen at Sacred Vestments from the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Century As Seen In Historical Paintings

Wednesday, 26 January 2022

A wooden statuette from early Roman Britain

In the link to the report on the latest discoveries at Stoke Mandeville in my previous post there is a reference to the discovery on another site in Buckinghamshire of a small wooden Roman statue. This discovery st Twyford is covered in considerable detail in a report on Live Science. This stresses both the rarity of such an object surviving at all and also the insight it offers into another aspect, or indeed aspects, of life in early Britannia.

More discoveries from the site of Stoke Mandeville Church

The excavation of the site of the old parish church of St Mary at Stoke Mandeville in Buckinghamshire continues to yield intriguing and striking evidence as to the early occupation of the plot.

I have posted about previous discoveries there before in 2020 in Dealing with evil in the Buckinghamshire countryside and in Roman statues from Stoke Mandeville church last year.

The latest evidence appears to be from the end of the Roman period or at some point in the earlier phase of Anglo-Saxon occupation. It appears generally accepted that the Chilterns remained under British control after the rest of this southern lowland region fell under Anglo-Saxon domination, which might stretch the time limits for dating. The evidence revealed is of the disturbance of eight cremation urns and of their being shattered, possibly as another corpse, having apparently suffered a violent death, was being thrown or rolled in on top. 

The report about these latest excavations is from the Daily Express and can be seen at Archaeologists baffled by ‘extraordinary’ skeleton that had been ‘rolled into a ditch’

Much as I deplore the HS2 project the excavations along its route are revealing very important additions to our knowledge of Roman and early English life, as I linked to in Roman trading town revealed in Northamptonshire

It is just a pity that the funds could not be made available for such archaeological research without the environmental disaster that is HS2

I can certainly see the story of the site Stoke Mandeville church becoming standard in books on Romano-British and Anglo-Saxon for future generations.

Tuesday, 25 January 2022

The church that Bishop Fleming built

Today, January 25th, is the 591st anniversary of the death of Bishop Richard Fleming, the subject of my thesis research.

Fleming was born at the village of Crofton, which lies just south east of Wakefield, and looks westward up the Calder valley. Politically however in the lifetime of Fleming it looked eastward to Pontefract as it formed part of the Honour centred on the castle there, and which was an important component of the estates of the Duchy of Lancaster. It was through that set of connections that Fleming made the connections that helped carry him to the episcopate.

Rather as men successful in politics in the later sixteenth century built grand country houses in or near the villages or towns in which they were born so fifteenth century bishops tended to rebuild, extend or augment the parish churches of their home villages. Thus Bishop Walter Skirlaw of Durham rebuilt the church at Skirlaugh in the East Riding, Bishop Nicholas Bubwith of Bath and Wells built the tower of the church at Bubwith in the same Riding, Bishop William Waynfleet of Winchester established a school in his home village of Wainfleet in Lincolnshire, Archbishop Henry Chichele of Canterbury established a collegiate foundation at his home parish of Higham Ferrers in Northamptonshire, Archbishop John Kempe of York did the same in his home parish of Wye in Kent, and Archbishop Thomas Rotherham did the same in his eponymous hometown. Bishop John Alcock of Ely founded a grammar school in his home city of Kingston-upon-Hull. Skirlaw, Waynfleet, Chichele, Rotherham and Alcock were all founders or benefactors of colleges in Oxford or Cambridge. Richard Fleming was similar - not only did he found Lincoln College in Oxford and attempt to turn his previous parish church at Boston into a collegiate foundation but he also rebuilt the church in his home parish of Crofton.

Crofton Church from the south west

Image: britishlistedbuildings.co.uk

A local tale claims that he moved the church site from a low lying position to the present one, but this I think unlikely. This is because the church has the remains of two Anglo-Saxon crosses - presumably found in the walls of the church during the nineteenth century restoration - and current opinion would suggest the tower arches date from about 1300. This would suggest Fleming’s rebuilding was carried out around a pre-existing structure.

His coat of arms is over the porch entrance and in the early seventeenth century the indefatigable Yorkshire antiquary Roger Dodsworth recorded a panel of glass - now alas list - which showed Fleming preaching ( he was a distinguished preacher ) and recorded him as the rebuilder and consecrator of the church. 

The unaisled cruciform church is simple in plan and any original fittings, other than probably the font, have long gone. Nonetheless this is a link to a famous son of the village. It is also a witness to Fleming’s commitment to his home. If we date the work at Crofton to his second period as Bishop of Lincoln, from 1426 until his death in 1431 this was when he was founding Lincoln College and trying to create the collegiate community at Boston, when his finances were certainly straightened. Crofton church may not be an elaborate structure, but the fact that it was rebuilt at all by Fleming is a sign of his filial devotion to his parish, his village and his family.

Sale of the King Henry III gold penny

I recently posted in Another gold penny of King Henry III about the forthcoming sale of a King Henry III gold penny, minted in 1257 and discovered by a metal detector in a Devon field last autumn. It is one of only eight known examples of this coin, the first gold coin to be struck in England after 1066.  Last weekend the coin was sold at auction for a record price, and happily the new owner intends to keep it in this country and to loan it to a museum for public viewing.

My previous post had a number of links to articles about the coin, its iconography and place in the monetary history of this country. Here are two more articles about it and the sale. The first is from the Mail Online and can be seen at Metal detectorist finds one of England's 'first ever gold coins' and the second is from the latest Medievalists.net posting on their website and is available at Medieval gold penny could fetch up to £400,000 at auction

This article draws out more about the design of the coin and what it sought to express to those who handled it. As a piece it is further testimony to the artistic sensibilities and patronage of the King and to his vision of his position as monarch.

I liked the finder saying that he had paid a visit to Westminster Abbey to thank King Henry III for having made the discovery and its resulting boost to his family finances. I rather think that the King would appreciate that.

St Dwynwen

Today, apart from being the Feast of the Conversion of St Paul, is also that of the fifth century Welsh nun St Dwynwen. 

Now for those of you have have never, or even scarcely, heard of her that excellent journal Country Life has an article about her life and cult as the Welsh equivalent of St Valentine. In recent years the revival of interest in her had come to my attention, but when I used to stay in North Wales on holiday as a schoolboy in the 1960s she was never mentioned at all.

The story of St Dwynwen shows the perils attached to getting in the way of such a saint’s vocation and has similarities to the later, eighth century, story of St Frideswide here in Oxford and her pursuit by Algar of Leicester.

The informative article, which also looks at the intercession role of St Raphael based upon the Book of Tobit, can be read at Curious Question: Was St Valentine beaten to it by 1,000 years by the Welsh patron saint of love?

Monday, 24 January 2022

The Proclamation of the German Empire in 1871

January 18th was the 151st anniversary of the proclamation of the new German Empire in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles.

I came by chance on an online video about the events leading up to and surrounding the formal proclamation. It is from a series about the Franco-Prussian War, but stands alone in its coverage of the day. The accounts brings out the improvised nature of the ceremony - presumably because of wanting to hold it on January 18th, the 170th anniversary of the coronation of the first King in Prussia and the fact that German forces were still engaged in fighting the French in the siege of Paris.

Up to the last moment there was a serious tussle over the new Imperial title between Kaiser von Deutschland, favoured by the Kaiser-designate and Deutsches Kaiser, the choice of Bismarck. The difference is, of course, not a just a matter or words, but had deep constitutional significance for the new union. In 1848-9 Wilhelm’s brother Friedrich Wilhelm IV, not lacking in Romantic neo- medievalism, refused the Imperial title proffered by the Frankfurt Assembly on the grounds that he did not want to pick his crown out of the dirt. Now in 1871 Bismarck, aware of the sensitivities of the other German ruling dynasties, predictably prevailed - as Wilhelm I was later to observe it was hard being Kaiser under Bismarck.

There is a short Wikipedia account of Grand Duke Friedrich I of Baden, the son-in-law of the new Kaiser who proclaimed him to the assembled throng in the Hall of Mirrors at Frederick I, Grand Duke of Baden

Crown Prince Friedrich, usually known in the Anglophone world as Frederick, was keen to revive medieval forms for the new German monarchy. It is recorded that he, together with his wife would look at books with illustrations of the insignia and emblems of the medieval Empire and he would say that these symbols must be brought back. 

When in 1888 he eventually succeeded his father as Kaiser there was to be a problem which did not confront either his father or his son, Wilhelm I and Wilhelm II. As the new ruler he wished to be styled Frederick IV, implying continuity with the Holy Roman Emperors and the fifteenth century Habsburg Frederick III, rather than using his Prussian regal numbering as Frederick III. Bismarck was insistent that the style Emperor Frederick IV would offend their ally the Austin’s-Hungarian Empire, and Frederick’s 99 day reign as both Kaiser and King was to be as Frederick III. 

That question touched upon the generally unspoken question as to whether the new Empire was German - or even pan-German - or whether it was in reality just a greater Prussia. The answer is, of course, that it was both. Prussia was far and away the largest constituent territory and had far more votes in the Imperial Council. The problems were, ironically, perhaps strongest in Prussia itself where in the east its Polish speaking subjects were content to be ruled by the King of  Prussia, but did not necessarily think of themselves as Germans, and resented a uniform language being imposed by the local administration. Similarly Rhineland subjects, added to the Kingdom in 1814-15 felt little in common with Berlin, and still less with Königsberg.

File:Wappen Deutsches Reich - Reichsadler 1889.svg

The cost of arms of the German Empire
This version was adopted in 1889

Image: Wikipedia 

Sunday, 23 January 2022

The library of Roche Abbey

The Tudor Travel Guide has a guest post by Michael Carter of English Heritage about the dispersal and, seemingly all save eight volumes, subsequent destruction of the library of the Cistercian abbey at Roche, which lies at the southern tip of the West Riding, following the surrender of the monastery to the King’s Commisdioners in June 1538. The fate of the library is placed into the context of what else is known about how some books survived from other Yorkshire monasteries at that time. The article, together with additional links, can be read at Lost & Found: Remarkable Survival of Monastic Books

Some of the same material is used, together with other sources about the eighteenth century landscaping of the site by Capability Brown for the Earl of Scarborough, in an account of the abbey from the Yorkshire Post in 2017 which can be seen at The Abbey habit

In 2013 I also used some of the same material the other two authors used, the account of the ransacking of the abbey in 1538 written by Michael Sherbroke, born in 1535 and later Rector of the nearby parish of Wickersley 1567-1610. This was based on the recollections of his father and uncle. His full account can be read in my post The Suppression of Roche Abbey in 1538 - a personal view

That not only looks at the dissolution of Roche but also at my family connections with the abbey and its land and estates.