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, 21 January 2022

“Son of St Louis ascend to Heaven”


Today is the anniversary of the beheading by the guillotine of King Louis XVI in 1793. It is often said that as the King mounted the scaffold the Irish born Abbé Edgeworth de Firmont said to him “Son of St Louis ascend to Heaven”. When asked about this in later years the Abbé said he had been in such a state of anxiety he could not recall what he had said. Nevertheless the story has persisted snd the phrase is indeed ‘dignum et justum’. It certainly has much more authenticity then the modern fable of a figure appearing, flourishing the severed head of the King and proclaiming “Jacques de Molay, you are avenged” in reference to the fate of the Grand Master and other members of the Order of the Templars in 1314. 

There is a brief biography of the Abbé Edgeworth from Wikipedia at Henry Essex Edgeworth and a much more detailed one from the Irish Times at Abbé de Firmont, the Irish priest who stood by King Louis XVI at his execution


louis xvi

King Louis XVI

Image: alpha history.com

I have not read John Hardman’s Thr Life of Louis XVI published by Yale UP but most reviewers see it as today’s definitive biography of the King, and one that presents a balanced picture of his reign, the issues he faced and balanced his personal gifts and strengths with his ultimately fatal tendency towards irresolution until it was too late. It certainly appears to dispel the idea of the King as a lumpen plodder. Whether he could have reigned over a series of sensible and presumably ongoing reforms - which he would have supported- designed to bring France into alignment with other European countries - is the crucial question, and one for which there is not time nor space here.

It was not just the “Ancien Regime” as described by Tocqueville or as used for the century and more preceding the outbreak of the revolution in 1789 that was symbolically destroyed along with the King in 1793. It was a constitutional dispensation that reached back through the Bourbons, the Valois and the Capetians, and before Hughes Capet and his descendants, the Carolingians and right back to thr Merovingians and the baptism of Clovis in 496. It was these ancient, mysterious and undoubtedly sacral origins of French kingship, of the French nation, indeed of a wider Christendom, that were symbolically attacked in killing King Louis XVI. So if the Abbé did so address the King in his last earthly minutes it was perhaps an inspired phrase. As a Bourbon he was the descendent of St Louis’ - King Louis IX - youngest son and the personification of the extended Capetian line and its antecedents.

In the nineteenth century there was of course a cult of the King, his Queen, their son snd his sister Mme. Elisabeth. This was not only in the Restoration era but after 1871 when Royalism was still a force to be reckoned with. Nowhere is that more strikingly displayed than in the decoration of the apse of Sacré Coeur atop  Montmartre and looking down on the city where the King was killed. In the decoration the kneeling King, Queen, Dauphin-King and Mme Elisabeth are shown kneeling in prayer  before Christ. It is a forceful evocation of a France both Catholic and Royal built in three Third Republlic and still a focus of devotion under the Fifth.


Thursday, 20 January 2022

Latin Liturgy in Anglican Oxford - and more besides


It is now quite a few years since I made it my custom, suitably begowned, to attend the Latin Holy Communion on the Thursday of Noughth Week in the University Church of St Mary the Virgin - having obviously checked with the Proctor’s Office the day before that the celebrant would not be a ‘lady clergy person’. On one occasion I attended the Latin Litany and Sermon. I left that all behind when I crossed the Tiber in 2005.

However Fr Hunwicke has recently had two related posts on his blog about the Latin Holy Communion service which I am happy to draw to the attention of my readers. He has written before about the origins of this intriguing liturgy and this time the discussion broadens out considerably.

His first post is in the nature of a reminiscence of his own time as celebrant and can be read at Saint John Henry's Altar

He returned to the topic a few days later with reflections on the history of the rite and generated a stimulating, informative and wide-ranging series of comments. This makes for very interesting reading at Latin Liturgy at Oxford


The discussion of what exactly either Queen Elizabeth I or, indeed, King Edward VI preferred is an interesting and important one, and which invites both research and speculation. What either monarch intended may be open for discussion, and in the case of Queen Elizabeth it does lead to wider reflection on just how effective her ideas and influence were. What was she aiming to achieve, how did she implement it personally and publically, and how successful was she? Are we looking at a magisterial settlement by the emerging Gloriana or is it an instance of what had been termed the “Crowned republic of Elizabeth I”?


This is a wide-ranging topic but one well worth thinking about for what it reveals about sixteenth century rulership and about the very nature of the Church of England and about Anglicanism.



Wednesday, 19 January 2022

The trigger for the Little Ice Age?


With modern concern about climate change the causes of previous climatic fluctuations attracts the attention of scientists and of historians. 

The Independent has an article about the latest  scientific explanation that has been proffered for the beginning of the so-called Little Ice Age about 1400. I am not a scientist but the case advanced seems plausible and based on natural and established phenomena. The article can read at Scientists discover ‘surprising’ cause of Europe’s little ice age

Whilst looking further about the concept on the Internet I quickly came upon an article from last October which appears to be making more or less the same argument. It is from ScienceNorway and can be read at What actually started the Little Ice Age?


Tuesday, 18 January 2022

A good night’s sleeps?


As one who has had their sleep pattern disrupted by the lockdowns, and having become increasingly nocturnal in my study habits, I was struck by an article I chanced upon on Open Culture about historical sleep patterns, and notably that of having. ‘first sleep’ and then, after waking up and being active. having a ‘second sleep’. I do recall having heard of this idea before and was interested to learn more. The article can be read at People in the Middle Ages Slept Not Once But Twice Each Night: How This Lost Practice Was Rediscovered

In it there is s link to a much longer article about the concept from BBC Future and which can be seen at The forgotten medieval habit of 'two sleeps'

I would urge readers to look at that account. which dress upon the work of various academic, notably Roger Ekirch and his history of the night  At Day’s Close: A History of Nighttime. His book is a tempting one and a quick glance at Amazon yields at least two more studies of sleep and nighttime in the early modern period.. From the reviews they sound to be unlikely to send one to sleep …,

So with that done I will go and have my ‘first sleep’ and see if wakefulness leads to more blogging before my ‘second sleep’…..


The Two Feasts of the Chair of Peter


Gregory DiPippo has an excellent article on the New Liturgical Movement about the history and evolution of the Feast of the Chsir of Peter into two celebrations, those of it at Rome on January 18th and at Antioch on February 22nd. This rather curious, not to say convoluted, story is set out together with the interaction of the celebration on January 18th with the commemoration of martyr saints in the succeeding days in the articl. The article can be read at The Two Feasts of St Peter’s Chair 


Monday, 17 January 2022

Was King Edward IV illegitimate?


The online video series History Calling has recently uploaded a very good analysis of the arguments advanced both in the fifteenth century ( occasionally ) and in the twenty-first century ( more frequently ) as to the likelihood or otherwise of King Edward IV having been illegitimate.


Personally I agree with the conclusions of the presenter, and say so in a note I posted in the comments section.

I am repeating the substance of that here, with illustrations, to make my point.

The three portraits of Richard Duke of York used in the video are misleading. Only the illumination from the Earl of Shrewsbury MS is contemporary. 

Drawing of Richard, Duke of York

Richard Duke of York in 1445
From the Shrewsbury MS
Image: Wikipedia 

The statue, from the bridge gate in Shrewsbury is earlier snd probably of Richard’s uncle. The drawing of the stained glass in Penrith church is of a bearded man, which was not the fashion in Duke Richard’s lifetime. It is now thought to be much more likely his maternal grandfather the first Earl of Westmoreland.

However there are two surviving contemporary stained glass portraits of the Duke. One is in Cirencester church in a chantry chapel founded by some of his retainers. This shows him with fair or blonde hair - unless that is due to the techniques of glass painting with yellow -stain - and shows a typical military style haircut of the period 

Richard duke of York

Image: Wakefield Historical Society

The other is in Trinity College Cambridge and shows him with wavy hair, perhaps not dissimilar to the Shrewsbury MS. The two glass portraits are similar, or at least not dissimilar, as to their facial features,













Richard Duke of York
Glass in Trinity College Cambridge 
Image: History of Parliament Trust
Neither depiction enables any estimate of his height as he is shown alone. For that someone may have to open up his tomb in Fotheringhay church.
A final point is that in 1483 how many people in London would remember the appearance of a man who had died in 1460 and who had spent relatively little time in the city?

A new threat to the Order of Malta


A friend has forwarded to me a disturbing post from The Pillar about Vatican plans to more or less impose a new constitution on the Order of Malts. As my friend says, is there no end to the vandalism?

The post, which appears well sourced, can be seen at Order of Malta would be 'subject' of Holy See under new constitution and all the appended comments are telling in what they say.

Another religious group to pray for ….


A Roman commercial community discovered in the Mendips


The Daily Express has a report about the discovery near Winscombe of a significant Roman, and later, community adjacent to the lead mining area of the Mendips in Somerset. This appears not dissimilar in many ways to the discovery in south Northamptonshire I posted about very recently in Roman trading town revealed in Northamptonshire

In the example from the Mendips it was found during archaeological work in anticipation of the laying of electricity cables. What it seems to reveal is a community which developed alongside the mining activities, which are well attested at the village of Charterhouse and which was then developed in the Constantinian era with new roads and left significant numbers of coins. From the evidence it indicates cross-country trading links to the Fosse Way and also a potential link to the coast for the export of lead ore to other parts of the Empire.