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, 21 October 2021

Winter in the later Middle Ages

As autumnal conditions  becomes increasingly dominant inevitably our thoughts turn towards the approach of winter and what it may bring, and to how we will keep warm and secure. The website Medievalists.net recently had an interesting article about life during the winter in the later Middle Ages. 

This draws attention to the effects caused by the so called “Little Ice age”, which were less those of appreciably colder temperatures in general but rather, as with the current pattern of global warming, sudden and extreme manifestations of fluctuations in the weather, be it snow or flood, freezing or drought.

The article can be read at A Medieval Peasants’ Winter

Tuesday, 19 October 2021

A rather pious long weekend in Oxford

This past weekend gave me the opportunity to be pious over and beyond the norm. That freedom was something which I appreciated, and I think it is worth sharing with others to show the spiritual and liturgical riches that Oxford can afford.

The Forty Hours devotion at the Oxford Oratory provides the frame for this, It commenced with Mass on Friday evening at 6, and was then followed by Exposition and a vigil which I was able to join late evening, and in time for Sung Compline. As I aim to do at this annual celebration I was able to stay through the night and to participate in Matins at 5am and the usus antiquior Mass at 6am

After a substantial cooked breakfast at a nearby restaurant I watched some of the  new students of the University going off in their college crocodiles to Matriculation - I was pleased to see that not many of the young men had opted for the variants now permitted in terms of ties by the laxity now permitted by the University. This change is one that brings down the “red mist” on the Clever Boy …. those who do opt for black bow ties, black straight ties or no jacket under their gowns do I suspect conform to certain stereotypes. 

However to return to the life of piety…. at 
11am the Latin Mass Society had its annual Oxford Pilgrimage Mass at Blackfriars. This is in honour of the Oxford Martyrs of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. For several years now this has been in the traditional Dominican Rite sung by one of the Friars Preachers. Music was provided by the Newman Consort and by the Schola Abelis.

Afterwards I was talking to some of the students who had been in the congregation and who clearly had an appreciation of the traditional liturgy.

My arthritis meant that I was not up to joining the walking pilgrimage this year to Holywell and the site of the 1589 executions of the two priests - Bl. George Nichols and Bl. Richard Yaxley - and two laymen - Bl.Thomas Belson and Bl. Humphrey Pritchard - who were the focus of this year’s Pilgrimage. This concluded with Benediction in the church at Blackfriars.

Meanwhile the Forty Hours continued with a 5pm Musical Oratory themed around the Eucharist and the customary 6.30pm Mass for Peace. Afterwards Exposition resumed until midnight and concluding with sung Compline

On Sunday instead of the Forty Hours Mass of the Sacred Heart at the Oratory I attended the monthly midday usus antiquior Mass at SS Gregory and Augustine, which is on my proverbial doorstep. This was a sung celebration, led by a very capable cantor who is an acquaintance.

After a perusal of the church’s secondhand fundraising bookstall - and the inevitable purchase, on this occasion of G.R.Evans’ book on John Wyclif - I had lunch in the city whilst beginning to read my new acquisition. Then it was back to the Forty Hours and the opportunity to pray the rosary again in front of the Blessed Sacrament Exposed.

The 5pm Solemn Vespers was sung by the community and their fine choir, and concluded with a Procession and Benediction. The Forty Hours is always one of the highlights of the year at the Oxford Oratory, and the time one puts into it does seem to be repaid in terms of a sense of renewal and tranquility.

On Monday evening there was Solemn First Vespers for the Feast of St Frideswide after the 6pm Mass for St Luke. I think that this was first time that such a First Vespers has been celebrated at the Oratory in honour of the patroness of Oxford.

This evening there will be Mass at 6pm followed by Benediction in honour of St Frideswide.

For those who want to know more about St Frideswide I would recommend my friend Tony Morris’ splendidly illustrated blog post on Morris Oxford for today as an introduction and which can be viewed at Treacle Well

Quite apart from the spiritual benefits of such a weekend of serious liturgy it was good to see these parts of the annual cycle of events back in place after the last eighteen months of disruption.

Sunday, 17 October 2021

The Battle of Neville’s Cross

Today is the 675th anniversary of the battle of Neville’s Cross just outside Durham in 1346.
Fought within sight of the cathedral it saw the clear defeat of the invading Scots army, with significant casualties and the capture of King David II. As an ally of King Philip VI of France he had invaded his brother-in-law King Edward III’s realm whilst he was on the campaign which had seen his invasion of Normandy in July and his victory at Crecy on August 26th.

As the Wikipedia account at Battle of Neville's Cross recounts an English army led by northern magnates commanded by Lord Neville and including both Lord Percy and Archbishop William Zouche of York defeated the Scots. King David, wounded in the face by two arrows, was captured and remained in English hands until 1357, and for the rest of his reign was no threat to England. It can be seen that he played a more shrewd hand in his dealings with the English in these years than some older historians had thought apparently offering the crown of Scotland, whilst knowing his Parliament would never agree to such a settlement.

 King David II and King Edward III in 1357
                        Image: Wikipedia 

Wikipedia has a useful biography of the Scottish king at David II of Scotland
This includes his somewhat troubled matrimonial life and a fine coinage portrait.

I posted a short note about him on this blog over a decade ago on the 640th anniversary of his death in February 1371. It can be seen at King David II

King Henry II lands in Ireland

Today is the 850th anniversary of the landing of King Henry II in Ireland and can be seen as the beginning of his, and his successors, Lordship of Ireland which was to become in 1542 the Kingdom of Ireland. Its symbolic significance led to a painting of King Henry II receiving the homage of the Irish Kings and chiefs being included in the late eighteenth century scheme of decoration of the ceiling of St Patrick’s Hall in the State Apartments of Dublin Castle.

The background and course of the Norman invasion of Ireland is set out by Wikipedia at Anglo-Norman invasion of Ireland

There is an article on the Erenow website about the arrival of King Henry by the well-known historian of the Angevin rulers John Gillingham, who has also published works on medieval Anglo-Irish relations, which can be read at 1171: Henry II invades Ireland - The Great Turning Points of British History

The same site has a good summary of the King and his governance at King Henry II, Britain and Ireland, 1154–89 - The Struggle for Mastery: Britain 1066-1284

Wikipedia has a detailed discussion of the 1155 Papal Bull Laudabiliter which apparently gave authorisation for King Henry II to rule Ireland, and the debate about the authenticity of the text, at Laudabiliter

Recent decades have seen something of a revision of the interpretation of the history of Ireland before 1534 or 1541 ( never mind for later centuries ) and, an ever important theme in Irish historiography, in the use of politically charged terminology suc as “Irish”, “colonial”, “Home Rule” when applied to the medieval centuries and to the whole pre-1800 history of the island. For me reading the work of Steven G. Ellis Ireland in the Age of the Tudors1447-1603: English Expansion and the End of Gaelic Rule, in the Longman History of Ireland was an eye-opener to this process and to how one can view medieval Ireland. It is a book I highly recommend. I know Prof. Ellis’s ideas do not meet with universal acceptance in Ireland but I think he and his school do offer a much more constructive interpretation of Irish history as part of a wider picture of north west Europe at the time.

In this centenary year of partition and with the latest moves over the Northern Ireland Protocol it does seem appropriate to urge people across Ireland and Britain, and those far beyond, to look at the historical evidence and its interpretation of Irish history rather than, as seems so often to happen, recycling nineteenth and early twentieth century views, themselves shaped by political debates that are now themselves part of that complex historical process.

Friday, 15 October 2021

The unfortunate fate of the seventh Earl of Derby

Today is the 370th anniversary of the beheading of James Stanley, seventh Earl of Derby at Bolton after his capture and court martial following the Battle of Worcester on September 3rd that year.

James, Earl of Derby
From a family portrait by Sir Anthony van Dyke

Image: Wikipedia 

To some he is seen as a Royalist martyr, to others as one of the men responsible for an outrage recalled as the Sack of Bolton in May 1644 - and hence it was the place chosen for his execution.

The scale of the events at Bolton and the loss of life that day is unclear - record and rumour do not agree. This is, of course, often the case in civil conflicts. Parliamentarian pamphleteers made the most of the attack on the Puritan inclined town and laid the blame on the Earl and his overall commander Prince Rupert - a figure they were ever keen to demonise. As C.V. Wedgwood points out in The King’s War the Royalist attack which became known as the Sack of Brentford in 1642 - for which see Battle of Brentford (1642) - was equated by Parliamentarian writers with the devastating  Sack of Magdeburg in the Thirty Years War in 1631…..’False News’ anyone?

There is a biography of the Earl of Derby on Wikipedia at James Stanley, 7th Earl of Derby and that site also has an account of the events of 1644 at Storming of Bolton

An article from a local newspaper discusses where exactly the Earl spent his last night as well as stories of his ghost at Earl of Derby did NOT spend his last night at Man and Scythe

The Earl was also Lord of Mann, the island lordship which his family had held from the beginning of the fifteenth century. Earlier this year there was a report about what appears to be a memorial ring commemorating the Earl which was discovered on the Isle of Man and which can be seen at 370-year-old gold ring may have honored beheaded earl

The Isle was not and is not part of the Kingdom of England, so in 1660 the Act of Indemnity and Oblivion did not apply there. As a consequence the Earl’s principal opponent in his fiefdom himself paid the ultimate penalty for rebellion against the Stanley family when they, like the King, came into their own again.

Spanish Art in Bishop Auckland

The Art Newspaper reported yesterday that in Bishop Auckland near Durham the new Spanish Gallery will open today. Dedicated to showing Spanish masterpieces in this picturesque and historic market town this looks to be a wonderful addition to the cultural resources of the area. To coin a phrase, this does look like ‘levelling up’ in good measure.

A few miles away is the largest collection outside London of works by Spanish great masters at the marvellous Bowes Museum Barnard Castle - now that is somewhere to drive to, and not just to test ones eyesight.

The origin however of this new scheme lies in the rescue of the paintings inside and then of  the very fabric of Bishop Auckland Castle, which opens off the Market Place. This, the historic residence of the Bishops of Durham, was disgracefully sold off some years ago by the miserably money-minded, penny-pinching Woke cultural vandals officially known as the Church Commissioners. The saviour of the Castle and its paintings by Francisco de Zurbarán has now helped bring about this and another museum on the history of mining in the area.

County Durham might not have been ones first thought as a destination in this country to view the incomparable riches - technical, visual and spiritual - of Spanish art, but it has now clearly become the first stop outside London.

Hastings 955

Yesterday was the 955th anniversary of the battle of Hastings in 1066.

I saw online the beginning of an article in the Daily Telegraph  - which used to be a respectable newspaper, one that one could read in public places - by Robert Tombs, who for all that he is a Professor Emeritus of French History specialising in the nineteenth century, is a fanatical Brexiteer. In it he appeared to be stressing by contrast the significance of the 937 battle of Brunanburh and then was apparently recycling the old idea of Anglo-Saxon “freedom” - an idea that went out of fashion at least fifty years ago for us mere medievalists.  Now it is, of course, true that in the Danelaw and in Kent there were strong traditions of personal freedom which survived and fed into the political and social life of medieval and later centuries. How unique that is in the wider world of the time is not clear, and it does not make the people of those counties proto-modern voters. There were, to be slightly topical, by the way, still slaves in Anglo-Saxon England, a thing which largely disappeared under Norman rule. Moreover, Brexiteers please note, like all the Anglo-Saxons and Anglo-Scandinavians the freemen were, let’s face it, illegal immigrants from, dare I say it, Europe ….  

From other articles of his in the paper it appears that Prof Tombs seems to be very keen on the Enlightenment - now that is one pesky European thing we mercifully only had doses of in this country unlike the unfortunate French.

Peering a little further over the pay-wall of the 
Daily Telegraph website ( I refuse to pay for what should be free, and is with other papers ) I found a 2016 Hastings 950 anniversary article by the then un-ennobled Daniel Hannan - in which the then MEP wrote that he apparently thinks we should celebrate Naseby instead of Hastings…. Now not only does he profess to be a Conservative but the man is from Oriel for Heaven’s sake! He read Modern History there - he must have been slumbering in Dr Beddard and Dr Catto’s tutorials….

Brunanburgh is undoubtedly, probably crucially, important in shaping English identity. Naseby hastened the, mercifully temporary, victory of fanaticism and military dictatorship and eventually of regicide, but its long-term consequences are difficult to assess. 

However, as those great Oriel historians Sellar and Yeatman knew, there is one date that unquestionably sticks in the English historical folk consciousness as being memorable - and that is 1066. Because unlike those other two battles everything, everything in the life of the realm was to change or to be transformed as a consequence - far more than King Harold II and King William I could have ever possibly imagined that day on Senlac Hill 955 years ago.
It is sad indeed to see the outdated and outmoded ‘Whig History’ so elegantly satirised by Sellar and Yeatman almost a hundred years ago being regurgitated as political propaganda by men intelligent enough to know better.

Michael Nazi-Ali joins the Ordinariate

I was most interested to read the press release from the Ordinariate yesterday about the reception into the Catholic Church of the former Bishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir-Ali, and that he will be ordained as a priest of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham.

Wikipedia has an informative biographical study of his life and ideas which sets out his eventful career, achievements and ideas, as well as something of what might be termed his spiritual pilgrimage. It can be read at Michael Nazir-Ali

Although I am very wary of the modern of the cult of the famous convert I do think Dr Nazir-Ali’s reception is a very clear sign of his appreciation of what the Ordinariate offers to Catholic-minded Anglicans and that may be a spur to further growth and influence for it.

May St John Fisher pray for him.