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.


Sunday, 25 September 2022

The funeral of King George II in 1760


In my post The Queen’s Funera I said that the last time a monarch’s funeral was held in Westminster Abbey was in 1760 following the death of King George II. I also wrote that I knew nothing of its nature.

That has now been remedied thanks to the Special Correspondent who sent me a very good account of the 1760 ceremony from the always informative History of Parliament Trust website. The ceremony was a distinctive mix of the public and the private - more like the committal service at Windsor. This article can be seen at The Last Burial of a King in Westminster Abbey

Linked to it is another article from the same site about eighteenth century lyings-in-state in the Prince’s Chamber by monarchs and members of the Royal Family. The Prince’s Chamber adjoined the House of Lords ( as does its replacement in Sir Charles Barry’s New Palace of Westminster ) and was a surviving part of the medieval Palace of Westminster that was demolished in 1823. It is an equally interesting article and can be accessed at ‘A noble sight’: the Prince’s Chamber and Royal Lyings in State in the Eighteenth Century


The National Anthem


There has been quite a bit in the media about the necessary adjustment to singing the National Anthem with the change of monarch. I am tempted to think this is a bit exaggerated as it is really not that difficult to substitute “King” for “Queen”, let alone “him” and “he” for “her” and “she”.

The Internet led me to a slightly intriguing article from the Eastern Daily Press utilising a research project at UEA which is looking at the history of protest songs in this country. This includes the idea that the National Anthrm might originate as a Jacobite song rather than a Hanoverian one. The article is interesting in showing how protest had been articulated in song over the past four centuries.  In addition I would add we have those medieval verses which voice criticism of those in power collected by Thomas Wright for the Camden Society and first published in 1839. The article can be read at UEA academics reveal rebellious roots of God Save the King

Having read that my algorithm led me to Country Life, This has a much more detailed account of the rather complicated, and often obscure, history of such a universally known piece. It can be seen at Who wrote 'God Save The King'? The extraordinary tale of the British national anthem

What exactly is the story before 1745 and the response in London to the news of the Jacobite victory at Prestonpans is fragmented. However it does look, ironically, actually to be Jacobite in origin and originally sung in support of King James II on the eve of the invasion by his nephew and  son-in-law Prince William in 1688. 

The seventeenth century appears to have been the origin of the music - the identity of the actual composer remains very debatable - of the basic text and of the very concept of a national piece of music, which seems to come from the reign of King Charles I. 

The later influence of a patriotic anthem seeking God’s blessing on the Sovereign on Haydn during a visit to London and his subsequent composition of Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser for the Habsburg monarchy is well known. The later text from 1854 Gott erhalte, Gott beschutze could be translated into the many languages of the Empire. 

Perhaps less will known is that the tune was also used in the German Empire from 1871 down to 1918 for Heil dir im Siegerkranz. There are several spirited renditions of this on YouTube.

The eighteenth century habit of adding topical verses persisted well into the nineteenth century. Thus in January 1859 London theatregoers were regaled with an extra verse to God save the Queen which had been composed celebrating the birth of Queen Victoria’s first grandchild, the future Kaiser Wilhelm II.

So, that digression finished, let us all resolve to sing with heart and voice “God Save the King”


Saturday, 24 September 2022

The Queen’s Funeral


Like millions of others here and abroad I followed closely the television broadcast of the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II last Monday. Statistics suggest that 37.5 million people here are estimated to have watched all or part of the broadcast, and 4 billion worldwide. 

The sheer number of foreign heads of state attending, and notably monarchs from Europe and beyond, was in one way not surprising, but seeing their combined presence in Westminster Abbey was a striking tribute.

Spectacle, dignity, precision were the order of the day from the armed services and others involved. Comments about how only this country can do such ceremonial have been quite frequent. This may well be true but is I think rather dismissive of other European monarchies on equivalent ceremonial occasions. The Danish ceremonies at the death of King Frederick IX in 1972 and of Queen Ingrid in 2000, let alone the funerals of Queen Juliana and Prince Bernhard in the Netherlands in 2004 - worth looking at on YouTube - are testimony to a wider, shared tradition of monarchical state funerals.

The crowds lining the routes in London, in Windsor and in between indicate the regard, the affection, the love in which the Queen was held. People were not there just for the show or the spectacle. Some BBC commentators pointed out the standard phrases used by people about it being an historic moment or the importance of being there were attempts to  describe a much more complex set of emotions about community, service and identity, as well as loyalty, respect and devotion on their part.

Dr Kat of the excellent Reading the Past website posted a video on the death and funeral of Queen Elizabeth I in 1603, which can be seen at The End of the First Elizabethan EraIt was particularly interesting to see the striking similarities in the funeral procession of the first Queen Elizabeth to that of the second 419 years later.

The playing of the Beethoven Funeral March composed by Walch  had an almost hypnotic effect with the combination of the music, of the drum beat and marching feet, accompanied by Big Ben. It was in some ways almost exhausting or enervating to watch and hear. The effect for those involved, let alone the Royal Family and for those who knew the late Queen as staff is difficult to imagine.

The various parts of the funeral ceremonies were an instance of the “Invention of tradition” in the proper sense of that oft used phrase. I prefer to think of it as the recovery of tradition, or a blending of tradition and inspiration. This can certainly be said of the ceremonies the preceding week in Edinburgh. This was the most elaborate funeral of a monarch in centuries.

In both Westminster Abbey and St George’s Windsor the nation has temporarily churches which are not only rich in the history of the monarchy but also two buildings where the visual impact for participants and viewers is profound. The vision of King Henry III in commissioning Westminster and of King Edward III in founding the Otder of the Garter and of King Edward IV and King Henry VIII in building St George’s element has withstood the passage of centuries.

This was arguably the most elaborate and public funeral of a sovereign since that of King James I and VI in 1625. Her Majesty was the first monarch to have a funeral service in Westminster Abbey since King George II in 1760. I know nothing of that occasion but suspect that like most royal burials of that period it was muted in its tone. The processions were perhaps longer, more  impressive than others in the twentieth century which were mainly a means of moving the late monarch across the capital to burial at Windsor. Again the Westminster Hall lying- in-state, first held for a monarch in 1910 was longer than previous ones.

The actual service at Westminster had an ecumenical dimension that is a sign of the times. The presence of the Catholic Archbishop of Armagh or the participation of the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster would have been unthinkable in 1952. The only other time a Cardinal has been involved on such an occasion would or could have been at the funeral of King Edward IV in 1483 when Cardinal Thomas Bourchier was Archbishop of Canterbury.

At Windsor again there were huge crowds and the service m, which had not been broadcast television in 1952, was transmitted. Much was made by the commentators about the symbolic breaking of the Lord Chamberlain’s wand as something never seen by the public hitherto. This specific action is recorded certainly for the funeral of King Henry VIII in the same chapel in 1547, and presumably has an earlier origin.

This then was a day of great emotion, rich in symbolism and history, yet made accessible to a vast viewing public. It was a ceremonial and liturgical celebration in both senses of the word.


Wednesday, 14 September 2022

The passing of The Queen, the advent of The King


Like I suspect very many people I have spent much of my waking time since Thursday lunchtime following news and developments on television and the internet. There does not seem to have been time to write about all one has seen and thought.

Here are a series of reflections on these past few days, what we have witnessed and what they perhaps signify. 

The television coverage on BBC has been, I think excellent, and enabled one to both follow events and also watch interesting background material about the last seventy years. One legacy of those seven decades is indeed the ways in which events can now be covered and transmitted to phones and iPads and allowing a far greater range of angles than could have ever been thought - possibly imagined -at the time of the immensely significant broadcast of the Coronation in 1953. This past few days this has meant one could thereby participate in a whole range of events that would otherwise would not be visible. In this media-obsessed age this is important, and monarchies have always understood the importance, the potency of images.

As I wrote to a US friend who sent her condolences to me I had sensed that the reign was drawing to a close and that Her Majesty was frail. To some extent that was an unspoken undercurrent to the Platinum Jubilee. Nonetheless I thought she might still live a while longer. On Tuesday of last week we saw images of her exercising her responsibility of appointing a new Prime Minister and despite the report of the postponed Privy Council on Wednesday evening the news of medical concern about  her health fairly rapidly led to a heightened mood of concern and the realisation that this was indeed serious, very serious. An event one realised would happen fairly soon appeared to be upon the nation and Commonwealth. The heavy rain and then the rainbow just before the announcement of the Queen’s death seemed that nature was reflecting what was happening. That is an ancient idea with the death of monarchs as evidenced by Shakespeare in  Henry IV pt II, or the idea in 1553 that the thunderstorm which accompanied the death of King Edward VI was his father’s rage at the death of that so long desired male heir.

If the death of the Queen was unexpected in its timing yet expected in a foreseeable future it is also the disappearance from the life of this, and her other realm, from the Commonwealth and indeed the world of a person who has been there as long as one could remember. I was born six months before she succeeded to the throne but I obviously have no memory of King George VI. My earliest dateable memory is of just after the Coronation and my father brining home a commemorative mug driven by the local council to the schoolchildren and, if requested by parents, pre-school children. One of the first books I recall was a splendid Coronation souvenir volume from probably Pitkin that my mother brought out to cheer me up when recovering from childhood illnesses. As some said at the time of the Platinum Jubilee for those of us of that generation beyond our own families and neighbours the Queen was one of the first people we knew of.

The tributes from so many people to her stress duty, fidelity, constancy, and stability. To that are added vignettes of her energetic enquiring attitude when meeting people, her dry humour and robust common sense - occasionally caught also on the films about her working life as monarch, but more often dependent upon a narrator’s memory. It was always slightly surprising when one saw film of her engaging in animated conversation and revealing her enthusiasm for equine matters in contrast to her more reserved appearance on so many public appearances. There is great consistency in the memories of her shared by so many people. 

What emerges in the mosaic of memories, the subtle texture of a richly woven tapestry, is a probably naturally rather shy woman who found herself in a unique situation and, as she remarked, had no real time to learn the task of kingship before it was thrust upon her. A stern sense of duty, derived from her mother fromand grandmother Queen Mary, a policy of following in her father’s footsteps, a fidelity to the institution she incarnated and to the peoples given into her care steered her successfully for over seventy years. No mean achievement. 

Some commentators have pointed out that in 1952 women very rarely occupied high profile positions in public life - along with Queen Juliana in the Netherlands she was placed at the head of the country, the Empire, the Commonwealth. In one way that was an advantage, a young glamorous Queen could catch the imagination of her people, but it must have taken a toll on her life and that of Prince Philip and their elder children - little privacy to raise a family.

Much of what the monarch does is of course hidden from the public eye, and the public persona hiding the real individual. The themes discussed by Kantorowicz in The King’s Two Bodies were ones Queen Elizabeth II understood and skilfully negotiated.

Hers was a remarkable life, a life well lived, grounded in tradition but open to and often welcoming present realities. In an interview at the time of the Platinum Jubilee the King of Jordan emphasised her moral authority as one of Queen Elizabeth’s great qualities and contributions. That has unfortunately not been emphasised as much in current commentary as the emphasis on her deep personal religious faith. The two go together - the woman of faith became in consequence a moral force for good in the governance and welfare of her realms. 

The great strength offered by our tradition of constitutional monarchy of stability and continuity with a recognised successor has been superbly demonstrated, so much so that it takes time to realise that we shall not see again the familiar figure of Queen Elizabeth II at state events or speaking to us in her Christmas broadcast, or enjoying a race meeting. Much of the public grief, the need for many to express that by travelling to royal residences and laying flowers is not just a tribute to her as monarch but a way of dealing with that dawning sense of personal loss. 

The variety of that sense reflects the innumerable ways in which we as a nation engaged with the Queen, and she with us. The mourning is therefore personal as well as institutional, reflecting our own lives in hers and that of the realm.

I have always admired our new King, and said so in those years when too many people were quick to criticise or denigrate him. Happily that time is well past, and the response to him and his splendid Queen is positive and warm. That is no inconsiderable achievement in itself. It bodes well for the future.

His addresses have been widely praised and are very much in the style he has developed over his years as heir apparent - distinctively personal, thoughtful, elegant and displaying a sense of place and history.

The first ever broadcasting of the Accession Council was very interesting from historical and constitutional points of view. What one saw emphasised the significance of what was happening - the custody and transfer of authority. The commentary said it originated in the particular circumstances of the accession of King James I in 1603. This seems likely but fifty years earlier the attempt to put Queen Jane on the throne seems to have involved a Council meeting at which, complete with dramatic swoons, she accepted the Crown under King Edward VI’s will in a meeting of the Privy Council. The involvement of the City of London is far older, going back it would appear to the involvement of representatives of London in the accession of King Edmund II in 1016 - another reminder of the long continuities of our system.

The concern of the Orders in Council with the various seals might seem arcane but is, of course, actually key to both the continuity and also the legality of government. Today our understanding of the processes of governance might not put such emphasis on the various seals. They were once more obviously important but are still vital to the legal basis of government. I was struck by the reference to the possibility of replacing the Privy Seal. Despite being in the custody of a specific minister it has not been required for use since legislation in 1884 in the reign of Queen Victoria, and the actual seal is still hers, yet it still is there as part of the machinery of government.

The implementation of Operation London Bridge, which has clearly been very well prepared, with both its long established elements and the newer ones of the King travelling to Edinburgh, Belfast and Cardiff has been assured. The particular circumstances of the Queen dying in Scotland has led under Operation Unicorn to the ceremonies in Edinburgh of her resting in state at Holyroodhouse and then St Giles Cathedral. This has been a dignified and very suitable addition - an instance of “the invention of tradition”. It has been both a fitting acknowledgment of the Queen’s love for Scotland but also of the distinctive place of the    northern kingdom within the UK. The last time a monarch died in Scotland was 1542 with that of King James V, whose crown rested on his descendant’s coffin in St Giles this week.

One aspect of the ceremonies that I do rather regret is the decision to transfer the Queen’s coffin from Edinburgh to London by plane rather than by train. For all the dignity of the farewell from Edinburgh airport a move by train 
would have allowed more people to pay their respects, as the Scots were able to do along the route by road on Sunday from Balmoral. Those scenes and those last night of the journey from RAF Northolt to Buckingham Palace with so many stopping or turning out in the dusk of a wet September evening, and in both instances in striking silence and respect, will be one of the many memories one will take from this past few days. The sheer scale and gravitas of the crowds in London and Edinburgh, the very wide range of ages involved, along the processional routes and at royal residences has been an eloquent, silent, sombre testimony of loyalty and love.


Thursday, 8 September 2022

The battle over the Liturgy


For a considerable while now I have largely refrained from commenting on this site about the conflicts over liturgy in the Catholic Church. This is not because I am not interested - I am - or concerned - I am. The reason is much more that in the torrent of words generated by these liturgy wars I feel just adding more is only very occasionally going to be useful or constructive. Silence may be the better option.

Regular readers will doubtless be aware that I was a keen supporter of Summorum Pontificum and that I much prefer the traditional form of Mass, but do not dispute the validity of the Ordinary Form. That position has consolidated over the period of lockdown and upon reflection, and with increased attendance at the Usus Antiquior. 

With that said I would urge readers to look at a very good article from the Catholic Herald. It is by Dom Hugh Somerville Knapman OSB of Douai Abbey and in a concise and informed way sets out the current situation clearly and magisterially. 

Dom Hugh’s essay can be read at The Emperor’s New-Rite Clothes


Wednesday, 7 September 2022

The Newport Medieval Ship


I was aware of the fact of a medieval ship having been found at Newport in South Wales in 2002 but had not seen more about it until my online search facility presented me yesterday with an excellent animated video about this fifteenth century ship and its last voyage and abandonment in dry dock at Newport.

This led me to look up the ship on Wikipedia , which has a good introduction to the discovery  and seeks to reconstruct my its history, and likely ownership by Warwick the Kingmaker in 1469. Warwick had a not inconsiderable career as little more than a privateer in the English Channel from the end of the 1450s. This account, which dates the ship’s life and service to the twenty years between its building in 1449 and its dry-docking in 1469, can be read at Newport Ship

The really very good reconstruction video I spotted yesterday can be seen at Newport Medieval Ship, The ship's final voyage.

There are other videos about the ship and of conference papers about it from a decade ago at SHIP SHAPE: Newport's Medieval Ship - 10 years on, and from seven years back at The Newport Medieval Ship in Context 


The survivsl of what remsins is fascinating in itself. The history that can be reconstructed and contextualised of what appears to be a Basque built vessel trading across Biscay to England and Wales, and the likelihood of a link to the maritime exploits - or depredations - of the Earl of Warwick gives it a secure place in historical understanding and great potential as an object to be visited as and when it is available. The accounts stress how local people ‘owned’ the discovery and argued for its proper preservation.  It could well become a significant tourist attraction with its attendant benefits both economically and in supporting local pride.


Tuesday, 6 September 2022

Houses of Ivory


The Biblical references to ivory furnishings in the kingdoms of Israel and Judah are few but striking. They have carried over into the Christian tradition as a way of highlighting the singularity of the Virgin Mary - “Tower of Ivory”.

Now, as my algorithm informs me, archaeologists working in the City of David have found ornamental ivory plaques that are believed to have decorated eighth and seventh century BC furniture in what was clearly an elite household. This is the first such evidence from Jerusalem itself.

The plaques are described in a post from Israel National News which can be seen at https://www.israelnationalnews.com/news/359281

There is a second report on the discovery of the ivories in Dawn which also has a photograph and which can be seen at Iron Age ivory plaques unearthed in ancient Jerusalem mansion


Sunday, 4 September 2022

Understanding the Medieval ‘warm period’


Our current concern with understanding and responding to climate change has led to a closer examination of historical evidence for changes and differences in the climate of past centuries.

By something like chance I came across a new short video which reassesses the evidence we do have for the so-called medieval warm period, preceding what is often termed the “Little Ice Age” from around 1400 to the mid-nineteenth century. Despite the odd bit of presentational quirkiness this sets out a cogent case against there being anything more than a localised warmer phase in the North Atlantic region in the middle ages and questions how significant that and the succeeding cooler period were in relation to the present changes.