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, 8 June 2023

More medieval humour

Following on from my recent posts about research into medieval entertainment, Fifteenth century stand up comedyMore on fifteenth century comedy and Medieval conjuring tricks I see that the theme has also been picked up by an Oxford academic, Prof. Marion Turner, in an enjoyable article in the Daily Telegraph. Her underlying argument is that humour and what we find, sometimes inexplicably, funny does not change over time. She also points to how texts were read or performed in the past, or indeed, today, affects how the humour is brought out.

One example she gives is from The Canterbury Tales with the wickedly entertaining Miller’s Tale. Wonderfully naughty it is not original to Chaucer who, I think, got it from Flanders, but re-located it to Oxford. When I used to do literary tours of Oxford this was one of my favourites to discuss and to make the point it really does relate to the reality of life in late fourteenth century Oxford. Chaucer makes the world of town and gown really come alive with very specific topographical references. He also provides a comical version of an evergreen plot - one which Hollywood used to great effect in the mid-twentieth century with dramas such as Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice.

Having said that about Chaucer may I quickly add that the idea one sometimes comes across that Chaucer is basically just smutty is seriously wrong. He might write about themes that are distinctly earthy, but he is at the same time a satirical observer who was marvellous in his subtlety - as acute an observer of the variety of his contemporaries as Jane Austen was of hers or Charles Dickens of his.

In this day and age of sensitive souls perhaps I should issue a trigger warning that Prof. Turner’s article discusses matter that some might find problematic, but what the hell - if you are already reading this blog I doubt you will be offended ( and the title of her article in effect carries a warning ).

Monday, 5 June 2023

Drinking water in the middle ages

Medievalists.net has an article which is designed as a corrective to the oft repeated idea that people in the middle ages did not drink water because it was contaminated and drank ale or wine instead.

The author argues that medieval people knew perfectly well which water was safe to drink and which was not.

The article, which has a quite lengthy list of further reading material, can be read at Did people drink water in the Middle Ages?

Medieval conjuring tricks

Last week I linked in two posts to articles about recent research that gives some idea of medieval comedy performance by an English minstrel in the Midlands about 1480. There is another similar summary at Scholars may have an authentic manuscript of a medieval comedy show — and it's pretty funny

To continue with the theme of medieval types of entertainment I saw that Medievalists.net has a post about magic tricks set out in the Secretum Philosophorum which was written about 1300. The instances given in the article do indicate an awareness of what today we would term elementary chemistry and physics. A somewhat similar trick - in that case how to carry water in a sieve - is featured in Robertson Davies’ very entertaining novel The Rebel Angels.

With the proviso that some of these tricks should probably not be tried at home, the article can be read at 13 Magic Tricks from the Middle Ages

It also has a select bibliography that looks to be useful for those who want to look further into the place of magic in medieval life.

Sunday, 4 June 2023

The assault on Tradition within the Church

My redoubtable friend Fr Hunwicke has a typically telling and forceful post on his blog about the assault on Tradition in the Church and the disjunction in its life and numbers with what was imagined would happen some sixty or so years ago.

His post, together with the equally insightful comments from some of his readers, is well worth reading and reflecting upon and can be seen at SMASH TRADITION

Celebrating Cardinal Wolsey

The fire in Ashburnham House in Westminster in 1731 famously destroyed some and damaged others of the manuscripts in the immensely important Cottonian collection which became one of the foundation collections of the British Museum Library. 

Its successor the British Library now holds the collection and regularly posts about its relevant holdings on its always interesting Medieval manuscripts blog. In a recent post it discusses work that has been done on a charred fragment from the 1731 fire which modern technology has enabled scholars to identify as the remains of a panegyric dedicated to Cardinal Wolsey and composed by the antiquary John Leland. Hitherto the work was only known from John Bale’s catalogue and was assumed to be lost.

This is another instance of new techniques helping to reveal more from surviving manuscripts. In recent years there have been accounts of palimpsests being revealed and marginalia recovered which have yielded new and significant textual iinformation.

The post about the panegyric, which includes a link to another about the project looking at the charred fragments, can be viewed at Lost and found: in praise of Cardinal Wolsey

Saturday, 3 June 2023

Conserving and exhibiting the Declaration of Arbroath

The BBC News website has a report about the process of conserving the Declaration of Arbroath for display for this coming month at the National Museum of Scotland. The 1320 letter from the leading Scottish nobility and landholders to Pope John XXII survives in one unique copy, and although, as a linked article on the website shows, its significance has changed over the centuries it remains both a fascinating insight into the political thought and culture of early fourteenth century Scotland and as a symbolic statement of national identity.

I posted about the Declaration three years ago on its seven hundredth anniversary and included in the post the translated text of the open letter. That post can be seen at The Declaration of Arbroath 1320

I followed it up with another post which illustrates the political volatility of Scotland at that time and it can be read at After Arbroath - the Soules conspiracy

Pentecost - Baptisms, Octave and Ember Days

As we come to the end of the Pentecost Octave the New Liturgical Movement has a pair of well researched and presented articles by Gregory DiPippo about the liturgical history of Pentecost and its octave which repay reading. They indicate the emergence in the fifth and sixth centuries of what became the established practice form to the mid-twentieth century.

Last weekend when looking at the current 1970 Missal I was quite surprised to see that it provides a Vigil Mass for Pentecost, thus continuing the traditional concept. Hitherto I had only encountered a modern celebration of the Pentecost Vigil at Blackfriars in Oxford and had assumed it was a celebration peculiar to them or to the Dominicans as a congregation. I am surprised that more parishes do not avail themselves of this provision in the Missal. Such a liturgy introduces the celebration of Pentecost with additional solemnity, and can br seen as providing a more ceremonious conclusion to the Easter season before the modern lurch into Ordinary Time. It is all the more surprising when one recalls the post-Vatican II renewed emphasis on the operation of the  Holy Spirit in the life of the Church and of the individual.

Friday, 2 June 2023

Conserving the Bishop’s Palace in Lincoln

The ruins of the medieval Bishop’s Palace in Lincoln reopen today following a conservation project which is described by BBC News at Lincoln Medieval Bishops' Palace walls turfed to protect ruins and in more detail by Lincolnshire Live at 'Important' medieval palace 'saved for the future' by masons

English Heritage who administer the remains of the Palace have produced a video about the project which can be viewed at Conservation in Action: Lincoln Medieval Bishops' Palace

The Palace was one of the not inconsiderable number of residences of the medieval Bishops of Lincoln. Because of their responsibility for a diocese that stretched from the Humber to the Thames they were not that frequently in Lincoln itself, although the Palace within the cathedral close was their foremost residence. It was there, for example, that Bishop Fleming entertained King Henry V at his episcopal enthronement feast in 1421, and Fleming’s next but one successor William Alnwick made significant alterations to the twelfth and thirteenth century core of the complex. 

Wikipedia has a well illustrated account of the Palace at Lincoln Medieval Bishop's Palace

The bishops followed an extensive itinerary rather like a figure of eight around their residences in what was the second largest in area, and most populous, diocese in medieval England.

Thus from their London house at the Old Temple on Holborn they could travel north to Buckden in Huntingdonshire, which from the seventeenth century was to be a favoured residence, to Lyddington in Rutland and near to Stamford in the middle of the diocese, then to Sleaford Castle and along the Wolds to their manor and park at Louth, to Nettleham just outside Lincoln and then to the Lincoln Palace. From Lincoln a journey north-west took the bishop to Stow - associated with St Hugh - and then just over the county and diocesan boundary to the substantial castle at Newark, and back to Lyddington. Although there were no episcopal residences in Leicestershire and Northamptonshire these could be reached from Lyddington or from the bishop’s castle at  Banbury in Oxfordshire. In that county there was another manor house at Thame and other at Fingest and Wooburn in Buckinghamshire before a return to London. In the early sixteenth century it was seen as a diocese which required a resident diocesan bishop rather than relying on a Vicar General or other deputies. The published Visitations of monasteries from the middle illustrate this assiduity well.

As a result Bishops of Lincoln were rarely holders of officerships of state or members of government, save for the brief periods as Chancellor for Henry Beaufort, Thomas Rotherham and John Russell in the fifteenth century.