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.

Wednesday, 3 June 2020

Identifying Mary Boleyn

Last weekend the Mailonline website carried an article about a painting in the Royal Collection which it says has now been identified as a portrait of Mary Boleyn, sometime mistress of King Henry VIII and elder sister of the more famous, or infamous, Anne. The article can be seen at Mystery woman in portrait identified after 300 years as Mary Boleyn

I think the writer or copy editor has missed a point here - I think the portrait has been identified as being of Mary Boleyn for a long time, and is used widely on internet sites about her and her family. I think the story is more about identifying where the painting belongs within a series in the Royal Collection. It appears to be a seventeenth century copy of a sixteenth century original.

That said the article got me to look up what is known of Mary Boleyn - and not from the vast detritus of historical novels about her and her family. They are rarely historical or novel. The Wikipedia biography is actually quite full for a woman who lived much of her life in the shadows, if not in the complete shade. It can be seen at Mary Boleyn

With that it is really well worthwhile using the links to see exactly who she was connected to, and that opens up a lot of the social complexities of early sixteenth century England. Her two marriages are central to this. Her first husband, William Carey, had a Beaufort grandmother, cousin to the Lady Margaret. Her second husband, William
Stafford, was a seemingly impecunious distant relative of the great Stafford family, and he took  as his second wife a second cousin who was closer to the main line. She was a granddaughter of the last Stafford Duke of Buckingham and also of Bl. Margaret Pole. Her  uncle was therefore Cardinal Pole, but she and her family, clearly having evangelical views, took refuge in Geneva in the reign of Queen Mary I. The network so revealed bore out a point made by a researcher on the period that one needs to look at the whole range of an individual’s family connections in order to see how and where they fitted, or did not fit, into the world around them.

The other thing I learned from the original Mailonline feature was that whilst Anne Boleyn was the mother of Queen Elizabeth I, Mary Boleyn is the eleven times great grandmother of Queen Elizabeth II.

That line of descent comes through Her Majesty’s grandmother the Countess of Strathmore, who was descended from Mary Boleyn’s marriage to William Carey.

The Rood Loft and the Liturgical Gospel

Recently I came across a post on Allan Barton’s excellent Medieval Art blog about the use to which the Rood loft was put in English churches before the mid-sixteenth century liturgical revolution, or more specifically, the question as to whether or not the Gospel was sung or read from it at High Mass. 

The instances he gives and the various possibilities and difficulties involved in such a practice are set out clearly, and, I must add, coincide with my thoughts on this matter as a result of visiting many medieval churches over many years.

As he indicates the answer is not clear as to a uniform practice - and probably never was in parish custom or usage.

His post has some fine illustrations of surviving screens and those seemingly so cramped stairs to the lofts, and it can be viewed at The Rood Loft and the Liturgical Gospel

Tuesday, 2 June 2020

The Treaty of Troyes 1420

Today, June 2nd, is the six hundredth anniversary of the wedding of King Henry V to Catherine of Valois, the final act in the events around the making of the Treaty of Troyes in 1420.

Under the terms of this King Henry V was to become heir to the French throne and to act as Regent of France until the death of King Charles VI, when he would succeed him. As part of the agreement the English King was to marry the French King’s daughter Catherine. This marriage was not a new proposal - it had been raised in negotiations in 1408, 1409, 1413 and 1415. Her brother the Dauphin Charles, who ultimately did become King Charles VII, was disinherited.

There is a discussion of the Treaty of Troyes, with quotations from original sources, and a series of reflections on its implications which can be read at Treaty of Troyes and Trouble Ahead

Ratification of the Treaty of Troyes by King Henry V 21 May 1420 

The final negotiations took place in the cathedral of St Pierre et St Paul in Troyes.

Troyes Cathedral
Image: Wikipedia

In the negotiations in the cathedral, with Queen Isabeau to the fore on the French side and the English king supported by the young Valois Duke of Burgundy, alienated from his dynasty by the murder, apparently with the connivance or acquiescence of the Dauphin Charles, of his father the previous autumn, what was envisaged or presented as a final peace was set out. The Hundred Years War, which had begun in 1337, but in reality a generation or more earlier, would end with a new Great Peace as in 1361.

That one had not lasted, with the campaigning resuming in 1369, and nor was this to last - but both were impressive on parchment.

King Charles VI by the Master of Boucicaut 1412

Queen Isabeau receiving Christine de Pisan's Le Livre de la Cité des Dames, c. 1410–1414. 
Image: British Library and Wikipedia

King Henry V
Image: Wikipedia 

The wedding ceremony is sometimes said to have been in the cathedral but most authorities these days place it in the church of Saint-Jean-au-Marché, which lies to the west of both the the cathedral and the incomplete Basilica of St Urbain. The church has been considerably altered and restored since 1420, but parts of it - the nave and its aisles - are as they were on that remarkable wedding. For that occasion King Henry insisted the ceremony should be after the French fashion, presumably to indicate parity between the two realms. That is reminiscent of Queen Mary I stressing English customs at her marriage in 1554.

The great question that arises is, of course, was such a union of the two realms possible. Crucial factors in its failure were the deaths of King Henry V in 1422, two months before King Charles VI, and the desertion of his English alliance by Duke Philip of Burgundy in 1435. Those and a royal minority in England, plus Jeanne d’Arc appearing on the scene in 1429 made the realisation of the Treaty well nigh impossible.

However if we stand with the crowds which doubtless were gathered to see the happy couple, the 33 year old King and his 18 year old bride, leave St Jean that day perhaps such an outcome did seem not so likely.

Unions of realms such as Troyes envisaged were not uncommon from the later Middle Ages onwards. Denmark, Norway and Sweden were united in the Union of Kalmar from 1397 (Henry’s sister Philippa was married to its King) and lasted until Sweden seceded in 1523. Denmark and Norway shared a monarch until to 1814, then Sweden and Norway until 1905. Poland was under the same king as Hungary 1370-82, and his daughter’s marriage united Poland and Lithuania in the period 1386-1795. Castile and Aragon have been united in a dynastic union since 1474/9, and were in one with Portugal in the period 1580-1640. Austria and Hungary-Bohemia were linked under a shared ruler from 1526 to 1918.

England and Scotland have been in a dynastic union since 1603, and Great Britain and Hanover were in one from 1714-1837. The Prussian kingdom also came about in essence through branches of the same family linking through inheritance Ducal Prussia to the Electorate of Brandenburg.

Not a few of these unions were tempestuous or foundered temporarily or ultimately but their duration is still striking.

English exceptionalism notwithstanding there is the point made by K.B.Macfarlane in his famous 1953 essay on King Henry V, and perhaps endorsed by some other historians, that if anyone could make the envisaged Dual Monarchy work it was Henry.

The French, being French, do not celebrate the Treaty which they often brand as shameful. When I visited Troyes some years ago I noticed a plaque on the cathedral recording the visit of King Charles VII with Jeanne d’Arc in 1429, but no commemorative plaque for the 1420 Treaty. Funny that... 

However a Troyes tourist site does speak of the more positive potentialities of the Treaty:

Some historians call the 1420 Treaty of Troyes the “shameful treaty”, because it “handed” control of France to the English. This unwanted label became commonplace some three centuries later with the birth of the concepts of the nation and nationalism.
Yet a close inspection of the treaty would suggest that, in the context of the time, the treaty was actually extremely “modern”. As well as establishing peace between two warring factions, it also respected the identity of both parties and introduced the concept of ongoing dialogue between peoples, particularly through the development of trade.
In that sense, it is rather similar to the Common Market and the subsequent European Union, which came some six centuries later. And what if this treaty was more than just a visionary text? Some modern historians have drawn parallels between the Treaty of Troyes and the Declaration of Union of Britain and France, approved by De Gaulle and Churchill on 16 June 1940: “France and Great Britain shall no longer be two nations, but one Franco-British Union”. 
Article 24 of the Treaty of Troyes reads as follows:
“The two crowns of France and English shall for evermore be united as a single entity”. Later, the treaty talks of “accord, mutual affection, firm and stable friendships”
So, welcome to Troyes...

Something like that ephemeral 1940 arrangement was again tentatively suggested by the French government in the period before the 1957 Treaty of Rome.

As for the English, despite a few articles in popular history magazines - and allowing for the current health emergency - in the age of Brexit there seems no appetite for commemorating one of the most spectacular, if short-lived, diplomatic successes. Funny that as well...

Sunday, 31 May 2020

Historians’ Thought for the Day

A friend just shared this with me:

When Geoffrey Barraclough asked Patrick Collinson what his research method was, all he could say was that he tried to look at everything which was remotely relevant to his subject. “I had no ‘method’ only an omnium gatherum of materials culled from more or less everywhere.”

Our Lady of Walsingham

The last day of the spiritual Marian Pilgrimage brings the virtual traveler to the most famous of all the medieval English shrines of Our Lady, the one that has been so triumphantly restored in the twentieth century and which in the twenty-first looks with confidence to the future in a rededicated Dowry of Mary - the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham.

I rather wonder if Edmund Waterton, writing in 1879, could have envisaged so successful a renewal of devotion to Our Lady in the countryside of west Norfolk, or that it should come about in the way that it did. That is a remarkable and graced story.

Waterton’s extensive notes on the medieval Shrine are a rich source of information about its history and he cites material I do not recall seeing in more recent works on the history of Walsingham. Waterton was also keen to set at rest false interpretations about it and pilgrimage in general. I do appreciate the fact that he has plenty to say that is critical of that over-rated, tiresome and painful liberal Erasmus and his attitude to Walsingham - useful as I must admit his account is of what the layout of the Holy House was. These pages can be viewed at waterton1 and by following the page links at the end they can be consulted in extenso. Following on from it is at least part of J.C.Dickinson’s 1956 history The Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham.

Our Lady of Walsingham, pray for us

Saturday, 30 May 2020

Our Lady of the Mount King’s Lynn

On the penultimate day of the spiritual pilgrimage to medieval English Marian shrines we reach the chapel of Our Lady of the Mount at King’s Lynn. Unlike many places on this virtual journey the chapel still stands, and like the Bridge chapel at Wakefield or the Slipper Chapel at Walsingham is an almost unique surviving example of a type of building that would have graced the towns and roadsides of pre-Reformation England. As the websites which follow show this is a remarkably complex structure for such a small building, indicative of the spiritual and ecclesial complexities of the era that created it.

The websites are all illustrated and give both historical and architectural information about the chapel, built in 1483-5, and extended upwards in 1506. Its main purpose seems to have been for pilgrims from the continent arriving or departing King’s Lynn on the journey to or from Walsingham.

The Historic England webpage about it can be seen at Chapel of Our Lady of the Mount, The Walks, Kings Lynn, Norfolk

Britain Express also features it at Red Mount Chapel, King's Lynn | Norfolk Heritage Guide

The Norfolk Churches website has a piece which can be seen at Norfolk Churches.

The King’s Lynn Friends of ‘The Walks’ have an account with a chronology of the chapel’s history at Red Mount Chapel | Friends of 'The Walks'.

There s a useful note about the building on Flickr which can be seen at Chapel of Our Lady on the Mount Kings Lynn Norfolk.

King’s Lynn was a major port and trading town with a rich array of medieval churches. Although she lived upwards of a century earlier there is a fascinating insight into the lively spirituality of a King’s Lynn housewife and into the world she occupied there in the town and on her travels in England and abroad in The Book of Margery Kempe. There are translations of this remarkable fifteenth century narrative into modern English available from both Oxford’s World’s Classics and from Penguin, plus a sizeable array of interpretive works. Like the Chapel on the Mount her autobiography is a unique survival for its period, and both open our horizons into the past.

Our Lady of the Mount King’s Lynn, pray for us

Friday, 29 May 2020

Our Lady of the Oak at St Martins Norwich

Oak Apple Day seems an appropriate day for the virtual Marian Pilgrimage to be at the shrine of Our Lady of the Oak, in the churchyard of St Martin’s in Norwich.

Francis Blomefield (1705-52) in his collections on Norwich in his History of Norfolk vol IV, pt ii, in the 1806 edition, says of this pilgrimage place:

“In 1513, John Buxton, worsted weaver, was buried in the churchyard "before the image of our Lady in the Oke, and gave to our Lady in the Oke 6d. This was a famous image of the Virgin Mary, placed in the oak, which grew in the churchyard, so as it was seen by all that passed in the street; from whence the church took the name of St. Martin at the Oak, it being always before, called St. Martin in Coste-lane, or Coselany, the whole part of the city from Blackfriars-bridge, or New bridge, to St. Martin at the Oak-gates, being so called, because it lies on the coste of the river: now it seems this oak and image began to be of remark about the time of Edward II. for then I find it first called ate the Oke.........certain it is, she was much visited by the populace, who left many gifts in their wills, to dress, paint, and repair her; at the coming of Edw. VI. to the crown, she was dismounted, and I am apt to believe the poor oak, also cut down, least that should be visited for her ladyship's sake, for the present oak, which now grows in the place, hath not been planted a hundred years, as appears by the parish register in these words, "I John Tabor, constable and overseer, did bring the Oak from Rannerhall near Horning ferry, before me on my horse, and set it in the churchyard of St. Martin of Coselany, I set it March 9. 1656." Then also the rich vestments and plate, were sold, and the money laid out to fye the river. 1534, Will. Alleyn, worsted weaver, gave a pall of baudekyn.”
The church building was rebuilt in the fifteenth century - the chancel circa 1440, the south aisle with a huge apparently uncompleted porch initiated by a bequest from Alderman Thomas Wilkyns in 1491-2.

St Martin’s fate as a church building in the last eighty years is a rather sad story. It lies north of the river Wensum and away from the city centre and not in the tourist part of the city. In 1942 it was severely damaged in a bombing raid - looking into that I was struck by how much the city suffered from these, especially in that year. After the war it was not fully restored but what survived was repaired to act as a parish hall for neighbouring parishes. However with the closure of so many of the city’s churches in the 1960s - I recall thinking, as an inveterate church crawler, how depressing the results of that policy were in Norwich when I stayed there in 1970 - its new role as a hall never happened and it has been used for a variety of charitable uses in subsequent decades.

There is a modern, illustrated, account of the church and its fate from the Norfolk Churches website which can be viewed at Norfolk Churches

There is a more detailed account of the parish and church, its history, architecture and fragments of alabaster from it at St Martin at Oak (Coslany)

There are photographs of the church before the bombing and of all the medieval churches of Norwich in the collection by George Plunkett which can be accessed at Norwich Mediaeval City Churches

It has occurred to me before, and certainly whilst following this set of pilgrimage visits, that visions of the Blessed Virgin Mary often involve Our Lady standing in a tree. Most recently there is the cork oak at Fatima in 1917. On this virtual journey there were the shrines of Our Lady of the Oak at Islington and the apparitions at Evesham. At Lourdes it was not a tree but up on the rock above the spring that Our Lady was seen. That an elevated site might be suitable or convenient is clear, but the association with trees, especially oaks, looks interesting. I now find that there is an article about this by that learned twentieth century investigator of the history of Marian shrines Martin Gillett, whose 1948 article about ‘Our Lady of the Oak’ in Life of the Spirit vol ii can be found on Jstor. At the moment I do not have access to that beyond the first page but, after making the point about the not infrequent association of Our Lady with oak trees as at Norwich, Penrhys and possibly Willesden in England, Gillett turns to the shrine of Sta Maria della Quercia at Viterbo. There is a good account of the origins and development of that shrine, which originated in the fifteenth century, in another article from 1944 which can be seen in full at dominicanav29n3ourladytheoak

This may give an analogous example as to how such devotions may have developed in medieval England as well as in medieval Italy.

Our Lady of the Oak, pray for us

Oak Apple Day

Happy Oak Apple Day!

On May 29th 1660, 360 years ago, on his thirtieth birthday, and in the twelfth year of his reign, King Charles II entered London on what came to be seen thereafter as the formal date of the Restoration, rather than the vote in the Commons calling him back on May 8th or the King’s landing at Dover on May 25th.

King Charles II
Image: jvcullenblogspot

There is a very readable article from three years ago by Ian Mortimer about the Restoration and its impact on the life of the realm and all the King’s subjects, arguing that we underestimate its far-reaching significance. It can be read at 1660: The year that changed everything

The Court culture of the Restoration is well summarised in a glowing review of the exhibition two years ago at The Queen’s Gallery from The Guardian which can be seen at Charles II: Art and Power review – crowning glories of a royal passion

Traditional celebrations of Oak Apple Day are covered in another article, this time from Country Life five years ago, entitled Bring back Oak Apple Day

That sentiment is one I heartily endorse, even if this year it is impractical, but would argue that, rather as the theme of Ian Mortimer’s article, there is something here than can unite Crown and people in a shared celebration of history and identity. It is in some ways very understated in its expressions, or slightly eccentric, but it springs from impulses that are far older than 1660. To make more of it would be good, and be a way of expressing gratitude for all that the Restoration did restore, for an institution at the heart of the nation that we take too easily for granted. Being who we are as a people it would also be genuinely of the people, and not the assertive strident celebration of nationhood that some other countries feel obliged to have on national days - but then they lack monarchs.

A Happy Oak Apple Day to you all!