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, 22 April 2021

Reaction to my Hungarian Heraldry lecture

A few weeks ago I gave advance notice on this blog that I was going to give a talk to the Oxford University Heraldry Society entitled “Hungary Ancient and Hungary Modern: An Heraldic History of the Crown and Lands of St Stephen” on April 8th. That talk has now been delivered, and, thanks to illustrations assembled by a friend into an effective PowerPoint display, went well. It was delivered by Zoom, which meant we had something like fifty attendees. This was more than we usually get and meant that OUHS can link up with other Heraldic groups. That is surely a positive development. From the feedback I have had the talk was a success.

One such response was shared with me from the blog of the Heraldic Society of Scotland which I am copying and sharing as it says nice things about me, but also, and more importantly, comments on one of the images I used, and shows how heraldic art can also be used as striking political comment. It is entitled  Thanks to OUHS :

Many thanks to OUHS secretary, Priscilla Frost, for inviting us to attend an excellent lecture this evening by John Whitehead of Oriel College on "Hungary Ancient and Hungary Modern. The Crown and Lands of St Stephen." This was a tour-de-force of scholarship. One highlight for the present writer was the image of heraldry used as protest.

Here are the arms:

(HungaryAncient impaling Hungary Modern surmounted of the Holy Crown of St Stephen)

Traditionally the bars Argent refer to the four rivers the Duna (Danube), Tisza, Dráva, and Száva.

In 1920 this poster of protest appeared:

The religious and royal elements are cast down and the legend "You have stolen our rivers, you have stolen our montains." is added with the spoiled bars Argent replaced by the names of the rivers. The message in red asks if this should now be the national coat of arms.

Hungary's assent to the Treaty of Trianon on 4 June 1920 ratified the decision of the victorious Entente powers to re-draw the country's borders. The treaty required Hungary to surrender more than two-thirds of its pre-war territories. Irredentism—the demand for return of lost territories—became a central “Maimed Hungary” theme in national politics. The mutilation of the ancient coat of arms captured this idea most effectively.  

The Oxford University Heraldry Society lecture series continues and we are all welcome to sign up to join: 


The next lecture is on May 6th at 6.30 on Heraldry and the Mayflower.

The Romans on the Yorkshire Coast

The discovery of a Roman building complex at Eastfield, which is part of the southern suburbs of Scarborough, has attracted considerable interest. 

The presence of Roman troops at the signal stations along the northern Yorkshire coastline in the later period of the Empire has long been known. The remains of the best preserved of these can indeed be seen at the eastern edge of the promentary on which Scarborough Castle is situated. Some miles to the south at Rudston there was a villa with mosaic floors which are now on display at the museum in Hull. 

However what has attracted attention in the latest discovery is that it is not clear what type of building it was. No comparable structure in known here in Britain. One possibility is that it was a villa with a temple or equivalent feature at its centre. Another suggestion is that it might have been a shrine with accommodation for administrators and for pilgrims. It appears that the buildings replaced an earlier villa or possibly that it had two predecessors.

The site was discovered during preparations for building work but will be preserved as the plans are being altered to accommodate the discovery. For the immediate future it will be reburied to preserve the foundations. Unfortunately it has already attracted the unwelcome attention of unprincipled metal detectorists, but that situation is now being monitored more closely.

There is a report on the discovery from the Smithsonian Magazine at Archaeologists Unearth Sprawling Roman Ruins Unlike Any Found in the U.K.This stresses the importance of the site and has good aerial  photographs. Another report, with more details and which also emphasises the quality of the buildings, and suggests they may have been dismantled rather than falling into decay is from The Scarborough News. This, which has photographs of the site at ground level, can be seen at Scarborough Roman villa: Trespass at significant ruins 'inevitable' say Historic England

LiveScience Essentials also has a report about the discovery which rather concentrates on the actions of the illicit metal detectorists but does also have good views of the site and gives a good indication of its size at Vandals sack Roman-era estate and bathhouse just discovered in UK

The Roman-era estate's remains include a cylindrical building and a bathhouse.
The foundations of the cylindrical main building and its adjuncts. There is also a bathhouse.
Image: MAP Archaeological Practice and LiveScience Essentials

Wednesday, 21 April 2021

Interpreting Culloden

In the wake of the 275th anniversary of the battle of Culloden I came across several relevant articles on the website of The Scotsman

The first is from 2016 and it is by Trevor Royle and based on a book he had written about the battle. In the article he concentrates on correcting misconceptions about the battle itself and in putting it into the correct historical context as to its legacy for the Hanoverian army. This ties in with the work of historians such as Christopher Duffy in recent years. The article can be read at Battle of Culloden: myths debunked

The second article is from 2019 and is about the period after the battle when Jacobites sought for some time to continue the fight or to harass government troops, and the period when the government mopped up opponents or sought to overaw them. It is based around the work of Murray Pittock and can be read at The Jacobites who fought on after Culloden

The third piece is from this year and concentrates on the work of Peter Pininski who asserts that he is a direct descendent of Prince Charles Edward. He believes that he is descended from one of the illegitimate daughters of Charlotte, Duchess of Albany and  Prince Charles Edward’s own illegitimate daughter. The story of the descent from Charlotte’s affair with Cardinal de Rohan is set out in a book referred to and the story summarised in another Scotsman article The Polish art historian who claims to be a blood relative of Bonnie Prince Charlie from two years ago. The material in this years article by Peter Pininski is a rebuttal of claims that the Prince neglected the interests of those who had fought for him. This ties in with other evidence of the Prince’s resolve to return to Scotland and to renew the struggle. This does indeed seem to have been his intention until the early 1750s. The article can be read at Bonnie Prince Charlie: My flawed ancestor who 'tried his absolute hardest' for Scotland

The Royal Victorian Order - 125th anniversary

Today is not only the 95th birthday of HM The Queen but the 125th anniversary of the foundation in 1896 by Queen Victoria of the Royal Victorian Order.

The Order was intended as, and has remained, a means of honouring those who support and assist the Sovereign, from members of the Royal Family, members of other Royal Houses and to courtiers and staff. It is normally reported as being founded in part as a memorial to the Queen’s son-in-law Prince Henry of Battenberg who had died that year of disease on the Ashanti campaign. 

As an Order created by the Queen it was under her direct control whereas the established Orders, including at that time the three great national ones of the Garter, Thistle and Patrick were bestowed on ministerial advice. As one in the personal gift of the Monarch it has since 1931 been awarded in each of the Commonwealth realms.

There is a very good and detailed account, with links to other relevant entries, of the Order, its history and insignia from Wikipedia at  Royal Victorian Order This also includes some discussion of the Royal Victorian Chain introduced in 1902 by King Edward VII. This is not part of the Order but is affiliated to it. In some respects it functions as an enhanced upper degree of it, reserved for monarchs and royalty, and most Archbishops of Canterbury and Lords Chamberlain. I suspect this article derived from Peter Galliway’s book on the Order which will cost you an appropriate £125.

The riband, badge and star of a GCVO of the Royal Victorian Order

Image: Nicholas Jackson/ Wikimedia/The Court Jeweller

The closest similar Order amongst other European monarchies is the Order of the House of Orange in the Netherlands. This was founded by Queen Wilhelmina in 1905, and re-structured by Queen Juliana in 1969. There are accounts of it and of the additions to it made in 1969 at Order of the House of Orange at Order of the Crown (Netherlands) and at Order for Loyalty and Merit

Tuesday, 20 April 2021

Identifying a significant source for Shakespeare?

An article in the Smithsonian Magazine gives an overview of a recent publication suggesting that a major source for some of Shakespeare’s plays were those of the now little remembered  Thomas North. Those are apparently lost, and positing lost texts can be a dangerous “short cut” of course, but the evidence looks to be substantial for identifying North as a writer whose works were subsequently used by Shakespeare. On the basis of the report, this appears to be a credible argument, even if the case is not proven.

It has long been appreciated that Shakespeare and other dramatists of the period re-wrote plays by other writers, bringing their own greater skills to bear and thus creating their own enduring achievements. In this case it is the identification of North as potentially the author of major sources that is important. 

Shakespearean studies have over the years generated all kinds of eccentric theories as to other people who “wrote” Shakespeare. This however is a much more realistic and credible identification of source material. It does not really detract from Shakespeare’s genius any more than does his use of Plutarch or Holinshead. It might help explain however how it was that in a busy life as an actor-manager and travelling between bases in London and Stratford on Avon in a short period of years one man could be so remarkably productive of great work. As C.S.Lewis commented writers then saw their creativity in how they told an established story rather than it being a new one.

The article, which includes references to recent publications about the theory, can be read at Did Shakespeare Base His Masterpieces on Works by an Obscure Elizabethan Playwright?

Celebrating Easter with the pre-‘55 liturgy

Peter Kwasniewski has an interesting article on the New Liturgical Movement about the increasing use of the traditional liturgy for the Triduum in its form as used before 1955. That it is becoming more widespread is clear both from direct evidence and anecdote, and Kwasniewski suggests it had acquired a momentum that can only increase. His article also has useful links to various other pieces by him relating to the use of the traditional Easter liturgy.

As someone who was, thanks to lockdown and live-streaming, able to follow that form of the liturgy this year thanks to FSSP in Warrington and Fribourg, the article resonated with me. With its author I share both surprise and heartened, that such a development has taken place and so quickly.

Prince Philip on being a ‘European mongrel’

For someone of my views, and being of a sensitive disposition, reading articles in The Guardian on the Monarchy is not usually recommended. However I came across an article from the paper’s online site which does rather probe that rule. It is by Will Hutton, the economics journalist and academic, and is informative as to Prince Philip in action on behalf of the Crown and is an entertaining account of a dinner party at Buckingham Palace. In that it is also ties in with what I wrote in The supra-national background of Prince PhilipIt is also is an interesting commentary on aspects of the European debate amongst the political insiders of recent years.

Sunday, 18 April 2021

Funeral of Prince Philip - some reflections

I spent a significant part of yesterday watching the funeral of Prince Philip, and here are a few reflections on what I saw and thought.

I watched the BBC coverage, which I thought was, on the whole, very good, and more or less back to what one would, and should, expect after some noticeably poorer coverage such as that of the Diamond Jubilee in 2012. However I see that there has been criticism of Huw Edwards and his tendency to talk too much. I thought that was in check on his part and far better than on past occasions when he was certainly far too loquacious.

The various interviewees, drawn from different generations and covering different aspects of the Prince’s life, drew upon the memories of those who knew him, but also spoke of the continuing causes he championed, such as the environment, the Commonwealth and young people through his award scheme and other initiatives. This brought out the Duke’s acuity and his ability to focus on detail and on achieving results. It also brought out the remarkable balance he sustained between being a very real figure of authority and an openness to those he met and encouraged, and to those who were employed by him.

Spring sunshine made Windsor look at its best. The emptiness of the castle was striking and beautiful, lending a sombre dignity to the buildings and setting for the procession and service. In the case of the latter the sight of the nave of St George’s devoid of chairs was especially striking. 

The Royal family were not in uniform, but in morning dress. Whatever one might think about that much publicised situation it did mean that visually they stood stood out from the military personnel, and were in consequence emphasised as a family in mourning. That gave the spectator a sense of personal immediacy and empathy that here was grief and loss, not just public ceremonial.

The service itself was very dignified in the best traditions of The Book of Common Prayer celebrated in a ‘High and Dry’ style with the distinctive presentation of both the Royal Peculars of Westminster Abbey and St George’s. and within the coronavirus restrictions. The austere wording and presence of just the Dean and the Archbishop was appropriate to what was essentially a family funeral but one that was in front of millions of viewers.

The physical emptiness of the nave and the limited number of those in the Quire perhaps reflected coincidentally something of the feelings of the Queen and her family. Here again the viewer, without wishing to intrude, was able to sense something of what might be in the minds of those actually attending. A life of almost a century is a very long one, yet in a chapel over five centuries old and in a castle over nine centuries old, it was a reminder that people live their lives against a longer timescale, yet become part of that wider identity - so the Prince’s life was one fifth of that of the Chapel, as its longest lived Knight more than a sixth of the history of the Garter. In a few weeks time it is five and a half centuries since the first monarch to be eventually buried in St George’s died, yet King Henry VI and all the other monarchs and their family members who have joined him in the vaults there felt very close as part of a continuing thread.

In some of the discussion beforehand there had been a stress on the Prince’s strong Christian belief, his liking for the linguistic economy of the BCP - an example perhaps of his “Get on with it!” approach - and also, in the singing of the Russian Kontakion for the Departed, an acknowledgement of his roots in Orthodoxy and his family members who were martyrs and Passion Bearers for that Church. Whilst he was alive this was not something that was, I think, especially noted in his public persona beyond attendance at Anglican worship on ceremonial occasions and in encouraging the work of St George’s House at Windsor. This was doubtless typical of him, not to make the private side of his life public, but it adds an important dimension to our understanding of him, and to reflect on that essentially private witness in the public sphere, and its legacy.

May he rest in peace.