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.

Saturday 31 August 2013

All dressed up

Earlier this evening here in Oxford city centre I saw a fairly thick-set bespectacled middle-aged man walking puposefully through the city dressed in dinner jacket, white shirt, black bow tie, black suspender belt, black fishnet stockings and standard lace up men's shoes. As he walked off, apparently quite unconcerned by the effect he might be creating, down New Inn Hall Street no one paid any particular attention to him. 

Charitably I assumed he was going to a fancy dress party, but, well, it is Oxford...

Upon reflection I think the gentleman may have been going as a fan ( I gather they dress up as characters in the show) to a production of The Rocky Horror Show at the New Theatre here in Oxford.
Nonetheless his outfit was, even by local usage, well, noteworthy to say the least.

Friday 30 August 2013

Syria vote

So the Prime Minister and the Cabinet failed to persuade the Hous eof Commons to back military action in Syria. Mr Macaroon will not, at least yet, be able to play war games with the lives of British militray personnel and any Syrians who happen to get in the way.

I was both surprised and pleased by this vote. It is the first such rejection of military action by the Commons since 1782. It is a valuable reminder that we still have checks and balances that work in our constitutional arrangements. 

If it has damaged the Prime Minister then he has only himself to blame for it. We shall have to see if he will learn from the experience. 

I saw in yesterday's Times a report that, following his insistance on a second vote before military action, a spokesman for No 10 and FO source described Ed Milliband as " f****** c*** and a copper-bottomed s***." It is good to see the Government's continuing commitment to the niceties of diplomatic language.

The speech by the Archbishop of Canterbury in the Lords, expressing opposition to action and drawing attention to the plight of Syrian Christians, was a good example of one of the continuing advantages of an Established Church with the right and position to express criticism.

The other day I saw a letter in one of the quality papers, supporting military action with the use of a bizarre historical precedent to make the writer's case, and really of quite surpassing daftness, from someone I used to know. Next time I see them I am sorely tempted to point out my criticisms of their letter. Until then, however, and for my own self serving reasons, I will not identify them.

The death of King Louis XI 1483

Today is the 525th anniversary of the death in 1483 of King Louis XI of France.
As King he was contemporaneous with King Edward IV in England, and he was a not insignificant player in the background to events in the Yorkist era. His posthumous reputation has often been characterised by the description of him as the Universal Spider, drawing his opponents into situations from which they could not escape, and which the King operated to his political advantage. He is frequently seen as a rather sinister figure, cold and calculating, cynically and successfully eliminating rivals and adversaries.

King Louis XI
Image: Wikipedia
That view is true in part, but the King faced enormous threats to the unity of his kingdom for most of his reign. He succeeded his father King Charles VII in 1461, only eight years after the occupation of the remaining English territories in Gascony, and not until 1477 was the very real threat posed by Duke Charles of Burgundy in the north-east and east of France and in the Low Countries removed by the death of the Duke in the battle of Nancy. In order to survive, and, seemingly, for the kingdom to survive, King Louis had to be a schemer, fending off threats from family, friends and foes alike. He may not have been the most attractive of personalities, but he was an able and shrewd King of France who maintained and enhanced the unity of the realm. That unity was always fragile, both before his time, and again in the sixteenth century, when weakness at the centre allowed regional interests to assert themselves.
Paul Murray Kendall's biography of the King is one of the best books by that popular author of readable studies of the later fifteenth century, and brings before the reader the crises the monarch faced and surmounted. One thing it brings out is the extent to which King Louis XI was lucky - the failures the English Yorkists and Charles of Burgundy brought upon themselves played into his hands, but he was often the fortunate recipient of  such events, but, of course, well able to play the resulting situation to his own advantage.

Unlike King Edward IV and Duke Charles King Louis was not a glamorous or striking figure, but rather a monarch who behind a rather unimpressive public persona had a keen mind and a steely determination to achieve his objectives - most of which he did indeed do. 

Thursday 29 August 2013

The Beheading of St John the Baptist

Today is the feast of the Beheading or Decollation of St John the Baptist. 

This has attracted artists over the centuries and I post the other year about a late medieval depiction of his death in  The Decollation of St John the Baptist.

The nineteenth century French artist Pierre-Cécile Puvis de Chavannes (1824-98) produced two striking images of the death of the Great Forerunner, both of which are now in this country in the collections of the National Gallery - although it is not on display - and at the Barber Institute in Birmingham.There is another online piece about Puvis de Chavannes, who was working in the style termed Symbolism, here.

The paintings both date from 1869 and are curiously memorable, with a somewhat hypnotic quality to them, evoking a rather horrible fascination with the event. In both the stasis, the serenity, of the Saint is in striking contrast to the sweeping action of the executioner.

Puvis de Chavannes, Beheading of St John the Baptist (1869)National Gallery London


Salome's features are here thought to be based on those of the Princess Cantacuzène, who married Puvis de Chavannes in 1897. The figure of Herod standing on the right may be based on the novelist Anatole France.

The cross which Saint John the Baptist holds as the executioner prepares to strike is the focus of the composition. The static character of the design is mitigated by the figure of the executioner, recalling comparable figures in Delacroix and Chassériau.

Probably unfinished, this painting remained with the painter until the time of his death.
Adapted from the National Gallery website

A related composition is now in the Barber Institute in Birmingham, and is, I think more effective and haunting - a piece I read about it in the Daily Telegraph some years ago, which first introduced me to the painting, when it was on show in London argued that this was the more considered, indeed sophisticated, and striking of the two paintings. 

Puvis de Chavannes, Execution of St. John the Baptist, 1800s on Flickr.

Click image for 1224 x 892 size.
Scanned from “Os Santos”, Elizabeth Hallam.Pierre-Cécile Puvis de Chavannes, The Beheading of St John the Baptist, c. 1869.

Pierre-Cécile Puvis de Chavannes, The Beheading of St John the Baptist, c. 1869.
Oil on canvas, Barber Institute, Birmingham.


Solemn Profession in Chelmsford

Yesterday afternoon and evening I went over to Chelmsford for the Solemn Profession of Br Stephen Morrison as a Norbertine. This took place, very suitably, on the Feast of the founder of all Canons Regular, St Augustine of Hippo.

Br Stephen was a student at Oriel which is where I got to know him as well as meeting him at the Oxford Oratory - in those days he was still Alexander Morrison.

The parish church of Our Lady Immaculate was once again packed out with clergy, family, friends and parishioners - there is clearly plenty of support in the parish as well as from those who had travel to support these Norbertines at their profession or ordination. This was my third such viist in about a year and on each occasion the church has been full to the porch doors and beyond.

The well conducted liturgy was celebrated by the Prior of St Philip's Fr Hugh Allan - resplendent in white pom-pomed birtetta and white scull cap (clearly not something exclusive to the Holy Father) -  and he gave an extremely elegant sermon which balanced theology and the importance of the occasion and its solemn promises with a leaven of humour and what might be described as relevant digressions. He quoted what he had said to Br Stephen's parents three years ago at his Simple Profession - that they were not so much losing a son as gaining a monastery - and pointed out the presence last night of many parents of the members of the community.

Afterwards there was a reception in the parish hall - once again a splendid affair in its own right, which suggests the measure of support from the parishioners. It was an opportunity to congratulate Br Stephen and to catch up with many friends and acquaintances who were there. Essentially there were most of the usual suspects, of which I suppose I have now become one, plus others whom I had met over recent years. It was very good to catch up with Fr Andrew Southwell and Fr Bede Rowe - himself an Orielensis, and now chaplain of Br Stephen's old school in France -  as well as Fr Matthew Bemand of the Brentwood diocese, and once a sacristan at Pusey House. There were many former Oxford students there whom I know - Francis Murphy, David Howell, Michael Ryan, Richard Pickett, Patrick Milner, and Serennedd James - and Dr Shaw and his wife from the Latin Mass Society - Mrs Shaw had made the celebratory cake for the occasion

So much time was spent talking that I, with several others, ended up on the last train out of Chelmsford for London and, being late into Liverpool Street, ended up missing the last train from Paddington, so I had to travel by coach and was back even later than I had expected. Nonetheless it was a good occasion, and I was pleased to have been able to attend.

I commend the Norbertines of Chelmsford to the prayers of my readers and look forward to future visits.

There are pictures of the evening from the LMS Chairman's Blog at Solemn Profession in Chelmsford.

Saturday 24 August 2013

The death of the Emperor Henry VII

Today is the seven hundredth anniversary of the death of the Holy Roman Emperor Henry VII in 1313. There is an online life of him here.

Apparently elected to prevent a French candidate becoming Emperor, largely at the instance of his brother Baldwin, the Archbishop of Trier, Henry was elevated from a fairly minor position as Count of Luxembourg to a position of enormous prestige but uncertain authority. His attempts to make that authority tangible dominate his short reign, and helped establish his family for the next century and a half amongst the great ruling dynasties of Europe.

The election, enthronement  and coronation of Henry as King of the Romans

Pen-and-ink miniature from the picture chronicle of Emperor Henry VII, the Balduineum. The drawing, on parchment, dates from 1341
 Federal State Record Office in Koblenz.

Images: Wikimedia

Having been elected with six votes at Frankfurt on 27 November 1308 Henry was subsequently crowned as King of the Romans at Aachen on 6 January 1309 - the Epiphany was an eminently suitable day to choose for a coronation - and it was on the same feast in 1311 that he received the crown of Lombardy in Milan.
His expedition to Italy both for that and his Imperial coronation on June 29 1312 (SS Peter and Paul) and to assert Imperial rights in the north of the peninsula was one of the last, perhaps indeed the last, real attempts to re-establish the Holy Roman Empire in Italy. It was in connectuion with this campaign that Dante wrote De Monarchia as an argument for the rule of a Universal Emperor who could bring peace and reconciliation. Whatever the likelihood of that in the early fourteenth century the death of the Emperor marked the end of the project. 


Purchased from Messrs Franchi and Son in 1865 for £66 13s 4d
The original tomb by Tino da Camaino (circa 1280-1337) dates from 1315
and is made of marble, pigmented and gilded. It is in the right transept of Pisa Cathedral

Image: Copyright Victoria and Albert Museum
The Emperor Henry VII died near Siena on St Bartholomew's Day, August 24th, 1313. His tomb was completed in February 1315 and was completed within the stipulated six months. It was installed in the tribune behind the high altar, but has suffered slow dismemberment through several removals. For the tomb of Emperor Henry VII, Tino signed the contract in February 1315, a little more than a year after the Emperor's sudden death during his expedition from Pisa to destroy the power of Robert of Anjou in Naples. The tomb was completed by the end of July. However, it was later dismembered, the sarcophagus itself, with the recumbent effigy is still in the cathedral, and the free-standing figures of the Emperor and four of his councillors, together with some minor figures likewise in the Camposanto. 
The original appearance of the monument was thus far more elaborate than either the cast in the Victoria and Albert Museum, or the present arrangement in the cathedral at Pisa. 
In both cases, only the effigy and the arcading containing eleven (originally twelve) apostles are preserved in their original relationship. Here, as in Pisa, the inscriptions and the consoles of the lower part date from 1494, when the tomb was removed to the chapel of San Ranieri. In the cast shown here, the lateral saints, Peter and Francis, probably date from the early 15th century and the originals of these figures are now in the Cathedral repository. At Pisa, their place is occupied by an Annunciation group from Tino di Camaino's workshop: the Virgin and Gabriel had been installed on either side of the effigy as early as 1829. The Annunciation may have formed part of the original monument, but would not initially have occupied this position, which most likely held angels drawing back curtains to reveal the effigy.

It has also been established that there was below the tomb a related altar dedicated to St Bartholomew. which might have supported a group by Tino da Camaino including a central Madonna and Child ( now in the Museo Civico, Pisa ) and a figure of St Bartholomew (now in storage in the Cathedral).

That the Emperor died on St Bartholomew's feast day had an additional poignancy in that it was in the church of St Bartholomew in Frankfurt - the so-called Kaiserdom - that Kings of the Romans were elected and enthroned, as in the second illustraion from the Balduineum by being seated on the altar. I assume this derived from the offertory at Mass - rather as it appears the Stone of Scone in Scotland was originally a portable altar.

Friday 23 August 2013

The Battle of Tagliacozzo

Today is the 745th anniverasary of the battle of Tagliacozzo in 1268 when the forces of Charles of Anjou, King of Sicily, defeated those of Conradin, grandson of the Emperor Frederick II and ended his attempt to seize his ancestral territory of Regno back from the Angevin who had defeated and killed King Manfred - Conradin's illegitimate uncle- two years earlier at Benevento.
Conradin had been born in 1252, two years after the death of his grandfather Emperor Frederick II, and was only two when his father King Conrad IV died. The Sicilian crown was administered and then assumed by Manfred, an illegitimate son of the Emperor. In 1266 he was defeated and killed at Benevento by the French Charles of Anjou who had papal backing - the Pope's continual fear was the union of the Empire and the Regno  leaving them squeezed between the two territories.
The Ghibelline (Imperialist) cities of northern Florence, also fighting against the Pope traveled to Bavaria to convince Conradin to launch an Italian campaign. Following Manfred's death Conradin, who was only 14, decided to enter the fight to claim his Italian inheritance. The example of his grandfather's campaign to establish himself in germany as ateeneager  "the boy from Apulia" doubtless influenced him. Conradin, of whom one contemporay source reports that he was "beautiful as Absalom, and spoke good Latin",  pledging his lands and crossed the Alps from Bavaria with his uncle Duke Louis.
Conradin encountered many difficulties. His uncle Duke Louis and other companions returned to Germany. Pope Clement IV threatened him with excomunication. Money was very limited to finance his army. Nonetheless he proclaimed himself King of Sicily and his supporters in both northern and southern Italy took up arms in his name. The people in Rome received an envoy he dispatchesd with some enthusiam.
Conradin had by 1267 a party of 3000 knights with whom to campaign and travelling from Ravensburg moved to Verona, where he published his manifesto in which he stated his claim to Sicily, and then on to Pisa, Siena, and Rome in 1268. These were all towns favourable to the Ghibellines and as King Conradin was enthusiastically received in Pavia and Pisa. In November 1267 the Pope had excomunicated him, like his grandfather (on many occasions), father, and uncle. Conradin's fleet achieved a victory over that of Charles of Anjou who after Manfred's death had taken control of Sicily with the Papal blessing. In July 1268 Conradin entered Rome with great popular support . Together with his army he departed from Rome to move south on August 18 planning to  join with Saracen forces at Lucera - the colony established for the Sicilian saracens by Frederick II. They believed that the fight was already won and were preparing plans as to how Sicily should be divided. It was at this point they met Charles's forces at Tagliacozzo on August 23, 1268 and in part because of his army's concern with plunder lost the battle. (Adapted from an on-line article at histclo.com)
There is an online account of the battle here . The battle was fought in the Piani Palentini near Scurcola Marsicana, rather than at Tagliacozzo itself.
The Battle of Tagliacozzo
MS from the workshop of Pacino da Bonaguida

Conradin is the figure in violet with the peaked cap signifying his rank
. In the first scene Charles of Anjou watches as the army led by his rival  passes by, and pursues them in the second one.

Image: worldofdante.org
The defeat of Conradin's plan and his ultimate fate - to which I shall return in October - confirmed and consolidated Angevin control over the southern kingdom until the Sicilian Vespers of 1282 divided the kingdom between the mainland and the island, leading to two claimants to the title of King of Sicily, and ultimatelty the nineteenth century term of the United Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. That however lay far ahead in 1268 when the Hohenstaufen dream finally was defeated at Tagliacozzo. 

Thursday 22 August 2013

Second Spring

This week I have been working with an Oxford Summer School run by Second Spring, who are based here in the city, on the theme of Catholic Faith and Culture. The students were from the USA and Canada and based here at Blackfriars. Their course was wide-ranging and included visits to local places of Catholic and historic interestv as well as a series of talks from experts (so-called in my case...).

On Tuesday afternoon I gave a talk on four Oxford educated Catholic writers - Hilaire Belloc, Ronald Knox, Evelyn Waugh and Graham Greene. Although all of them were educated in Oxford, three of them at Balliol - Waugh was at Hertford - and three of them were converts - Belloc was a cradle Catholic, but had had a crisis of belief as a young man (but then in some senses he was a convert to being English, having a French father and being born in France himself) but the key point I stressed was their diversity of views on so many topics. They knew one another, but were not a group like the Inklings. What they did do was to bring a Catholic view or views into different aspects of writing and literature. By being well known and popular as writers and being known to be Catholics they thereby raised the profile of Catholicism in the perception of the wider reading public.

Today I gave the group a tour of Newman's Oxford. This was centred on visits to his undergraduate college at Trinity and Oriel where he was a Fellow. Along the way it was possible to visit St Mary's where he was Vicar and preached so many of his Anglican sermons.On such occasions one can indeed feel close to newman and that one is walking in his footsteps.

These were two very enjoyable sessions with agreeable people, and it was good to have a shared interest in the renewal and revival of an integrated Catholic visual and literary culture alongside the practise of the Faith.

Tuesday 20 August 2013

Damage to Offa's Dyke

In recent days there have been reports of serious damage to a section of Offa's Dyke, which have involved the levelling of the embankment and the filling of the ditch, on a site towards its northern end.

Due to its nature the Dyke is liable to damage and erosion, and its care and preservation should be a priority with local communities as well as those formally charged with its care like CADW.

In my view the damaged section in this instance should be reinstated, and those responsible should be pursued with the full rigour of the law. Unfortunately that does not happen in far too many cases of this sort, and vandalism is accepted or tolerated by authorities who should mete out real punishments for such offences. Ignorance is no excuse, and should not be accepted as one. Who in that area has not heard of Offa's Dyke? A spell in prison might give time for the offenders to read some books on Anglio-Saxon history - and if they can't read, time to learn how.

There is an introduction to this monument to the ability of the eighth century Mercian monarchy to organise and demarcate its western frontier here.

Saturday 17 August 2013

King Richard III causing trouble again

I see from the BBC website article which can be read here, as well as from various newspapers, that the dispute over where to bury the remains of King Richard III has now reached the courts. I think the Judge wise in what he says.

There is no evidence I can think of that Richard ever wanted to be buried in York before, and still less after his accession to the throne. His Queen Anne lies at Westminster, and the ambitious plans for a college of chantry priests prove nothing conclusive to my mind - as Desmond Seward pointed out in his book on the King (one by a man previously pro-Ricardian who changed his mind and concluded that King Richard was guilty as, largely, charged) Richard was very prone to establish chantries for those whose deaths were or could be taken to be his responsibility. He appears to have wanted to be sure they were indeed resting in peace.

In my opinion Leicester is the right place for his remains - he has been there since 1485 and a dignified new tomb in the Anglican cathedral is a rather better place for a King of England than under a car park.

There is now the risk that the remarkable technical achievement of recovering and identifying the King's remains together with all the genuine historical interest and insight that has generated is going to be obscured by groups or individuals pursuing their own idiosyncratic agendas.

Friday 16 August 2013

The Temple Church

Yesterday I once again led a group of students from the CBL International programme at Oriel on a tour of Legal London.

When we had finished I found myself outside the Temple Church, which, unlike the situation on most of my previous visits was open, so I paid my couple of pounds and had a leisurely walk round this remarkable survival from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.

The round nave of the Temple Church, with the choir to the right.

The column in the right foreground is a modern memorial to the Order of the Temple erected by the Inns.
Image: roundaboutlondon.wordpress.com
The late twelfth century round nave, built by the Knight Templar and modelled or inspired by the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, together with the now replaced choir, was consecrated on February 11th 1185 by Patriarch Heraclius of Jerusalem, as is recorded in a Latin inscription over the west door.

In the nave are series of  effigies of nobles with connections to the Order, the most famous being that of
William the Marshal Earl of Pembroke who died in 1219 as Regent of England for the young King Henry III. His career is recounted in the Song of William the Marshal written soon after his death. Unfortunately the effects of the bombing in 1941 resulted in some damage to the effigies, as can be seen from displays of older photographs in the church, but they are still very moving as a record of part of the elite of thirteenth century England.

The chancel was replaced by a larger aisled one in 1240, apparently with the intention of it being the burial place for King Henry III and his Queen. Although one of their infant sons is buried there it was of course his rebuilding of Westminster Abbey from 1245 that led to that becoming the medieval royal necropolis.


The view from the nave into the choir

Image: a-london-tourist-guide.com
Inside the church are reconstructed plans of the site as it is thought to have been when used by the Templars before their suppression in 1312. One thing I learned from these was the fact that the Knights had their jousting or training ground on what is now the site of the Royal Courts of Justice.

Transferred to the Knights Hospitaller after 1312 and seized by the Crown in 1540 the church was formally given to the tenants of the buildings adjacent, the Inns of the Inner and Middle Temple by King James I  in 1608, on condition that they maintained the building, which they have done. On display in the church was a photograph of a charter of renewal of the grant from the present Queen in 2008.

On May 10th 1941 the church and both Inns suffered bomb damage, which was graphically brought out by some of the photographs on display. The devastation of the Inner Temple was particularly serious, which lost its nineteenth century Hall and many adjacent buildings, and the church itself was burnt out.

The post-war restoration, completed in 1957, is  good, though I perhaps regret that the mid-nineteenth century neo-medieval colour scheme was not reproduced - that is no doubt more what would have been there originally. However the restoration did allow for the reinstatement of surviving seventeenth century furnishings removed in the Victorian period and preserved in storage.

There is more about the church and its history here.

The Chaplain bears the title Master of the Temple and like the church belongs to both Inns. One of his late sixteenth century predecessors, who is  commemorated by a modern monument in the church, was Richard Hooker, the codifier of Anglican ecclesiology.

The church is very well worth seeing, as indeed are both of the two Inns, and the other two which are north of the Strand, Lincoln's and Grey's.

Thursday 15 August 2013

The Assumption of Our Lady


The Dormition and the Assumption of Our Lady

Fra Angelico, c.1395 -1455

Image: tomperna.org

Monday 12 August 2013

Interpreting the Kaiser

Over the weekend I read Christopher Clark's excellent Kaiser Wilhelm II: A Life in Power.



This is a really fine book which I would recommend very highly - It is, I gather, one sometimes rrecommended to Oxford History applicants to challenge their historical preconceptions. With the anniversary of the outbreak of war in 1914 approaching it has a topical appeal as well as being a very readable and insightful book.

In its view it is very similar to Giles McDonagh's biography of the Kaiser which I read the other year and posted about.

The Australian born Clark, who is Professor at Cambridge has produced a narrative that does not claim to be a full biography but rather is an essay in interpretation. As such it is very insightful, definitely revisionist, and both sane and balanced. It is also interesting as astudy of Monarchy in the early twentieth century - the early use of film of the Imperial family for example is highlighted as well as the Kaiser's perhaps unfortunate tendency to make frequent and long speeches which his staff had to try to ensure were tidied up before they reached the press. For Kaiser Wilhelm himself this was a way of reaching out to his people to communicate his ideas about education and other matters. The Daily Telegraph interview of 1907-8 rather put a stop to that.

The book is in part a riposte to the massive three volume biography by Professor John Rohl of Sussex University of the Kaiser, and other works by Rohl and his students. I think Clark makes his case well. He sees many of the problems facing the Kaiser, his Chancellors and ministers as well as his people in the curious nature of the Imperial Constitution of 1871 - what suited Bismarck then was already out of date by the time of his departure in 1890. This almost Stubbsian approach addresses many of Rohl's points.

I have now started on John Rohl's first volume (I think it is the only one so far transalred into English) Young Wilhelm. This 900 plus door stopper wights the proverbial ton to carry round. It should keep me quietly occupied over coming weeks. I will post about it when I have finished reading it.

Saturday 10 August 2013

St Lawrence

Today is the feast of St Lawrence Deacon and Martyr.

St. Lawrence
Sculpture by Tilman Riemanschneider circa 1502-1510

Image: Christbearers.wordpress 

Thursday 8 August 2013

Armada reflections

425 years ago today there occurred the battle of Gravellines, the key event in scattering the Spanish Armada, and forcing the Spanish fleet into the North Sea, and the consequent inability to meet up with the Duke of Parma's land army.

There is an online account of the Armada here, which surveys the plan and response of both the Spanish and the English. There is more about the misgivings of the Spanish commander in the online life of him, the Duke of Medina Sidonia.

The invasion plan was an audacious one, which depended on everything coming together. That proved too difficult - it was, so to speak "a bridge too far." The difficulty of such a combined operation at a long distance can be seen also in the essential failure of the Drake-Norris expedition of 1589, the so called English Armada.

For the English the failure of the Spanish Armada through storm force winds as well as strategy - "God blew and they were scattered" as the commemorative medal expressed it reinforced the English establishment's view that God was Protestant and that He was English. The significance of this is  explored in  John Stubbs recent biography of John Donne.

One conscious result appears to have been a change in naval tactics, from close counter boarding to the use of the broadside to disable the enemy from a distance.

File:Elizabeth I (Armada Portrait).jpg

The Armada portrait of Queen Elizabeth I

Painted in 1588 or soon after by George Gower (1540-96)

Woburn Abbey

Image: Wikipedia

If for Queen Elizabeth I this was perhaps her finest hour, celebrated in the Armada portrait and the tapestries which decorated the House of Lords for centuries to come, for her one-time brother-in-law King Philip II it seems to have strengthened his fatalistic streak, and he commented that he had sent his fleet to fight men, not God's winds. It did not deter him from maintaining his campaigns, and in the following years was to intervene in the French succession war after 1589.

File:Philip II, King of Spain from NPG.jpg 

King Philip II

A portrait of circa 1580 

National Portrait Gallery London


The story of the Armada is one of naval skill on both sides, personal bravery and personal tragedy. For many of the English sailors there was the grim future of death in the following months from disease the government did, or was unable to do,  nothing to alleviate. Spanish survivors turned out to be more lucky when they got home. For the Spanish there was the horrendous journey home, and for those who were shipwrecked on the western coasts of Ireland little hope. The events in Ireland are recounted here. The Dublin government understandably feared an uprising in the country and gave orders to kill any survivors. This appears to have been applied quite rigorously - this is before any Geneva Convention.

One who did survive and got back to Spanish territory was Francisco Cuellar, whose remarkable story can be read here

There remains always the question of what would have happened if the Armada had reached the Flemish coast, received Parma's troops and invaded the south-east of England. How much support it would have received is impossible to calculate, and the sheer difficulty of conducting the campaign at such a distance on the opponent's territory may well have made it unlikely. I suspect if there had been a landing the consequences might have been as unpleasant and bloody as they were in Ireland. We might have been plunged into fighting off an invader, but I suspect the chances of success were always slim, unless there had been a complete collapse of English morale and resistance, and there is not much to suggest that recusants saw the King of Spain as their deliverer.


Wednesday 7 August 2013

Thought for the day

Today is the feast of St Cajetan, 1480-1547, the founder of the Theatine Order - one of whose founding members went on to become Pope Paul IV. There is an account of St Cajetan's life here and there is another account from Zenit at Saint Cajetan of Thiene.
He appears to have been like St Philip Neri and other Italian saints and founders of the era in his concern to establish communities to revivify the life of the clergy and the Church and in his practical concern for those around him.
St Cajetan
Image: Wikipedia

He wrote in a letter to Elisabeth Porto: “Do not receive Christ in the Blessed Sacrament so that you may use him as you judge best, but give yourself to him and let him receive you in this Sacrament, so that he himself, God your saviour, may do to you and through you whatever he wills.”
Source: Universalis website


Tuesday 6 August 2013


File:Transfiguration Christ Louvre ML145.jpg

Byzantine portable Icon of the Transfiguration circa 1200

The Louvre

Image; Wikimedia

From a sermon on the Transfiguration of the Lord by Bishop Anastasius of Sinai included in today's Office of Readings

It is good for us to be here
Upon Mount Tabor, Jesus revealed to his disciples a heavenly mystery. While living among them he had spoken of the kingdom and of his second coming in glory, but to banish from their hearts any possible doubt concerning the kingdom and to confirm their faith in what lay in the future by its prefiguration in the present, he gave them on Mount Tabor a wonderful vision of his glory, a foreshadowing of the kingdom of heaven. It was as if he said to them: “As time goes by you may be in danger of losing your faith. To save you from this I tell you now that some standing here listening to me will not taste death until they have seen the Son of Man coming in the glory of his Father.” Moreover, in order to assure us that Christ could command such power when he wished, the evangelist continues: Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter, James and John, and led them up a high mountain where they were alone. There, before their eyes, he was transfigured. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as light. Then the disciples saw Moses and Elijah appear, and they were talking to Jesus. 
  These are the divine wonders we celebrate today; this is the saving revelation given us upon the mountain; this is the festival of Christ that has drawn us here. Let us listen, then, to the sacred voice of God so compellingly calling us from on high, from the summit of the mountain, so that with the Lord’s chosen disciples we may penetrate the deep meaning of these holy mysteries, so far beyond our capacity to express. Jesus goes before us to show us the way, both up the mountain and into heaven, and – I speak boldly – it is for us now to follow him with all speed, yearning for the heavenly vision that will give us a share in his radiance, renew our spiritual nature and transform us into his own likeness, making us for ever sharers in his Godhead and raising us to heights as yet undreamed of.
  Let us run with confidence and joy to enter into the cloud like Moses and Elijah, or like James and John. Let us be caught up like Peter to behold the divine vision and to be transfigured by that glorious transfiguration. Let us retire from the world, stand aloof from the earth, rise above the body, detach ourselves from creatures and turn to the creator, to whom Peter in ecstasy exclaimed: Lord, it is good for us to be here.
  It is indeed good to be here, as you have said, Peter. It is good to be with Jesus and to remain here for ever. What greater happiness or higher honour could we have than to be with God, to be made like him and to live in his light?
  Therefore, since each of us possesses God in his heart and is being transformed into his divine image, we also should cry out with joy: It is good for us to be here – here where all things shine with divine radiance, where there is joy and gladness and exultation; where there is nothing in our hearts but peace, serenity and stillness; where God is seen. For here, in our hearts, Christ takes up his abode together with the Father, saying as he enters: Today salvation has come to this house. With Christ, our hearts receive all the wealth of his eternal blessings, and there where they are stored up for us in him, we see reflected as in a mirror both the first fruits and the whole of the world to come.

Source: Universalis

Monday 5 August 2013

St Oswald King and Martyr

Today is the feast of St Oswald, King of Northumbria. I wrote about him two years ago in my post St Oswald.

This year to mark the day I am reproducing some more depictions of the saint, who was a popular patron of churches not only in his own former kingdom, but further afield.

File:Saint Oswald Durham Cathedral.jpg


Here are pictures of the reliquary of his skull - assuming it is not with St Cuthbert in Durhan - in the cathedral treasury at Hildesheim in northern Germany. The reliquary is dated to 1185-1189, and is a wonderful example of the work of the period.

Cathedral Museum in Hildesheim,reliquary in the form of the head of St.Oswald,. ca  1185-1189,silver,gilt,niello,feligree,enamel,stone and pearl trimming,oak core.
The reliquary in the form of the head of St.Oswald.
It is composed of silver,with gilt and niello decoration and has filigree work and decoration in enamel, and with precious stones and pearl trimming over an oak core.

Image; heiligenlexikon.de

At present Hildesheim cathedral is undergoing amajor restoration and fifty of its medieval treasures, including the reliquary, are being sent as an exhibition to the Mettopolitan Museum in New York from this coming September until January  next year - so any North American readers who are nearby will have the opportunity to see them you are nearby.

There is an online article about the cathedral here - although I think the first photograph is not of the cathedral, but of another church in the city - and the cathedral's own English language website can be accessed here. There is an introduction to the historic city of Hildesheim, and its post war restoration and reconstruction here.

Devotion to St Oswald outlasted the middle ages in German speaking lands, as can be seen in this eighteenth century painting:
File:St.Oswald Kirche - Hochaltar Altarbild St.Oswald.jpg
Painting of St Oswald as patron of cattle
Eibiswald parish church in Styria, 1764