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, 1 March 2014


The Château de Lusignan, situated in Lusignan in the modern dèpartement of Vienne, was the seat of the Lusignan family, Poitevan Marcher Lords, who distinguished themselves in the First Crusade and held the crowns of two Crusader kingdoms, the Kingdom of Jerusalem and the Kingdom of Cyprus, and also claimed the title King of Armenia.

Lusignan was constructed, occupying a natural strongpoint: a narrow promontory that overlooked steep valleys on either side. It was already so impressive in the twelfth century that a legend developed to the effect that its founder had faery aid, in the guise of the water spirit Melusine, who built it and its church through her arts, as a gift for her husband Raymondin.

Lusignan at its height in the early fifteenth century, is illustrated in the Très Riches Heures of Jean, Duc de Berri, for whom it was a favorite residence until his death in 1416. It rises in the background of the miniature for the month of March, clearly shown in perspective, with its barbican tower at the left, the clock tower - with the exterior chute of the garderobe to its right - and the Tour Poitevine on the right, above which the gilded dragon flies, the protective spirit of Marc Lacombe.

After the Duc de Berri's death, Lusignan became briefly the property of Dauphin John, who died in May 1417, and then passed to his brother, Charles, the future King Charles VII.

The village which developed into the town of Lusignan grew up beneath the castle gates, along the slope; it formed a further enceinte or surrounding fortification when it too was later enclosed by walls. Lusignan remained a strategically important place in Poitou, in the heart of France. About 1574, during the Wars of Religion, a plan was made of the castle's defences which is now in the Bibliothèque National. In the following century Lusignan was reinforced in the modern manner by Vauban for King Louis XIV. It was a natural structure to be used as a prison, and later housed a school.

The château was long used as a local quarry of pre-cut stone before it was razed by the Comte de Blossac in the nineteenth century, to make a pleasure ground for the town. Today the remains are largely portions of the foundations, some built into steep hillside, part of the keep, the base of the Tour Poitevine, cisterns and cellars, and remains of a subterranean passage that probably once led to the church.

With acknowledgements to the article on the château on Wikipedia

To those points I would add that the depiction of this and, over the succeeding months, other châteaux associated with the Duc de Berri and his family, indicate a delight in their possession, and convey the fact that these medieval castles, however defensible, were essentially homes in the country, replete with medieval domestic comforts and surrounded with agriculture and other peaceful pursuits.These are residences, more than they are fortifications. The same sense is conveyed, for example, by surviving images of English castles in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries.

The plough oxen in the foreground are a reminder that for centuries the ox was the beast of burden in Europe, and their use continued later than one might expect. I have, for example, seen a photograph of someone still ploughing with oxen in Wiltshire in about 1900.

As with the other scenes in the manuscript the landscape is perhaps unnaturally tidy, altough the ploughman in the foreground is wearing patched clothing, and the grey and green tones do convey something of the climate and mood of March as the farming year demands hard work from the husbandmen.

The wayside shrine at the cross roads in the middle distance is an indication of the type of monument which may well have been common, but of which we have few surviving examples - although more modern examples are still to be found in Catholic areas of Europe.

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