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, 1 April 2015


Image: Wikipedia
The April calendar page of the Très Riches Heures is attributed to Jean de Limbourg.

The scene depicts a bethrothal before two witnesses whilst two young women in attendance pick flowers. On the right is a walled garden or pleasance, the plants of which are not fully in bloom, but all is prepared for the coming season of growth. In the background is the Château de Dourdan, west of Paris, which had been held by the Duke of Berry since 1385, and of which much of the buildings still survive.  There is more about the history of the chateau and many more pictures here.

Romance and the spring clearly went together in the early fifteenth century mind. There is in its aristocratic rural idyll something we recognise in later artists and even in modern advertisements such as those for firms like Barbour.

In 1415, the year of King Henry V's Agincourt campaign, not a few married or bethrothed couples, or ones that might have been, were to find death and bereavement, exile or flight as a result of the fighting. There were casualties on both sides amongst both the elite and the common soldiers, but much more so on the French side. Juliet Barker concludes her excellent book Agincourt on the battle  with a discussion of this, drawing upon Alain Chartier's 1416 poem, written as a response to the battle, Le Livre des quatre dames  and Christine de Pisan's Epistre de la prison de la vie humaine with its reflections upon the fortunes of war.

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