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.

Monday, 13 June 2016

A Lenten and Holy Week visit in 1466 to Reading and Salisbury

This is a post I originally planned to publish at Easter or soon after but it has taken time to get it together.

In 1466 an embassy from King George of Bohemia - George of Poděbrady - which was travelling round teh courts of Europe promoting the King's plan for a union of the various kingdoms and territories ( strangely topical n'est pas? ) spent the latter part of Lent and Holy Week in England and met King Edward IV.

The King of Bohemia was Hussite and was anxious to ease his quarrel with the Papacy and between 1465 and 1467 sent this embassy led by his brother-in-law, Jaroslav Lev of Rosental (c1425-1486). In contrast to the King, who was elected to the throne in 1458, Lev was a devout Catholic and they were thus in opposing camps in the complexities of mid-fifteenth century Bohemian politics. However Lev's sister Johana of Rožmitál had married George Poděbrad in 1450, and  Lev was loyal to his royal brother-in-law. Jaroslav was leader of a delegation of 40 nobles and knights with 52 horses.

Two contemporary accounts of the embassy can be read in  Malcolm Letts (ed) The Travels of Leo of Rozmital through Germany, Flanders, England, France, Spain, Portugal and Italy 1465-1467, and published for the Hakluyt Sociey by Cambridge University Press. One is in Czech by Schascko or Schaseck, who was armour bearer or squire to Jaroslav Lev, and the other is is German by Gabriel Tetzel from Nuremberg. I have differentiated the two by an S or a T and added notes in italics in [ ]

After visiting the court at Windsor, where they venerated the heart of St George and other relics, and where the Bohemian men's long tresses excited wonder and comment - almost a century earlier the Emperor Charles IV was depicted with long hair - was it a Bohemian style? - and the party now moved westward to set sail for France:

S p56
" Windsor is twenty miles from London and Reading sixteen miles from Windsor. It is a village with a large and elegant monastery where dwell priests of the rule of the Virgin Mother of God.
In that church is a picture on the altar and an image of the Mother of God most beautifully executed. So much so that I have never seen its equal nor shall I ever see one to compare with it if I progress to the ends of the earth. No image could be more lovely or more beautiful." [ Alas the painting from Reading abbey is entirely lost - was it perhaps brought from the continent or was it a product of an English atelier? ]

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A modern reconstruction of Reading Abbey

Image: Reading Museum

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 Part of the ruins of Reading Abbey today

Image: Alamy/Daily Mail

S p60
" I have never seen more elegant churches or monasteries than in England. All are roofed with lead and tin, and within they are marvellously adorned "
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 Salisbury Cathedral from the west
The detached bell tower is on the left

Wenceslaus Hollar 1607-77

Image: Salisbury Museum

" Salisbury is an open town but large. There we found another of the King's brothers named George. There is a very large and beautiful monastery [ i.e the cathedral which had a secular and not a monastic chapter ]. When one considers the elegance of the structure both within and without, it is second to none. The tower adjoins it and is built with great skill [ i.e. the detached bell tower destroyed in 1792 - see my post from 2011 Vandalism at Salisbury Cathedral ]  I have nowhere seen more elegant figures. One represents the Mother of God, holding the infant Christ in her arms while the Three Kings offer gifts. The other shows the Angels opening the Sepulchre with Christ rising from the dead, holding a banner in his hand. Both scenes are so represented that they do not appear to be fashioned but alive and actually moving before our eyes. It will not be out of place to mention that they have no lights on the altar at the celebration of the mass, a reminder that the country had three times departed from the Christian faith. [This reference is not clear] The following custom is also observed in this country. On Easter Day and the day preceding, in glorious memory of the Lord's Supper, all take the sacrament in the church and on each altar mirrors are set up." [ ? are these reliquaries]

There follows a description of the Royal Maundy ceremony

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Salisbury Cathedral from the north

Wenceslaus Hollar engraving published 1672


S p62
"We arrived at Salisbury on the Friday before Palm Sunday. On Palm Sunday my lord with all his company was invited by the Duke [of Clarence] to a banquet which was served most sumptuously as is their custom. Among other courses they served a bird like a duck which is produced in the sea, and which takes no food, but lives only on air."[ Barnacle Goose ]

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Salisbury Cathedral from the east, with the bell tower on the right

Wenceslaus Hollar 1607-1677


T p57
" After this my lord was taken to see several abbeys of the Benedictine Order which are in England. [ CB - Reading pres. ] We saw two churches which are splendid beyond measure, also two splendid pictures and altars, as well as a great golden shrine in which lies St Sigmund [ St Osmund - canonised 1457. The  1536 Treasurer inventory lists ' a great ymage of the holy Seynt Osmund, all of silver and gilt, ornate with stones of divers coloured and weighing 83 ounces ' ] They showed us also a stone which came from Jerusalem wherein is the imprint of Our Lord's foot. It came from the Mount of Olives, from the place where Our Lord used to pray. They showed us also many other famous relics. We saw also some fine carved figures which were so worked with weights that they moved as if to show how the Three Holy Kings brought gifts to our Lady and her Babe, how our Lord reached out to take the gifts, and how our Lady and Joseph bowed and did obeisance to the Three Kings, and how they took their leave. All this was presented with rare and masterly skill as if they were alive. There was also a similar carving showing our Lord rising from the tomb and the Angels ministering to him. This was a splendid and praiseworthy thing to see. [ Malcolm Letts suggest these may have been the work of  Bishop Ralph Erghum before he was translated to Wells in 1388, and where the mechanical clockstill have two jousting knights to mark the hours. If the figures were related to the clock then there is background material on that at Salisbury cathedral clock and Medieval Clock | Salisbury Cathedral] The Abbot [ i.e.Bishop of Salisbury ] showed my lord great honour [p58] and reverence, and gave him a splendid repast in his palace which was hung with tapestries and other priceless things. He conducted my lord also into the choir, where we heard the choir singing which was delightful to hear. [ Bishop Richard Beauchamp 1450-81 ]

King Edward IV and Bishop Richard Beauchamp

Roof Boss at St George's Windsor

Image: St George's Windsor

After this my lord was conducted to the King of England's brother, called Duke of Klaris who was then in England. [ George Duke of Clarence was a member of the cathedral fraternity; at the time he was 17 ]. At this my lord was much pleased and showed the Duke honour and respect. We spent Palm Sunday there and saw a splendid procession showing our Lord's entry into Jerusalem. The Duke himself went in procession and made my lord walk beside him. Afterwards my lord and his attendants had to dine at court, and the Duke and my lord ate together, while my lord's attendants sat with the counts and gentlemen. They provided for us an unbelievably costly banquet lasting three hours, and among other dishes they gave us to eat what should have been a fish, but it was roasted and looked like a duck." [The Barnacle goose again ]

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George Duke of Clarence

A late sixteenth century portait, arguably from an older source

Image: Wikipedia

This royal entertainment was presumably at Clarendon Palace, which lay two miles east of the city. There are online accounts of it at Clarendon Palace and at Clarendon Park and Palace

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