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 30 November 2016

Thistle Chapel

Today is the feast of St Andrew, and a suitable day on which to blog about the Order of the Thistle, whose present Chapel in St Giles' Edinburgh is 105 years old this year.

The Queen attends the Order of the Thistle ceremony in Edinburgh earlier this year
Image: Andrew Milligan/PA/Daily Telegraph 

The Chapel Royal at Holyrood as laid out for the Order of the Thistle by King James VII in 1687

After Jan Wyck

Image: Andrew Cusack

I hunted this picture out a while ago for a friend who is a specialist in the life and reign of King James II and VII and think it worth sharing - so far as I know it is the only picture of the interior of the abbey at Holyrood before the vault collapsed in the eighteenth century.

There is a useful, illustrated account of the history, insignia and chapels of the Order, and a discussion of the oath taken by the Knights today at http://www.andrewcusack.com/2010/order-of-the-thistle/

Thursday 24 November 2016

Lecturing to the Oxford University Heraldry Society

This teatime I spoke to the Oxford University Heraldry Society at Christ Church, delivering the first of two illustrated lectures on "Arms and Insignia of Heirs Apparent".

I originally planned this as a single lecture but finding I had more than enough material I arranged with the Society to split it into two, giving the first part tonight.

This concentrated on why and when and how hereditary monarchs started indicating in heraldry, in ceremonial and in insignia their heir apparent, and then looked at the evolution of this from crowning an heir in his father's lifetime  ( the Empire, France, England in 1170 and Hungary as late as 1830 - and considered there in the 1870s or 80s)  to distinguishing him with a title and arms as well as an appanage, beginning with the earliest such consistently applied title, that of the Prince of Wales.

I also spoke about the insignia of the Duchy of Cornwall and the Earldom of Chester, as well as my theory that the badge of the three feathers for the Prince of Wales derives from him holding three Palatinates - Wales, Cornwall and Chester - and with an ostrich plume being the symbol of a palatine authority the use of three as badge by Edward of Woodstock Prince of Wales in the mid-fourteenth century.

The Arms of HRH The Prince of Wales


I spoke also about the ceremonial investiture of the Princes and their coronet with its single arch, and then turned to the topic of the same person in Scotland, where he is, of course, Duke of Rothesay, Earl of Carrick, Baron Renfrew, Prince and Great Steward of Scotland and Lord of the Isles.

Coat of Arms of the Duke of Rothesay.svg 

The Arms of HRH The Duke of Rothesay

These were granted to him by The Queen in 1974

Image: Wikipedia

On February 23 I shall be giving the second lecture, on that occasion time on European heirs apparent, and looking at figures such as the Dauphin and the Prince or Princess of Asturias, again at 5.30 in Lecture Room 2 at Christ Church.

Monday 21 November 2016

Emperor Francis Joseph

Today is the centenary of the death of the Empreror Francis Joseph in 1916. He died a few days short of the 68th anniversary of his accession, and his was the third longest reign of a European monarch to date.

His reign and era is often remembered or presented as period of stability, but was frequently one of political turmoil - the crisis of 1848-9 which brought the young Archduke to the Imperial throne in the stead of his uncle the Emperor Ferdinand, the conflicts over Italian unification with both Savoy and France in 1858-9, the war with Prussia and the loss of Venice in 1866 and the negotiation of the compromise with the Hungarians in 1867, as well as the failure of his brother to estanblish his own rule in Mexico and the summer crisis of 1914 that led to the First World War.

Moreover it was a reign marked by terrible personal tragedies for the Emperor and the Imperial family - notably the deaths of the Emperor Maximilian, of Crown Prince Rudolf, of the Empress Elisabeth and finally of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife at Sarajevo. The Emperor's response to news of his wife's murder in 1898 was " Am I to be spared nothing?" and such it must often have seemed to him.

He also displayed remarkable resiliance and a strong sense of duty to his people and inheritance as Emperor-King of Austria- Hungary, and enjoyed the devotion of the mass of his people.

A while ago I read the biography of the Emperor Twilight of the Habsburgs: The Life and times of Emperor Francis Joseph  by Alan Palmer - an Orielensis and noted writer of accessible accounts of nineteenth and early twentieth century figures - and what emerged was Francis Joseph's dry sense of humour. He is often presented as a rather arid, duty-obsessed figure in contrast to his beautiful and beguiling wife or his flamboyant son, but what Palmer brings out is a very Habsburg sense of the comic aspects of public life that is often missed in other accounts, or when presented in print can look cold or intimidating. In this book one senses the twinkle in the Imperial eye.


Image: Amazon

The Arms of the Austrian Empire and Kingdom of Hungary 

Image: Wikimedia


Sunday 20 November 2016

A move to take King Charles X and his family to St Denis

A friend has drawn my attention to an article in The Guardian about a proposal to move the bodies of King Charles X, King Louis XIX and Queen Marie-Thérèse from their presnt resting place in Slovenia to St Denis. The article can be read at France calls for remains of King Charles X to be returned from Slovenia

The association with this laudable aim was founded last September and their website can be seen at  http://www.leretourdecharlesx.fr  - which I have added to the sidebar. 

 Related image

King Charles X


Whatever comes of this initiative it is clear that King Charles and his family, both in life and death, were fated to spend a long time in exile.

King John I of France

Today is the seventh centenary of the death of King John I of France. The son of King Louis X and his Queen Clemence of Hungary, he was born several months after his father's death in June 1316. My post about him can be seen at King Louis X. A regency had ensued as the realm awaited the birth of a male or female heir.

Being born as King is a distinction he shares with King Ladislas V of Hungary and King Alfonso XIII of Spain. The infant King's reign was to be very short, as he was born on November 15th and died on  November 20th 1316. His rapid demise led to accusations at the time of foul play, and Countess Mahaut of Artois was one of those alleged to be responsible. Another tradition has a story of the royal infant being smuggled away and replaced by another baby - that is to be found in Druon's novels about the later Capetians.

Effigy of King John I of France at St Denis


King John I had the shortest reign of any French monarch unless that of King Louis XIX for twenty minutes or so during the July Revolution in 1830 is accepted - I would be inclined to see that as asituation of duress, and that King Charles X remained the legitimate monarch until his death in 1836 and that he was then succeeded by King Louis XIX until his death in 1844 and the undoubted inheritance at that point of King Henri V.

The death of King John was to be of real significance - for the first time the succession did not go from father to son, and the acceptance of his uncle as King Philip V rather than King Louis X's daughter by his first marriage Jeanne ( Louis had doubts as to her legitimacy, although she did eventually succeed at Queen of Navarre - see Joan_II_of_Navarre ) took France towards developing the Salic law to regulate the succession. There is a biography of  King Philip V at Philip V of France.
Both King Philip V and his younger brother and successior King Charles IV sought to produce a male heir but had only daughters, and in 1328 the succession passed to King Philip VI, by-passing the arguable claim of King Edward III through his mother, Queen Isabella, sister to the previous Kings - but that is another story...

Image result for philip V effigy St Denis

The effigies of King Philip V, of Queen Jeanne of Evreux, third wife of King Charles IV, and of King Charles IV in St Denis

Image: Pinterest - basilique-de-saint-denis

Wednesday 16 November 2016

Recalling the Battle of the Somme

The BBC website has an interesting piece about 500 hitherto unpublished reminiscences of the Battle of the Somme that have recently been donated to the Imperial War Museum. This interesting online article can be seen at: Graphic eyewitness Somme accounts revealed

Image: BBC

Tuesday 15 November 2016

Catskin Earls

The Special Correspondent has sent me the following link on the so-called Catskin Earls. The article can be accessed at http://messybeast.com/catskin-earls.htm but for the ease of readers I have also copied and pasted it below:

The Earls of Derby, Shrewsbury and Huntingdon, peerages created before the 17th century, were termed "catskin" earls. This led to the popular belief, in later centuries, that they wore cat pelts instead of ermine as trim on their robes. While cat skins were used in the Middle Ages, they were considered a humble fur compared to expensive and luxurious ermine and beaver (beavers existed in Britain until the 16th century). So where did the term come from?

Catskin was most likely a corruption of the Middle Ages Franco-English "quatre-skin" which meant four skins. This referred to the four rows of ermine skins on the robes of earl of that period. From the 17th century, earls were restricted to three rows of ermine, while dukes were permitted four rows. The "catskin" earldoms, with their fourth row being a visible symbol of their antiquity, are the only surviving earldoms that were created prior to the 17th century.

In 1902, The New York Times suggested that cat-skin referred to the pelts of white domestic cats. This was based on the idea that British wild cats are tabby, and that ermine (winter stoat) was restricted to Scotland and North European regions. Ermine, also refers to a pattern that was painted onto other furs, such as rabbit, although such fakery would have been frowned upon at that time. Contemporary paintings of noble personages in ceremonial robes supports the "quatre skins" derivation.

England's Catskin Earls (The New York Times, June 8, 1902)

AMONG the points which the Duke of Norfolk, as Earl Marshal, might have had to decide in view of King Edward's coronation, one of the most curious is as to the right of three Earls of England to wear catskin instead of ermine on their robes. As nobody but the furriers is at all likely to have disputed this right, the claim has probably not come to trial. The three Earls are those of Shrewsbury, created in 1442; Derby, 1455, and Huntingdon, 1529. The custom which distinguishes the holders of these three titles is, of course, an outward and visible assertion of superiority, not a tradition either of humility or of parsimony. My Lords of Shrewsbury, Derby, and Huntingdon do not thereby value themselves, as compared to other peers in the direct ratio of catskin to ermine, but rather in the inverse.

There were Earls in England long before there was any ermine, and those early Earls trimmed themselves with the skins of cats. As no kind of wildcat indigenous to Britain, or any parts of Europe then accessible to English traders ever had white fur, the Earls before the time of Henry VIII — in whose reign the Huntingdon creation originated — must have used domestic cats. An Earl skinning the cats of his vicinage to make him a fur tippet is not a dignified picture from the life of the Middle Ages, but even now, when cats are so much more plentiful, most of those on the back fences are black or tabby, not white, and are, therefore, ineligible for the adornment of any Earl. As time went on, Earls became, like the dignitaries referred to in Gilbert’s "Gondoliers"

“For Bishops, in their shovel hats
Were plentiful as tabby cats,
And Dukes were three a penny.”

The Dukes began to be created just after the date of the Huntingdon peerage, the only Duke antedating that being he of Norfolk, who ought on that account, if not for his ancient earldoms of Surrey and Arundel, to have a catskin, but has not. Just about that time, too, the Marquises and Viscounts came in, the former having a great run in the Tudor period. The truth at the bottom of the ”catskin earldoms” is that these three are nearly all the nobiliary titles in England (not Scotland or Ireland) that can claim an origin older than the Reformation. Before that period the English House of Lords, with the exception of royal Princes, was made up of Earls and Barons, and the latter, as they were not then allowed any coronets, probably had no right to any skins of beasts.

While the New York Times alluded to the possibility using domestic cats' pelts, other newspaper reports, such as The Washington Post (21 May, 1921) attempted to correct the popular misconception that cat-skins were used in lieu of ermine. Personally, I'm sure that no earl of the time would have condescended to wear common cat fur on his ceremonial robes, though his more impoverished 20th century descendants (title does not equate to wealth in the British aristocracy) may well have considered dyed rabbit skins.

The Clever Boy will just add that the later medieval House of Lords had a clerical majority, made up of the two Archbishops, the diocesan Bishops, the Parliamentary Abbots, the Prior of Coventry cathedral priory and the Master of the Knights Hospitaller, all with appropriate robes.

Royal Dukes have five rows of ermine, Dukes four, Marquesses three and a half ( they are something of an interpelation into the ranks of the nobility and date from the time of King Richard II, and the title was only infrequently bestowed before the eighteenth century ), Earls three and Viscounts and Barons ( and modern Life Peers ) two rows of ermine on their Parliamentary robes.

Friday 11 November 2016

Praying for the Dead

November is the month for praying for the Dead, and the Oxfrd Oratory provides many possibilities for that during the month.

Several years ago I was talking to a good friend from there who made what I consider a very interesting point about prayer for the departed. I should add that he has far more theological training than I have.

His argument was that not only can we pray for the Dead being now dead, but that as God is outside Time, we can pray for those who are now dead but that the prayer can benefit or support them whilst they were alive. The case he had in mind in particular was one of those executed in 1944 after the failure of the July bomb plot as he awaited death, but it can be applied to anyone. I imagine it is particularly appropriate to those facing death, especially execution or some other violent means, or those in battle.

This idea resonated in my mind and I find it both reasonable and comforting. Yesterday I asked one of the Fathers at the Oxford Oratory what he thought of the concept. He saw no problem with it, adding the view that when we pray for the departed God can assign the support of our prayer to the person who is its object either in their present condition or when they were in this life.

Thursday 10 November 2016

Book launch at Blackfriars

This afternoon I attended a book launch at Blackfriars here in Oxford.

I got to know the author, Andrew Meszaros, when he was studying here in Oxford and after study at Louvain and in Vienna he is now lecturer in systematic theology at Maynooth.

Image: Amazon

His book is The Prophetic Church: History and Doctrinal Development in John Henry Newman and Yves Congar It is published by Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780198786344

In his book Meszaros argues that dogma is the product of both faith and history, and that in addressing the problems confronting its understanding of its dogmas the Church has always managed to develop the understanding of doctrine in a consistent way.

Fr Timothy RadcliffeOP gave an appreciation of the book and commended it to the audience.

It was a pleasure to meet up with Andrew again and catch up on one another's news.

Wednesday 9 November 2016

Playing the Trump card

I spent all last night sitting up at a friend's house watching the US election results.

My friend knows far more about US politics than I do - or, to be honest, wish to. However such events are those which shape our world so we ate our dinner and watched the results programme on Fox News, of which my friend is a great fan.

As the results came in, mostly predictable, but with no great breakthrough for either leading candidate I grew in my expectation that Donald Trump could or would win. This derived in part fronm sseeing on eof his election addresses on television at my friend's house the other weekend when the renewed story of the FBI investigating once more Hillary Clinton's e-maila and also the comment earlier on this year from Michael Morre which I read. Moore is no advocate for Trump but he foresaw a sizeable portion of the US electorate from the blue collar section of society deciding on the day to vote for the GOP's man. His comment struck me as interesting and it stayed with me.

When the "blue wall" of Democrat states did finally crack I was not therefore that surprised.

The amazement of even the Fox News presenters was really rather entertaining - they are, after all, somewhat inclined to the Trump world view, yet they seemed genuinely bemused.

That said it does look as if we live in interesting times, to put it mildly, and one that are likely to be going to get more interesting. We shall, of course, see what happens in coming days, weeks, months and years. Politics across the western world is certainly getting less predictable and more intriguing.

To what extent the American electorate have played the Trump card will, to some extent, affect us all.

Thursday 3 November 2016

Back From the Dead

Earlier this evening I attended one of the events to mark the opening tomorrow of the exhibition Back from the Dead at the Museum of the History of Science in Oxford.

The exhibition commemorates the development of penicillin by researchers at the University in the early 1940s and the 75th anniversary of the first trials on patients of this life saving drug - one which seemingly abrought them back from the dead. The title also refers to the notion of bringing back to life the team of researchers and their assistants.

The current awareness of the limits of antibiotics and the development of bacterial resistance are also presented in the displays.

This is a very fine exhibition and tells a story full of human interest not just about a major scientific and medical breakthrough but also of the personalities who were engaged in the research. Their story would certainly lend itself to a dramatist or screenwriter.

The exhibition is on at the Museum until 21 May next year. 

How would Medieval people react to eating modern food?

By chance I came across the following post on the Quora website. It is by a Spanish born columnist Alberto Yagos and I have copied it with the odd grammatical change but otherwise it is verbatim:

I’ve cooked most of the recipes in two Medieval cookbooks, Libre de Sent Sovi and Libre del Coch which were the most important ones in Spain, France and Italy from the 14th to 16th centuries. Some of the recipes are as old as 1220 and some of them also appear in English cookbooks.

Contrary to the popular belief that meat and fish were very expensive, they were quite usual on most tables. Villages which were not very big could have four or five butcher's shops. In 1287, a carpenter called Mr. Paulet paid his mother livelihood (each year): two mines of wheat (around 400 pounds), four barrels of wine, an entire salted pork or beef and three canes of wool. In 1307, the maid of a scribe in Majorca buys every day: bread, wine, meat or fish, eggs, vegetables, fruit, cabbages, onions, cucumbers, almonds, parsley and carrots.

What was expensive was well preserved or fresh meat.

Medieval people from that era would be surprised by the new ingredients (potatoes, bellpeppers, chocolate…) and the fact that you can eat summer vegetables in the middle of winter. And also:

* Bread and wine aren’t the usual breakfast. Also, people eat it too soon (they were used to eating the first time around 3 hours after getting up).

* People drink wine and beer pure, without spices, water, honey or vinegar. Or in a certain preparation, without butter and barley flour (if you are curious, it tastes as bad as it sounds).

* Meat and fish are very abundant but also very repetitive. Medieval people would eat any meat and any fish. And any part.

* We cook with milk (a big no in Medieval cuisine, only for two months, April and May, was it recommended to have around 300 gr. of goat's milk).

* We use cheese and not curd in most recipes. Cured cheese was taken as a full meal.

* Food today has very little spices. They used pepper and sugar as the stars of the dish. Sugar was really expensive but they used it a lot (a lot of recipes called for 3-4 ounces of sugar), so now that it’s so cheap they wouldn’t understand why we put so little.

* Very few preparations are boiled fish/meat (it was recommended to cook it this way in summer).

* Sauces are used now in little quantities. Medieval preparations literally were floating in sauces made of broth, almond flour, wine, eggs.

* We reserve the fruits for desserts. The first time I cooked a typical soup of the era with onion, apple and bacon people thought it would be disgusting (it’s just really sweet).

* We mainly use wheat flour. The basic flour in the era was barley and they added it to most recipes.