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.

Friday 30 December 2016

Coronation of King Charles IV of Hungary 1916

Today is the centenary of the coronation of  the Bl. Emperor Charles as King Charles IV of Hungary in 1916. The fact that he had received this sacramental was of enormous spiritual significance to the King and his Queen Zita, and why he refused to renounce his rights in 1921.

The ceremony, central to the traditional Hungarian concept of kingship, was both deemed to be a constitutional requirement and also, it seems, as a means of binding the new King, who had succeeded to the throne in late November, to the existing balance of political power within the realm by the Prime Minister, Count Tisza.

The history of the ceremony can be viewed at Coronation of the Hungarian monarch.

There is an account of the preparations for the 1916 coronation in Miklos Banffy's memoir The Phoenix Land and part of that is reproduced online at Coronation-of-Emperor-Karl with additional material. There is also a detailed description of the day, set within the action of a sprawling novel about a Magyar aristocratic family, in Lajos Zilahy's The Dukays.

 The Holy Crown, Orb, Sceptre and Sword of the Hungarian Regalia

Image: Wikipedia

Queen Zita and the Crown Prince travel to the Coronation in the State Coach  

Image: Pinterest

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The King taking the Coronation oath at the foot of the Holy Trinity pillar outside the Coronation Church of St Matthias

Image: Getty Images


The King on horseback upon the hill composed of soil from every county in Hungary.
This part of the ceremonial involved the King riding up the hill and brandishing his sword to the four points of the compass to symbolise his defence of the frontiers of the kingdom - indeed the oath speaks of extending them.

Image: Monarchy Forum


King Charles IV

Image: Pinterest 


King Charles IV, Queen Zita and Crown Prince Otto.
The King died in 1922, Queen Zita in 1989 and Otto in 2011.

Image: viktor.hu

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King Charles IV wearing the Holy Crown
and mantle of St Stephen and holding the sceptre.
He was Beatified in 2004


Film of the processions and oath taking can easily be found on YouTube 


Sunday 25 December 2016

Christmas Greetings

Each year I write an e-mail greeting to friends and I thought that this year rather than posting a separate greeting to readers of this blog that I would publish the letter here :

Anonym - Votive Painting of Archbishop Jan Očko of Vlašim - Google Art Project.jpg

The Votive Painting of Archbishop Jan Očko of Vlašim 1371

Image: Wikipedia

December 2016

Once again Christmas is with us and as usual I find myself writing this letter at the last minute. A friend described it the other year as my Christmas Encyclical. This still seems to be both the easiest way, and also a more informative one, of sending greetings and good wishes for Christmas and the New Year. I do not think I can I amend or add to the text of the letter to make the message slightly more personal at the moment as time is rather against me and in many cases I know I owe a longer letter - which hopefully might get done in January.

I am still living in Oxford. In the past I have written of that as being for good or ill. On the whole it is still very good, as things in this letter will I hope indicate. However some aspects of Oxford life can be tiresome, and as I observed last year things are not always as they once were - a sure sign of age - and that can, and does, induce that negative nostalgia which is not always a very positive thing.

The D.Phil. thesis remains unfinished. As I have said now for several years I still have hopes, one day, of completing my research on Bishop Richard Fleming, and to share my insights and discoveries with others. His life and career provides a fascinating range of insights into many aspects of later medieval life. I have also said previously that I am not one for New Year resolutions as they are usually more observed in the breach than the observance, but that I hoped to get back to the Bishop and some other academic projects. That, alas, has not occurred so far, and who knows whether another year will bring that possibility about. However I do have greater freedom in my routine and calendar than in the past so there may be some hope, and I try to keep myself reading and thinking about the period.

I have also spent time using my historical forensic skills on other topics which attract my attention and that engages my brain in active thought and ( hopefully ) keeps senility away. Those researches might yield something, but then, they might not.

I still work part time at the Museum of the History of Science, but as I fill in the for other staff's absences it is very variable in terms of hours. I have also continued giving tours of Oxford and, on occasion, out to Blenheim Palace. These tours are either directly booked with me or through an independent consortium of guides. The walks I lead may be general ones of the city and colleges or themed ones. The website for my own tours is at http://historicoxfordtours.co.uk : if you or anyone you know who might be interested do get in contact. One meets some very pleasant and interesting people through these tours and I enjoy sharing something of my enthusiasm for the history and traditions of Oxford.

I have also continued with some teaching work with US students, though less than in previous years - which is disappointing - and added to that some teaching for two students at Blackfriars which was intellectually rewarding.

I have also given the first of two lectures on that arms and insignia of Heirs Apparent to my friends at the Oxford University Heraldry Society - the second part is due in February.

I still serve on the Library committee of the Oxford Union, keeping my literary interests engaged and I try my best to to maintain and enhance the History section in particular whenever possible. I am, I suppose, a familiar figure in and around the Union.

I continue to be very grateful for my involvement in the life of the Oxford Oratory as a Brother and regular worshipper. It is a great joy and privilege to participate in such wonderful celebrations of ones faith. I have also spent time at SS Gregory and Augustine here in Oxford, at Blackfriars - including an Ordination there, with one candidate being a former student of mine as I reminded him when I knelt to receive his First Blessing - and, as and when I can, I continue to support the Oxford Ordinariate Mass at Holy Rood as well as a few visits to St William of York at Reading for the traditional rite there - I am always keen to support such celebrations here in Oxford or elsewhere, and served at one at Hethe near Bicester earlier on in the year.

My blog, Once I Was A Clever Boy, takes up quite a bit of time, but this year due to practical time constraints and access to computers - not being on-line at home other than through my mobile phone - I have got very behindhand. Events and ideas have sped ahead of my ability to type and find illustrations. As a result I have a lot of draft posts which only now am I able to complete and publish. I am still on July in terms of posts, but making progress in catching up. Regular readers please bear with me. Those who never bother to look at my efforts - well it makes no difference ( other than diminishing the quality of your lives...). I do enjoy putting the posts together with the background research involved. You can find the blog at onceiwasacleverboy.blogspot.com - and thereby you can follow something of my thoughts and activities. These may well be predictable, but I believe that what I say and record are worthwhile. If you have not so far looked at it, please do, and look back over what I have previously published.

In the summer I was mostly in Oxford with occasional jaunts out or, less than usual, to London but I did join a wonderful Pilgrimage from the Oratory to Westminster Abbey with Mass at the Shrine of St Edward, and there was the Latin Mass Society Pilgrimage to Holywell, including a visit to the priory at Pantasaph, which I last visited in 1958.

In late August I was away on a retreat and holiday with the Brothers of the Oratory at Belmont Abbey on the edge of Hereford. This was an opportunity to participate for a few days in the life of a Benedictine house and also to explore some of the wonderful medieval churches of Herefordshire and Monmouthshire as well as appreciating the spectacular countryside. We were blessed with good weather and that combined with congenial company meant that the whole visit was a wonderful spiritual and mental tonic.

Just afterwards I had another very good day out at Ditchley Park here in Oxfordshire - a fine house built in the 1720s and only open to pre-booked parties - I went with the Heraldry Society.

Last year I wrote that whatever 2016 brought would no doubt be unexpected, and might well be unsettling. Well, I was right there was I not? What a year we have seen. I lay all night in bed listening with increasing amazement and bemusement to the European referendum result, watched our politicians provide us with the most amazing political soap opera of my lifetime in finding a new Prime Minister, and then in November sat up all night at a friend's house watching the US elections.

I will repeat what I wrote a year ago that the world often, too often, seems a violent, troubled and confusing place ( but perhaps it always was and always will be ) and my streak of Yorkshire pessimism gets full rein on many occasions. So many onetime certainties seem unsure, and there seems so little effective direction from many who should provide it, but who appear to bow to every passing breath of opinion and to have no fixed direction. On the other hand 2016 has certainly not been their year. I find comfort in the Catholic faith, in my innate sense of tradition and its value, and in taking the longer view as a historian, and I do wish more people had those insights as a guide.

This year I shall be spending Christmas and New Year with various friends in Oxford.

In myself I think I am keeping reasonably well, and my arthritic joints have got a bit more supple - which as someone who this year reached the pensionable age of 65 is somewhat reassuring!

I continue, as I write every year, to count it a great gift and privilege, indeed blessing, to have so wide and varied a number of so many friends, both old and new. This year has seen new friends added to that group, and that is such a positive sign as one gets older. All these friendships are something in which I rejoice and for which I am ever grateful. It has been a great pleasure to see so many of you through the year, and to be able to spend time with you. It is my most earnest prayer and wish that this will continue and flourish in the future.

Do let me have your news if we have not been in contact recently, and please pass on news of me to other friends.

With every good wish for a blessed, peaceful and happy Christmas and New Year,


And now for a short history lesson...

The picture at the top of this greeting is the Votive Panel of Archbishop Jan Očko of Vlašim, Archbishop of Prague. The panel was originally placed in the chapel of Roudnice Castle, which belonged to the bishops and archbishops of Prague who used it as their residence. In 1371 the chapel was consecrated in honour of the Virgin Mary and patron saints of Bohemia, and it was probably then that the picture was finished. It is now in the National Gallery in Prague.

As this past year has seen celebrations of the seventh centenary of the birth of the Emperor Charles IV this seemed a suitable year on which to choose this once again as a Christmas image. It is also an image which links with a number of my historical interests.

In the middle of the upper part the Virgin is enthroned with the infant Jesus. They are adored by the kneeling figures of the Emperor Charles IV and his son King Wenceslaus IV. St. Sigismund of Burgundy stands behind Charles IV, while St. Wenceslaus of Bohemia stands behind the young king as his patron. In the lower part of the panel stand other Bohemian patron saints (from the left): St. Procopius, St. Adalbert,( founder of the see of Prague) St. Vitus ( patron of Prague cathedral) and St. Ludmila (grandmother of St Wenceslaus). In the middle there is kneeling Archbishop Jan Očko of Vlašim (1292-1380), of whom there is a short biography here who is kneeling before St. Adalbert, his first predecessor as bishop of Prague.

Monday 19 December 2016

A message from St Januarius?

A friend sent the following message earlier this afternoon:

" If you are eagerly awaiting the end of 2016, think on: the blood of San Gennaro didn't liquify. This has, historically, heralded wars, volcanic eruptions, plagues, and earthquakes."

There is a background article on the saint by his other name at Saint Januarius.

The Catholic Herald has an article about last Friday's events at Blood of St Januarius fails to liquefy and the Daily Express Miracle of St Januarius' blood liquifying fails to happen, whilst Novusordowatch has  Not This Time: Italians Alarmed as St. Januarius' Blood Fails to Liquefy ...

So if San Gennaro in Naples is trying to tell us something perhaps you ought to pay attention - and you thought 2016 was bad...

Monday 12 December 2016

The Bourbons of Naples

Today I finished reading Harold Acton's splendid two volumes The Bourbons of Naples and The Last Bourbons of Naples, which gives ahistory of the dynasty who ruled the Kingdom of Naples and Sicily, later the United Kingdom of The Two Sicilies, from 1734 until its annexation by the Piedmontese in 1860-61.

As books they are immensely readable, full of characters and anecdotes, pervaded by a wide and humane sympathy for all things southern Italian, and, in contrast to previous studies in English ( or largely in Italian ), essentially favourable to the Bourbons. Acton was not blind to their failings, but neither is he blind to the failings of the opponants of the dynasty, and is fair minded in his account.

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King Ferdinand I 

As King Ferdinand IV and III of Naples and Sicily he ruled from 1759, and became the first King of the Two Sicilies in 1816 and died in 1825

Image: Mad Monarchist

As a family they were a strange mixture of the prosaic, if not bucolic, amongst the men and in the case of their wives heroic if flawed like Queen Maria Carolina ( sister of Queen Marie Antoinette, and always ready to remind anyone that she was the daughter of the Empress Maria Theresa)  and Queen Maria Sophia ( sister of the Empress Elisabeth and who lived on until 1925), or a beatus like Queen Maria Christina ( ironically Savoyard by family).

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 King Ferdinand II 

King from 1830-1859 he was much maligned by opponants of his rule

Image: Mad Monarchist

As rulers the Bourbon Kings could usually rely upon the loyalty of the masses, however inchoate, but the problem lay with the aristocracy and what might be expected to be the political class of the realm. Here there seems to have been a feckless, self-serving, dilettante culture more often than not throughout the period amongst those to whom both the monarch and the masses might have expected to provide political leadership and ability, let alone statesmanship.  Though not entirely lacking in gifted administrators the kingdom appears often to be serendipitous in its ways, and the cause of concern to friends, such as Lord Nelson and Prince Metternich, and of temptation to rivals and dissidents. You sense something familiar of modern Italian political culture as you turn the pages of the volumes.

As a political unit, despite mid-Victorian English enthusiasm for the Risorgimento, it is possible to see that Bourbon naples and Sicily enjoyed a civilised, if sometimes eccentric, lifestyle and was in many ways much more advanced than its later detractors would have one believe; it was, for example, the first Italian state to have a railway.

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King Francis II
King from 1859 he went into exile in 1861 and died in 1894

Image: Mad Monarchist 

These are two very enjoyable books, and a source of both information and insight and also of entertainment and diversion - rather like Il Regno itself.

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 Arms of the Kingdom of The Two Sicilies


Gaudete Sunday in Reading

Yesterday I travelled over to Reading for the Mass of Gaudete Sunday at the church of St William of York offered by a priest of FSSP who run the traditional rlte parish based in the church.  I went with a friend who regularly makes the journey to attend EF Masses there.

The train and bus got us there in good time to witness the transformation of the altar from the novus ordo to the traditional arrangement with the very handsome cross and big six which appear on these occasions.

The Mass itself, celebrated in a beautiful rose coloured set of vestments of traditional cut and modern French manufacture, was accompanied by good singing from the voluntary choir and very well attended. More so than on previous visits to St William's was I struck by the wide age range of worshippers.

Afterwards we went, as is our wont on these occasions, with another friend to his home for a fine lunch in very civilised surroundings before returning to Oxford for Vespers at the Oratory.

Saturday 10 December 2016

Face to face with King Robert I

By chance the other day I found this article about the latest work in facial reconstruction on the skull of King Robert I of Scots:


A reconstruction of the face of Robert The Bruce

The King's scull and the reconstruction

Image: University of Glasgow/Daily Telegraph

The information site Royal Central has the following post about the research:

A new reconstruction of Robert the Bruce’s face shows that the medieval King of Scots suffered from leprosy.
The reconstruction, a joint project between the University of Glasgow and Liverpool John Moores University, determined that due to the disfigured jaw and nose, it was extremely likely that the legendary warrior-king suffered from the ailment.
Professor Caroline Wilkinson, the director of the Face Lab at Liverpool John Moores University, told The Daily Telegraph that two versions of Robert the Bruce’s face were constructed – one without leprosy and one with mild leprosy.
“We could accurately establish the muscle formation from the positions of the skull bones to determine the shape and structure of the face,” Wilkinson said.
Regarding whether the King suffered from leprosy, she said, “He may have had leprosy, but if he did it is likely that it did not manifest strongly on his face.”
Professor Wilkinson also reconstructed the face of Richard III after his remains were found under a car park in Leicester.
No visual depictions exist of Robert the Bruce, and no written accounts include a description of his appearance. Professor Wilkinson says the team relied on “statistical evaluation to determine that Robert the Bruce most likely had brown hair and light brown eyes.”
Robert the Bruce reigned from 25 March 1309 to 7 June 1329 and led Scotland in the First Scottish War of Independence. He is best known as a warrior-king, having launched campaigns in Scotland, England, and Ireland. He defeated Edward II’s armies in 1314.
The cause of Robert the Bruce’s death is uncertain, but the rumour has spread in the ensuing centuries that he suffered from leprosy. Records from his reign show that he suffered from a mystery illness several times, but it is never named.
Historians and experts at the Robert the Bruce Heritage Centre say it would have been impossible for him to attend to his regular duties if he’d suffered from leprosy. Today, leprosy – or Hansen’s Disease – is a rare and treatable infection that can be cured with a multidrug therapy treatment.
Robert the Bruce’s tomb was discovered on 17 February 1818, when workmen broke through the ground on the site of Dunfermline Abbey in Scotland and uncovered a vault. Inside, a decaying oak coffin was found, and once opened, researchers found the body encased in lead. It was later removed from the lead and inspected, and researchers discovered that the skeleton measured 5 feet 11 inches, and the sternum had been sawn to allow the heart to be removed and buried separately – a common practice at the time.
A plaster cast of the King’s skull was taken to the Royal College of Surgeon’s Hunterian Museum, and several reconstructions have taken place since then.
His coffin was reinterred on 5 November 1819, placed into a new lead coffin to preserve the remains.
Dr Martin MacGregor led the project. Dr MacGregor, a senior lecturer at the University of Glasgow, says he was inspired by the reconstruction of Richard III’s face and wanted to apply the methods to Robert the Bruce.
“The case of Richard III revealed how far the technology had advanced and I saw an opportunity to apply the technology to the Hunterian skull held here at Glasgow.”

Yesterday's Daily Telegraph had an illustrated article about the project which supplies additional historical and scientific information and which can be seen at  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/2016/12/08/face-robert-bruce-reconstructed-showing-scottish-king-had-leprosy/

Boy Bishops

The other day Gregory DiPippo at New Liturgical Movement  had a post for St Nicholas' Day about the venerable custiopm of electing and installing a Boy Bishop on that day. This can be seen at Video of the Installation of a Boy-Bishop. He has followed this up with a second relevant post  A Bit More About Boy-Bishops.

The Boy Bishop is an interesting custom and it is good to see its survival or revival.

Monday 5 December 2016

Latest discoveries at Glastonbury

The BBC News website had a report about the latest archaeological discoveries at Beckery, near Glastonbury, and the evidence for an early monastic community there. The account can be read at Beckery Chapel near Glastonbury 'earliest known UK monastic life'

There are links from it to two older posts - the first, also about Beckery can be seen at 'King Arthur' chapel near Glastonbury uncovered

The second, from last year, about the latest archaeological interpretations of the early history of the abbey complex can be viewed at New Research 'rewites' Glastonbury Abbey history

Glastonbury, its history and its legends have fascinated me since long before I was able to visit the town and stay there on retreat, and modern archaeology continues to both illuminate our understanding and to pose fascinating hypotheses and possibilities.

Thursday 1 December 2016

St Eloy

Today is the feast of the Frankish St Eligius or Eloy.

Wikipedia has a detailed account at Saint Eligius - but do look at note 1 about the identification of the subject matter of the first painting illustrated.

A few years ago on the Medieval Religion discussion group Ellie Pridgeon, Jane Wickendon and Genevra Kornbluth all contributed to the academic conversation about this once popular saint.

Dr Pridgeon's note - somewhat altered - was as follows:

St Eligius (Eloi, Loy, Loye) (c. 580-660) was born at Chaptelet, Haute-Vienne, France. As a boy he was apprenticed to a goldsmith and later became Master of the Mint to the Frankish kings, Clothar II (584-629) and Dagobert I (629 -39) (Farmer 1982, 130).

Work attributed to him and a selection of later images depicting his story can be seen on this French language website:

According to the Vita, a hagiographical life of the saint written shortly after his death by his friend and contemporary St Ouen, Archbishop of Rouen, Eligius was given just enough gold by Clothar to make a sella regis, or King’s throne (sometimes misinterpreted as saddles) but with amazing skill and ingenuity, Eloi produced two. In the late Middle Ages this feat saw him adopted as the patron saint of goldsmiths (Forsyth 1946, 143-4). The story is depicted in an initial in the Carmelite Missal of c. 1393, a manuscript associated with the London Whitefriars. It shows the bishop presenting a golden saddle to the King (British Library Add. Mss. 29704-05, fol. 164r).

There is a medieval carving of St Eloi as blacksmith in SS Peter and Paul, Wincanton, relocated into the Victorian porch.

English medieval wall painting depictions of St Eligius include: Slapton (Northants), Wensley (Yorks), Broughton (Bucks), Shorthampton (Oxon).

There is/was also a lost wall painting at Highworth (Wiltshire). A tracing exists in the collection of the Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Society in Devizes:


The Highworth painting and the cult of St Eligius is examined in: E. Pridgeon and R. Rosewell, ‘The Miracle of the Horseshoe: A Fifteenth Century Wall Painting at Highworth Church, Wiltshire’, Wiltshire Studies, Vol. 105, 2012.

My interest in devotion to him comes in part from the fact that the medieval chapel at Wentbridge, near my home town of Pontefract was dedicated to him. This was a very appropriate choice for a community which had developed where four townships and three parishes met at the bridge over the little river Went. This was where it cut through the magnesian limestone esscarpment and which made its living by providing hospitality and services to travellers along what eventually became the Great North Road. It also appears from the work of Sir James Holt to be the setting for the earliest recorded and authentic medieval Robin Hood stories - for more on this look at Holt's excellent book Robin Hood.

As someone who used to collect coins I also recall that the first man to strike coins in England by amechanised system rather than by hand was the Frenchman Eloy Mestrel early in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. The scheme was abandoned and the Frenchman ended up being hanged for counterfeiting at Norwich in 1572. His first name would suggest that he came from a family linked to minting money.