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.

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...

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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.

Saturday 29 October 2016

LMS Dominican Rite Pilgrimage in Oxford

Today was the Latin Mass Society's Oxford Pilgrimage in honour of the four martyrs of 1589 - the two priests Bl. George Nichols and Bl. Richard Yaxley, and the two laymen Bl. Thomas Belson and Bl. Humphrey Pritchard.

The well attended Mass was celebrated at Blackfriars according to the traditional Dominican Rite by Fr Oliver Keenan OP and the sermon was given by Fr Richard Conrad OP who also served as Deacon.

It was a great pleasure to meet up with my old friend, and indeed my sponsor when I was received as a Catholic in 2005, Br.Andrew from the Birmingham Oratory and some friends of his from the congregation there and to have lunch with them afterwards. I was then able to help Andrew show them around Oxford, concentrating especially on the life here of Bl. John Henry Newman. Being an Oriel man I was fortunately able to show them more of the college than they might otherwise have seen and to talk about Newman where he once lived.

Br. Andrew once paid me the compliment - the great compliment - in  saying he thought I was like Newman in my pursuit of truth, indeed Truth, and which I found a very moving observation.

It was also a pleasure to see Fr Hunwicke and talk to him briefly after the Mass. Although we live in the same city our paths cross far too infrequently.

Tuesday 25 October 2016

The King of Romania at 95

Today is the 95th birthday of the King of Romania

I have adapted this post from one on Sunday on the Royal central website:

Image result for king of romania michael

The future King with his grandmother Queen Marie - who not infrequenty donned Romanian peasant dress 

King Michael will celebrate his 95th birthday in Switzerland with his family.

Although the celebrations in Switzerland will be a small affair, for eight days, events will be taking place across Romania to mark the former monarch’s longevity and to celebrate his life.

The celebrations began last Thursday when a performance of a play written by King Michael and Queen Anne was aired on the radio.

 Image result for king of romania michael

The King of Romania soon after his second accession to the throne

Image: Pinterest

A few days later on Monday, a photo exhibition will take place at Pelişor Castle entitled ‘King Michael, a happy childhood’. This exhibition will include many previously unseen images from the King’s childhood coming from three different collections: the family of photographer Joseph Bermam, the archive of the Royal House and the Romanian Academy Library.

Following on from the photo exhibition, there will be an awards ceremony held at Peles Castle. Acting on behalf on the King, who is too ill to attend, Crown Princess Margareta will present awards and decoration including the Hall of Honour of Peles Castle. After the ceremony, a reception will be held in the Salon Maur.

 Peles Castle 
Image: Wikipedia

The next day, October 25, will mark King Michael’s 95th birthday. He will celebrate the occasion privately in Switzerland with Princess Elena and Princess Sofia.

Meanwhile in Romania, a gala concert is scheduled at the Romanian Athenaeum. Princess Margareta and Prince Radu will be in attendance at the concert where all profits will go to charity.

At the beginning of the concert, Princess Margareta will make a speech on the occasion her father’s birthday.

There are many other smaller scale events happening across the country too showing that King Michael is still widely respected despite the fact he was forced to abdicate in 1947 by the government controlled by the Communist Party of Romania.

Image result for king of romania michael

The King on his 90th birthday when he addressed the Romanian parliament 
Image Daily Mail

It has, however, been a difficult year for the King and may be seen as one not worth celebrating. Earlier this year he was diagnosed with cancer and is currently undergoing a complex and demanding treatment for chronic leukemia and epidermoid in Switzerland.

To add to his ill health, the King’s wife of 68 years, Queen Anne, died in August at the age of 92. King Michael was unable to travel back to Romania for The Queen’s funeral due to his fragility.


The Royal Standard of the King of Romania
 Image: Wikipedia


Wednesday 19 October 2016

St Frideswide

Today is the feast of St Fridewide, patron and probably foundress of Oxford.

The following account of her, slightly adapted, and the two images are copied from Pilgrim-WordPress.com:

Image result for St Frideswide

St. Frideswide, Oct. 19; translation, Feb. 12 (FREDESWEND, FREDESWYTHA, FRITHESWITHA, FRITHESWOED, etc.; in French, FREVISE, FREWISSE). c. 650-735. Patron of Oxford and of Bomy, in Artois. Represented with the pastoral staff of an abbess, a fountain springing up near her, an ox at her feet. 

Born at Oxford, which was then in the kingdom of Mercia. Her pious parents, Didan and Safrida, committed her to the care of a holy woman named Algiva. After her mother’s death, she returned to live with her father. He built a church at the gates of Oxford, and there she took the veil with twelve young women of her acquaintance. Didan then built them a convent near the church, and they lived there, not bound by the rules of the cloister, but by holy charity and love of seclusion. Algar, prince of Mercia, sent to ask Frideswide to marry him, as she was beautiful and very rich. She excused herself on the plea of her vow of celibacy. He persisted, and at last made a plan to carry her off. She fled to the river, and finding a boat, floated to Benton, about ten miles from Oxford. She took up her abode in a deserted hut used to shelter the swine that fed on the acorns in the forest. Here a fountain sprang up at her prayer. She remained concealed for about three years, while Algar tried to find her, at one time threatening to burn the city of Oxford unless she were given up to him. At last he discovered her hiding-place, and vowed to sacrifice her not only to his own brutality, but to that of his men. Just as she was about to fall into his hands, and was so worn out with fatigue and starvation that her last strength was forsaking her, she bethought her of the great saints who in the days of the early Church had saved their honour at the price of life; she invoked SS. Catherine and Cecilia. Immediately her persecutor was struck blind, and she was unmolested. She restored sight to her enemy on his repentance. She returned to Oxford, and there collected round her it number of Saxon maidens, over whom she presided in great holiness until her death in 735.
Many miracles are told of her in her life, and after her death. One of the former is that a leper conjured her in the name of Christ to kiss him, and she, overcoming her fear of infection and natural disgust at his loathsome condition, made the sign of the cross and kissed him. Immediately the scales fell from him, and his flesh came again like that of a child. Multitudes of pilgrims resorted to her tomb, the chapel on the site of the pigs hut, and the fountain which had sprung up at her prayer, and which soon became famous for miraculous cures. In 1180 her body was solemnly taken up from the obscure part of the church where it was buried, and translated to the chief place in the church, in presence of a great concourse of nobles, prelates, and people. For centuries no king of England would enter Oxford for fear of being struck blind. Henry III. was the first to disregard the tradition, and there were not wanting persons who attributed all his misfortunes to his presumption. Many kings, however, gave munificent offerings to the churches and schools of Oxford. The first school known with certainty to have existed in the sanctuary of St. Frideswide has become one of the most famous centres of literary and intellectual life in the world. Her monastery is now Christ Church college, and her church, rebuilt in the 12th century, is the cathedral. One version of her story says that she lived, died, and was buried at Thornbury, now Binsey, and that her body was translated thence to Oxford in the 12th century.
At Bomy, near Therouanne, in Artois, there is a tradition that she fled thither from the pursuit of Algar, and a fountain, said to have sprung up at her desire, is resorted to for cures and other answers to prayer. Notwithstanding these discrepancies in the accounts, and the fact that Bede, who was living during her reputed period, does not mention her, critics agree that her story is true in the main.

Image from frideswide.org – not attributed.

After Mass at the Oxford Oratory this evening, at which the fine music for the propers was provided by the female Frideswide Voices, we concluded with Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament and sang, as is our custom, a hymn in her honour. I have reproduced the text of this truly wondrous composition, which came to us from Christ Church, in my post Hymn to St Frideswide from this day in 2011.

The icon reproduced at the head of this post can be purchased online if you search for it.

Monday 17 October 2016

Oxford Oratory Forty Hours

This past weekend has been the annual observance of the Forty Hours Devotion at the Oxford Oratory. Here are the images that have been published by the Oratory on its website:




The Solemn Mass of the Sacred Heart on Sunday morning:


Fr Dominic preaches:


The elevation of the chalice:


The Blessed Sacrament is exposed again at the end of Mass:



Solemn Vespers of the Blessed Sacrament:



The procession around our church:






Benediction concludes the Forty Hours:


Images:Photographs by Hannah Chegwyn/The Oxford Oratory

Sunday 16 October 2016

Well said, Sire!

A friend sent me this cartoon - 'nough said!