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.

Tuesday 28 February 2017

A poetic reflection for Shrovetide and Lent

Today I found myself quoting T. S. Eliot's "Little Gidding" from the " Four Quartets"

Looking it up online it seemed to me to be very apposite at the beginning of Lent, so here for others to reflect upon is the complete text:

Midwinter spring is its own season
Sempiternal though sodden towards sundown,
Suspended in time, between pole and tropic.
When the short day is brightest, with frost and fire,
The brief sun flames the ice, on pond and ditches,
In windless cold that is the heart's heat,
Reflecting in a watery mirror
A glare that is blindness in the early afternoon.
And glow more intense than blaze of branch, or brazier,
Stirs the dumb spirit: no wind, but pentecostal fire
In the dark time of the year. Between melting and freezing
The soul's sap quivers. There is no earth smell
Or smell of living thing. This is the spring time
But not in time's covenant. Now the hedgerow
Is blanched for an hour with transitory blossom
Of snow, a bloom more sudden
Than that of summer, neither budding nor fading,
Not in the scheme of generation.
Where is the summer, the unimaginable Zero summer?
If you came this way,
Taking the route you would be likely to take
From the place you would be likely to come from,
If you came this way in may time, you would find the hedges
White again, in May, with voluptuary sweetness.
It would be the same at the end of the journey,
If you came at night like a broken king,
If you came by day not knowing what you came for,
It would be the same, when you leave the rough road
And turn behind the pig-sty to the dull facade
And the tombstone. And what you thought you came for
Is only a shell, a husk of meaning
From which the purpose breaks only when it is fulfilled
If at all. Either you had no purpose
Or the purpose is beyond the end you figured
And is altered in fulfilment. There are other places
Which also are the world's end, some at the sea jaws,
Or over a dark lake, in a desert or a city--
But this is the nearest, in place and time,
Now and in England.

If you came this way,
Taking any route, starting from anywhere,
At any time or at any season,
It would always be the same: you would have to put off
Sense and notion. You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid. And prayer is more
Than an order of words, the conscious occupation
Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying.
And what the dead had no speech for, when living,
They can tell you, being dead: the communication
Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living.
Here, the intersection of the timeless moment
Is England and nowhere. Never and always.


Ash on an old man's sleeve
Is all the ash the burnt roses leave.
Dust in the air suspended
Marks the place where a story ended.
Dust inbreathed was a house-
The walls, the wainscot and the mouse,
The death of hope and despair,
This is the death of air.

There are flood and drouth
Over the eyes and in the mouth,
Dead water and dead sand
Contending for the upper hand.
The parched eviscerate soil
Gapes at the vanity of toil,
Laughs without mirth.
This is the death of earth.

Water and fire succeed
The town, the pasture and the weed.
Water and fire deride
The sacrifice that we denied.
Water and fire shall rot
The marred foundations we forgot,
Of sanctuary and choir.
This is the death of water and fire.

In the uncertain hour before the morning
Near the ending of interminable night
At the recurrent end of the unending
After the dark dove with the flickering tongue
Had passed below the horizon of his homing
While the dead leaves still rattled on like tin
Over the asphalt where no other sound was
Between three districts whence the smoke arose
I met one walking, loitering and hurried
As if blown towards me like the metal leaves
Before the urban dawn wind unresisting.
And as I fixed upon the down-turned face
That pointed scrutiny with which we challenge
The first-met stranger in the waning dusk
I caught the sudden look of some dead master
Whom I had known, forgotten, half recalled
Both one and many; in the brown baked features
The eyes of a familiar compound ghost
Both intimate and unidentifiable.
So I assumed a double part, and cried
And heard another's voice cry: "What! are you here?"
Although we were not. I was still the same,
Knowing myself yet being someone other--
And he a face still forming; yet the words sufficed
To compel the recognition they preceded.
And so, compliant to the common wind,
Too strange to each other for misunderstanding,
In concord at this intersection time
Of meeting nowhere, no before and after,
We trod the pavement in a dead patrol.
I said: "The wonder that I feel is easy,
Yet ease is cause of wonder. Therefore speak:
I may not comprehend, may not remember."
And he: "I am not eager to rehearse
My thoughts and theory which you have forgotten.
These things have served their purpose: let them be.
So with your own, and pray they be forgiven
By others, as I pray you to forgive
Both bad and good. Last season's fruit is eaten
And the fullfed beast shall kick the empty pail.
For last year's words belong to last year's language
And next year's words await another voice.
But, as the passage now presents no hindrance
To the spirit unappeased and peregrine
Between two worlds become much like each other,
So I find words I never thought to speak
In streets I never thought I should revisit
When I left my body on a distant shore.
Since our concern was speech, and speech impelled us
To purify the dialect of the tribe
And urge the mind to aftersight and foresight,
Let me disclose the gifts reserved for age
To set a crown upon your lifetime's effort.
First, the cold fricton of expiring sense
Without enchantment, offering no promise
But bitter tastelessness of shadow fruit
As body and sould begin to fall asunder.
Second, the conscious impotence of rage
At human folly, and the laceration
Of laughter at what ceases to amuse.
And last, the rending pain of re-enactment
Of all that you have done, and been; the shame
Of things ill done and done to others' harm
Which once you took for exercise of virtue.
Then fools' approval stings, and honour stains.
From wrong to wrong the exasperated spirit
Proceeds, unless restored by that refining fire
Where you must move in measure, like a dancer."
The day was breaking. In the disfigured street
He left me, with a kind of valediction,
And faded on the blowing of the horn.


There are three conditions which often look alike
Yet differ completely, flourish in the same hedgerow:
Attachment to self and to things and to persons, detachment
From self and from things and from persons; and, growing between them, indifference
Which resembles the others as death resembles life,
Being between two lives - unflowering, between
The live and the dead nettle. This is the use of memory:
For liberation - not less of love but expanding
Of love beyond desire, and so liberation
From the future as well as the past. Thus, love of a country
Begins as an attachment to our own field of action
And comes to find that action of little importance
Though never indifferent. History may be servitude,
History may be freedom. See, now they vanish,
The faces and places, with the self which, as it could, loved them,
To become renewed, transfigured, in another pattern.
Sin is Behovely, but
All shall be well, and
All manner of thing shall be well.
If I think, again, of this place,
And of people, not wholly commendable,
Of not immediate kin or kindness,
But of some peculiar genius,
All touched by a common genius,
United in the strife which divided them;
If I think of a king at nightfall,
Of three men, and more, on the scaffold
And a few who died forgotten
In other places, here and abroad,
And of one who died blind and quiet,
Why should we celebrate
These dead men more than the dying?
It is not to ring the bell backward
Nor is it an incantation
To summon the spectre of a Rose.
We cannot revive old factions
We cannot restore old policies
Or follow an antique drum.
These men, and those who opposed them
And those whom they opposed
Accept the constitution of silence
And are folded in a single party.
Whatever we inherit from the fortunate
We have taken from the defeated
What they had to leave us - a symbol:
A symbol perfected in death.
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
By the purification of the motive
In the ground of our beseeching.


The dove descending breaks the air
With flame of incandescent terror
Of which the tongues declare
The one dischage from sin and error.
The only hope, or else despair
Lies in the choice of pyre of pyre-
To be redeemed from fire by fire.

Who then devised the torment? Love.
Love is the unfamiliar Name
Behind the hands that wove
The intolerable shirt of flame
Which human power cannot remove.
We only live, only suspire
Consumed by either fire or fire.


What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make and end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from. And every phrase
And sentence that is right (where every word is at home,
Taking its place to support the others,
The word neither diffident nor ostentatious,
An easy commerce of the old and the new,
The common word exact without vulgarity,
The formal word precise but not pedantic,
The complete consort dancing together)
Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning,
Every poem an epitaph. And any action
Is a step to the block, to the fire, down the sea's throat
Or to an illegible stone: and that is where we start.
We die with the dying:
See, they depart, and we go with them.
We are born with the dead:
See, they return, and bring us with them.
The moment of the rose and the moment of the yew-tree
Are of equal duration. A people without history
Is not redeemed from time, for history is a pattern
Of timeless moments. So, while the light fails
On a winter's afternoon, in a secluded chapel
History is now and England.

With the drawing of this Love and the voice of this Calling

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree

Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always--
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flames are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.

A Lenten thought

Last night I had a slightly curious thought - I rather doubt if I would call it a vision, and I don't think it was a dream - that was perhaps in some ways seasonal....

I was somehow looking from a slight distance across a churchyard at my own grave in which my body was newly interred and a voice was pointing out to me the slightly shadowy figures of various historical figures in whom I have a research interest and who were standing around the grave to welcome me into their company.

It was slightly strange, but oddly comforting. Intriguing.

Friday 24 February 2017

More on Heirs Apparent

Yesterday evening I gave the second of my talks to the Oxford University Heraldry Society on the arms and appurtenances of Heirs Apparent.

Last November I spoke about the Prince of Wales and his English and Scottish titles and emblems. This time the lecture was a clockwise tour of Europe from France through the Low Countries, Scandinavia, Russia, Germany and Austria-Hungary, the Balkans, Italy, Portugal ( with a quick look at Brazil ) and ending up in Spain.

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Arms of the Dauphin

Image: Wikipedia

Standard of the Tsesarevich

Image: Wikipedia

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Arms of the German Crown Prince

Image: Wikipedia

In the last part of the lecture I spoke about the titles and arms of the Prince - now Princess - of Asturias. This originated in Castile with a suggestion of John of Gaunt in 1388, and is based upon the English and french precedents of the Prince of Wales and the Dauphin. Since 1975 and in recognition of the other constituent realms of Spain other titles for the heir to the lands of the Crown of Aragon, including the Kingdom of Majorca, and that for the Kingdom of Navarre were revived with appropriate arms for the present King and these have now been inherited by HRH Princess Leonor.
The arms and titles are outlined at the online articles Prince of Asturias and Coat of arms of the Prince of Asturias

As the weather was very blustery the attendance was small and I have been asked to repeat the lecture in the autumn. This will be in Christ Church on October 19th, 5pm for 5.30pm.

Thursday 23 February 2017

Humphrey Duke of Gloucester

Today is the 570th anniversary of the death at Bury St Edmunds of Humphrey Duke of Gloucester (1390–1447), prince, soldier, and literary patron.

The excellent concise life of him by G.L.Harriss in the Oxford DNB can be accessed here,
and there is another illustrated account here.  The full length biography Humphrey Duke of Gloucester by K.H.Vickers from 1907, which is still useful, can be viewed on Project Gutenberg here.

Humphrey Duke of Gloucester
A sixteenth century copy by J.Le Boucq in a manuscript at Arras


The youngest son of King Henry IV he received his Christian name as a tribute to the family of his mother Mary de Bohun.

I have posted previously about the Duke and the events of 1425 in particular in Stand off on London Bridge.

On Matt's History Blog

One of the recipients of Humphrey's patronage was the abbey at St Albans, and it was there that he had chosen to be buried:

Duke Humphrey sponsored by St Alban before the Blessed Sacrament and Christ as the Man of Sorrows circa 1430-40



Duke Humphrey and his second wife Eleanor Cobham
From the Benefactor's Book of St Albans 1431

Image: Wikipedia  

Duchess Eleanor was disgraced and imprisoned after a witchcraft scandal in 1441. Her life and downfall are set out, again with skill and economy, by G.L. Harriss in the ODNB at Eleanor (c.1400–1452). Her alleged principal necromancer Roger Bolingbroke was an Oxford man, principal of St Andrew's Hall. He may well fit in with the contemorary Oxford tradition of astrology - and the risk of serious charges ensuing if politics, let alone the succession to the Crown, was addressed.  There is an account of him and the prosecution at Roger Bolingbroke and a more detailed one with extracts from a contemporary chronicle at  ExecutedToday.com » 1441: Roger Bolingbroke, “hanged, hedyd, and quartered" Eleanor herself, divorced from the Duke, and sentenced to perpetual imprisonment died at Beaumaris castle in Anglesey in 1452.

Humphrey lived in the style appropriate to the son, brother and uncle of Kings, and some hint of that can be seen not only in manuscripts he owned but also in the rare survival of a piece of plate from his collection:

A cup bearing the arms of Duke Humphrey and his Duchess Eleanor,
now in the possession of Christ's College Cambridge

Image: Project Gutenberg


Duke Humphrey from the Talbot Shrewsbury Book 1443-45
BL Royal MS E VI f.2v.

Image: Wikimedia 

It was Humphrey who built the first royal residence at Greenwich in the years after 1428 and which was to be taken over by his nephew King Henry VI and his Queen Margaret. renamed the Palace of Placentia and rebuilt under King Henry VII it was to remain an important royal residence until the Civil War, and then, after the Restoration and possible plans for a new royal palace there, to become eventually the great Naval complex we see today. 

Related image

Greenwich Palace

Image: National Maritime Museum


St Saviour's Hospital Bury St Edmunds
The hospital built in 1184-5. This is the lower half of the west range, which was 100ft long


St Saviour's Bury St Edmund's where Humphrey died was the largest of the six hospitals in Bury
and there is the VCH Suffolk account of it here.  A small part of the buildings survive near Bury St Edmunds railway station.


The tomb of Humphrey Duke of Gloucester at St Albans, adjacent to the shrine of the saint


The coffin and crypt of Humphrey Duke of Gloucester at St Albans
The painted crucifix is of great interest. Whether it still survives I do not know.


Thre is an illustrated article about the Duke's tomb, and something about the circumstances of his death and burial, in the article about it as Monument of the Month in May 2010 for the Church Monuments Society here 

He has another enduring monument in Ocford - Duke Humfrey's Library, which still uses the older spelling of his name. A book collector and patron of Italian humanists Humphrey made two substantial gifts to the University of  Oxford. In 1439 he gave 129 manuscripts and in 1444 another 134. Oxford responded by adding an extra storey to the Divinity School they were building to house these and their other books and named it in the Duke's honour. The building was not completed until 1488, but it still retains his name. There is more about it, with links, at Duke Humfrey's Library.
The remainder of his library had been promised but went instead to King Henry VI's foundation in Cambridge of King's College. Humphrey's interests and importance in this reception of contemporary culture are considered in the life by Harriss in the ODNB linked to above.

Friday 17 February 2017

Alternative facts - a century on

The BBC News website has this interesting story about false news in the Great War and how it was manufactured for propaganda purposes. It can be viewed at  The corpse factory and the birth of fake news and is subtitled How did a gruesome story fool the world 100 years ago?

As we know, and as the author of Ecclesiasticus observed, there is nothing new under the Sun* and the debate about Fake News and Alternative Facts is a continuing one...

* No pun intended.

Wednesday 15 February 2017

What Newman might have said about Brexit...

As the Brexit juggernaut rumbles up into half throttle I am led to think, as someone who voted Remain - and who nevertheless has precious little love for the way the EU runs itself - and as the whole organism shows increasing signs of political and institutional failure, that staying in and seeking to reform it or waiting for it to disintegrate and then reconstructing it on more sensible lines would have been a better choice for the British people.*

Which long sentence leads me to paraphrase Bl. John Henry Newman and observe that ten thousand difficulties do not amount to a single doubt in my mind but that we should be IN Europe, not OUT.

* A German friend once observed of a piece I was writing "You write very long sentences John." Coming from someone whose native language delights in compound words I took it as quite a compliment.

Monday 13 February 2017

Medieval Eucharistic Doves

The latest edition of the online journal Medieval Histories includes the following article which may appeal to readers:

Image result for Eucharistic Dove. Sold at Sotheby's January 2017: detail. © Sotheby's

French Eucharistic Dove from Limoges c. 1215 – 35

 Sold at Sotheby's January 2016

Image© Sotheby's

The price went soaring when Sotheby’s sold a Eucharistic Dove from 13th century Limoges

When Sotheby’s estimated the price of the Eucharistic Dove from Limoges to $ 200,000 – 300,000, they got the price all wrong. It went for $ 792,500, but then such doves are extremely seldom guests at international auctions.

Many such Eucharistic Doves or Peristeria are known to have been made at Limoges in the early 13th century. These doves were widely exported and approximately fifty can still be found in collections in both private and public collections. Such doves functioned as portable tabernacles containing the consecrated host. Suspended above the altar, they sent a clear message of the dogmatic fusion between the Holy Spirit and the Incarnated Christ. They also served to keep the consecrated host safe from mice, notoriously able to crawl into any small opening.

Made of champlevé enamel and partly gilt copper, the life-size dove would add considerably to the visual sense of mystery encapsulating the priests and acolytes, celebrating mass. In the back, a tear-shaped flap gives access to a small cavity, which would hold the consecrated bread. Exactly how they were suspended is debated as 19th-century jewellers excelled in repairing the doves. One in the National Gallery of Art in Washington is standing in the centre of a walled or crenellated city, the Heavenly Jerusalem. This is also the case with the dove in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. The chains might be suspended from a crown, above the dove; small holes in the crown might make it possible to suspend a cloth from it, resembling the Biblical Tabernacle. This would veil the dove.

In 1973, the art historian Marie-Madeleine Gauthier recorded 42 known enamelled doves, which she dated according to specific designs of the plumes, as either made between 1200 and 1220 or alternatively 1215 – 1235. The later doves are more simple in the decoration than the earlier ones. Especially, the plumage of the wings might be divided by a more simple band. The present dove belongs to the last period.

Other such doves can be found in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Walters Art Museum and the Burrell Collection in Glasgow. Other fine examples may be found in the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.


Eucharistic Doves Christine Descatoire (Curator – Museum of the Middle Ages, Cluny)


McLachlan Elizabeth Parker 'Liturgical Vessels and Implements' in The Liturgy of the Medieval Church, ed. Thomas J. Heffernan, and E. Ann Matter. Consortium for the Teaching of the Middle Ages. Kalamazoo, Michigan: Western Michigan University, 2005. pp. 398-399, fig. 6.

Enamels of Limoges, 1100-1350.
Boehm, Barbara Drake, and Elisabeth Taburet-Delahaye, ed.
New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1996. no. 105, pp. 318–19.

Friday 10 February 2017

Kirk O’ Field 450 years on

450 years ago today at about 2am an explosion at the house at  Kirk O’ Field on what were then the outskirts of Edinburgh - the site is now occupied by the main quadrangle of Edinburgh University - apparently killed the 21 year old King Consort Henry, better known to history as Lord Darnley, together with his servant. Further examination showed that they had in fact been strangled, probably whilst seeking to flee the planned explosion.

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 Henry Darnley aged 17 in 1563


There is an online account of his life at Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley and the excellent biography by Elaine Finnie Greig in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Stewart, Henry, duke of Albany [Lord Darnley] (1545/6–1567)’, (2004) can  be read at here

I have extensively adapted, corrected and supplemented a post from the website Royal Central about Lord Darnley, as he is best known. It was written by Peter Anderson:

Around 2:00 am on the 10th February 1567 the area around Kirk O’ Field in Scotland was rocked by two large explosions. Following them, two people were found dead in a nearby orchard. One was Lord Darnley, and the other his valet.

Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley was born in Temple Newsham in the West Riding of Yorkshire in 1545 the son of Matthew Stewart, Earl of Lennox and his wife Margaret (nee Douglas). Brought up a Roman Catholic, he had claims to the thrones of both England and Scotland through his parents. Matthew had been third in line to the Scottish throne. However, having sided with the English at the time of the Rough Wooing - the attempt to marry King Edward VI to the infant Mary, Queen of Scots he fled to England. Margaret was the daughter of Margaret Tudor, one of the sisters of Henry VIII, who married, as widow of King James IV and mother of King James V, Archibald Douglas.

What I had not realised was how much Darnley can be accounted a Yorkshireman, not only being born at Temple Newsham but apparently brought up there or at Settrington in the East Riding until he travelled to France in 1559.

He received a very good education, and in 1559 he was sent to the French court where his cousin Mary, Queen of Scots who had married the Dauphin Francis had become Queen Consort of France following the death of King Henry II. Though Mary became Queen of Scotland, she had ruled through regents as she was only seven days old when her father died. Her husband  King Francis I and II died in 1560, and she returned to the Scottish Court.

Some five years later, in mid-February 1565, Henry was presented to Mary at Wemyss Castle. Contemporary accounts detail Mary’s pleasure at the sight of Henry, and they were married July 29th  in Mary’s private chapel in Holyrood. However, he was leaning towards Protestantism in his faith and did not accompany his wife to Mass after the wedding.


Queen Mary I and King Henry of Scots 1565

Image:Art Fund/ Hunterian Museum Glasgow

After the wedding, Mary soon saw a different side to Henry, one that was disruptive at court sometimes due to drinking. Though the Scottish Parliament had consented to the couple ruling together, Mary would not give Henry the right of Crown Matrimonial, so in the event of her death, he would continue to rule solely as King. In addition to his displeasure over this, Henry also did not like the attention paid to his wife by her private secretary, David Rizzio. Mary had become pregnant, and there was a little question of who the father may be.

Seven months into the pregnancy, Rizzio has knifed and killed in front of Mary, by confederates of Henry who then fled to England, though Henry protested his innocence. Mary gave birth to a child christened Henry James; later he would become James VI of Scotland and then James I of England. Following the birth, it appeared the couple were heading for reconciliation, despite Henry’s continued insistence of wanting the Crown Matrimonial.

Henry was murdered eight months after the birth of his son. Weeks before he had been ill with smallpox and was recuperating with his relatives. However, Mary brought him to be near her at Kirk O’ Field, a two-storey provost’s house fairly close to her residense at Holyrood.

Mary was implicated in his death, rightly or wrongly , married the Earl of Bothwell who was thought to be one of its masterminds, deposed, imprisoned, escaped and and fled to England - and so her extrordinary and tragic life took its course to the block at Fotheringhay.

The scene at Kirk O'Field - a contemporary drawing done for William Cecil, Queen Elizabeth I's Secretary of State

Image: Wikipedia 

The Daily Telegraph last August had a report on the identification of his skull and a facial reconstruction based upon it which can be read in  Face of Lord Darnley revealed - Mary Queen of Scots' 'lusty and well proportioned' husband


Henry Lord Darnley in 1560

Image: Daily Mail

Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley

The figure of King Henry from the tomb of his mother the Countess of Lennox in Westminster Abbey 

Image: Westminster-Abbey.org 



The painting is in Quuen Mary's Outer Chamber at Holyroodhouse and is part of the Royal Collection. Their website says of the painting:

This painting was commissioned by Darnley’s parents, the Earl and Countess of Lennox, who kneel beside the tomb of their son, with their grandson, the future James VI and I in front of them and Darnley’s brother, Charles Stewart, behind them.

On the tomb are two reliefs, one showing the murder of Darnley and his page as they are dragged from their beds. The other, showing their bodies lying in the garden. In the corner is an inset picture of the encounter at Carberry Hill (15 June 1567); Mary is seen surrendering to the insurgent lords, supporters of the Lennox family. In the distance Bothwell can be seen riding from the field according to the terms of the Queen’s surrender. He fled to Denmark where he was imprisoned and later died.

This picture should be read as a damning indictment of the part played by Mary, Queen of Scots, in the murder of her husband and of her association with the Earl of Bothwell and as a cry for vengeance on Darnley’s murderers. The meaning is driven home by the succession of inscriptions, some of them now illegible. The section referring to Mary’s part in Lord Darnley’s murder may have been erased by her son, James VI.

Indistinctly signed: Livinus Voghelarius...
Presented to Queen Caroline

Thursday 9 February 2017

The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Emeritus at the Oxford Oratory

As I arrived this morning to do my shift as porter in the Oxford Oratory bookshop I encountered in the forecourt one of the Fathers in cassock and white stole blessing a parishioner's cat before it went for a vetinary examination .... so just a normal day at the Oratory I thought. Well no, it was n't, and not for feline reasons.

One of my volunteer colleagues told me that the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Emeritus was coming to celebrate a Mass later in the morning. Due to some misunderstanding the celebration had been transferred at short notice to the Oratory from the chapel of Exeter College.

So later in the morning I was able to take some time off from my shift and to witness His Beatitude Fouad Twal, successor of St James the Brother of Our Lord, celebrate Mass in the church.

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 Patriarch Emeritus Fouad Twal
 Image: Zenit

His homily made the eloquent and telling point that his was very much the church of Calvary. He spoke of the problems facing Palestinian Christians and the need for dialogue. He also spoke of their schools and hospitals, which are open to all and of the need to care for refugees.

His community is distributed between Cyprus, Israel, Palestine and Jordan, and he urged his hearers to visit and speak to the Christians of the Patriarchate. They are 2%, possibly 3%, of the population in Jordan, where there is stability.

His Beatitude is in Oxford to take part in a debate on religious liberty at the Oxford Union tonight. There is an online biography of him at Fouad Twal

With the risk of some slight repetition  and as it gives more details of his homily I have copied the more detailed account of the Patriarch Emeritus's visit from the Oxford Oratory website as follows:

Today we were delighted to welcome the Latin Patriarch Emeritus of Jerusalem, Fouad Twal. His Beatitude is visiting Oxford to take part in a debate at the Oxford Union on the interplay between religious freedom and civil liberties.

As part of his visit, his Beatitude celebrated a votive Mass for persecuted Christians in our Church.


In his sermon, the Patriarch explained that the Church of Jerusalem is and always has been the Church of Calvary. As the whole Church was founded when Christ's side was pierced on Calvary, so the Church of Jerusalem came into being. Calvary is physically within the territory of the Church of Jerusalem, and the suffering experienced by Christ on Calvary has been a characteristic of that church's members to the present day.

There are currently 10,000 Christians living in Jerusalem, who are very much a minority. The Patriarchate is responsible for a diocese spanning four states: Israel, Palestine, Jordan and Cyprus. Across those areas, the Church runs schools that serve 75,000 students, and 11 hospitals in Jerusalem alone. Despite being very much a minority in Jerusalem, Christians are able to provide a strong witness of their love of neighbour, and in some areas the Church flourishes. His Beatitude gave the example of the Church in Jordan, where numbers of young Christians are so strong that he advised arriving an hour early for Mass in order to get into the church.

As a result of persecutions, many Christians are leaving the Holy Land. The Patriarch asked our continued prayers for the Church in these parts, but added that a very practical way of supporting persecuted Christians is to visit Jerusalem as pilgrims and tell others what we have seen. He ended by expressing his trust in Our Lord's promise, ‘I am with you always’ (Mt 28:20).


Images and text: Oxford Oratory

Otherwise perhaps it was an ordinary day at the Oxford Oratory...

Tuesday 7 February 2017

History’s most surprising statistics


This article was first published in the February 2014 issue of BBC History Magazine and turned up in one of my online in-boxes today. I think it is worth sharing with my readers as the statistics quoted are often surprising, striking or shocking...

Think that numbers should be left to accountants? Then think again. The humble statistic can give lovers of history valuable, fascinating and preconception-busting insights into the huge changes that have swept through the world over the centuries. With this in mind, we’ve asked eight historians to share some surprising statistics from their fields of expertise – from the Roman empire to the Second World War…

4:  The number of years' wages that a pound of wool – twice dyed in best quality Tyrian purple – would cost a Roman soldier during the first century AD

Since c1500 BC, purple – a dye produced from the gland secretions of types of shellfish – was the colour of kings, priests, magistrates and emperors, with the highest quality dye originating in Tyre, in ancient Phoenicia (now modern Lebanon).

Its cost was phenomenal. In the first century AD, a pound of wool, twice dyed in best quality Tyrian purple, cost around 1,000 denarii – more than four times the annual wage of a Roman soldier. The AD 301 Edict of Diocletian (also know as the Edict of Maximum Prices), which attempted to control runaway inflation in the empire, lists the most expensive dyed silk as costing 150,000 denarii per pound! Meanwhile the, admittedly satirical, poet Martial claimed that a praetor’s purple cloak actually cost 100 times more than a soldier’s pay.

The reasons behind the astronomical cost lie in the obtaining of the dye itself. This procedure involved a lengthy process of fishing – using wicker traps primed with bait – followed by the extraction of minute quantities of the dye by a long, laborious and smelly process from thousands of shellfish. Pliny the Elder explained the process and gave production statistics which indicate the vast number of shells required. Pliny stated that if a mollusc gland weighed a gram (in modern weights), more than 3.5m molluscs would produce just 500 pounds of dye.

Pliny the Elder was not exaggerating. In modern times, Tyrian purple has been recreated, at great expense. When the German chemist Paul Friedander tried to recreate the colour in 1909, he needed 12,000 molluscs to produce just 1.4 ounces of dye, enough to colour a handkerchief. In 2000, a gram of Tyrian purple, made from 10,000 molluscs according to the original formula, cost 2,000 euros.

Peter Jones is author of Veni, Vidi, Vici (Atlantic Books, 2013)

10 million :  The number of fleeces exported annually from England by c1300

England has often been referred to as the Australia of the Middle Ages, a reference to its booming wool trade (something that Australia experienced in the 19th century). By the 14th century, English farmers had developed breeds of sheep that produced fleeces of varying weight and quality, some of which were among the best in Europe.

English wool was widely sought after by the cloth-makers of Flanders and Italy who needed fine wool to produce the rich scarlet cloths worn by kings, nobles and bishops. The 14th century had seen a huge growth in the cloth trade, particularly in Ypres, Ghent and Bruges.

To keep up with the high demand, English wool producers expanded their flocks, often going to great trouble to keep them from harm. Many kept their sheep on hill pastures during the summer, moving them to sheltered valleys in the winter. Others built sheep houses or sheepcotes where the animals could shelter in the worst weather and where food, such as peas in straw, was kept.

It is often assumed that monasteries such as Fountains Abbey in North Yorkshire, which kept thousands of sheep, met Europe’s increasing demand for wool, but in fact the combined flocks of peasants, each of whom kept 30–50 animals, outnumbered those of the great estates. To gather the fleeces of these scattered flocks needed organisation – a role that was filled by entrepreneurs, woolmen or woolmongers who bought the wool and sent it to the ports. Some of the big producers – monasteries and lay landlords – often acted as middlemen, collecting the local peasant wool and sending it with their own.

Finances, too, were complicated, and there was much use of credit during the period. An Italian or Flemish merchant would often advance money to a producer, such as a monastery, on the condition that he would buy their wool, sometimes quite cheaply. These contracts usually stretched into the future, so that a monastery might have sold its wool four years in advance.

Chris Dyer is Emeritus Professor of Regional and Local History at the University of Leicester

25 :  The percentage of English men believed to have served in arms for King or Parliament at one time or another during the Civil War

The Civil War of the 17th century saw huge numbers of men leave their towns and villages to go and fight, as England, Scotland and Ireland were torn apart by the bitter conflict between the crown and parliament. The historian Charles Carlton has calculated that, proportionately, more of the English population died in the Civil War than in the First World War, and some 25 per cent of English men are thought to have served in arms for king or parliament at one time or another.

The village of Myddle in Shropshire is the only parish in England for which we know exactly how many people went to war. This is thanks to the writings of yeoman Richard Gough, whose History of Myddle, written between 1700 and 1706, tells us that “out of these three towns – that’s to say the hamlets of Myddle parish – of Myddle, Marton and Newton, there went no less than 20 men, of which number 13 were killed in the wars...”

Gough then proceeds to name the Myddle men who went to fight, along with their occupations and whether they lived or died. “Richard Chalenor of Myddle”, he writes, “being a big lad went to Shrewsbury and there listed, and went to Edgehill Fight which was on October 23rd 1642, and was never heard of afterwards in this country...”

The experience of Myddle in the Civil War is by no means unique: it is remarkable simply for the information recorded by Gough. What’s more, his description of one John Mould – who “was shot through the leg with a musket bullet which broke the master bone of his leg” so that it remained “very crooked as long as he lived” – reminds us that, just as in modern wars, huge numbers of men returned to their daily lives physically scarred by the events of the Civil War.

In the wake of the conflict, parliament, which was now in power, provided pensions for wounded parliamentarian soldiers, but offered nothing for those who had fought for the king. In 1660, however, when the monarchy was restored in the form of Charles II, the situation was turned on its head and injured royalists received financial help. Others had to rely on the assistance of their charitable neighbours.

Gough’s writings give historians a wonderful insight into the lives of ordinary soldiers in an era that is so often recorded by the gentry alone. And, to quote Gough himself, who was a young boy during the Civil War: “If so many died out of these three [hamlets], we may reasonably guess that many thousands died in England in that war.” Gough’s History of Myddle is a fitting tribute to those men.

Professor Mark Stoyle is author of  The Black Legend of Prince Rupert’s Dog: Witchcraft and Propaganda during the English Civil War (Exeter, 2011)

6: The life expectancy in weeks for newly arrived horses in South Africa during the Anglo-Boer War

Horses played an essential role in the Anglo-Boer War (1899–1902), but paid a terrible price: of the 518,704 horses and 150,781 mules and donkeys sent to British forces in South Africa during the conflict, around two thirds (347,007 horses, 53,339 mules and donkeys) never made it home.

At the start of the war, British units travelled from a northern hemisphere winter to a South African summer, meaning that cavalry horses still had their winter coats and suffered severely from the heat. What’s more, the animals endured a long sea voyage of up to six weeks before they even reached South Africa. On arrival, horses were often given no time to recover from the voyage or acclimatise to South African conditions; instead they were rushed into action right away. What’s more, some 13,144 horses and 2,816 mules and donkeys were lost on the outward voyage.

The constant demand for fresh animals meant that additional horses had to be imported but, in contrast to the ponies of the Boers, these imported horses could not eat South African foliage. It proved almost impossible to provide enough food for the animals, especially as Boer guerrillas constantly attacked British supply lines.

After the war, cavalry officer Michael Rimington recalled that the process of bringing animals to the front was “thirty days’ voyage, followed by a five or six days’ railway journey, then semi-starvation at the end of a line of communication, then some quick work followed by two or three days’ total starvation, then more work...”. Ignorance in horse care did not help either: one newly arrived soldier asked Rimington whether he should feed his horse beef or mutton, and the animals were often ridden until they simply collapsed. Little surprise, then, that the average life expectancy of a newly arrived horse in South Africa was just six weeks.

Dr Spencer Jones is author of  Stemming the Tide: Officers and Leadership in the British Expeditionary Force 1914 (Helion and Co, 2013)

$1,000 :  The price per ounce that the US government was paying for penicillin in 1943

In 1940, a team of scientists, led by pharmacologist Howard Florey, discovered the means of extracting penicillin from the very dilute solution produced by penicillium mould. After proving that the substance could cure infections in mice, the Oxford team tested penicillin on human patients – with remarkable results.

But despite taking a small sample of the mould to America and discussing production methods with the US government laboratory and several US companies, by 1943, penicillin was being produced at scarcely more than the laboratory scale previously seen at Oxford.

After testing the substance on patients, the US government purchased penicillin from its manufacturers at a price of $200 for a million units. This was equivalent to $1,000 an ounce at a time when gold cost just $35 an ounce.

The big breakthrough for the drug came with developments in manufacturing techniques, which saw pharmaceutical companies such as Pfizer producing penicillin on a massive scale in huge vats. This meant that a single tank of 10,000 gallons could produce the equivalent amount of penicillin as would fill 60,000–70,000 two-litre bottles. The impact of this engineering triumph was intensified by the discovery in 1943 of a new strain of penicillium mould that was much more suitable for growing in the deep vats than the original British strain. This new strain was first found on a melon in Peoria, Illinois, by a technician who later came to be known as Moldy Mary.

By 1945, the American pharmaceutical company Merck was selling penicillin at $6,000 per billion units at a time when penicillin in Europe was still scarce. Three years later, the price had halved and Procaine penicillin, which was metabolised more slowly (meaning fewer injections), had been introduced.

Although two large processing plants were built in Britain after the Second World War, demand for penicillin was so great and so unexpected that its cost – and that of other new drugs including streptomycin and cortisone – forced the new NHS to charge for medicines.

Robert Bud is Keeper of Science and Medicine at the Science Museum, London

17 :  The number of women candidates who stood for election to parliament in 1918

Thousands of women during the Edwardian era became politicised during the campaign for the parliamentary vote, so at first glance it may seem surprising that only 17 women stood for election in 1918 – the first in which women could participate in the representative process, both as voters and as parliamentary candidates.

The Representation of the People Act, which received Royal Assent on 6 February 1918, was unclear as to whether women could stand as parliamentary candidates and opinions on the issue were divided. When the coalition government rushed through the Parliament (Qualification of Women) Bill, which became law on 21 November 1918, a general election for 14 December had already been announced, with 4 December given as the date when nominations for parliamentary candidates had to be received. This gave women who wished to stand for election just three weeks in which to find a seat, enter a nomination, choose an election agent, draw up election policy, secure the support of unpaid helpers, raise funds, organise meetings and publicity – and, perhaps most importantly of all, decide whether they would stand as an independent or seek the nomination of one of the main, male-oriented political parties of the day: Conservative, Liberal or Labour.

Of the 17 women who stood as parliamentary candidates contesting 706 seats, only nine were adopted by the three main political parties. Christabel Pankhurst was the most well-known, but she stood for the Women’s Party, an organisation that she and her mother had founded in 1917. Christabel was the only woman candidate to receive the support of the coalition government, but lost out to her Labour rival by just 775 votes.

Only one woman was elected to parliament in 1918 – Constance Markievicz. But, as a member of Sinn Fein, she refused to swear allegiance to the British crown and never took her seat in the Commons.

June Purvis is Professor of Women’s and Gender history at the University of Portsmouth

500,000 :  The estimated number of German civilian deaths from strategic bombing during the Second World War

The Blitz was the biggest thing to happen to Britain during the Second World War, and in many ways has come to define the whole of Britain’s experience of war on the home front. But what many people tend to overlook is that, inflicting 50,000 deaths, strategic bombings on Britain by German aircraft killed around a tenth of the number of those who died in similar attacks on Germany. Many of these attacks were carried out by Britain’s Bomber Command, which itself lost some 50,000 crew in the conflict.

The story of Britain during the Second World War needs to be less fixated on the Blitz, and recognise that Britain was itself the perpetrator of far heavier bombing raids on Germany. This was not an aberration, or a response to the Blitz, but rather a long-standing policy of the British state to use machines to wreck the German war economy.

David Edgerton is Professor of Modern British History at King’s College London

1,138 :  The number of London children recorded as dying of “teeth” in 1685

This statistic is taken from a 1685 London Bill of Mortality, which listed causes of death in London parishes. Poor women called ‘searchers’ were responsible for collecting the data; they were paid small sums to knock on doors to find out causes of death. Searchers were widely feared because they were associated with infection.

The diseases listed are bizarre: they include things like “frighted”, “suddenly” and “teeth”. The latter was short for “the breeding of teeth” – or teething as we would know it today. It was considered a major cause of infant disease and death in the early modern period: in 1664 the physician J.S. declared that teething “is alwayes dangerous by reason of the grievous Symptomes it produces, as Convulsions, Feavers, and other evils”.

But how did teething cause disease? It was believed that living beings were made up of special substances called humours, which contained different amounts of heat and moisture. When the humours were balanced, the body was healthy, but when they became imbalanced, disease resulted. Teething was dangerous because it caused “sharp Pain like the pricking of needles”, which in turn generated “great heat”, and heat brought diseases caused by hot humours, such as fevers. In childhood, bodies were especially warm; ageing was deemed a cooling process. Thus, any extra warmth in children was believed to spell trouble health-wise.

Doctors and parents went to great lengths to mitigate the hazards of teething. The most popular treatment was to “annoint the gummes with the braynes of a hare”. The midwifery expert François Mauriceau suggested giving children “a little stick of Liquorish to chomp on”, or “a Silver Coral, furnish’d with small Bells”, to “divert the Child from the Pain”. More extreme measures included cutting the gums with a lancet, or hanging a “Viper’s Tooth about the child’s Neck”, which by a “certayne hidden propertie, have vertue to ease the payne”.

Dr Hannah Newton is author of The Sick Child in Early Modern England, 1580–1720 (Oxford University Press, 2012)

Monday 6 February 2017

The Prince of Monaco at the Oxford Union

This afternoon I went to hear the address to the Oxford Union by the Prince of Monaco.


HSH Prince Albert II of Monaco

Image: Wikipedia

Like members of other Royal houses Prince Albert II has consistently drawn attention to environmental issues, used his influence to develop responses to the problems facing the world community and sought to make his Principality a model of how to address these issues - which maybe easier in a territory as small as Monaco than others, but it is showing the way. In that he and other such royal advocates of giving these matters serious attention show one of the many advantages afforded by the longer perspective a monarch or dynasty can have than polititians worrying about the next election.

He began, and this was the most telling part of his speech I thought, by giving examples of change to the environment since he was born in 1958. These were sobering statistics about population growth, climate change, pollution and species decline.

However he had a positive theme, addressing young people on what we as individuals and as societies can do to respond to such changes, and detailing what he had initiated in Monaco and encouraged elsewhere.

Incidental to his important topic but something which was striking was to hear a European Prince speak with an American accent. Now everyone knows that Princess Grace was from the US so that would be in a very real sense his mother tongue, but I somehow expected a slightly Francophone English from HSH!

Great coat of arms of the house of Grimaldi.svg

Arms of HSH The Prince of Monaco


Sapphire Jubilee

Today is the sixty-fifth anniversary of the accession of Her Majesty The Queen, and has been termed the Sapphire Jubilee.

The only other monarchs to celebrate a Sapphire Jubilee are King Louis XIV of France, who reigned for 72 years (the longest reign in European history); Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria, who reigned for very nearly 68 years; Prince Johann II of Lichtenstein, who reigned for 70 years; and the recently-deceased King Bhumibol of Thailand, who reigned for 70 years.

In addition amongst exiled or claimant monarchs there are the King of Romania 1927-30 and since 1940, and Emperor-King Otto of Austria-Hungary for the period 1922-2011.

It is also longer than the claim of King James III and VIII - September 1701 to January 1766

 Image result for Elizabeth Ii Sapphire Jubilee

Image: New York Times

On 6 February 2017, Buckingham Palace re-released an official 2014 portrait of The Queen by David Bailey, wearing the sapphire jewellery which she received from her father, the so-called 'George VI Victorian Suite'. It was a wedding gift from her father, George VI to her on her marriage to Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark in 1947.

A parure is a set of jewellery which normally includes a tiara or diadem; the parure came to true popularity in the 17th century. According to Encyclopaedia Britannica, a parure in around 1700 could mean "earrings, brooch, necklace or clasp, ring and sometimes shoulder brooches or buckles, all set with diamonds" and its design is invariably adaptable, which allows its many component pieces to be reset. Without at least three matching pieces, the suite does not constitute a proper 'parure', and a 'demi-parure' is instead the correct term for a necklace worn alone, together with earrings or a bracelet or brooch. The term 'parure' comes from the French for 'finery' and means 'a set' in the collaborative. The suite of matching jewellery is intended to be worn as an overall ensemble.

The 'George VI Victorian Suite' is part of The Queen's personal jewellery collection and originally was a sapphire and diamond necklace and pendant earrings set. The 'George VI Victorian Suite' is called Victorian, because the stones date from around 1850. It was purchased by George VI from Carrington and Co. The set was altered by Garrards in 1952 to shorten the 18 sapphire cluster necklace by four and again in 1959, so that a pendant could be made from the largest sapphire - however, the suite did not properly become a 'parure' until 1963 when a sapphire and diamond bracelet and tiara were made to match the other pieces. The tiara was made from a necklace that had originally belonged to Princess Louise of Belgium, daughter of King Leopold II of Belgium and wife of Prince Philip of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha.

The Queen also owns the so-called 'Prince Albert Sapphire Brooch', perhaps better known as the 'Queen Victoria's Wedding Brooch' which was gifted by Prince Albert to Queen Victoria the day before their wedding and consisting of a large oblong sapphire surrounded with open-backed diamonds. Queen Victoria wore the brooch on her wedding day, 10 February 1840 - and continued to wear it often until the Prince's death in 1861. Queen Victoria willed the brooch as a Crown heirloom, and the brooch has been worn ever since.

Adapted from a post on the website Royal Central:

The original owner Princess Louise wearing the necklace, the tiara being worn by The Queen and the necklace and earrings given to her by King George VI

Image:the naturalsapphirecomany 

There is more about these particular jewels together with pictures at The Modern Sapphire Tiara
from last year. They and other pieces are also featured in The 10 Most Amazing Royal Sapphire Tiaras Of All Time

Wednesday 1 February 2017


Image Wikipedia

This scene of rural life illustrating February from the Très Riches Heures is attributed to the artist identified as the 'the courtly painter'.

One group sensibly stays indoors and keeps warm by the fire in some comfort. Outside the sheep huddle under their shelter whilst the birds feed in the farmyard and the bees presumably hibernate in their hives. Some are still at work, including chopping down a tree for fuel, and another goes off to market. Despite the cold weather there is a sense of all being gathered safely in to keep warm and secure through this early fifteenth century winter. It may be idealised - whether places were as neat and tidy as the illuminators depict them throuhout the Très Riches Heures may be a reasonable question to ask - but it is nonetheless a world we can envisage and of which we can have some sense even in today's more hi-tech world.

The painting inspired one of the scenes in Olivier's film of "Henry V" for the aftermath of Agincourt.
The picture is also a reminder that our familiar friend climate change was operating in these years. After a warmer period in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries the climate was getting colder, for which we have evidence in the retreat of the cultivated areas in Scandinavia and in Greenland where the settlements finally failed in this period. This situation continued to develop until the coldest point, the "Little Ice Age" of the seventeenth century, before warming up again. So more severe winters may have been the norm in the years when the Limbourgs were painting their miniatures.