Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Monday 31 July 2017

Jacobite Exhibition in Edinburgh

The Daily Telegraph website has a feature about an exhibition of Jacobite relics and memorabilia that is on show in Edinburgh. The display Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites is the biggest exhibition on the subject in 70 years and is at the national Museum of Scotland until November 12th.

One of the highlights of what looks to be a wonderful display is what is believed to be a tartan coat worn by Prince Charles Edward in 1745. The illustrated article can be viewed here

The coat is made of silk velvet, linen and wool, and needed 160 hours of conservation work

The coat of Prince Charles Edward.
It is made of silk velvet, linen and wool, and needed 160 hours of conservation work
Image: National Museum of Scotland / Daily Telegraph


Sunday 30 July 2017

Diaconal Ordination at Blackfriars

At lunchtime today I attended a Diaconal Ordination of three Dominican friars and two Franciscan  Conventuals at Blackfriars here in Oxford. The Archbishop of Liverpool, himself, of course, a Dominican, was the officiating prelate. it is always good to go and support young men as the embark on their life of ministry and this occasion was well attended.

Friday 21 July 2017

The Coronation of Emperor Agustín I of Mexico in 1822

Today is the 195th anniversary of the coronation of the first Emperor of Mexico, Agustín I, in 1822.

There is an illustrated online life of him at Agustín de Iturbide which indicates something of the snakepit that was Mexican politics at the time of independence and thereafter. The Emperor was indeed one of the makers of a revolution that was to devour him in 1824. His model of a traditional monarchist but also national path for Mexico was to temporarily revive under the next Emperor Maximilian I in the 1860s. It was the childless Habsburg Emperor who adopted - or, in the view of some, perhaps not - Emperor Agustín's grandson as his heir, and the Iturbide family are recognised by Mexican monarchists as the Imperial claimants. There is a series of links to biographies of them - Agustín II, Maria I, Maria II, Maria III and currently Maximilian II - in the biography of the first Emperor given above.

Emperor Agustín  I

Image: Wikipedia

The Coronation of the Emperor in 1822 in the Cathedral of Mexico City
The Empress and Imperial Family can be seen to the left

Image: Wikipedia

The Emperor's career and style was a distinctive mixture of traditional  Hispanic models, Napoleonic motifs, and South American nationalism. One cannot but regret that it did not prosper and might well have provided greater stability and prosperity for the country.

Thursday 20 July 2017

Anniversary of the Accession of the King of Romania

Today is the ninetieth anniversary of the first accession to the throne of H.M. The King of Romania in 1927. 

This was on the occasion of the death of his grandfather King Ferdinand I, of whom there is a biography at  Ferdinand I of Romania. His eldest son Carol, and father of the present King, had renounced his right of succession the previous year and went into exile with his mistress. In 1930 he returned to the country, displaced the triune Regency that ruled in the name of his son and was enthroned as King Carol II. King Michael became Crown Prince until 1940 when his father abdicated and again went into exile, dying in 1953. Since 1940, most of that time, alas, in exile, the present King has been a symbol of his realm and a sign of hope to many.

See the source image

The boy King Michael I with his grandmother Queen Marie and his mother Princess Elena in mourning for King Ferdinand I

Image: Hoover.org

See the source image

The King of Romania during his first reign with his grandmother Queen Marie
and his mother Princess Elena.
His monogram can be seen behind the Royal group


Tuesday 18 July 2017

The Order of the Elephant

Royal Central has a post today about the highest Danish order of Chivalry which I am reproducing, with minor corrections and apologies for it being off-centre in alignment - and adding a second post
about the Order  and a few extra points of my own afterwards. This year is the 570th anniversary of its foundation, if it does go back to 1457....

Taking a look at the Order of the Elephant

by Oskar Aanmoen
The Order of the Elephant is the highest Danish Order one can receive and is usually handed out only to members of royal families or heads of state. The order was founded by the Danish monarch in 1457, and after a short break, it was reintroduced in 1580. Since then it has been distributed to a number of people.
It was His Majesty King Christian I of Denmark and Norway who introduced the order in 1457. The King was married to Dorothea of Brandenburg, and the brotherhood was most likely inspired by the Brandenburg Swan Order, which was established in 1440.
Coat of arms of Frederick IV of Denmark and Norway surrounded by the collars of the Order of the Elephant and the Order of the Dannebrog. 
Photo: Sodacan via Wikimedia Commons.
The Order was approved by Pope Sixtus IV in 1474. During King Christian II's reign, the brotherhood ceased, but it was restored as the royal knight order under the rule of His Majesty King Frederick II. The Order consisted of only one class and has insignia designed with an elephant as the badge. The elephant has been the symbol of the Order until today.

An older version of the Order exhibited at the museum. 
Photo: Toxophilus via Wikimedia Commons.
Until 1808, the order was distributed to only royals, but after 1808, the order has been presented to non-royals. From 1892, it was also awarded to the Queen of Denmark, not just the King, and from 1958 the Order of the Elephant has been fully open to all women, regardless of whether they are royal or not.
Denmark's ruling monarch is the head of the order; this is today Her Majesty Queen Margrethe II. Today, the Order is administered by the “order-chapter,” which is subject to the Danish Royal Court. The Order of the Elephant still holds its headquarter in Frederiksborg Castle Church and the coat of arms of all the recipients of the order.

Frederiksborg Castle, with the elephant fountain in front. 
Photo: Johan Jacob Bruun via Wikimedia Commons.
During the Second World War, a number of influential people from the allied countries were honoured with the Order of the Elephant. In 1945, Field-Marshal Bernard Montgomery and General (later US President) Dwight D. Eisenhower were appointed as knights. In 1950, the order was awarded to Winston Churchill, although he was no longer the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.
As of today, approximately 800 people have been awarded the order, and during the rule of Her Majesty Queen Margrethe II, the Elephant Order has only been given to one ordinary Danish citizen, which occurred in 2000.

There is more about the Order in this post from the blog unofficialroyalty.com:

The two Royal Orders of Chivalry in Denmark are The Order of the Elephant (Elefantordenen) and The Order of Dannebrog (Dannebrogordenen). The granting of either Order is solely at the pleasure of the Sovereign, unlike some other countries where they are granted on the advice of the government.

The Order of the Elephant

Although the statutes defining this order were established in 1693 by King Christian V, its history dates back to the 15th century. It is believed to originate with a religious group who conferred a similar emblem to members of the Danish aristocracy during the reign of King Christian I (1450-1481). This consisted of a badge of the Virgin Mary holding her Son within a crescent moon, surrounded by the rays of the sun, hanging from a collar of links in the form of elephants. After the religious group died out, King Frederick II continued to award a badge of an elephant, with his profile on its side. This is believed to have been inspired by the chaplain’s badge from the religious group, which was also in the shape of an elephant. In 1693, King Christian V established the statutes for the Order as we know it today. These statutes were amended in 1959, allowing women to be created members. There is only one class – Knight of the Order of the Elephant.
As with most orders of chivalry, the Danish sovereign is the head of the order. While at one time the Order was granted primarily to foreign royalty and Danish noblemen, it is now granted primarily to members of the Danish Royal Family and foreign Heads-of-State. On rare occasions, it has been granted to a commoner.
The Badge of the Order is a white-enamelled gold elephant, with a cross on one side, and the reigning Sovereign’s monogram on the other. The elephant holds a tower on its back, and a Moor holding a spear on its neck. The badge is primarily worn suspended from the Sash of the order. This sash, made of light blue silk moiré, is worn over the left shoulder, with the badge resting on the right hip.
The Star of the Order is an eight-point silver star, with a cross of diamonds on a red disc. This is surrounded by a silver wreath of laurel leaves. The Star is worn on the left breast whenever the sash is worn.
The Collar of the Order is made of gold, in alternating links of towers and elephants. This is only worn on two occasions every year – the New Year’s Court and the Sovereign’s birthday.
The Clever Boy will add that he has posted about the Order before in The Order of the Elephant
in 2012. Some of the dates in that post and its sources are slightly different to the ones given in the post above, indicating the rather obscure early days of the Order. As a revival of the late seventeenth century it is rather like the two revivals of the Order of the Thistle by King James VII in 1687 and by Queen Anne in 1703.

King Christian V in the robes of the Order.

These are very similar in design to the contemporary robes of the Order of the Garter and the French Royal orders. The red mantle with white lining uses the national colours of Denmark

It was King Christian V who issued new statutes for the Order in 1693, in the earlier days of Danish absolutism.

Image: A Polar Bears Tale Blog

Unlike the British Orders the robes are no longer worn on ceremonial occasions but the chapel at Frederiksborg is in many ways reminiscent of the chapels at St George's Windsor, St Giles in Edinburgh and that of the Order of the Bath at Westminster Abbey, and of the Chapel of the Order of the Seraphim in Sweden.

The Chapel of the Danish Royal Orders is at Frederiksborg Castle, A more than 300 years old – and still living – tradition of displaying the armorial plates of Knights of the Order of the Elephant and Knights Grand Cross of the Order of the Dannebrog in the Chapel of the Royal Orders has resulted in an impressive collection of heraldry. The current armorial plates are the work of Ronny Andersen (Royal Herald Painter). The armorial plate of Crown Princess Mary can be seen on the link to the Chapel given at the beginning of this paragraph.

The Crown Prince and Crown Princess of Denmark wearing the riband and star of the Order of the Elephant
Crown Prince Frederik is also wearing the star and neck badge of the other Danish Order, that of the Dannebrog

Image: Daily Mail

As to the symbolism of the Order I wrote as follows in 2012:

Why the Elephant? Elephants were no more common in fifteenth century Denmark than they are now. The probable reason why the elephant was chosen to symbolize the Order was that the battle elephant was used as a symbol of the champion of Christianity, roused by the sight of Christ's blood. In addition the elephant was the symbol of chastity and purity. Medieval typology found several symbolic links between Christ and the elephant, and it is significant that the central medallion of the star of the Order bears the cross as its device.

There is a List of Knights of the Order of the Elephant  covering the period from the reign 
of King Christian IX ( 1863-1906) down to the present day.

Monday 17 July 2017

Remembering the Tsar in Ekaterinburg

There is an article in The Guardian today about a pilgrimage to the site of the murder of the Russian Imperial family in 1918 and which can be viewed at Thousands of pilgrims walk to commemorate Russian tsar Nicholas II 

There is an online article about the canonization of the Emperor and his immediate family as well as of  other members of the Imperial house at Canonization of the Romanovs

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A contemporary icon of Emperor Nicholas II

Image: Orthodox Gifts

There are many icons of the Emperor or of him and his family which can be viewed online, 
indicating the extent of devotion to the memory of the Romanovs. 

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The Imperial Family as Passion Bearers on an icon

Image: Pinterest

The House of Windsor

Today is the centenary of the Proclamation by King George V in 1917 of the change of name of the British Royal family from Saxe-Coburg-Gotha to Windsor.

This was, of course, a consequence of the Great War and a decision to remove dynastic links with Germany.

There is an article about the change at The House of Windsor – A Proclamation 1917 

The background to this decision is set out in an article from the Daily Mail in July 2014

Why are the royals STILL hiding their German past?,which has some interesting tales about

 King George V at this period of his reign.

Another article about the name change from The Guardian can be 

read at at British royal family change their name to Windsor  

In addition this has a very interesting link at the side to a longer article about the 

adoption of the  Mountbatten-Windsor surname for non-titled descendants of The Queen in 1960 

shortly before the birth of Prince Andrew.

The reaction to this new name taken by his cousins of Kaiser Wilhelm II was his joke that he was looking forward to a production of "The Merry Wives of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha"

One contemporary - French I think - observed that the old Europe died when the British King changed his name because of a mere war. There is something in that.

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Badge of the House of Windsor as approved by King George VI in 1938

Image: Wikipedia

Sunday 16 July 2017

The Coronation of King Richard II

Today is the 640th anniversary of the coronation of King Richard II in Westminster Abbey on July 16 1377.

The chronicler of St Albans Abbey Thomas Walsingham wrote of it as "a day of joy and gladness.... the long-awaited day of the renewal of peace and of the laws of the land, long exiled by the weakness of an aged king and the greed of his courtiers and servants" - as translated in May McKisack The Fourteenth Century.

The most recent piece on the occasion appears to be by Andrew Spencer 'The Coronation Oath in English Politics 1272-1399' in B.Thompson and J.Watts (eds) Political Society in Later Medieval England: A Festschrift for Christine Carpenter ( Boydell 2015 ) which can be accessed here

As Spencer points out Walsingham recorded that although only the magnates could hear the boy king assent to the Coronation Oath Archbishop Sudbury, preceded by the Marshal, repeated it to all in Abbey, asking if would accept to be so ruled.

The rubrics were revised to stress the authority of the monarch and the touching of the Crown of St Edward  by the peers when they made their homage glossed as indicating their responsibility to support the Crown.

The ceremony was a long one and at the end the ten and a half year old King had to be carried from the Abbey to his Coronation banquet in Westminster Hall in the arms of Sir Simon Burley his tutor. This story is perhaps the beginning of the emergence of Burley and what may be his 'myth' - whether Sir Simon was just the devoted retainer of the boy King's father who was  consequently dear to the monarch who tried to save him in 1388 from the Lords Appellant is a topic historians are nowadays questioning.

It was probably at this point that the King lost one of his ceremonial slippers, which came to be seen as a bad omen - but such mishaps do occur and may be no more than that, and secondly such are the things people remember; King Charles I's choice of wearing all white to his coronation became seen as a forecast of his future status as the Royal Martyr, the King in White who reigned in the Isle of Wight, or the fact that a large precious stone fell out of King George III's crown at his coronation was remembered when the American colonies rebelled.

The most recent work on the Wilton Diptych suggests that the crown the King is depicted wearing may indeed be the one he wore for the recess from the Abbey, and that it was one that had been made for the youthful King Edward III.

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King Richard II as he may have appeared at his Coronation in 1377
From the Wilton Diptych painted in 1397


Apart from the impact on those who witnessed it the most important question that arises is probably that of the impact upon the young King Richard himself. Westminster remained central to his personal spirituality and to the spirituality of his kingship, the shrine of St Edward and the recipient of his patronage, including the portrait of him presiding in Parliamentary robes with his regalia which still survives in the Abbey. Here too the crown, identical to that on the tomb effigy of his supplanter and successor King Henry IV at Canterbury, is clearly a depiction of a real item, not just an artistic convention. Shakespeare's dramatic account of the events of 1398-9 quite rightly stresses the imagery and discourse of Kingship and Deposition and central to that is the status of King Richard II as an anointed crowned monarch. That complex narrative was played out in and around Westminster over the following twenty two years, and symbolically at least it began with the rich ceremonial of this day in 1377.

Saturday 15 July 2017

Waiting and watching for the King and Queen of Spain

Yesterday on the last day of their State Visit to the UK the King and Queen of Spain visited Oxford.

Having found out roughly the times of their arrival I got to the area by the steps to the Sheldonian theatre in good time. I was joined early on by several other "royal-watchers"and a Spanish family whose bespectacled teenage son had arrived complete with his own red and yellow flag to wave. The crowd built up  and the great and the good as well as officials and schoolchildren arrived, and in their case were provided with Spanish flags to wave by people from the Embassy. Some Spanish women near me hailed those distributing them across the road for flags which were duly provided.

Escorted by motorcyle outriders the car from the Royal mews glided to a halt just opposite me - and was a sight in itselfas it gleamed in the sun. The King and Queen alighted and immediately made for the welcoming group of children before visiting the Weston Library.

The King and Queen of Spain with schoolchildren outside the Weston Library

Image: ox.ac.uk

At that point I had to go and give a guided tour to some customers, but realised from the crowd still hanging around the entrance to Exeter College on the Broad that the visitors had not yet arrived there. At this point I ran into a friend and told him what was happening and we took station in the middle of the Broad by the motorcycles and their riders and the series of people-carriers, emblazoned appropriately with the Union or Spanish flag, for the suites in attendance.

The King and Queen walked from the lunch in the Divinity School along to Exeter College - the centre in many ways of Spanish studies in Oxford - for a reception with Hispanic academics and students and stopped to talk to well-wishers at the gate. Here I spotted the Spanish teenager with his flag whom I had seen earlier. His patience - and evident loyalty - was rewarded by a conversation with the King. We waited, talking at one point to one of the Police motorcyclists as he topped up the polish on his machine, until the Royal party re-emerged in their car to travel followed by the accompanying households to fly back to Spain from RAF Brize Norton. I joined in with the shouts of " Viva El Rey!"

The Oxford University website has an account of Their Majesties visit and also puts it in the wider historical and cultural context and can be viewed at  King and Queen of Spain visit Oxford 

Search ResultKing and Queen of Spain visit Oxford 

ITV News has film of the visit to the Weston Library and of the King and Queen at Exeter College accessible at King and Queen of Spain delight school children during visit to Oxford ...

I did have a real sense of witnessing history in the persons of the Spanish monarchs and not just of another page turning in the history of Oxford. Here were a very professional King and Queen, obviously relaxed and very approachable, but with immense dignity and firmness of purpose - and, yes, they do look just like their photographs...

Mind you, all that standing and waiting did not do much good for my rheumatic joints - but it was well worth it!

Wednesday 12 July 2017

Fr Richard Duffield's Silver Jubilee

Yesterday was the Silver Jubilee of the Ordination to the Priesthood of Fr Richard Duffield Cong.Orat., who now presides over the York Oratory-in-formation.

I have copied this post from the Oratory website


11th July, the feast of St Benedict, was the Silver Jubilee of Fr Richard Duffield's priesthood. Fr Richard was ordained in our church twenty-five years ago by Bishop Terence Brain.
Fr Richard celebrated the six o'clock Mass on the day of his anniversary.




After Mass, there was a celebration in the Parish Centre, when many of our parishioners congratulated Fr Richard:


Fr Richard made a speech:




Images and text: Oxford Oratory

Fr Richard is a York man, and some years ago I realised that he was once the toddler I recalled in his father's wonderful bookshop in the city when as ateenager I went in on book-buying trips with my mother on our regular visits to York. Small world.


Monday 10 July 2017

Tally sticks

The BBC News online website has an article about medieval tally sticks and similar means of recording money transfers which is of interest to those with a sense of the past, both in terms of the course of the Exchequer and the fate of the old Palace of Westminster. It can be read at

What tally sticks tell us about how money works
Medieval tally sticks illustrate what money really is: a kind of debt that can be traded freely.

Sunday 9 July 2017

Royal Palaces of the Hundred Years War

History Extra has an illustrated article on Royal palaces of the Hundred Years’ War which is of interest and links in with other posts I have written, such as those on the Très Riches Heures of the Duke of Berry and castles such as Vincennes.

The article is introduced as follows: Made famous in popular history by the battle of Agincourt, Joan of Arc and Edward the Black Prince, the Hundred Years' War was an epic conflict between two nations, England and France. As Anthony Emery explains, over the course of the war the balance of architectural power moved from religious to secular domination; the Gothic style of architecture continued to develop and the palace-fortress became the pre-eminent form of a residence. Read the full story here.

I think it does bring out the point that these really were palace-fortresses, and not just stark military establishments, in what was an age of royal and aristocratic luxurious living.

Friday 7 July 2017

The hidden depths of the medieval church

I found this piece online and thought it might be worth sharing. It is from History Extra and looks at the question  How naughty was the past? The hidden depths of the medieval church

Hidden messages and tongue-in-cheek depictions were widespread throughout medieval churches. But was the medieval world simply rife with satire or did these etchings and carvings hold deeper meanings? Here, Dr Emma J. Wells from the University of York explores seven of the most curious examples… Read the full story here

In my humble opinion, human nature does not change...

Thursday 6 July 2017


There is an article on the Daily Telegraph online website about the degree of fitness that was required for a medieval jouster, and comparing it with that of modern athletes.

It can be read in two versions at Study reveals jousters are as fit as today's top athletes and at What it takes to be a jouster, the fittest sportsman of them all

It confirms what I have always suspected, that the men who competed in the lists, Kings and princes, aristocrats and knights, were physically very fit indeed. That it was in part training for warfare - just as modern equestrian sports derive from military training in more recent centuries for the cavalry - as indeed was hunting, is true, but, as with the chase, some practitioners were keener and more committed than others, and may well have spent a great deal of time training and keeping physically fit. It was not a hobby you could just indulge in without considerable, and expensive, preparation.

King Henry IV was a noted jouster in the 1390s and McNiven argues in a well-known article which seeks to give an analysis of the King's health, and its decline from fairly soon after his accession, that the King may have suffered from being unable to maintain his customary level of fitness but put on weight and that like some modern athletes suffered health problems as a consequence of his enforced idleness of retirement from physical competition.

It has also been suggested that King Henry VIII's last years were shaped in part by the consequences of injuries he had received  in the lists or conditions which developed as a result of jousting. Robert Hutchinson has written about this in The Last Days of Henry VIII:Conspiracies, Treason, and Heresy at the Court of the Dying Tyrant

That said, of course, both these English Kings came off better that King Henri II of France who died as a result of a joust in 1559. No amount of fitness can prepare you for something like his fate.

Sunday 2 July 2017

Avebury reappraised

The Daily Telegraph has an online report about the latest siscoveries at the great prehistoric site at Avebury in Wiltshire.

Entitled  Avebury stone circle was once a ‘weird’ square, archaeologists find it is one of the greatest marvels of prehistoric Britain, the largest stone circle in Europe and a sacred meeting place for its creators and their successors and appears to be aligned with the stars. Read the full story

Tombstones - quaint and curious

The BBC News online website today has a post about various unusual or noteworthy gravestones.

Some are famous, such as those at Malmesbury and Winchester, but others are less well known - or indeed were unknown to me - and all have interesting, and at times, macabre, stories.

The article, entitled The headstones with unusual stories to tell, and which is illustrated, can be seen here and there are also links at the end to related articles.

Saturday 1 July 2017

Canada 150

Today is the 150th anniversary of the Dominion of Canada coming into being as a self-governing entity under the provisions of the British North America Act of 1867.

Coat of arms of Canada.svg

The Arms of Her Majesty The Queen in Right of Canada

Granted in 1921 and revised in 1957 and 1994

Image: Wikipedia

There is an online account of the history of the arms and their development at Arms of Canada.

Related to them as a symbol of Royal authority in Canada is the Great Seal and there is an illustrated account of that at Great Seal of Canada.



Image: Wikipedia

This illumination is attributed to Paul Limbourg and depicts the Chateau or Palace of Poitiers, parts of which still survive. The chateau belonged to the Duke of Berry who had rebuilt portions of it in the decades preceding the painting.
Harvesting and sheep shearing are taking place in the foreground, plenty abounds - all is beginning to be safely gathered in against the winter. As with the other months in the series the scene is idyllic - almost in the tradition of eighteenth century rustic scenes. Swans glide along the clear waters of the moat, the chateau looks trim and well-cared for, as befitted a residence of the Duke of Berry, whilst the landscape is lush and fertile. Here then is once again a scene of tranquility, rather different from the realities of life in northern and central France in the years 1413-16.

More particularly, in July 1417 King Henry V was completing his plans for his second invasion of France. By the end of the month the English King, his army and fleet were asembled ready for the planned conquest of Normandy.