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, 11 August 2020

Archaeological Discoveries

Yesterday’s newspapers had reports of two major archaeological discoveries in this country.

The first was in Scotland with a major Bronze Age discovery consisting of the harness and sword of a warrior. This was due to the work of a metal detector enthusiast, who displayed a very proper commitment to recovering the finds. There is an account of it at Detectorist 'over the moon' after Bronze Age find

That discovery illustrates the life of the warrior elite of its time. 

The second concerned the villa dwelling elite of late fourth century Britannia. This is the discovery at Corby in Northamptonshire of ancillary buildings to a known villa complex which expands our understanding of the villa economy of that era and can be read about at Roman industrial site gives new picture of life in Roman Britain

Whilst preparing this post I came across two other interesting reports. The odious HS2 project has had the incidental benefit of revealing ancient sites in its proposed assault on the landscape and a recent article deals with discoveries about life in Iron Age and Roman Buckinghamshire around what has become the town of Wendover. These discoveries are outlined in a report at Iron Age murder victim found buried in Buckinghamshire

Finally, and further afield, are discoveries in the Negev about life in the Byzantine world in the fifth century in the lead up to the Justinian Plague and the apparent impact of climate change consequent upon extreme volcanic activity, about which I posted a few months back. These discoveries about the development and decline of viticulture in the region can be seen at Plague and climate change caused Byzantine Empire's economic downturn

I cannot resist the obvious temptation to point out that this seems all too familiar to us poor mortals of the twenty first century.....

Saturday, 8 August 2020

A Miracle of St Thomas of Canterbury in Yorkshire

One of the glories of Canterbury Cathedral are the early thirteenth century miracle windows in the Trinity Chapel which illustrate miracles wrought by St Thomas in the years following his death. The stories were recorded by two of the monks of the cathedral priory and can be read in a late nineteenth century edition:

Edwin A. Abbott St Thomas of Canterbury: His Death and Miracles (1898) 2 vols

St. Thomas Of Canterbury His Death And Miracles Volume 


St. Thomas Of Canterbury His Death And Miracles Volume 2

One of these stories, rich in incidental detail, comes from my home area. Looking it up on the Internet I found it recounted on a website about Midgeley, and more especially the family concerned, that of Sir Jordan Fitz Essolf, which later assumed the patronymic of Thornhill from the parish in which they lived. Thornhill is now a residential suburb of Dewsbury. The webpages can be accessed at The family of Thornhill of Thornhill, Yorkshire.

As the story begins in August this seems an appropriate time of the year to post it. The events described must have occurred in the early 1170s.

I have copied the text and illustrations and have made a few amendments to the wording:


Ex. W.P. Baildon Baildon History, p. 28-9:

"The most notable episode in Jordan's life 

is his connection to St. Thomas a' Becket

narrated by two monks of Canterbury, 

William and Benedict, who were 

contemporaries of the murdered 

Archbishop; their collected accounts of 

the miracles are said to have been made 

within a few years of the murder, and the 

incidents are therefore probably not later 

than 1180. The story is given in the notes 

to Dean Stanley's Historical Memorials of 

Canterbury, with some omissions and one 

important misprint; the following is in the 

main the Dean's translation, with some 

corrections and additions from the Latin 


William the Monk begins his tale thus:

There came to Canterbury a knight, 

Jordan son of Heisulf, of the town which 

is called by the name of Broken Bridge 

(nomine Fracti Pontis, i.e. Pontefract), with 

his wife, and a son about ten years old, 

who was, as he asserted, being dead, 

restored to life by the Blessed Martyr 


Benedict omits the important reference to 

Pontefract, and begins:

The hand of the Lord was heavy on a 

knight of great name, Jordan son of 

Eisulf, and smote his household with 

disaster from the time of August unto the

Easter days. Many were sorely sick in his 

house, and there was no one who could 

help. The nurse of his son William, 

surnamed Brito [cognomine Britonis], 

[ She was possibly from nearby West 

Bretton, which derives it’s name from it 

having once been the tun of the Britons.]

died of a violent disease [morbo acuta], 

and was buried. Then the son himself 

died. Mass was said — the body laid out 

— the parents were in hopeless grief. It so 

happened that there arrived that day a 

band of twenty pilgrims from Canterbury 

whom Jordan hospitably lodged for love 

of the Martyr. When the priest came to 

bear the corpse to the church for burial,

the father cried "By no means shall my 

son be carried forth, since my heart 

assures me that the Martyr Thomas is 

unwilling that I should lose him; for I was

his man while he was in the body, and his 

familiar friend."

From the pilgrims he borrowed some water in which a drop of the Saint's blood had been mixed [ this was feom the water used to wash the saint’s body and became the main source of miraculous cures by the saint - Clever Boy] and bade the priest pour it into the boy's mouth. This was done without effect. The father still delayed the burial, and the priest, while admiring his faith, thought him mad, as the boy had now been dead two days. Jordan then himself uncovered the body, raised the head, forced open the teeth with a knife, and poured in some of the water. A small sign of red showed itself on the boy's left cheek. A third draught was poured down his throat. The boy then opened one eye, and said, "Why are you weeping, father? Why are you crying, lady.'' Be not sad; behold the Blessed Martyr Thomas has restored me to you." He was then speechless till evening. The father put into his hands four pieces of silver, promising that the boy should offer them to the Martyr at Mid- Lent, and the parents sat and watched him. At evening he sat up, ate, talked, and was restored well to his parents.

But the performance of the vow was neglected and delayed. And so St. Thomas appeared to a leper, Gimpe, by name, in his sleep, who lived on the knight's estate, about three miles from his house, and said "Gimpe, art thou asleep?" The leper said "I was, until you awoke me. Who art thou.?" "I am Thomas, Archbishop of Canterbury; knowest thou Jordan, the son of Eisulf.?" And Gimpe replied "Very well, lord, as the best of men, who has done many good things to me." He was then ordered to go and warn Jordan of the evils that would befall him unless he instantly fulfilled his vow. The leper did nothing. The Saint appeared a second time, and ordered the leper to send for his priest, who refused to convey so idle a tale to a great and powerful man. St. Thomas appeared a third time, and ordered the leper to send his daughter for the knight and his wife. They came, heard, wondered, and fixed the last week in Lent for the performance of the vow.

But it so fell that the Earl Warenne, [Hamelin Plantagenet, half-brother of King Henry II and lord of Wakefield and Conisbrough ] the knight's lord, in whose name alone the aforesaid knight possessed his property [cujus nomine res soli miles praetaxatus Dossidebat]," came to that place, and prevented them from setting out on their pilgrimage; thus they did not keep their vow.

On the last day of the last week, namely, on Holy Saturday before the day of our Lord's Resurrection, the Lord smote with a violent disease another son of the knight's, a little older, and more beloved than the one resuscitated, because his father's race was shown more perfectly in his features.

On the morrow the parents themselves were taken ill and confined to bed, and were despaired of. And the disease took hold of the boy, and he slept in death on the seventh day, on the sixth day [feria] of Easter Week. Twenty of the knight's household were also sick.

Then the knight and his wife determined at all hazard to accomplish their vow. By a violent effort — aided by the sacred water — they set off; the servants by a like exertion dragging themselves to the gate to see them depart. The lady fell into a swoon seven times from the fatigue of the first day, and was in despair at the long journey [from Thornhill to Canterbury!]; but her husband said "Alive or dead she shall be brought to Canterbury." When she saw the pinnacle [the spire topped with an angel] of the Temple of Canterbury, she dismounted from her horse, and with her husband and son, barefoot, walked the remaining three miles to the Martyr's sepulchre, [the shrine was not erected until 1220] and then the vow was discharged.

Benedict adds that he received this story in a letter from the priest [at Thornhill?], who stated that the boy was undoubtedly dead and brought to life again."

(1) The funeral of the nurse [Lower left]

(2) The younger son at the point of death [bottom centre]

(3) The father administering the miraculous water, while the mother supports the boy's head [lower right]

(4) The boy reviving, and the four pieces of silver being put into his hand

(5) The boy revived, feeding himself with a spoon from a basin [top centre]

(6) The Archbishop and Gimpe the leper [top right]

(7) Gimpe the leper warning the parents

(8) The death of the elder son

(9) The final offering at the shrine at Canterbury. [centre right]

Detail of the centre panel  from "Plague in the House" window (c.1220 about 26 years after Sir Jordan's death) showing Sir Jordan Fitz-Eisulf [Fitz-Essulf, de Thornhill &c.] and his family. This panel is part of the Becket Miracle Window 6, north aisle of the Trinity Chapel, Canterbury Cathedral. Sir Jordan seems represented on the left and his wife on the right. Saint Thomas Becket is shown above smiting the family with a sword representing the plague. Of course this type of story was important to the monks of Canterbury in order to encourage pilgrims to make offerings, and to fulfill vows, particularly when Canterbury was often in conflict with Jordan's diocesan cathedral of York. Hamelin Plantagenet, Jordan's overlord, would conceivably not have wished Jordan to attend at Canterbury because it highlighted the problems his brother, King Henry II of England  [d. 1189]  had encountered with Becket. If the story is true in its basics then the affliction occurred shortly after December 1170  when Becket was murdered and as Baildon says no later than 1180.


The story is a fairly strident reminder to fulfill vows lest something worse happen. I do feel rather sorry for the elder son of Sir Jordan and his wife.

Friday, 7 August 2020

Baptismal Rites

Maybe this post should be called Baptismal Rights and Wrongs.... 

A friend sent me the link to an article in The Tablet - I am not a regular reader of the journal - about a ruling from the Vatican about the formula spoken in the administration of the sacrament of Baptism. The article can be read at Vatican says some Christians may need to be rebaptised

Now the ruling is eminently orthodox and in full accordance with traditional teaching. What is sad and slightly disturbing is that in this day and age one is relieved to find that it is so....

Emperor Marjorian

Today is the anniversary of the violent death of the Emperor Marjorian in 461. 

To my regret I know relatively little of late Roman imperial history, so researching his short but spectacular career was an interesting learning curve for me. Marjorian is usually seen as the last real hope of the Western Empire, and Gibbon, usually abstemious with praise, lauded him as an heroic figure.

There are online lives of him at Majorian from Wikipedia, and a more detailed, academic one, at Majorian

There is an interpretive essay about his life at The Magnificence of Majorian, Conquests and Conspiracies and there is a short YouTube video about him at Majorian: The Last Great Emperor

I was particularly struck by his legislation to protect public and historic monuments in Rome - although he was based as Emperor in Ravenna - and his must surely be one of the first governments to do so. The legislation is set out in the Wikipedia article, and its draconian sanctions and its requirements for the return of purloined property make him a man after my own heart. Not just a heroic Roman Emperor but a hero for conservationists...

The Brother-in-law from Hell

Last Tuesday, being August 4th, was the 755th anniversary of the Battle of Evesham in 1265. Fought in a thunderstorm it basically marked the end, if not the very end, of the Baronial Reform movement with the death of its leader Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester. There is an account of the battle with appropriate links at Battle of Evesham

Simon Leicester.jpg
Simon de Montfort, in a drawing of a stained glass window at Chartres Cathedralc. 1250

Image: Wikipedia 
It is a while since I read the biography of Earl Simon by Dr Maddicott, and I have not yet had a chance to look at Professor David Carpenter’s massive new work on King Henry III.  On this topic my ideas may deviate from the received narrative, but essentially they are that whilst King Henry may have had practical failings as a ruler alongside his splendid vision of what his kingship should be, he did not deserve a brother-in-law like Simon as he came to see, and indeed, as he said, to fear. The Westminster Abbey website has an excellent section about the King, with fine pictures of his tomb in the Abbey he rebuilt together with a bibliography, all of which can be seen at Henry III

There is an online biography of the Earl

Like all of us he was a man of his times. He was not, to apply G.P. Cuttino’s splendid phrase about King Henry II, Mr Gladstone in chain mail.

The Wikipedia biography I linked to above betrays this in reverse with a very modern concern, and over concentration on the fact, that Simon was not nice to the Jews. So he was not Woke? Nor does that mean we should hail or denigrate him as a thirteenth century Corbynista. What it should tell us is not to reinvent the past according to modern preconceptions and obsessions.

Simon de Montfort did not invent Parliament. The first recorded summons of representatives of the counties to join the landed magnates was issued by that noted constitutionalist King John before Magna Carta was even a drop of ink on parchment. A similar assembly was also summoned in 1254. Montfort did add representatives of the cities and towns in  1265. They became part of the Commons, but rather as second class MPs for most of the medieval period. As the Anonimalle Chronicle brings out legend it records in 1376 with regard to the seating in the Chapter House at Westminster when the Commons met there - the knights of the shire sat on the wall benches, the townsmen members sat on the floor.

It was King Edward I, the victor at Evesham, who, painfully aware of the limitations on governance under his father, who really made Parliament work as part of the constitutional government of realm, notably in 1295 with the ‘Model Parliament’. That did nothing to stop King Edward having a major falling out with several of the leading magnates a couple of years later in a way reminiscent of his father. Nor did it obviate the numerous clashes of the reign of King Edward II between him and the magnates, and ultimately his Queen.

Simon de Montfort the Constitutionalist hero is part of the Whig interpretation of History - i.e. a myth. In that myth, so wonderfully satirised by Sellers and Yeatman in1066 and All That  - “the greatest work of historiography written in the twentieth century” ( Prof. Sir Michael Howard, formerly Regius Professor of History in the University of Oxford - I heard him say it. ) kings and things are Good or Bad.

Thus King Henry’s foreign relatives and counsellors the Poitevins and Savoyards, being foreign, were Bad Things. The equally foreign Montfort is presented as a Good Thing. 

What made all of them unpopular with some in England was indeed that they were ‘foreign’. Not so much that they were French or francophone - if such a differentiation was applicable at the time - but that they were outsiders to the established elite, and all of them on the look out for their own advantage by reason of their connections to King Henry III and his court. Piers Galveston almost a century later fell into the same category. Royal favour could mean elite or popular disfavour.

Napoleon, himself as a Corsican barely French, is quoted in the Wikipedia biography of Earl Simon as describing him as a great Englishman. Well Montfort had some Anglo-Norman Beaumont ancestry, hence his eventually successful quest for the earldom, but if things had been different - if his father had not stopped a stone from a mangonel with his head - might well have spent his life in the Toulousin. 

His family were basically mercenaries - if high class ones ( and not alone in that at the time ) - be it his father on the pretty bloodthirsty Albigensian Crusade or the fate of two of his sons with Charles of Anjou in southern Italy in 1268 and thereafter.

The Maddicott biography brings out the Franciscan inspired spirituality of the Earl and his family’s home life - not perhaps savoured by his Countess. This rather self-conscious personal austerity at home is perhaps comparable to that of St/Sir Thomas More in the early sixteenth century and later on other seventeenth century ‘Godly’ families, or indeed Mr Gladstone. It is not a lifestyle that necessarily resonates with others in the elite - as Disraeli said of Gladstone he did not mind him having a card up his sleeve but he did dislike Gladstone giving the impression that God had put it there. I suspect that may have been an aspect of Montfort.

One might also wonder what he really did expect from St Louis in the Mise of Amiens. Not only was not merely another brother-in-law of King Henry and now, after the Treaty of Paris of 1259, his overlord for Gascony, but he was a fellow King.

After his victory at the battle of Lewes in 1264 his captivity of the King, the Lord Edward and the King’s brother Richard, King of the Romans and his self-assertion as, in effect, a self righteous military dictator, led to the loss of support by many of the magnates such as the Earl of Gloucester, whose defections enabled the Lord Edward to win at Evesham.

That by that time Simon was hated by many is indicated by the mutilation of his corpse after the battle. 

A 13th-century depiction of the mutilation of Montfort's body after the Battle of Evesham. The body of his son Henry lies above him.
Image: Wikipedia 

That there was a cult for a while at his tomb should not surprise us - sixty or so years later that happened to Thomas Earl of Lancaster and eighty years after that to Archbishop Scrope if York. The sanctification of dead political opponents was a concern to medieval and later governments. It still is in some places.

That legacy of hatred can be seen in the revenge murder by Earl Simon’s sons Simon de Montfort the Younger and Guy de Montfort, Count of Nola of their cousin  Henry of Almain whilst he was at Mass in Viterbo in 1271. Their father’s apparent piety had clearly not been inherited there.
As the account in the biography of Guy shows this murder was a very public and much condemned action.

So all-in-all I am not an admirer of Simon de Montfort and feel sympathetic to Lking Henry III landed with such a “brother-in-law from Hell”

That this was very much a family affair between brothers-in-law and nephews and cousins adds to its intensity and interest. Netflix wherefore art thou?

Looking at the topic I learned something of which I was completely unaware which is that Simon is, through his son Guy, an ancestor of Elizabeth Woodville the wife of King Edward IV, and thus the ancestor of all English monarchs, and their descendants, since 1509. Again a case of keeping it all in the family?

There is also the curious irony that the battlefield at Evesham is more or less overlooked by Wood Norton Hall, the late nineteenth century home in exile of the House of Orleans and the titular French Kings Philippe VII and VIII, and descended from not only King Louis IX but also from King Henry III and Earl Simon. Small world.