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.

Wednesday, 9 September 2020

Face to face with Abbot John Wheathamstead

Facial reconstruction of skeletal remains is a skill which has enhanced our sense of the human reality of people in the past. Admittedly some are better than others, but I have several times in the past featured them on this blog.

The latest to come to my attention is from the St Albans cathedral website and is not just a face from the past, but that of a known individual, Abbot John Wheathampstead or as he might well have spelt it Whethamstede.  Born c.1392 he became a monk at St Albans, was elected Abbot in 1420 and served as such until 1440 when he retired. In 1451, on the death of his successor, the community re-elected him and he died as Abbot in 1465. It was during this second abbacy that the abbey witnessed the two battles of St Albans in 1455 and 1461.

There is a fairly short account of his life at John Whethamstede The historian David Knowles in The Religious Orders in England includes him as one of his biographical studies. As an account it is not especially sympathetic to him as Abbot, which I felt when first reading it many years ago was somewhat unfair. Knowles, who was of course a Benedictine monk of Downside, contrasted Wheathampstead unfavourably to his great late fourteenth century predecessor Thomas de la Mare.

More recent research and the Oxford DNB life and a recent study both written by my friend Professor James G. Clark of Exeter seek to re-evaluate him. In his lifetime the Abbot saw himself, and was seen by others, as a leading figure in the reception of contemporary Italian Humanistic thought. It may have been provincial to Italian eyes, but was significant in Court circles and amongst English literary stylists.

The online article is also by James Clark and introduces both the historical figure and also the circumstances of the survival and indentification of his remains. It can be seen at Face-to-face with a Medieval Abbot

1 comment:

Matthew F Kluk said...

Science never ceases to amaze me. And a face from centuries ago appears as familiar as someone we ride the bus with every day!