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

Friday, 15 January 2021

New Testament archaeological sites revealed

The online site LifeScience recently had two reports about archaeological discoveries in the Holy Land that relate to two very specific New Testament events.

The first concerns what is thought to be the site of Salome’s dance that so entranced King Herod Antipas with fatal consequences for St John the Baptist. This is in the palace complex at Machaerus. As the article makes clear it cannot be ascertained with certainty but the case is well made. In any case it is part of the opening out and understanding of Herod’s palace and a significant insight into the world the king and his followers inhabited. The illustrated post can be read at Dance floor where John the Baptist was condemned to death discovered, archaeologist says

Salome with the Head of Saint John the Baptist, Andrea Solario (Italian, Milan ca. 1465–1524 Milan), Oil on wood


Andrea Solario  Salome with the Head of John the Baptist  1507-9

Image: Metropolitan Museum of Art

The second report is about further discoveries in the Garden of Gethsemane. I knew evidence of buildings had been found there associated with the cultivation of olives - the name of the garden means oil press. This latest discovery is a mikveh, a ritual bath for those who worked there. In addition there are the remains of a Byzantine pilgrimage church that clearly predates the Muslim conquest. The report about this discovery can be seen at Ritual bath unearthed at site where Judas betrayed Jesus

Giotto  The Kiss of Judas - detail from the Scrovegni Chapel, Padua 1304-6

Image: Emmock’s Blog

A German analogue of Stonehenge

The American journal Archaeology has a very interesting article about an excavation at a site in Sachsen Anhalt which shows great resemblances to Stonehenge, although it was constructed in timber, and which can be dated to the same era - 2800 to 2500 BC. What emerges is evidence at both sites for strong societal organisation which later developed into the culture of the Bronze Age. The age of the Beaker people was more complex, and more comprehensible in a continental
sense, than was thought hitherto.

This very stimulating article can be read at Stonehenge's Continental Cousin

Wednesday, 13 January 2021

Uncovering Caligula’s Horti Lamiani

The New York Times has an interesting online report about the excavation of part of the complex of the Horti Lamiani in Rome. This was a complex of gardens and a retreat created by the Emperor Caligula during his reign from 37 to 41. This exotic pleasure ground with lavish accommodation and including what today we would call a zoo has been examined before in the nineteenth century but a recent development of the site has enabled a much more extensive programme of excavation and conservation to take place. 

Friday, 8 January 2021

Roman wine barrels from Reims

I came across a very interesting account online about the discovery and analysis of three Roman wine barrels in Reims, a city still noted for its fine wines. Whilst not unique they are in a remarkable state of preservation and have yielded a great deal of information about the work of Roman vintners.

Both the construction of the barrels, which is very similar to that still employed, and the numerous marks added to them as part of the wine trade indicate the complexity of the shipping involved. Barrels were a Northern European development as opposed to the Mediterranean amphorae, and often linked to trade routes along the rivers.

The article, which has a link to a full archaeological report on the barrels, can be read at Preserved Roman wine barrels reveal ancient coopers’ art

Thursday, 7 January 2021

Climate change in the fourteenth century

The Internet algorithm brought a very thought provoking piece of research to my attention yesterday. It is a Leipzig based research project which seeks to reconstruct the climate of the early fourteenth century as a prelude to the severe 1315-21 famine. In particular it has looked at the period of stable weather in the period 1302-07, characterised by drought and the years after 1310 with wetter colder conditions leading to famine from 1315. 

Drawing upon evidence across wide areas of Europe and combining both documentary sources and physical evidence a detailed picture is being built up, with interesting similarities to the weather in recent years. For  all the differences between the later medieval world and our own industrialised and technological society there are significant parallels in the climatological patterns.

Wednesday, 6 January 2021

Epiphany and King Richard II

It was on the Epiphany in 1367 that the future King Richard II was born at Bordeaux. The city was the capital of the Duchy of Aquitaine, which had been restored or recreated by the Treaty of Bretigny-Calais in 1361 and which was ruled by Richard’s father Edward Prince of Wales and Duke of Aquitaine on behalf of his father King Edward III. Despite their long tenure of their French lands Richard was the first future Plantagenet ruler to be born there since King Henry II and only King Edward IV was to be so after him.

The circumstances around Richard’s birth are 
set out in an excellent, indeed valuable, post by Dr Michael Jones from 2018 on the History Geeks blog and can be read in full at The History Geeks  Much of what follows is drawn from that before I added my own reflections and interpretation. It is worth scrolling down to related articles on the medieval view of the Magi and articles about the burial at Epiphany 1066 of St Edward the Confessor and the misadventures of the body of Queen Catherine of Valois after her burial, also at Westminster, in January 1437.

Prince Edward and his wife Joan of Kent already had a son and heir in Edward of Angouleme born in 1365, so a second son would be, as it is often summarised today a ‘spare’. The birth of this second son may have been to some extent premature as the Princess, worried by her husband’s plan to cross the Pyrenees in midwinter as the beginning of his campaign to restore the exiled King Pedro I to his throne in Castile, apparently went into labour early. 

Perhaps for this reason the baby was thought to be in danger of dying and was immediately baptised by the midwife with the name John. As Epiphsny traditionally celebrates three wonders - the visit of the Magi, the Baptism in the Jordan by St John and the Miracle at Cana - St John may well have been the obvious saint to invoke for a boy. Less likely would be reference to the baby’s uncle the Duke of Lancaster or his great uncle John if Eltham, brother of King Edward III.

The baby however survived but at his public baptism on January 8th or 9th in Bordeaux cathedral he received the name Richard. This may have been the intended choice by his parents. The last Plantagenet so named had been Richard, brother of King Henry III and King of the Romans who had died in 1272. The name may have been chosen to recall King Richard I, who had co-rule Awuitwith his mother and extended the Angevin empire south from the Loire to the Pyrenees. 

At this first showing to the world of a boy born on Epiphany the legend arose that three kings were present at the baptism. These were said to be the King of Navarre, the exiled King of Castile and the claimant King of Majorca. Michael Jones in his article demonstrates that King Charles of Navarre and King Pedro of Castile could not have been present but that a decade later when Richard was Prince of Wales and within months of succeeding his grandfather the story of the presence of three kings at his baptism and an explicit parallel being drawn with devotion to the Three Kings at Cologne was drawn in Parliament by Bishop Houghton of St David’s.

In reality the baptism of this second son seems to have been a rather understated affair, with the proud father about to head south on campaign, and with none of the recorded celebrations that had accompanied his elder brother’s two years earlier.

I have posted four years ago about King Richard’s birth in Birth of King Richard II although I see I made an error in identifying one king as being that of Armenia: I must have confused his presence with the visit of the then King of Armenia to King Richard in the 1390s - mea culpa

Kathryn Warner has a post from 2018 about Richard’s birth on her Edward II blog at 6 January 1367: Birth of Richard II 

Princess Joan’s fears for her husband were not immediately justified as he won his third great battle victory at Najera on April 3rd and temporarily restored King Pedro. However it appears that whilst in Castile that the Prince contracted the illness that eventually forced his return to England and his relatively early death in 1376. One legacy of this campaign is the ‘Black Prince’s Ruby’, now in the Imperial State Crown, which was a gift or payment from King Pedro to his ally.

After 1370, when the Wales family returned to England, Richard was no longer the ‘spare’ but the heir, his elder brother having died in that year. As King Richard II arranged for the removal and reburial of his brother’s remains to England.

     Image result for Wilton Diptych

King Richard II from the Wilton Diptych of 1397. He is kneeling in front of St John the Baptist

Image: ReedDesign 

As King he showed a notable devotion to St John the Baptist as he records on his tomb commissioned in the 1390s.  In 1395 William of Wykeham gave glass to his new Winchester College chapel showing King Richard kneeling before St John. Although there are searchable images of this fine depiction of regal piety on the Internet they unfortunately refuse to download to this blog. Search for the Flickriver site on the College glass. In April 1399 the King drew up his will, seemingly unaware of his Poland military vulnerability. In it he commend his soul to the Virgin Mary, St John the Baptist and to his other great patron, St Edward the Confessor.


The Wilton Diptych

Image: ReedDesign

These three Saints are in the Wilton Diptych together with St Edmund and King Richard. The complex iconography of Diptych continuation fascinate and tantalise but much can be elucidated. Thus the young King is introduced by St John the Baptist to the Virgin and Child, but the King and his other two sponsors, the English monarchy’s two most prominent regal Saints, Edward the Confessor and Edmund of East Anglia, recall images of the Magi.

The painted decoration of the Chapel of St Stephen in the Palace of Westminster included in a prominent position a scene with the Magi, whilst the celebration of the King’s reconciliation with the City of London in 1394 was celebrated in words that accorded a Christ-like quality to Ricardian rule.

1397 is now thought to be the date of the Wilton Diptych, at the seeming height of the King’s power, yet the ideaswithin its composition can be seen in part to have accompanied Richard since his birth thirty years before.

In the Diptych the Magi-like homage together with the presence of so powerful an intercession as St John conveys an implicit reciprocity of acceptance and the bestowal of sacrality upon the Kkng and his realm. Two centuries later Shakespeare allowed his King Richard II many expressions of that Divinity that doth hedge a king, not least the line that “Not all the rough seas in this wide world can wash tter balm from off the head of an anointed king.” What Shakespeare retold was a world view, a spiritual view that had moulded Richard from his infancy. However much he develop and interpreted it part at least came to him in his cradle at Bordeaux in 1367.

Sunday, 3 January 2021

Recalling the Battle of Wakefield

I came upon an article online from the Wakefield Express about the 560th anniversary of the battle of Wakefield, fought on December 30 1460. 

The article has occasional errors in respect of the death of the Earl of Rutland, who was the  second of four sons of the Duke of York, and I am doubtful about the casualty rate it gives.

I have a strong interest in the history of this particular battle. Not only was it fought in my  home area but I was born in a hospital on the on the battlefield site. I remember visiting the site when I was a very young boy of five and seeing the monument to the Duke of York and the earthworks of Sandal Castle. It was therefore the first battlefield I walked. Watching the BBC’s Age of Kings Shakespeare series in 1960-61 reinforced that interest. A few years later I watched the impressive re-excavation of Sandal Castle and its presentation as a historic monument, and later still took local history groups to visit the castle and battlefield. With all that and the great heritage of Pontefract no wonder I am a late medievalist at heart

I wrote about the battle in a post in 2010 which can be seen at The Battle of Wakefield 1460

Saturday, 2 January 2021

The Day of the Circumcision

Fr Hunwicke had a typical, thoughtfully researched post to mark the liturgical significance of yesterday on his blog. His own liturgical acumen looks at how describing it as the day of the Circumcision evolved into it being seen as the feast of the Circumcision. This he then sets within the way in which the Christmas Octave was observed. The result is a shsring of knowledge, a genuine insight into liturgical evolution from the early days of the Roman Church to the age of Vatican II. It is the best exposition of this development I have come across.

Fr Hunwicke’s article can be read at the-circumcision