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.

Thursday 30 December 2021

Putting the Rutland Mosaic into its proper context

The BBC News website has a feature about the Roman mosaic found in Rutland and about which I posted last November in A Roman villa in Rutland and in A video of the Rutland Roman villa

The article is. In effect, a trailer for a forthcoming programme about the mosaic, the insight it gives into the cultural formation, or pretension or aspirations of those who commissioned it. It also looks at how its neglect snd damage indicates the decline anf decay of the villa, presumably in the last years of Imperial rule or in the post-Roman era. This can be used as an indicator of that whole period of transition, or of rupture, as well as the way the whole history of the villa - only 3% has been excavated so far, so there is much more to be revealed both physically and in terms of interpretation - illustrated the lives of villa owners in Britannia.

Wednesday 29 December 2021

The Princes in the Tower…..or mid Devon

Today both the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail both have nearly identical stories about a theory - which I had encountered before - that the dethroned King Edward V was shunted off to live out his life as John Evans in the mid-Devon village of Coldridge.

The articles can be read at Exclusive: Richard III may not have killed young princes in the Tower of London, researchers say and at Richard III may have been INNOCENT of 'Princes in the Tower' murders Both have illustrations of the objects in the church that are taken to reinforce the argument. I will add that both articles do have one glaring mistake - it was not a descendant of the Princes who provided the mitrocondisl DNA to identify King Richard. The Princes have no known descendants: the DNA cams from their aunt Anne, Duchess of Exeter and Lady St Ledger.

As the articles point out this story, with “clues” left in the village church does seem very much on the lines of the Da Vinci Code and that seems appropriate. Will Coldridge become like the cult of Rennes le Chateau in the Pyrenees almost thirty years ago which was later exposed as an elaborate hoax? I am not saying this latest project is a hoax, but castles in the air or bricks without straw come to mind.

I would not be so crass as to say there is nothing in the story - it offers some intriguing possibilities - but I would be very hesitant indeed to accept it on the evidence that is presented.

There might be a hidden story about John Evans ( but not I think as the former King Edward V hidden in plain sight ) and if Coldridge was an estate of his older half-brother, Thomas Grey, Marquess of Dorset, why should there not be Yorkist emblems in the church, or bought wholesale from a carver? Were there job-lots of such bosses going cheap after the events of 1483-5? And how were they painted? By 1511 they might be painted red or red and white in loyalty to the then reigning branch of the royal house.

There are not 41 deer on the ermine lining of the crown that has ended up over the figure described as King Edward V. What there are, of course, are 41 heraldic ermine tails. If 41 is a coincidence, well, that is what it may be.

People leaving coded references like that just don't work for me. Who was supposed to pick up the clue, and what were they to do about it?
Why are they only being read now, and by those presupposed to look for them?

A scrawled graffito of a name upside down means little - not on a reasonable quality effigy that would have cost good money. More than enough centuries and more than enough bored village lads could account for that. I am sure anyone defacing the effigy when it was new would have hit a clip round the ear rather than being part of a silent conspiracy to pass on The Truth.

Maybe there is some mystery about Evans’ identity. There seems to be no long standing legend as to his “real”identity. Might he have been delusional? There are not a few cases of people today who believe, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that they really are of royal birth, and no-one can tell them otherwise.

If the idea were true how did such a long subterfuge endure when we have knowledge of the well-known sagas of both Lambert Simnel  ( “Edward VI “ ) and Perkin Warbeck ( “Richard IV” ), not to mention who it really was, or was not, that was crowned in Dublin in 1487, the story of Richard Plantagenet the literate bricklayer of Eastwell in Kent as a putative illegitimate son of King Richard III, and the activities of the de la Pole brothers Edmund ( no title as such claimed ) and Richard ( another “Richard IV” ). Those last two could raise alarm signals and were a useful distraction for continental rulers to use in the early sixteenth century - rather like the Jacobite claimants in the early to mid-eighteenth century.

I saw a blog post recently ( I will not shame the writer by identifying her site ) that assured its readers that King Richard III collected all his neices and nephews for safety at Sheriff Hutton castle in August 1485 - King Edward IV’s daughters, George of Clarences’s two children snd, of course, the unmurdered “Princes in the Tower” ( though like their sisters they were no longer royal but illegitimate as far as their uncle was concerned ). Such a kind uncle.

On the basis of such “clues” in the church what about the pair of boys heads on a corbel  on the tower of Fulbeck church in Lincolnshire which are claimed to be the “Princes in the Tower”. Maybe they were sent there and a “clue” was left for us to find centuries later.

Are we to believe that King Richard IiI took such a risk. Legitimate or not, if alive, his brother’s teo sons were in many ways much more of a threat than Henry Earl of Richmond became once it appeared likely both here and abroad that young Edward and Richard were in fact dead i.e. in the autumn of 1483, thus vastly increasing Richmond’s standing as a credible rival to the throne. Saying that, by the way, is not to point the finger of guilt at his mother. Even if declared illegitimate the two boys could be, or it could be thought, might be successfully reinstated or, potentially, have their status rectified by Papal dispensation. A patently illegitimate son like Arthur, the future Viscount Lisle, was no threat. Two boys who had been publicly recognised as heir and spare since birth were a very different matter.  

There is a whole anthropology and sociology of missing heirs and imposters - the possible survival of King John I (vide Maurice Druon ). King Edward II ( sorry folks, no red hit poker - vide Ian Mortimer ) False Margaret and False Olaf in Norway and Denmark respectively ( vide Wikipedia), False Dimitri in Russia, the mystery around the deaths of Ling Wladislaus III of Poland-Hungary in 1444 and of King Sebastian of Portugal in 1578, and the various imposters who claimed to be him, not to mention his ever expected return. There is the tragic figure of King Louis XVIi, the quixotic death or disappearance of Emperor Alexander I anf his Empress Elizabeth in 1825, snd, of course, was Anna Anderson Anastasia - No she wasn’t any more than the Cuban lady who claimed to be the illegitimate daughter of King Carlos I of Portugal.

On the basis of this and other such pieces of creative interpretation - very different indeed from successfully identifying and unpacking King Richard III’s grave - I am afraid that too many enthusiasts for that monarch clutch at straws, and sometimes end up falling out amongst themselves as to who to blame ( except, of course, that paragon, the almost saintly Richard himself ). If not King Henry ViI, or his mother, or the Duke of Buckingham, or King Edward IV for either marrying bigamously, or dying inconveniently ( or both ), or Elizabeth Woodville for being, well, Elizabeth Woodville, or the Woodvilles as a family, or any number of lesser functionaries who took it upon themselves ( Tyrell, Brackenbury etc ) or Bishop Stillington for spilling the beans on the marriage to Eleanor Bottiler ( that of course was just after King Edward had his gay fling with her cousin .,,, yes, that is all part of the rich cornucopia of interconnected theories )

Maybe it will all turn out to be true with the one-time King Edward V happily park keeping in Devon snd his brother the erstwhile Duke of Norfolk working as a bricklayer in Colchester into the reign of their nephew King Henry VIiI. But something tells me it won’t

The Mass of St David, King and Prophet

Earlier today a friend sent me a message saying he was watching online, virtually attending in fact, the Mass for the Feast of St David the King and Prophet from the SSPX St Thomas Aquinas seminary in the US. I now see that the New Liturgical Movement have a post about the Feast, its history and propers which can be seen at The Mass of St David, King and Prophet

I imagine that falling on the same day as the Martyrdom of St Thomas of Canterbury it has historically attracted less attention in this country than it might otherwise have done, although Old Testament figures receive considerably less public veneration in the West than in the East.

Monday 27 December 2021

Archbishop Desmond Tutu

The news media are full of obituaries and assessments of the life and influence of Archbishop Desmond Tutu. His place in the history of South Africa and of Christianity at the turn of the twentieth and twenty first centuries is assured.

Reading some of this took me back to when I heard snd met him in Oxford in early 1995. By then a very familiar name, and face, and voice he was asked to lead the triennial Oxford University Mission organised by the College chaplains. The pre-planning seemed a bit slip-shod and last minute from a meeting I attended as a college rep at the Catholic Chaplaincy, but due, I suspect, to Desmond Tutilu’s fame it was a great success. Indeed probably the last such Mission to be really successful, 

I went to hear the Archbishop speak in a full Sheldonian Theatre, but when I went to his last address at the Oxford Union it was so well attended one could not get in to the Debating Chamber. I remember virtually nothing of his Sheldonian speech beyond his introductory joke about the University naming a degree after him - a 2:2. As far as I recall it was a well- thought out reflection drawing upon biblical sources, quieter and reflective which was different from the one-line comments journalists drew out of him in sound bites about the South African situation and the mixture of the forcefully magisterial and the jocular laughter so many have recalled in the past two days,

Those who wished could book to join him one or other morning that week for his private Eucharist in one or other of the college chapels. Those of us from Oriel went with our Chaplain to such a celebration in the then very impressive, if unusual chapel at Mansfield College. I believe this is no longer the chspel but now serves as the hall. In those days this Free Church/URC originating foundation had in its splendid Edwardian neo-perpendicular buildings, a vast chapel, dominated by a central wooden pulpit towering over a small Holy Tsble, and walls supporting statues of worthies such as John Wyclif and stained glass figures including Oliver Cromwell…. Into this stepped a purple cassockef and scull capped Archbishop Tutu to celebrate an Anglican low Mass. All rather bizarre at 8am to be there at such a semi-private moment with so well known a figure. What was striking was his quiet ordered delivery - an inheritance no doubt of that Mirfield CR Anglo-Catholicism which so influenced the Church of the Province of South Africa. Afterwards the congregation met him over coffee in the college.

My memory of him is not the forceful denounciation or quick-witted repartee of the news reports, or of great jocularity but rather of the prayerful pastoral Bishop. I know over the years other ecclesiastics have commented about that and his fidelity to saying the Office, and that is what I sensed in those two encounters.

In recent years his voice had not been silent in denouncing what he saw as political failings in the new South Africa or elsewhere, and that has not always been comfortable for those who were content to cheer him on as the scourge of apartheid. That however is surely the point - he was not a politician but a pastoral prelate, unafraid to speak truth to power, any power. In that he stood in a tradition that stretches back through martyr and confessor Saints to the earliest days of the Church. To do that was not just to be the man at the microphone but also the man of prayer and reflection.

May be rest in peace

Friday 24 December 2021

Time and the Timeless, God and a place in time

The contemporary version of the reading this evening from the Roman Martyrology;

When ages beyond number had run their course from the creation of the world, when God in the beginning created heaven and earth, and formed man in his own likeness; when century upon century had passed since the Almighty placed his bow in the clouds after the Deluge, as a sign of covenant and peace; in the twenty-first century since Abraham, our father in faith, came out of Ur of the Chaldees; in the thirteenth century since the People of Israel were led by Moses in the exodus from Egypt; in around the thousandth year since David was anointed King; in the sixty-fifth week of the prophecy of Daniel; in the one hundred and ninety fourth Olympiad; in the year seven hundred and fifty two since the foundation of the City of Rome; in the forty second year of the reign of Caesar Octavian Augustus, the whole world being at peace, Jesus Christ, being eternal God and Son of the eternal Father, desiring to consecrate the world by his most loving presence, conceived by the Holy Spirit, after nine months had passed since his conception, in Bethlehem of Judah was born of the Virgin Mary, and was made man: The Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh.

Thursday 23 December 2021

Keeping it in the family

We are told, often with nerve tingling intensity and sentimentality, that Christmas is a time for families. Seeing one’s family becomes, seemingly, the be-all and end-all of this time of year. We are also told every year that that this is the most likely time for family quarrels and marriage break downs, due to the pressures of being family….

Now do not misunderstand me. I value and esteem family ties, my own and those of others, but one does need to be realistic about the foibles of one’s relatives, and it can be an opportunity to exercise charity and true goodwill.

Families are nothing new, they are integral to the human condition, to the human experience.
Evidence for this has been demonstrated by the analysis of the bones revealed in the excavation of a Neolithic barrow in Gloucestershire, which is thought to be about 5,700 years old. This has revealed a complex pattern of burials of an extended group over five generations from one family, plus others who may have married in to it, or been assimilated to it. 

This use of a family tomb, beginning with the patriarch his presumed, four wives, and burial according to both patrilineal lines - sons near thei fathers - and matrilineal ones - grouping descendants near the matriarch of that part of the family, indicates a hierarchical family structure, a stability of farming the area, and a sense of identity in terms of shared descent from that common patriarch.

There are good summaries of the study, which is published in Nature, and its use of DNA sampling, from BBC News at World's oldest family tree created using DNA

A Neolithic family Christmas is, ipso facto, an oxymoron, but this study does show the dynamic of family life in building societies from the earliest times.

Wednesday 22 December 2021

Enforcing Traditionis Custodes - or not

Today brought two reflections on the recent moves to implement Traditionis Custodes to my attention, and both of which I would urge readers to look at and reflect upon.

Rorate Caeli published a forceful, and ultimately seasonal, article at Motus in fine velocior (2) - "With a Divisive, Useless, and Unjust Persecution, the Francis Crisis is Gathering Even More Speed" - by Roberto de Mattei  Di Mattei is a writer noted for his trenchant views on modern trends in the Church, and this is a good example of his critique.

Closer to home here in Oxford Fr Hunwicke on his blog wrote THE SACRAMENT OF CONFIRMATION 

All in the genes

There is a very interesting report today on the BBC News site about what is clearly a major collaborative study on the changes in late Bronze Age society in Britain that involves significant immigration, genetic adaptation and arguably an important change in language.

Such prehistory is not, as I pointed out recently, my territory at all, but this  is a study describing what appear to be not only key events in their own time, but which have also permanently affected life in the British Isles ever since. This is indeed history in the longue durée. The evidence for change to the genetic make-up of the population is one that is still with, living in our bones.

Monday 20 December 2021

Did Mary Magdalene worship here?

The Mail Online recently had a report about the excavation of a first century synagogue in Magdala on the west side of the Sea of Galilee.  Not only does this add to our knowledge of Jewish devotional life in the countryside, away from the Temple cult in Jerusalem, but it has the added interest that it may well have been visited on a regular basis by St Mary Magdalene and her family. Your view on that may - or may not - be influenced by whether you see her as one individual - the traditional view - or that the figure of Mary Magdalene is a fusion of three separate individuals, which is historiographically a relatively new concept. Whether the authors are right to say Magdala is her birthplace is itself, I imagine, debatable as she may have acquired the designation by living there rather than actually being born in the village. In the traditional narrative her brother and sister are described as being of Bethany, which is, of course, close to Jerusalem.

The account of the excavation, illustrated with photographs, can be read at 2,000-year-old synagogue 'found in the birthplace of Mary Magdalene'

A medieval Dominican retable from Kent

I was very interested to come across an article from 2018 in the Art Newspaper about the restoration of an early fifteenth century painted English altar retable. 

Known as the Battel Hall retable it is thought to have been painted in about 1410 for the house of Dominican nuns at Dartford - the only instance of a female community of the Order in medieval England. This is a rare survival indeed and not well-known like the one at Thornham Parva in Norfolk. I must admit that I was unaware of its existence until I saw the article.

Vandalised in the years after the suppression of the house and apparently reused as a desk top - and now replete with schoolboy graffiti - it is not documented before 1863, when it was at Battel Hall. Today it forms part of the collection at Leeds Castle in Kent.

The article, which reports on a recent major restoration of the painting, can be seen at Restoration of rare English Medieval altarpiece reveals a history of serial vandalism

Sunday 19 December 2021

Robin Hood identified?

I stumbled upon an article in The Independent from 2020 about the latest academic research by Dr David Crook into the origins of the Robin Hood legends. This seems to tie in closely with other work on the story and the evidence assembled by other established scholars.

This summarises the research and locates the origin of the story in the events of 1225 and the restored and more confident government of those years gathering in cash to Westminster, an attractive possibility for a highway robber.

As all Yorkshiremen know Robin Hood was one of their own, a Yorkshire based raider, and associated in particular with the stretch of what later centuries would call the Great North Road through Barnsdale along the limestone escarpment between Pontefract and Doncaster. The association with Nottingham only really comes in to the stories later on, as does the idea of social redistribution by robbing the rich to give to the poor. In the early stories Robin Hood is someone who helps an impoverished knight retrieve money from an unjust lord  - a noticeably different theme. The earliest surviving written legend of Robin Hood placed him very specifically just outside the small village of Wentbridge, which grew up to service passing trade along the road where it  dropped into a natural cutting made by the river Went before climbing the other side - an ideal location from which to launch a robbery. In the time of King Edward I extra guards were used to prevent the escape, or capture, of prisoners being moved along this route. In the area there are still Robin Hood’s Well and Little John’s Well.

All this is superbly presented by the late Professor James Holt in his book on the whole subject of the legend, its origins and mutations. In it he postulated an early thirteenth century origin for Robin Hood as a real person snd now, perhaps, he has been successfully identified as Robert of Wetherby or Robert Hod or Hood.

Dr Crook even has an explanation for the involvement of the Sheriff of Nottingham in the story.

His work coalesces well with that of Professor Holt to present an historical figure and events as the source of a rich and lively tradition of story telling that has fired the imagination of medieval balladiers, radical writers, Sir Walter Scott and Hollywood. No mean achievement for an enterprising thirteenth century bandit in the badlands of Barnsdale.

Saturday 18 December 2021

More on the Galloway Hoard

The Mail Online has an article with fine illustrations about the gold-mounted rock crystal vessel from the Galloway Hoard which I wrote about in my post earlier today concerning The latest revelation from the Galloway Hoard

Once again this brings out the importance of the discovery in terms of the insight it offers into the artistic and cultural achievements of ninth century lowland Britain and also the undoubted quality of the object itself. 

The latest revelation from the Galloway Hoard

The Guardian has a fascinating article about the cleaning and conservation of an item
from the Galloway Hosrd, about which I have posted previously in The Galloway Hoard revealed and in Unpacking the Galloway Hoard 

It is not clear if the hoard, buried it is thought about 900, was Viking loot or had been buried to protect it from suffering such a fate. The original provenance of the items that comprise the hoard may be either in what is now northern England or in southern Scotland or in some cases Ireland.

This newly publicised discovery is indeed remarkable, a small and exquisite carved rock crystal jar of Roman date which has been mounted in gold with a delicate mesh of wires enclosing the crystal.

This had been done at the behest of a Bishop Hyguald, who is otherwise unknown to history. The archaeologists appear to date the work to the late eighth or early ninth century, and the vase itself to being perhaps six centuries older. 

Such a reuse of an ancient vessel is strongly reminiscent of the collection amassed by Abbot Suger at St Denis in the early twelfth century.

Both on the basis of its delicacy and obviously special nature and that it was found enclosed in the remains of a silk lined leather pouch, as well as it being an epuscopal commission I would definitely think it was used  a Chrismatory. It is a comment on our times that the archaeologist describing it is given to  vagueness, or reluctance, to regard it as a specifically liturgical object.

Along with the great Northumbrian manuscript tradition and the treasures that have survived associated with St Cuthbert at Durham this is a further reminder that the Anglo-Saxon church was splendid in its sacred objects and liturgy. It was not the historically inaccurate idea beloved of trendy modernising ecclesiastics and designers or of uninformed filmmakers who see the era as one of homespun vestments and crude vessels

Friday 17 December 2021

Restoring Tijou’s work at Hampton Court

The Art Newspaper recently had an article about the restoration of the ironwork screens created by the Huguenot exile Jean Tijou at the end of the seventeenth century for the newly laid out gardens at Hampton Court Palace. As the writer points out little is known with any certainty about Tijo, but his skill and artistry is unquestioned.

A medieval Norwegian falconer’s knife

A recent discovery in Norway of the bone handle of a knife carved to depict a regal figure with a falcon on their arm is reported by the Mail Online

The handle was found during excavations of part of medieval Oslo and it thought likely to be from the reign of King Haakon IV (1217-63) who was known to be interested in the royal, and expensive, sport of falconry. It is not clear if the carved figure is meant to be a king or a queen.

The illustrated article can be seen at Norwegian 13th century knife shows royal figure partaking in falconryIt includes at the end a link to a more detailed Norwegian account, in English, about the work involved in the discovery, the excavation and the importance of falconry in courtly society in the middle ages.

Music at Sutton Hoo and elsewhere

The Mail Online has an account of the identification of a fourth century lyre discovered in an archaeological dig in 1973 in Kazakhstan as being of the same type as that found at Sutton Hoo in 1939. Sutton Hoo is a seventh century site, but, along with other similar finds on the continent, the evidence suggests a common type of lyre whose use stretched much further than hitherto thought. Different from those of the Greek world this was a type that was apparently used from Britain across the North European Plainsnd east to Central Asia. I suppose this begs the question, probably unanswerable ( but then it is not my subject ) as to how much commonality there was to the music played upon these instruments.

Quite apart from the specifics of musicological history the general point is so important to note. The world of Sutton Hoo was a much wider one than just that of East Anglia or of the British isles or of Western Europe but of a world that stretched to the Mediterranean, Byzantium and further east.

The article about the Kazakh lyre can be read at Sutton Hoo lyre has a COUSIN 2,485 miles away, study reveals

Deacons and their stoles in the Ambrosian Rite

The Liturgical Arts Journal has another interesting post from Shawn Tribe about the Ambrosian Rite. This time he explains and illustrates the Ambrosian practice of the Deacon wearing his stole over the dalmatic rather than under it. He also demonstrates how this has preserved what was, in the first millennium, probably the universal practice.

Thursday 16 December 2021

The French Coronation of King Henry VI and II

590 years ago on December 16th 1431 there took place the coronation in the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris of King Henry VI of England as King Henry II of France.

Reims, the traditional place of coronation was inaccessible and had seen the coronation of King Charles VII more than two years earlier, so Paris was chosen for the celebration of King Henry’s sacré.

He left Rouen late in November and with a substantial military escort proceeded to Paris, entering the city to a lavish welcome with tableaux on December 2nd. Accompanying him were his great uncle Cardinal Beaufort, his uncle and Regent the Duke of Bedford, his cousin the Duke of York and the Earls of Suffolk, Salisbury, Warwick, Ormonde, Oxford and Huntingdon ( later Duke of Exeter ) together with the Cardinal’s nephew the Count of Mortain ( later Duke of Somerset ). Of these secular lords five were to die violent deaths in the Wars of the Roses, as did twelve of their sons. Such a possibility was doubtless very far indeed from their minds as they entered the city and awaited the coronation.

Although the Sainte Ampiule was unavailable being at the abbey St Remi in Reims, and had been used for the coronation of King Henry’s uncle and rival King Charles VII on July 17 1429, other pieces of the French coronation regalia were available. Held at the abbey of St Denis, just north of the city, the traditional symbols or French royal authority were used. So we can assume that King Henry received the so-called Crown of Charlemagne..,,,, and the royal sceptre made for his great-grandfather King Charles V.

The Crown of Charlemagne
The circlet appears to have dated from the time of King Charles the Bald and the lilies to have been added by King Philip II 1180-1223.
It was destroyed in 1794. It’s companion piece for the Queen had been destroyed in 1590.
There is more about this at ……

Image: Wikipedia 

Another picture of the Crown
One of the rubies enclosed what was held to be a spine from the Crown of Thorns.

Image: medart.pitt.edu

A reconstruction of the Crown as it may have appeared in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries

Image: Pinterest

File:Sceptre de Charles V - Partie supérieure.jpg

The sceptre of King Charles V

Image: Wikimedia

The Coronation Sword Joyeuse
It was borne at French coronations between 1270 and 1825


Charlemagne's sword, the Louvre European History, Ancient History, Art History, Louvre Paris, Montmartre Paris, Vladimir Kush, Carolingian, Josephine Wall, Knights Templar
The hilt of Joyeuse

Image: 2careless on Flickr/Pinterest

The coronation was conducted and the Mass celebrated  by the King’s great-uncle Cardinal Henry Beaufort, the ‘Cardinal of England’. Just over two years earlier on 6 November 1429 the Cardinal sang the Mass at the Westminster coronation, but the rite of coronation itself was carried out, as of right, by Archbishop Henry Chichele of Canterbury. Now, in what was not the usual church or diocese for a French coronation any claims of the Bishop of Paris, Jacques du Chastelier, or Châtelier, who held the see from 1427 to 1438, were ignored, and there was no role for the metropolitan, the Archbishop of Sens, Jean Nanton, whose predecessor had blessed the marriage of the young King’s parents at Troyes in 1420. Cardinal Beaufort, as the most senior cleric present, and who was, by implication, representing the wider Church, officiated.

The French chronicler Monstrelet noted that the ceremony was more after the English than the French form, but does not give details. The two rites do share many features and it would be interesting to know what adaptations were made. When, for example, nine years earlier King Charles VI died the English administration had introduced elements of English royal obsequies for the procession to St Denis, notably the robed snd crowned effigy of the King on top of his coffin. This became a feature of later burials of French monarchs, as discussed by Kantorowicz  in The King’s Two Bodies

According to the later English writer Edward Hall in the sixteenth century at the feast, which I assume was held in the hall of the Royal Palace adjacent to the cathedral, and now known as the Conciergerie, which followed the Coronation everything “that might be bought for golde, nor nothing was forgotten that by mannes wish could be invented.” A contemporary French chronicler however thought the food poor - is that a leitmotif of Anglo-French relations? - and the tournament the following day was seen as unimpressive.

At the feast the Cardinal sat on the right hand of the young King to whom he gave as a keepsake a gold ring with a ruby. Fourteen years later King Henry was to have this remade as his wedding ring to give his bride Queen Margaret of Anjou.

That the events left a deep impression on the King is clear. In 1435 when the Duke of Burgundy renounced the English alliance and wrote to him as merely King of England the fourteen year old King wept and in his attempts to secure a negotiated peace in the late 1440s he refused to give up his title to France and his representatives declined to recognise King Charles VII as other than the King’s uncle in France.


A celebration of the Lancastrian Dual Monarchy 

A genealogical table of the descendants of St Louis IX in the form of a fleur-de-lys, from Poems and Romances (the 'Talbot Shrewsbury book'), France (Rouen), c. 1445, Royal 15 E. vi, f. 3r

Image: British Library

For more about the manuscript see The Talbot Shrewsbury Book Goes Online

Tuesday 14 December 2021

Sagrada Familia

There is a suitably Advent theme about the latest news from the long-running construction of Antonio Gaudi’s church of Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. This has now reached another milestone with the completion of the 452 foot high spire over the eastern end of the building. Dedicated to the Virgin Mary it is topped by an illuminated star of Bethlehem. This was lit for the first time on December 8th, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.

Sagrada Familia was begun in 1882, and until his tragic death in 1926 was the principal project of Gaudi’s, a man of great personal piety and himself now a candidate for elevation to the altar as a beatus or saint. The history and design of the church is set out in Sagrada Família

This stage in the building is recorded in a piece on the Mail Online website and it includes pictures of the rest of this extraordinary church at The Mail gets a sneak peek at the new Sagrada Familia tower

It was hoped to complete Sagrada Familia in 2026, but the consequences of the pandemic appear to have delayed that. Nonetheless it does seem that in a few years this remarkable building will finally be completed. When that is so the central spire at 564 feet will outreach the 530 feet of that at the west end iof Ulm Minster, completed in 1890 and adding ten feet to the medieval plans. The story of the great church in Ulm can be read at Ulm Minster

I will add here the comment that although the claimed height of 584 feet for the fourteenth century timber and lead spire on the central tower of Lincoln cathedral which blew down in 1548 is now thought to be an exaggeration and not physically possible it is still thought to have been in the region of at least 525 feet tall, and to have been the tallest building in the world erected before the 1848 Washington Monument. No mean achievement for the early fourteenth century. By comparison the spire of Salisbury cathedral, also from the fourteenth century but in stone, is 404 feet high.

I only know Sagrada Familia from photographs and one can admire its exuberant and fantastic qualities without necessarily liking all of it or even all of its parts - and it is a building of many and complex parts. That is not to say I actually dislike it or that I fail to appreciate Gaudi’s vision of a stone forest stretching up from the earth in its yearning for God. It is a spectacular counterblast to secularism, indifferentism, atheism and the modern world. It is a strange irony of history that it is in a city which witnessed such horrors from the enemies of the Church in the late 1930s.

This is mysticism made material - or the material made mystical. Few, if any, ecclesiastical buildings of the past century snd a half do that, and none so spectacularly as Sagrada Familia. However I suppose the question lurking in my mind is on the lines of would I want to always go there for Mass? On this feast of that great Spanish mystic St John of the Cross this seems a thought to pose about mysticism - one can revere its fruits, one can admire its practitioners, but how comfortable with it do we more ordinary mortals feel?


Monday 13 December 2021

Keeping medieval cities clean

By a fortuitous coincidence I came across a piece on History Extra about the ways in which cities such as London, York and Coventry sought to maintain cleanliness in their streets in the later Middle Ages. This uses some of the material from London which was cited in the criminological study of the city in the earlier fourteenth century to which I linked recently in Murder in early fourteenth century London

As this article on urban street cleansing shows disputes could turn violent, sometimes very violent and fatal but it challenges lazy modern assumptions about medieval dirt and mess. It shows that cities, and their citizens, did attempt to keep their streets clean and presentable in ways that are not unfamiliar to us today. I posted about this topic in 2016 in Keeping York clean in the sixteenth century

The short article, with many instances from civic life, can be read at Were medieval cities really filthy?

There is also an insightful article, and which includes a bibliography, and published in 2019, which discusses these and other related matters at Medieval Hygiene: Practices Of The Middle Ages

Sunday 12 December 2021

Ambrosian Morello

Today being Gaudete Sunday the Roman use assigns to its clergy rose coloured vestments as an alternative to violet. However in Milan a different, and distinctive, colour is worn.

The Liturgical Arts Journal recently had an article about the use in the Ambrosian Rite of the colour morello throughout Advent - as it points out a longer season in Milan than in Rome - and on Lenten Sundays.

As the article points out in Milan the violet of Penance has evolved towards the blue-brown of morello whilst elsewhere violet evolved through the use of vestments in the lightest available shades into rose as an indicator of a relaxation of seasonal austerity, along with the use of music and the presence of flowers.

The handsomely illustrated account of Milanese practice can be viewed at The Ambrosian Rite's Unique Liturgical Colour: Morello

Saturday 11 December 2021

Boy Bishops

This being Advent and the week that has seen the feast of St Nicholas it is also the season for Boy Bishops to enter into their responsibilities.

The New Liturgical Movement has a post about the custom and about the installation of one such at the school at Chavagnes in France. A priest friend of mine was a pupil there, though I do not know if he ever attained to the status of being Boy Bishop.

The illustrated post can be seen at A Boy-Bishop for the Feast of St Nicholas

I am however somewhat sorry to see that the Boy Bishop’s mitre is red to match his cope rather than the correct colour for all mitres, which is either white ( or similar such as ivory ) or gold, and with appropriate decoration. However it is good to see the custom being practised.

Last year I posted about this traditional  custom in Boy Bishops which has some more Illustrations of modern boy bishops.

Murder in early fourteenth century London

I came across a series of online articles from 2018 about research by a criminologist into murders in London in the period 1300-1340.

The records are analysed in terms of matters such as incidence, location, method, motive, sex or gender of both victim and assailant, time of day and suchlike.

The articles themselves can be seen at Medieval London map reveals grisly 14th Century deaths - including dagger stabbings, sword beheadings and eel skin killings from The Sun ( dare I say it not the most obvious paper in which to seek scholarly work on the medieval period ), at Medieval London's murder hotspots revealed from the BBC News and at Digital map reveals medieval London's homicide 'hot spots' from Medievalists.net.

There has been a similar study for medieval Oxford and published some years ago in Past and Present. This also revealed a diversity of patterns in terms of such things as risk and location.

Friday 10 December 2021

Good news from Guadalajara

Rorate Caeli has a hopeful report about the FSSP quasi-parish of San Pedro en Cadenas in Guadalajara in Mexico. This had been suppressed in the immediate wake of Traditionis Custodes by the Cardinal
Archbishop of Guadalajara but now, following an apparently fruitful meeting with the parishioners, he has revoked this and allowed them to resume liturgy according to the 1962 Missal.

This does appear to be a very positive development and it must be hoped, indeed prayed, that this Traditionat community will be maintained and sustained. I have on occasion during lockdown watched online the Mass from Guadalajara and very much appreciated that it was being offered. Long may that continue.

Thursday 9 December 2021

Crucifixion in Roman Britain

There are a number of online reports about the discovery in 2017 at Fenstanton in Huntingdonshire of the remains of a man who had been crucified in the period 130-337 according to radiocarbon dating. The third or early fourth century has been suggested as a likely time for this execution to have occurred. This appears to be the first such tangible evidence from Britannia of such a punishment having been inflicted, and one of the very few examples to survive from the entire Roman world. 

The reports can be seen - if you can get beyond pay walls in several instances - from Life Science, which was the first one I read, at Thrre is considerably more detail from the Daily Telegraph at First physical evidence of Roman crucifixion in Britain unearthed in housing estatefrom The Times at Roman crucifixion remains unearthed at Fenstanton housing estatefrom the Mail Online at 'World's best example' of crucifixion found in Cambridgeshire, and from The Independent at Crucifixion was practised in Roman Britain, new evidence reveals, The BBC News website also has a report at First example of Roman crucifixion in UK found, and there is another from Ancient Origins at At Last! First Evidence of Roman Crucifixion in Britain Found

It is, I think, interesting that the last in that group seems to assume the executed man was somehow a victim. That says something about modern sensibilities. For all we know he was a notorious criminal who got what the Roman authorities and maybe the populace at large thought were his just desserts. Equally the fact that he received a decent burial might indicate that someone at least held him in regard. The thing is, we do not know.

This discovery has clearly attracted considerable interest which points to the continuing cultural impact on our own society of Christianity, for although thrrr is nothing st all to indicate a religious element in this man’s conviction the image of death on a cross has a place deep in our consciousness.

What is also striking is how this and other discoveries in the hinterland of the Wash have added to our knowledge of the area and of Roman Britain in general. The area around Peterborough and stretching towards Cambridge is not, perhaps, the best known area for Roman antiquities to outsiders yet it is proving a rich source of archaeological material which offers new insights into life and death in Britannia.

Wednesday 8 December 2021

More about Blair Atholl Man

As so often happens with online journalism it can take several days for a story to go the rounds and reach its potential readers. Having posted a link two days ago to a news report about the latest analysis of the so-called ‘Blair Atholl Man’ in my post Blair Atholl Man I have subsequently found a fuller account on the Mail Online site about the research. This gives considerably more information about the burial and the Pictish context and can be seen at Man with strong jawline buried in Scotland in 421 AD was NOT a local

Tuesday 7 December 2021

King Henry VI - 600

Yesterday, the feast day of St Nicholas, was the 600th anniversary of the birth at Windsor Castle of the future King Henry VI.

Personality of King Henry VI

King Henry VI
Image: schoolshistory. org.uk

The only son of the marriage of King Henry V and Queen Catherine he was born heir to both the thrones of England and Ireland and to that of France under the terms of the Treaty of Troyes, which was itself the background to his parents’ marriage the preceding year.

Within a year he had succeeded his father as King of England and his grandfather as King of France. The high hopes, doubtless not unaccompanied by fears which surrounded those events were the prelude to a reign that was to end in the loss of France, illness, civil war in England and the King’s deposition, flight, capture, imprisonment. readeption and finally murder. This was accompanied by the death of his only son in battle and there or on the scaffold of so many of his supporters. 

Alongside that tale of woe are the foundations of Eton, Kings in Cambridge and, with Archbishop Chichele, of All Souls in Oxford. There is also the fact that the country as a whole appears prosperous and creative in such a time of political and military upheaval - the actions of the political elite appear not to have hampered that solid prosperity of late medieval England.

As a man King Henry appears genuinely devout, and was indeed, to be esteemed in the decades following his death as a candidate fir sainthood. A gentle man he sought to reconcile his feuding subjects and indeed realms by peaceful persuasion and pious intentions. That said he was also willing to act decisively and, for all his recorded delight in quiet scholarly interests, was conscious of the dignity and duties of his royal office. This has not, I think, attracted as much recognition as it ought amongst historians. 

Most people’s image if him derives, as with the other monarchs if the fifteenth century from Shakespeare. As with all those images there are the simplifications necessary to the dramatist, who is telling a story, and not necessarily the story about them. Shakespeare’s character King Henry Vi lacks the resolve he did show and the concern for his foundations - he is pious and peaceful, and ineffectual, whereas at times the real King was perhaps over assertive and very conscious of his position. A threat to that would be met by a firm response, if not perhaps directly but certainly in his name.

The story of King Henry VI is in many ways a terrible, personal one as well as a national tragedy. If in his last years he perhaps found personal serenity in captivity, his seeming failure found a strange response both in his cult as a saint-king beloved of his humble subjects and in the vindication of his line by his relative’s victory at Bosworth. What he might have thought of the actions of the successors of King Henry VII is another matter.

I am currently reading inter alia Lauren Johnson’s recent biography of him, The Shafow King: The Life and Death of Henry VI. In this book she seems to depict him as a complete human being rather than as a semi-caricature as in the past or as simply a failed ruler which might be the view of modern academics. She draws well upon surviving contemporary material to recreate for her readers the court and country within which the King lived out his earthly pilgrimage. As I read it I sense more than ever that the problems which confronted the young King were ones which would have overwhelmed many men, and indeed he would have needed to be his formidable father to have solved them. That he was not was a large part of his tragedy. That he  was a man of principle in a time of vicious conflict stands to his credit and seems to have been respected by his support, even by his enemies, and by his people.

As a kind of anticipated twentieth birthday present for himself and a gift to learning in February 1441 King Henry founded the College of Our Lady and St Nicholas - King’s College - Cambridge.

King Henry VI with Representatives of the Lords and Commons, 1446, (1947) 

King Henry VI together with the Lords and Commons and with St Nicholas at top right 
Charter upon Act of Parliament to King’s College Cambridge March 16th 1445-6

Image: Media Storehouse

There is a more detailed description of the charter and more illustrations in an article from King’s College at Illuminating the Foundation of King’s College

King’s College founded by King Henry VI
The illuminated section of the charter 
Image: kcs.cambs.sch.uk

Manuscript page showing Henry VI's coat of arms
The arms of King Henry VI together with his banner


This evening at St George’s Chapel at Windsor there had been a special Evensong to commemorate the King’s birth with Etonians  laying white lilies and red roses on his tomb.

King Henry VI Pray for us
Detail of the Charter upon Act of Parliament, 16 March 1445-6