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.

Sunday 31 January 2021

Burying the Alleluia

Today is Septuagesima and hence in the Extrordinary Form we are in a new liturgical phase if not a full season, and until the Vigil of Easter ‘Alleluia’ is no longer sung. Traditionally the word was ceremonially buried on the eve of Septuagesima. A few years ago I posted about this custom twice and thought I would republish the pieces, which were well received at the time.

Burying the Alleluia is from 2012 and Burying the Alleluia (again) is from 2014.

I hope you find them of interest and remember, don’t say the ‘A word’ until the appropriate moment in the Triduum.

A fragment of the Harry Crown?

The Mail Online has an article about what appears to be a very significant, if perplexing, discovery by a metal detector in a Northamptonshire field near Market Harborough which may link to one of the greatest lost treasures of England.

I had seen something before about this item, but it was very interesting to read more about it with illustrations. The two and a half inch high gold figure is of King Henry VI and appears to be a sole survivor of five figures which decorated the ‘Harry Crown’ which was destroyed along with virtually all the rest of the regalia - barring actual jewels and the Ampulla and spoon - in 1649. The illustrated article can be viewed at Metal detectorist finds £2million jewel of Henry VIII's lost crown

This includes a photograph of the statuette and a link to a good video about the reconstruction of the crown in 2012 and an interview with a fellow Orielensis and friend Dr Kent Rawlinson who is now curator at Hampton Court.

Our knowledge of what as called the Harry Crown or the Imperial Crown comes from the account made when it was destructive, from records of alterations to it in the sixteenth century which have been published in recent years and especially from the paintings of Van Dyck and others, where it so often sits on a table at the elbow of King Charles I.  

Lost Treasures of Britain: Strong, R.

The Harry Crown from a portrait of King Charles I in 1631 by Daniel Mytens

This shows the back of the crown. The figurine on the fleur de lys is of the Virgin and Child.

Image: AbeBooks

A few years ago the reconstruction was made of the crown in its final form and it can be seen at Hampton Court in the Royal Pew. Excellent as it is I think it misses some of the subtleties conveyed by the paintings, unless that is the contest between paint and photograph.

Unfortunately all the Historic Royal Palaces photographs of it obstinately refuse to be downloaded, so you will have to search online for pictures of the replica. This can be seen in the Mail Online article. One to look out for shows the crown from the side and the odd alignment of the arches with the circlet brought about by the latter having five crosses and five fleur de lys, unlike its successors.

The article about the discovery of the figurine, is unfortunately a bit silly at times  - no one surely imagines that the King was wearing the crown as he retreated after Naseby, or that he stopped to bury one figurine. The regalia, like its successors, was kept in the Tower of London. Nor am I at all certain about the reported changes to the figures in the time of King Henry VIII. The little statuette looks to be from the time of him or perhaps even more likely his father, who actively pursued the cause of King Henry VI for canonisation. 

How the figurine got to where it was found is one of those historical mysteries that will doubtless never be solved as nothing presumably was ever committed to writing about it. Did someone keep the tiny figure as a souvenir? That might imply that a zealous, or not so zealous, Puritan of one of various different configurations, saved a graven image of a saintly king. Doubtful. Did someone light fingered merely make off with it and then lost  it? More likely. In losing it he did of course save it for posterity. 

There is a reasonable account of the Harry Crown on Wikipedia at Tudor CrownI think there is more to be said about it than the article actually does; note 1 in it refers to another, lighter, crown made for King Edward VI and used by his two half-sisters and shown in the Coronation portrait of Queen Elizabeth I. 

In 2019 I gave a lecture on the Harry Crown to the Oxford University Heraldry Society. If anyone is interested in hearing it, complete with splendid illustrations, and once one can travel and meet up, please get in contact. I would be happy to oblige. 

Without spoiling too much of my thesis I would argue that the Harry who commissioned the crown was not either King Henry VII or King Henry VIII, but King Henry V. The crown was certainly altered in terms of adding or removing jewels by different monarchs as can be seen from the written record. That is also true of its current successor the Imperial State Crown since it was made in 1838 which had had its profile raised and lowered, jewels added, as well as an entirely new frame and minor adjustments to fit the heads of monarchs.

The gold statue appears destined for the British Museum and thus will be seen. I do wonder if however it could find an even more appropriate home at the Tower of London alongside the present regalia.

The Oxford Almanack

The Oxford Almanack was first published in 1674 and has been published by the University and its Press continuously since 1676. For those who do not know it the Amanck is a poster printed on fine art paper with each year a specially commissioned view of Oxford, a calendar of dates academic ecclesiastical and national and a list of the principal office holders of the University and colleges. They are traditional and collectible. 

Now the Oxford University Press in its wisdom (sic) wishes to stop producing them.

May I urge readers, if they have not done so already, to sign this open letter to OUP protesting against this decision. The introduction gives more about the history of the Almanack

Saturday 30 January 2021

The remembrance of King Charles I

I am not the only Oxford-based blogger to mark today’s anniversary of the death of King Charles I. Two others, both of them friends of mine, have posted on the theme, and I am sure that will not mind me sharing their reflections.

Tony Morris blogs about Oxford and its history, and in his post he looks at surviving links to the time when the King, the part of Parliament loyal to him, his residual Court, Army and Mint were based in Oxford as well as a physical survival from the trial in Westminster Hall which survives in the Ashmolean Museum. His post can be seen at https://morrisoxford.co.uk/bradshaws-hat/

Fr Hunwicke has two posts that relate to the Royal Martyr. The first, from yesterday, is about a much happier time in the King’s life when he and his Queen were starting their family and the celebrations that marked the birth of the future King Charles II in 1630. It can be read at 

Fr John has a much more extensive and expansive post today which looks at devotion to ‘blessed Charles the Martyr’ through the prism of the Ordinariate. This is a reissue of a post he wrote in 2014 and which continues to provide food for reflection and devotion. It blends a breadth of spirituality and of history with a strong sense of place and a typically distinctive voice. In so doing he draws out something that academic historians have stressed for a while but which has percolated but little to the man or woman in the street, in the newspaper offices and in the broadcasting studio, that is that the English, Scottish and Irish Civil Wars of the era were as much as anything religious wars. The politics and constitutional claims were a way of securing a religious position against opponents.

The post can be viewed, together with comments at blessed Charles Stuart ... and a Beatification ...

The Last Speech of King Charles I

Today is the anniversary of the beheading of King Charles I in 1649. 

Charles I at his trial in 1649

King Charles I 
A portrait from the time of his trial

Image: English Heritage

A while ago I found on the Internet the text of the speech the King made on the scaffold and thought that worth sharing to commemorate the Royal Martyr.

The King begins by referring to the fact that the number of guards around the scaffold prevented the crowd hearing him ... so he addressed this to the quite large group who appear to have been on the scaffold itself:

I shall be very little heard of anybody here, I shall therefore speak a word unto you here.

Indeed I could hold my peace very well, if I did not think that holding my peace would make some men think that I did submit to the guilt as well as to the punishment. But I think it is my duty to God first and to my country for to clear myself both as an honest man and a good King, and a good Christian.

I shall begin first with my innocence.

In truth I think it not very needful for me to insist long upon this, for all the world knows that I never did begin a War with the two Houses of Parliament. And I call God to witness, to whom I must shortly make an account, that I never did intend for to encroach upon their privileges. They began upon me, it is the Militia they began upon, they confessed that the Militia was mine, but they thought it fit for to have it from me. And, to be short, if any body will look to the dates of Commissions, of their commissions and mine, and likewise to the Declarations, will see clearly that they began these unhappy troubles, not I. So that as the guilt of these enormous crimes that are laid against me I hope in God that God will clear me of it.

I will not, I am in charity, God forbid that I should lay it upon the two Houses of Parliament. There is no necessity of either. I hope that they are free of this guilt, for I do believe that ill instruments between them and me has been the chief cause of all this bloodshed; so that by way of speaking, as I find myself clear of this, I hope and pray God that they may too; yet for all this, God forbid that I should be so ill a Christian as not to say that Gods Judgments are just upon me.

Many times He does pay justice by an unjust sentence, that is ordinary. I will only say this, that an unjust sentence that I suffered to take effect*, is punished now by an unjust sentence upon me. That is, so far as I have said, to show you that I am an innocent man.

Now to show you that I am a good Christian; I hope there is [pointing to D. Juxon] a good man that will bear me witness that I have forgiven all the world, and even those in particular that have been the chief causers of my death. Who they are, God knows, I do not desire to know, God forgive them. But this is not all, my charity must go further.

I wish that they may repent, for indeed they have committed a great sin in that particular. I pray God, with St. Stephen, that this be not laid to their charge. Nay, not only so, but that they may take the right way to the peace of the kingdom, for my charity commands me not only to forgive particular men, but my charity commands me to endeavor to the last gasp the peace of the kingdom.

So, Sirs, I do wish with all my soul, and I do hope there is some here [turning to some gentlemen that wrote] that will carry it further, that they may endeavor the peace of the kingdom.

Now, sirs, I must show you both how you are out of the way and will put you in a way.

First, you are out of the way, for certainly all the way you have ever had yet, as I could find by anything, is by way of conquest. Certainly this is an ill way, for Conquest, sirs, in my opinion, is never just, except that there be a good just cause, either for matter of wrong or just title. And then if you go beyond it, the first quarrel that you have to it, that makes it unjust at the end that was just at the first. But if it be only matter of conquest, there is a great robbery, as a pirate said to Alexander the Great, that he was the great robber, he was just a petty robber. And so, sirs, I do think the way that you are in, is much out of the way.

Now, sirs, to put you in the way, believe it, you will never do right, nor God will never prosper you, until you give God his due, the King his due (that is, my successors) and the people their due. I am as much for them as any of you.

You must give God his due by regulating rightly His church according to the Scripture, which is now out of order. For to set you in a way particularly, now I cannot, but only this. A national synod freely called, freely debating among themselves, must settle this, when that every opinion is freely and clearly heard.

For the King, indeed I will not, [then turning to a gentlemen that touched the axe] Hurt not the Axe that may hurt me.

For the King the Laws of the land will clearly instruct you for that; therefore, because it concerns my own particular, I only give you a touch of it.

For the people, and truly I desire their liberty and freedom as much as any body whomsoever. But I must tell you that their liberty and freedom consists in having of government those Laws by which their life and their goods may be most their own. It is not for having share in government, sirs. That is nothing pertaining to them. A subject and a sovereign are clean different things, and therefore until they do that, I mean, that you do put the people in that liberty as I say, certainly they will never enjoy themselves.

Sirs, it was for this that now I am come here. If I would have given way to an arbitrary way, for to have all laws changed according to the power of the sword, I needed not to have come here. And therefore I tell you, and I pray God it be not laid to your charge, that I am the martyr of the people.

In truth, sirs, I shall not hold you much longer, for I will only say thus to you. That in truth I could have desired some little time longer, because I would have put then that I have said in a little more order, and a little better digested than I have done. And, therefore, I hope that you will excuse me.

I have delivered my conscience. I pray God, that you do take those courses that are best for the good of the kingdom and your own salvation.

[William Juxon, Bishop of London :]

Will Your Majesty, though it may be very well known Your Majesties affections to religion, yet it may be expected, that You should, say somewhat for the world's satisfaction.


I thank you very heartily, my Lord, for that. I had almost forgotten it.

In truth, sirs, my conscience in religion, I think, is very well known to all the world. And therefore, I declare before you all that I die a Christian, according to the profession of the Church of England, as I found it left me by my father.

And this honest man [pointing to Juxon] I think will witness it.

[Then turning to the Officers]

Sirs, excuse me for this same. I have a good Cause, and I have a gracious God. I will say no more.

[Then turning to Colonel Hacker]

Take care that they do not put me to pain. And sir, this, and it please you...

[But then a gentleman coming near the Axe, the King said]

Take heed of the axe, pray, take heed of the axe


[Then to the Executioner]

I shall say but very short prayers, and when I thrust out my hands.

[Then the King called to Juxon for His night cap and put it on. Then to the Executioner]

Does my hair trouble you?

[The Executioner desired Him to put it all under His cap, which the King did accordingly, by the help of the Executioner and the Bishop. Then the King turning to Juxon:]

I have a good cause, and a gracious God on my side.


There is but one Stage more, which is turbulent and troublesome, yet it is a short one. You may consider it will soon carry you a very great way. It will carry you from earth to heaven. And there you shall find a great deal of cordial, joy, and comfort.


I go from a corruptible, to an incorruptible Crown, where no disturbance can be, no disturbance in the world.


You are exchanged from a temporal to an eternal crown. A good exchange.

[The King then asked the Executioner]

Is my hair well?

[Then the King took off his cloak and his George, giving his George to Juxon, saying:]


[Then the King put off his doublet and, being in his waistcoat, put his cloak on again. Then looking upon the block, the King said to the Executioner:]

You must set it fast.


It is fast, sir.


It might have been a little higher.


It can be no higher, sir.


When I put out my hands this way, then.

[After having said a few words as he stood to himself with hands and eyes lift up, immediately stooping down, the King laid his neck on the block. Then the Executioner again putting his hair under his cap, the King said:]

Stay for the sign.


Yes, I will, and it please Your Majesty.

[After a very little pause, the King stretching forth his hands, the Executioner at one blow, severed his head from his body.]

* The King is referring to the execution of the Earl of Strafford in 1641

A Lively Representation of the Manner how his late Majesty was Beheaded upon the Scaffold, a Restotation print of Charles making his speech upon the scaffold.

Image: Wikipedia from a British Library pamphlet 

Wikipedia has a useful and detailed account of the events of January 30th 1649 and of the varied historiographical interpretations of the King’s death which can be read at Execution of Charles I


Image: History Today

In his speech the King maintains the case he had made at the trial in Westminster Hall as to maintaining the historic constitution, the Church of England and the rights of his subjects against the militant clique who had seized power and brought about his death. It includes two of his sayings that are often quoted, about the absolute difference between sovereign and subject and about his exchanging his corruptible crown for an incorruptible one. He spoke also of his successors as monarchs - he clearly did not see his death, or wish to imply it as signifying the end of the institution he still embodied. 

Given the circumstances under which it was given it is a recollected and balanced defence of his rights and actions. It conveys a sense of resignation to his fate but also a calm reassertion of his view of kingship and a belief in its ultimate vindication. It is in some ways prophetic of the events of the coming eleven years and of the Restoration, when Bishop Juxon, who noted down the speech in shorthand, newly promoted to the Archbishopric of Canterbury was to crown King Charles II.

The Apotheosis, or, Death of the King is a 1728 line engraving by French engraver Bernard Baron (1696-1762). It reflects the then still dominant Anglican view of King Charles I as Christian martyr. In the foreground, the King is taken to Heaven by a group of angels while Britannia looks down in shame. In the background the execution has taken place and the crowd is in an uproar.

Friday 29 January 2021

The fabric of Solomon in all his glory

Once again the MailOnline has an interesting archaeological report. This is about the discovery of fabric dyed purple which by date and context belong to the court, indeed to the attire, of King Solomon and the elite which surrounded him. Purple has been historically a prized dye colour and because of its rarity and cost became emblematic of Imperial, Royal and, ultimately, Episcopal dignity.

The account of the discovery of the fabric and its wider context of copper production in the Timna Valley just north of Eilat can be read at Ancient purple thread from Israel is of shade worn by Biblical royals

Kaiser Wilhelm II and his Garter Insignia

January 27th was the 162nd anniversary of the birth of Kaiser Wilhelm II. When he attained his eighteenth birthday in 1877 many German and European states conferred upon him as second in line to the German and Prussian throne their highest chivalric honours. These are listed in the Wikipedia biography of him which can be accessed at Wilhelm II, German Emperor. In 

One of these came from his maternal grandmother Queen Victoria who made him a Knight of the Garter. Originally she had intended to confer the slightly lower ranking GCB of the Order of the Bath but when Wilhelm’s mother pointed out that other monarchs were going to present him with their highest honour the Queen, somewhat reluctantly, made him a KG.

In later life he commissioned a Lesser George, the sash badge for a Knight of the Garter, with on the reverse the badge of the Prussian equivalent the Order of the Black Eagle. This piece is now in the Museum of the Legion d’Honneur in Paris.

He had received the Black Eagle as a boy of ten in 1869 and there are photographs of him as a boy in uniform wearing the riband and star of the Order. In 1877 he received the further distinction of being given the collar of the Black Eagle.

The badge can be seen in photographs on a Facebook post from the Musee at Musée de la Légion d'honneur et des ordres de chevalerie

I am grateful to the Special Correspondent for sending me the link to this item.

There are several portraits of the Kaiser wearing the Garter. An early one from 1889 in the Royal Collection can be seen with accompanying notes at Rudolf Wimmer (1849-1915) - Wilhelm II, Emperor of Germany (1859-1941)

Emperor Wilhelm II (1859–1941), 'The Kaiser'
Kaiser Wilhelm II wearing the Garter with the Windsor Uniform and Oxford DCL robes

Alfred Schwartz (1867-1951)

The Examination Schools University of Oxford 

After the Kaiser was deprived of his British honours - KG, GCVO, Royal Victorian Chain -  in 1915 and during his exile at Doorn there was  something of a standoff about returning the investiture insignia to Britain as the exiled Kaiser maintained that he had been given the Garter by Queen Victoria and was not relinquishing the items. I have not seen how that matter was resolved.

At Huis Doorn there is a Garter Star which belonged to the Kaiser. It can be seen here   Quite apart from its ownership it is interesting in being taller than it is wide - 9.3cm by 8.2cm - which is unusual in Victorian examples. The more elongated shape  only really became established after the 1948 anniversary celebrations of the Order under King George VI.  am indebted to Royal Jewels of the World Message Board: Jewelled Garter Stars in the British Royal Collections for the following paragraphs. Following the death of George Duke of Cambridge in 1904 a large portion of his collection of insignia was auctioned on 15 June that year at Christie's London. Lot 781 of the sale, a Diamond star of the Order of the Garter, belonged to Adolphus Frederick, Duke of Cambridge, was sold for £720 to a J.M. Jones, probably on behalf of Kaiser Wilhelm II, along with a most exceptional Diamond and Cameo Lesser George by Caputi, lot 783, which sold for £1,790. These items of insignia caught the future Queen Mary's eye in 1907. "In a letter written to her aunt, Princess Augusta, Grand Duchess of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, in 1907, the Princess of Wales (later Queen Mary) described seeing Kaiser Wilhelm II wearing [the Duke of Cambridge's insignia]; she added ‘they are so fine they ought to belong to our crown jewels’ ( quoted in Ancient and Modern Gems and Jewels, 2008). The Caputi George and star were finally acquired by King George VI, thus fulfilling Queen Mary's forty year old wish, from Princess Adelheid of Prussia (the wife of Prince Adalbert, the Kaiser's third son). The Kaiser died in 1941, his son in 1948, and George VI in 1952, so the insignia were most likely acquired sometime between 1948 and 1952.  In a 2010 written question, Andrew MacKinlay, a former Labour MP, asked "the Secretary of State for Justice whether the Garter Banner, uniforms, decorations and other related artefacts of Kaiser Wilhelm II which relate to his honorary rank as United Kingdom Field Marshal and Honorary Colonel-in-Chief of United Kingdom regiments prior to 1914 are in the custody of the Royal Household; and if he will make a statement." The answer followed as such: "Mr. Wills: The Garter Banner and other insignia of Kaiser Wilhelm II were removed from St. George's Chapel, Windsor during the First World War. We have been unable to ascertain their location. The stall plates of Kaiser Wilhelm II are still in place in St. George's Chapel. The Royal Collection has confirmed that it holds the Robe and Garter dress of Kaiser Wilhelm II as well as two diamond Garter Stars and Badge of Kaiser Wilhelm II. No other uniforms, decorations or related artefacts are held” 10 Mar 2010. This confirms that the Cambridge Star and Badge, as well as the Kaiser's 'Small Set' (the provenance of which is unknown) are all in the Royal Collection.  Prince Charles wears his own set of jewelled insignia, comprising a Star and Neck Badge of the Order of the Bath, a cameo Garter Badge and a Star, round in shape, like that of Prince Albert or the one from the Kaiser's second set. Since the Prince of Wales has worn the set since the 1980s (at least) the author doubts that the star could be Prince Albert's. The dark (onyx?) cameo Lesser George also resembles the one from the Kaiser's second set, so he wonders if the Prince of Wales wears the Kaiser's Garter Insignia.

Thursday 28 January 2021

The language of Kings

I came across an excellent post on Quora about the use of English as a spoken language by post-Conquest monarchs. It is by Stephen Tempest and well worth sharing. He cites interesting comments from contemporary sources about which languages were mutually understandable in the twelfth, thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. I have adapted it slightly to include a few additional comments from other readers and by a slight modification of my own and a comment at the end:

It's generally believed that Henry IV was the first to speak English as his first language — that is, the language he learned first in infancy and spoke by preference. His son Henry V actuvely promoted English as a ‘national’ language and as one of record.

Many previous kings probably spoke at least some English. One of the comments from a reader suggests that  Henry II might have been able to speak some English. Henry II probably wouldn’t have been fluet, but he spent large amounts of time hunting around England and probably would have picked up some English from the locals during his travels. We know that Richard II did, because there was the famous incident when as a teenager he spoke to the rioting crowd during the Peasants' Revolt. The three king Edwards are reputed to have understood spoken English, but not been fluent enough to speak it themselves. One commentator cited Edward II’s recorded predilection for the company of labourers as suggesting he could communicate easily enough with them in English. Another says that Edward III spoke some English with a variety of words and phrases to hand but not enough to be able to complete a sentence. Another adds that he had read that his son Edward, Prince of Wales spoke French to his Gascon troops and English to his English troops, and that having seen some of his written French, from the spelling, he seems to have spoke French with a London accent! Poitiers, for example is spelt Petters.

For the first hundred years after the Norman Conquest, French seems to have remained the sole language of the nobility, and also of the higher ranks of the Church and the law courts. Most noble families owned lands on both sides of the Channel, and high-ranking children from England would often be fostered with their relatives in Normandy or Anjou, where they would speak French.

By the later 12th century, though — the reigns of Henry II, Richard and John — it seems that bilingualism was becoming more and more common. Royalty and aristocracy spoke French to each other and English to their servants.

The loss of Normandy and Anjou to the King of France under John accelerated the move away from French. The English aristocracy no longer had estates in Normandy, and could no longer as easily send their children to be educated in what was now a foreign country. During the 13th century, it seems that at least the lower ranks of the gentry became English-speaking.

French remained the language of the elite for longer, however. The Scottish chronicler John of Fordun, who wrote in Latin, sometimes quotes king Edward I Longshanks speaking in French, and helpfully provides a translation of his words into Latin for the benefit of his readers.

"Ne avoms ren autres chose a fer, que a vous reams a ganere?" Quod est dicere: "Nunquid non aliud habemus facere, quam tibi regna lucrari?"

(Roughly, "Do we have nothing better to do than win kingdoms for you?" 'Quod est dicere' is Latin for 'Which is to say'.)

By the 14th century, ambitious members of the English gentry were learning French because it was the prestige language: the language spoken by the king and his court. We have evidence of people paying for tuition, of language schools being set up, and even of textbooks being written explaining how to speak French.

This proves two things: that French was not, any longer, the mother tongue of at least the lower ranks of the English aristocracy: but that the ability to speak French fluently was considered essential for anyone who wished to enter polite society.

Robert of Gloucester, writing around the 1270s, had this to say:

so þat heiemen of þis lond, þat of hor blod come.
holdeþ alle þulk speche, þat hii of hom nome.
vor bote a man conne frenss, me telþ of him lute.
ac lowe men holdeþ to engliss, & to hor owe speche 3ute.

So that high men of this land that of their [Norman] blood come
Hold to all that speech that they took from them;
For unless a man knows French, men think little of him.
But low men hold to English and to their own speech yet.

The monk Ranulf Higden, writing in the 1340s, was of a similar opinion:

Filii nobilium ab ipsis cunabulorum crepundiis ad Gallicum idioma informantur. Quibus profecto rurales homines assimilari volentes, ut per hoc spectabiliores videantur, francigenare satagunt omni nisu.

The children of nobles are taught the French language from the very cradles of infancy. People from the countryside, wishing to make themselves similar to them in order to appear more respectable, make every effort to learn to speak French.

In the 1380s the linguist and Oxford scholar John Trevisa, who among other things translated Ranulf Higden's work into English, suggested another reason for the continued prevalence of French: that it served as a lingua franca:

Hit seemeth a greet wonder how Englisshe, that is the birth-tongue of Englisshemen and her owne language and tonege, is so dyversse of soune in this oon iland, and the language of Normandie is comlyng of another londe, and hathe one manere soun among ale men that speketh hit aright in Engelond— Nevertheless, there is as many dyvrese manere Frensshe in the reem of Fraunce as is dyvers manere Englisshe in the reem of Engelond. For a man of Kent, Southern, Western and northern men speken Frenssche al lyke in soune and speche, but they can not speke theyr Englyssche so.

In other words, the many dialects of English spoken throughout England are often not intelligible to each other; but wherever you go in England, north, south or west, there will be people who will understand you if you speak the one standard dialect of Norman French.

However, Trevisa wrote in 1385 that knowledge of French in England appeared to be a lot less than in Higden's day two generations earlier. He dated this change specifically to before and after the Black Death. Before the plague, schools in England generally used French as their language of teaching, and moved onto Latin for more advanced students. In the second half of the 14th century, though, students were arriving in school with little knowledge of French, and the instruction was largely provided in English.

The French poet Froissart attended the court of King Richard II and was surprised to find the nobles there speaking in English to each other: he'd expected they would speak French. However, when he read out extracts from his work for the king in French, the King understood him and praised his work in the same language. Meanwhile in England Geoffrey Chaucer, who could read both Latin and French fluently, nevertheless chose to write his poetry in English in order to reach a wider audience.

It seems then that it was roughly the years 1350-1420 that marked the transition between French being the regularly-spoken language of the upper classes (even if they also understood English as well) to it being entirely a second language learned in school.

The Clever Boy would add that his long held view is that this is not a matter of 

‘either/or’ but rather that Kings and nobles, and indeed the literate classes generally, would have had one language that they were most comfortable in - French, then English - plus English and subsequently French as a second language to talk to servants in the first case and visitors in the second as time moved on - plus some Latin for church use, legal matters and international dealings, as well as for devotional, scholarly and recreational reading.

Chaucer Reading His Poetry to the English Court

Chaucer reading his English poetry to the court of King Richard II

Corpus Christi College Cambridge MS

Image: Ancient History Encyclopaedia

Wednesday 27 January 2021

Unscrambling the Miracle windows at Canterbury

Restoration work in preparation for lending one of the Miracle windows from Canterbury cathedral, depicting healings attributed to the intercession of St Thomas Becket, to the forthcoming British Museum exhibition about him and his cult has revealed that panels have been misplaced during a past restoration.

The Mail Online has an illustrated report about how the transposed panels were identified. Lending items for exhibitions can be a significant opportunity to take a fresh look at them, to clean and to conserve, as has clearly happened in this case.

The Lost Garden of Coleshill Manor

As the appalling HS2 project continues to ravage its way across the southern Midlands destroying whatever lies in the path of this vainglorious behemoth, designed at a still far from clear cost to shave a few minutes off train journeys from Birmingham and further north to London, its advance guard does reveal evidence of a less hurried and more sedate age. 

The Mail Online - which is frequently an informative source for archaeological discoveries - has a report about the excavation of the site of Coleshill Manor and, probably more importantly, its garden. The site is just to the east of Birmingham. What has been revealed is a hitherto unknown garden plan from about 1600 which adjoined the house on its octagonal moated site.