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, 30 April 2021

A May Marian Pilgrimage through Medieval England


Last year for May Fr Hunwicke suggested that in the circumstances of lockdown one could undertake a virtual pilgrimage to some of the pre-reformation Marian shrines of England..... based on a booklet once available at Walsingham. This was the work of Canon Colin Stephenson, onetime Vicar of ‘Mary Mags’ in Oxford and then Administrator of the Anglican Shine in Walsingham after Fr Hope-Patten’s death. He based it on the research of Edmund Waterton in his Pietas Mariana Brittaniae. That fascinating resource is now available online and compliments the near contemporary work of Fr Bridgett. I posted about this, and the link through Waterton to Bishop Fleming in A Marian virtual pilgrimage with Fr Hunwicke

I followed this with a series of posts about many of these shrines, and learned a considerable amount in compiling them. 

As this year is the 640th anniversary of King Richard II dedicating England as Our Lady’s Dowry it seems appropriate to post links to the posts I did write, to add where need be to them and to complete the series with others on those shrines which I did not write about.

Last year I ventured to add Our Lady of Worcester to the list and I hope also to add a few more this year - Tewkesbury, Allingtree,  Boston, Sudbury, and something about restored medieval foundations of Catholic religious with a strong Marian devotion at Aylsford and Clare.  I also aim to mention three surviving medieval statues of the Virgin from Stamford, Flawford, and Howden. I will attempt to write about these en route.

The route, if one attempted to follow it in reality, is somewhat curious as it meanders and lurches across the country. Today it would be very unsound environmentally in terms of its carbon footprint were one to attempt to drive it. Six or so centuries ago, even though we know people travelled more than is now commonly thought to have been the custom, it would be far from practical on foot or horseback or by boats along the waterways....

Although it is perhaps a dangerous thing to generalise it does rather look at an initial glance that geographically these centres of Marian devotion, whatever their date of origin, tend to be in lowland eastern and southern England. That is not to say that people in other areas did not have resort to the Virgin in their parish churches - they clearly did - but that centres of pilgrimage or regional devotion appear to lie in the south and east. There appear also to be regional variations - the three shrines lying to the north of London at Islington, Muswell and Willesden appear distinctive, as do the East Anglian rural ones of Winfarthing and Woolpit, not to ignore the relative remoteness of Walsingham, and the urban variants on that theme at Sudbury and at Our Lady at the Oak in Norwich. Why some shrines became regional or national centres of devotion must have depended upon a variety of factors. Some attempts to encourage pilgrims were supported by bishops with spiritual privileges, others were discouraged, but quite exactly what drew people to which statue or shrine is now difficult to ascertain. In any case Our Lady seems to have a proclivity for making her presence felt in otherwise obscure places, right down to Lourdes, Knock and Fatima ....

The suggestion is that each day one says the following prayer, including the appropriate title of Our Lady, and mentally travel to the shrine:

O most Blessed Virgin Mother of God, conceived without original sin, in mind and spirit I visit thy churches, altars, and shrines, venerated by our forefathers in this land once acknowledged as thy Dowry, but more especially today I wish to place myself before thy Shrine at ... ... ... , humbly seeking to be numbered amongst the pilgrims who have sought thee in this place and to receive through thy prayers those graces which have ever flowed from thy Sanctuaries. 


1: Our Lady of Glastonbury.
2: Our Lady of the Undercroft in Canterbury Cathedral.
3: Our Lady of the Red Ark in York Minster.
4: Our Lady of Westminster (at the North door of the Abbey and in its Pew Chapel, and in Westminster Cathedral.
5: Our Lady of Grace at the Pillar in S Paul's Cathedral.
6: Our Lady at the Oak in Islington.
7: Our Lady of Willesden.
8: Our Lady of Muswell.
9: Our Lady of Oxford.
10: Our Lady of Grace at Cambridge.
11: Our Lady of Coventry.
12: Our Lady of Grace of Ipswich.
13: Our Lady of Thetford.
14: Our Lady of Woolpit.
15: Our Lady of Abingdon.
16: Our Lady of Pity in the Galilee at Durham.
17: Our Lady on the Bridge at Wakefield.
18: Our Lady of the White Friars in Doncaster.
19: Our Lady at the Pillar, St Edmundsbury.
20: Our Lady of Evesham.
21: Our Lady of the Four Candles at S Alban's.
22: Our Lady of Pity in the Rock at Dover.
23: Our Lady in the Park, near Liskeard in Cornwall.
24: Our Lady in the Wood, near Epworth in Lincolnshire.
25: Our Lady of Winchester.
26: Our Lady of Windsor.
27: Our Lady of Peace, at Winfarthing in Norfolk.
28: Our Lady of Ardenburgh, in the Church of S Nicholas in Yarmouth.
29: Our Lady at the Oak, in S Martin's, Norwich.
30: Our Lady on the Red Mount, King's Lynn.
31: Our Lady of Walsingham.


By the end of May or in June we might actually be able to go to visit some of these holy places....

Meanwhile let us in heart and mind go thither, and, like Chaucer’s pilgrims in the 1390s, 

Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote
And bathed every veyne in swich licóur 
Of which vertú engendred is the flour; 
Whan Zephirus eek with his swete breeth 
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth 
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne 
Hath in the Ram his halfe cours y-ronne
And smale foweles maken melodye
That slepen al the nyght with open ye
So priketh hem Natúre in hir corages, 
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages, 
And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes, 
To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes; 
And specially, from every shires ende 
Of Engelond, to Caunterbury they wende
The hooly blisful martir for to seke
That hem hath holpen whan that they were seeke

Source: poetryfoundation 


King Alfred



King Alfred on a penny minted in London

Image: harvardepiscopal.blogspot

Late in April 871, and after Easter, but on an otherwise unrecorded day King Aethelred I of Wessex died and the crown passed not to his young sons but, by agreement, to his sole surviving and younger brother, Alfred. Thus 1150 years ago the fifth of the sons of King Aethelwulf, and the fourth in turn became King. For the twenty two or three year old new King, who never enjoyed good health, although a keen huntsman, and already possessing military experience his inheritance was not an easy one. In the preceding years since 867 the Danish invaders had swept away the Anglo-Saxon realms of Northumbria, East Anglia and Mercia, replacing them at best with puppet rulers as in Mercia, at worst by martyring St Edmund in East Anglia. 

The early years were to prove testing , including the young King having to find refuge in the Somerset marshes at Aethelney ( and famously burning the cakes - silly what people remember is it not ) and then leading a counter-offensive.

From that the King successfully negotiated with the Danish leader Guthrum, secured his conversion to Christianity, and added half of Mercia to his territory. 

Now, he was greatly loved, more than all his brothers, by his father and mother—indeed, by everybody—with a universal and profound love, and he was always brought up in the royal court and nowhere else...[He] was seen to be more comely in appearance than his other brothers, and more pleasing in manner, speech and behaviour...[and] in spite of all the demands of the present life, it has been the desire for wisdom, more than anything else, together with the nobility of his birth, which have characterized the nature of his noble mind.

From Asser’s biography of King Alfred

In the peaceful years that followed he improved the defensive system of Wessex, began to be able to use a navy against invaders, produced a law code, and began his remarkable initiative to educate the elite of his realm by commissioning and translating himself texts useful to churchmen and lay administrators alike. When young he had twice visited Rome and thus travelled across the Frankish kingdom, and in adulthood had contact with and interest in Jerusalem, the Baltic, Wales and Ireland. A clever child he had memorised texts so as to win a book from his mother, although not learning to read until 12. He carried a pocket book of notes and prayers and at the age of 38 learnt Latin to enable him to translate more books. Alongside this, though tragically little survives, was a rich artistic style, exemplified by the coin illustrated above and, most famously, in the Alfred Jewel now in the Ashmolean Museum.

The Alfred Jewel

The Alfred Jewel

Image: Ashmolean Museum

When conflict was renewed with the Danish invaders King Alfred and his people were far better placed to resist and to hold the initiative.
By forcing traders into the largely abandoned area within the walls of Roman London he began that relationship between the government and what was to rapidly become the commercial centre of the kingdom.

In all this  he remained a prayerful ruler who tried to attend the daily office and who exemplified a vision of Christian kingship. When he died in the autumn of 899 aged about fifty the foundations were well and truly laid for the creation of a single English monarchy, achieved under his grandson King Athelstan (924-39) and great-grandson King Edgar (958-75), and for the concept of King Alfred “the Great”.

Later anachronistic presentations of him as a philosopher king and ‘founder of the Royal Navy’ - both not untrue but the reality was not as presented in Victorian art and letters as both a Gladstonian Liberal and a Disraelian Imperialist - actually obscure how remarkable he was, a serious, dedicated ruler who disproves in his own words and in those of his friend and biographer Bishop Asser, our still too prevalent but outdated and limited preconceptions about Anglo-Saxon and “Dark Age” life and realities. A century or so before King Alfred became known as “the Great” his descendent, himself probably seriously misunderstood, King Henry VI wrote in 1441 to Pope Eugenius IV seeking the canonisation of him as St Alfred. Even if nothing came of that the initiative it shows how he might be viewed.

Wikipedia has a good account of his life at and achievements at Alfred the Great and Asser’s biography, together with related documentary sources, is available from Penguin, and as an item on Kindle.

Sir Arthur Bryant wrote that the inscription on the Alfred Jewel “Alfred ordered me to be made” could be applied to England. Not a bad summary of the achievements of the young man who became King 1150 years ago.


The incidence of cancer in medieval Cambridge


The Guardian has an interesting archaeological report today about an analysis of medieval skeletons from Cambridge which was looking for evidence of cancer. The results suggest a greater prevalence - ten times higher - than had been thought hitherto, and it may also be that other cancers had left less evidence. The suggested profile is lower than that today, but that can probably be explained by factors that were not present, or not to the same extent in the medieval period.

This is clearly a subject for specialists but it strikes me as being much more realistic than the very low figures assumed beforehand  when compared with the diffusion of cancers in the modern population. It will be interesting to see if any other studies, using the same or similar approaches, from other centres reveal the same patterns.



Thursday, 29 April 2021

A Sword from the Battle of Grunwald?


LifeSceince Essentials has a report about the discovery of a sword together with the remains of its accompanying daggers and belt fittings that may have been used at the battle of Grunwald - or Tannenberg I - on July 15th 1415. The illustrated article can be read at Medieval sword unearthed in Poland might be from Battle of Grunwald

Fought between the Teutonic Knights and their allies on the one side and the conjoined forces of the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and their allies on the other the battle was the most significant event of the 1409-11 war between the Order and Poland-Lithuania. This large battle with substantial casualties, especially for the defeated Knights, took place on the borderlands of Poland and East Prussia, and the battlefield itself is just inside the latter. 

Weapons from the area keep being discovered and I posted last year about the discovery of some axes thought to have been used at the battle in Weapons from the Polish past


Wikipedia has a detailed article on the battle with maps and all the usual links at Battle of Grunwald

Grunwald is one of those battles in the later middle ages that proved definitive of nationhood for both sides - Bannockburn, Aljubarrotta, Agincourt, Nancy, Mohacs - and ones whose legacy was to be more than mere memory but one that lives on. The Wikipedia account of the aftermath and legacy brings this out very well.

In the twentieth century Grunwald was to be recalled in 1914 by the choice of the name Tannenberg for the first major battle on the Eastern Front. The German victory was seen as avenging the Teutonic Knights slain 504 years before.

Such use of history has not abated and modern Polish-German relations, and German- Lithuanian, German-Belarusian and German-Russian relations are often seen by the victorious side of 1410 through the Grunwald-Tannenberg prism. The commemoration of the battle has become something of a celebration of the victors’ identity and I recall from Polish-made television programmes for children the Teutonic Knights being the perennial bad guys in historical and sci-fi dramas.


Fingering Constantine the Great


The Guardian has a report today about the return to Rome from the Louvre of the left index finger of a monumental bronze statue of the Emperor Constantine the Great. The surviving portions are in the Capitoline Museum, and only fragments of what was once a twelve foot high figure. The head of the Emperor is striking, and unlike others, one that I do not think I had seen before. The report can be read at Giant statue of Roman emperor reunited with long-lost finger

One thing that cannot be denied about the Emperor and his subjects is their determination to commemorate him in massive public statues across the Empire. In that he may have taken inspiration from Augustus, the father of Imperial authority as well as of the patria, about whose statues I posted in The Glory that was Rome

Constantine’s achievements were in so many ways colossal that commemorating them in so many colossae, which in today’s world might seem vainglorious or domineering, seemed and still seems dignum et iustum 


Spring cleaning at the Uffizi and revealing the Medici


The Mail Online has a report, and which is typically well illustrated, about the discovery during recent renovation work in the Uffizi in Florence of two lost murals depicting Grand Duke Ferdinand I and his son and successor Grand Duke Cosimo II. The report can be read at Uffizi renovations uncover 400-year-old fresco and human remains

These two Grand Dukes are the only Medici to re-emerge at the hands of art restorers in recent years. In 2014 the Mail Online, again, reported how cleaning and redo rotation had revealed the original form of a portrait of Isabella de Medici, the wife of Paolo Orsini. The painting, now in the collection of the Carnegie Museum in Pennsylvania, had been heavily over painted in the nineteenth century, completely changing its appearance. The illustrated article can be seen at here

Isabella (1542-76) was the daughter of Grand Duke Cosimo I and sister of both Grand Duke Francesco I and his successor Grand Duke Ferdinand I. Wikipedia has an account of her life, and links to those of her family and circle, at Isabella de' MediciShe was also the subject of Caroline P. Murphy’s biography Isabella de ‘Medici: The Glorious Life and Tragic End of a Renaissance Princess which was published in 2008. I have not read the book, but did hear an abridged version some years ago on Radio 4. Interesting and lively as it was, and one certainly even in that shortened form learned from it, I could not be as enthusiastic about Isabella as Caroline Murphy is. This daughter of the Medici seemed a bit too much the “poor little rich girl” to be really likeable, even if her story was intriguing. Her life apparently ended with her murder at the behest of a jealous husband after he became aware of her long-standing affair with his cousin. Just the tale to inspire John Webster...

 

Tuesday, 27 April 2021

King Charles I leaves Oxford in 1646


375 years ago on April 27th 1646 King Charles I left Oxford, which had been his base and acting capital since the autumn of 1642 after Edgehill. For much of the time the Civil War can be seen as an attempt by the King to recover London, and by the Parliamentarians to capture him, rather like seeking a checkmate in a deadly game of chess. With the area of England under his control reduced to a corridor stretching from Oxford, now under ever increasing threat from the Parliamentary forces, northwards to Newark, where the Scots were besieging the castle, the King set other options aside and finally resolved to place himself under their protection.

Portrait of King Charles I (1600-1649), William Dobson





It has been suggested that the choice of Harry as his alias was a reference to the King’s long dead elder brother Henry Prince of Wales. I have commented about my sense that the memory of the glittering elder brother and his unrealised potential was a constant and questioning presence in the life of King Charles in my 2012 post Henry Prince of Wales

Disguise as a servant was to become the stuff  of Stuart legend - in 1651 King Charles II was to pose as Jane Lane’s groom and in 1746 Prince Charles Edward as Flora MacDonald’s maid Betty in their successful escape from pursuit.

The journey took the party of three as far towards London as Hillingdon and then towards Kings Lynn, and then to Stamford and arrived at Southwell on May 5th.

As part of the route across country and through territory under his opponents control it is said that the King contrived a visit to the then desolate Little Gidding, the home before the Civil War of Nicholas Ferrar and his community. It is this visit that T. S. Eliot refers to in his wonderfully charged poem about the enduring fascination of this small Huntingdonshire village :

It would be the same at the end of the journey, 

If you came at night like a broken king, 

If you came by day not knowing what you came for, 

It would be the same, when you leave the rough road 

And turn behind the pig-sty to the dull facade 

And the tombstone. And what you thought you came for

Is only a shell, a husk of meaning 

From which the purpose breaks only when it is fulfilled 

If at all. Either you had no purpose 

Or the purpose is beyond the end you figured 

And is altered in fulfilment. There are other places 

Which also are the world's end, some at the sea jaws, 

Or over a dark lake, in a desert or a city-- 

But this is the nearest, in place and time, 

Now and in England.

If you came this way, 

Taking any route, starting from anywhere,

At any time or at any season, 

It would always be the same: you would have to put off 

Sense and notion. You are not here to verify,

Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity 

Or carry report. You are here to kneel 

Where prayer has been valid. And prayer is more 

Than an order of words, the conscious occupation

Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying. 

And what the dead had no speech for, when living, 

They can tell you, being dead: the communication

Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living. 

Here, the intersection of the timeless moment

Is England and nowhere. Never and always.


Eliot’s poem is about many things, not least his own spiritual and cultural progession, but in it one can see also not merely the physical journey of King Charles but his inner journey to become the Royal Martyr.


Friday, 23 April 2021

St George - Martyrdom and Devotion


Today is the Solemnity of St George.


St George and the Dragon
English tinted alabaster 1375-1420
National Gallery of Art Washington DC

Image: Wikipedia 

Last year on this day I posted ...,,,, which records the later medieval story of St George. When he wrote it James of Voragine must have had access to much earlier accounts, but he chose to omit some of the more spectacullsr torments inflicted upon the Saint - tortured he successfully endured and survived over a period of seven years. 

These stories are well summarised in an account I found quite by chance in, of all newspapers, The Sun - not the place you normally look for early medieval hagiography. The article can be seen at How St George overcame grisly torture of nails hammered into his skull, being boiled alive and drinking molten lead to become patron saint

The similar Coptic tradition about St George is set out at St. George, Prince of Martyrs and the one from Georgia, where his cult was not surprisingly widespread, at Martyrdom of the Great-martyr George of Georgia


File:Saint George et le dragon, enluminure.jpg

St George from s Book of Hours ?circa 1380

Image Wikipedia 

There is a very good survey of the transmission of the stories in medieval England in particular in a 2004 article on The Martyrdom of St. George: Introduction | Robbins Library Digital Projects

There is an online introduction to the cult in late medieval England at ‘Cry God for Harry, England and Saint George!’: Saint George in Late Medieval England

The British Library Medieval Manuscripts blog has a post from last year about their holdings of material relating to the cult of St George and to the Order of the Garter at St George and the Garter

Wikipedia has two  excellent articles about the cult of St George. The first is Saint George and the Dragon and the second at Saint George in devotions, traditions and prayers This also includes a gallery of some of the many paintings of the Saint. He has proved to be a very popular source of artistic commissions over the centuries which testifies to his appeal as a patron and exemplar.

St George by Donatello. Florence, 1415
Image: Wikipedia

St George Pray for us

Thursday, 22 April 2021

Reaction to my Hungarian Heraldry lecture


A few weeks ago I gave advance notice on this blog that I was going to give a talk to the Oxford University Heraldry Society entitled “Hungary Ancient and Hungary Modern: An Heraldic History of the Crown and Lands of St Stephen” on April 8th. That talk has now been delivered, and, thanks to illustrations assembled by a friend into an effective PowerPoint display, went well. It was delivered by Zoom, which meant we had something like fifty attendees. This was more than we usually get and meant that OUHS can link up with other Heraldic groups. That is surely a positive development. From the feedback I have had the talk was a success.

One such response was shared with me from the blog of the Heraldic Society of Scotland which I am copying and sharing as it says nice things about me, but also, and more importantly, comments on one of the images I used, and shows how heraldic art can also be used as striking political comment. It is entitled  Thanks to OUHS :

Many thanks to OUHS secretary, Priscilla Frost, for inviting us to attend an excellent lecture this evening by John Whitehead of Oriel College on "Hungary Ancient and Hungary Modern. The Crown and Lands of St Stephen." This was a tour-de-force of scholarship. One highlight for the present writer was the image of heraldry used as protest.

Here are the arms:


(HungaryAncient impaling Hungary Modern surmounted of the Holy Crown of St Stephen)

Traditionally the bars Argent refer to the four rivers the Duna (Danube), Tisza, Dráva, and Száva.


In 1920 this poster of protest appeared:


The religious and royal elements are cast down and the legend "You have stolen our rivers, you have stolen our montains." is added with the spoiled bars Argent replaced by the names of the rivers. The message in red asks if this should now be the national coat of arms.

Hungary's assent to the Treaty of Trianon on 4 June 1920 ratified the decision of the victorious Entente powers to re-draw the country's borders. The treaty required Hungary to surrender more than two-thirds of its pre-war territories. Irredentism—the demand for return of lost territories—became a central “Maimed Hungary” theme in national politics. The mutilation of the ancient coat of arms captured this idea most effectively.  


The Oxford University Heraldry Society lecture series continues and we are all welcome to sign up to join: 

http://www.oxford-heraldry.org.uk/programme.htm 


The next lecture is on May 6th at 6.30 on Heraldry and the Mayflower.



The Romans on the Yorkshire Coast


The discovery of a Roman building complex at Eastfield, which is part of the southern suburbs of Scarborough, has attracted considerable interest. 

The presence of Roman troops at the signal stations along the northern Yorkshire coastline in the later period of the Empire has long been known. The remains of the best preserved of these can indeed be seen at the eastern edge of the promentary on which Scarborough Castle is situated. Some miles to the south at Rudston there was a villa with mosaic floors which are now on display at the museum in Hull. 

However what has attracted attention in the latest discovery is that it is not clear what type of building it was. No comparable structure in known here in Britain. One possibility is that it was a villa with a temple or equivalent feature at its centre. Another suggestion is that it might have been a shrine with accommodation for administrators and for pilgrims. It appears that the buildings replaced an earlier villa or possibly that it had two predecessors.

The site was discovered during preparations for building work but will be preserved as the plans are being altered to accommodate the discovery. For the immediate future it will be reburied to preserve the foundations. Unfortunately it has already attracted the unwelcome attention of unprincipled metal detectorists, but that situation is now being monitored more closely.

There is a report on the discovery from the Smithsonian Magazine at Archaeologists Unearth Sprawling Roman Ruins Unlike Any Found in the U.K.This stresses the importance of the site and has good aerial  photographs. Another report, with more details and which also emphasises the quality of the buildings, and suggests they may have been dismantled rather than falling into decay is from The Scarborough News. This, which has photographs of the site at ground level, can be seen at Scarborough Roman villa: Trespass at significant ruins 'inevitable' say Historic England

LiveScience Essentials also has a report about the discovery which rather concentrates on the actions of the illicit metal detectorists but does also have good views of the site and gives a good indication of its size at Vandals sack Roman-era estate and bathhouse just discovered in UK

The Roman-era estate's remains include a cylindrical building and a bathhouse.
The foundations of the cylindrical main building and its adjuncts. There is also a bathhouse.
Image: MAP Archaeological Practice and LiveScience Essentials


Wednesday, 21 April 2021

Interpreting Culloden


In the wake of the 275th anniversary of the battle of Culloden I came across several relevant articles on the website of The Scotsman

The first is from 2016 and it is by Trevor Royle and based on a book he had written about the battle. In the article he concentrates on correcting misconceptions about the battle itself and in putting it into the correct historical context as to its legacy for the Hanoverian army. This ties in with the work of historians such as Christopher Duffy in recent years. The article can be read at Battle of Culloden: myths debunked

The second article is from 2019 and is about the period after the battle when Jacobites sought for some time to continue the fight or to harass government troops, and the period when the government mopped up opponents or sought to overaw them. It is based around the work of Murray Pittock and can be read at The Jacobites who fought on after Culloden

The third piece is from this year and concentrates on the work of Peter Pininski who asserts that he is a direct descendent of Prince Charles Edward. He believes that he is descended from one of the illegitimate daughters of Charlotte, Duchess of Albany and  Prince Charles Edward’s own illegitimate daughter. The story of the descent from Charlotte’s affair with Cardinal de Rohan is set out in a book referred to and the story summarised in another Scotsman article The Polish art historian who claims to be a blood relative of Bonnie Prince Charlie from two years ago. The material in this years article by Peter Pininski is a rebuttal of claims that the Prince neglected the interests of those who had fought for him. This ties in with other evidence of the Prince’s resolve to return to Scotland and to renew the struggle. This does indeed seem to have been his intention until the early 1750s. The article can be read at Bonnie Prince Charlie: My flawed ancestor who 'tried his absolute hardest' for Scotland


The Royal Victorian Order - 125th anniversary


Today is not only the 95th birthday of HM The Queen but the 125th anniversary of the foundation in 1896 by Queen Victoria of the Royal Victorian Order.

The Order was intended as, and has remained, a means of honouring those who support and assist the Sovereign, from members of the Royal Family, members of other Royal Houses and to courtiers and staff. It is normally reported as being founded in part as a memorial to the Queen’s son-in-law Prince Henry of Battenberg who had died that year of disease on the Ashanti campaign. 

As an Order created by the Queen it was under her direct control whereas the established Orders, including at that time the three great national ones of the Garter, Thistle and Patrick were bestowed on ministerial advice. As one in the personal gift of the Monarch it has since 1931 been awarded in each of the Commonwealth realms.

There is a very good and detailed account, with links to other relevant entries, of the Order, its history and insignia from Wikipedia at  Royal Victorian Order This also includes some discussion of the Royal Victorian Chain introduced in 1902 by King Edward VII. This is not part of the Order but is affiliated to it. In some respects it functions as an enhanced upper degree of it, reserved for monarchs and royalty, and most Archbishops of Canterbury and Lords Chamberlain. I suspect this article derived from Peter Galliway’s book on the Order which will cost you an appropriate £125.

The riband, badge and star of a GCVO of the Royal Victorian Order

Image: Nicholas Jackson/ Wikimedia/The Court Jeweller

The closest similar Order amongst other European monarchies is the Order of the House of Orange in the Netherlands. This was founded by Queen Wilhelmina in 1905, and re-structured by Queen Juliana in 1969. There are accounts of it and of the additions to it made in 1969 at Order of the House of Orange at Order of the Crown (Netherlands) and at Order for Loyalty and Merit


Tuesday, 20 April 2021

Identifying a significant source for Shakespeare?


An article in the Smithsonian Magazine gives an overview of a recent publication suggesting that a major source for some of Shakespeare’s plays were those of the now little remembered  Thomas North. Those are apparently lost, and positing lost texts can be a dangerous “short cut” of course, but the evidence looks to be substantial for identifying North as a writer whose works were subsequently used by Shakespeare. On the basis of the report, this appears to be a credible argument, even if the case is not proven.

It has long been appreciated that Shakespeare and other dramatists of the period re-wrote plays by other writers, bringing their own greater skills to bear and thus creating their own enduring achievements. In this case it is the identification of North as potentially the author of major sources that is important. 

Shakespearean studies have over the years generated all kinds of eccentric theories as to other people who “wrote” Shakespeare. This however is a much more realistic and credible identification of source material. It does not really detract from Shakespeare’s genius any more than does his use of Plutarch or Holinshead. It might help explain however how it was that in a busy life as an actor-manager and travelling between bases in London and Stratford on Avon in a short period of years one man could be so remarkably productive of great work. As C.S.Lewis commented writers then saw their creativity in how they told an established story rather than it being a new one.

The article, which includes references to recent publications about the theory, can be read at Did Shakespeare Base His Masterpieces on Works by an Obscure Elizabethan Playwright?