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.

Tuesday, 8 June 2021

A Yorkshire lass on Crusade

The online History Extra website last week had a feature on twelfth century Queens of Jerusalem - notably Melisandre and Sibylla - and further reflections about the role of women in the Crusader Kingdom.

One item from the article, which caught my attention, as it clearly had that of the editor, is as follows:

In this feature from Katherine Pangonis, you can find out more about some of the other players. Queen Sibylla for instance, who seems to have had a role in the defence of Jerusalem against the army of Saladin in 1187, is a similarly fascinating figure. 

My favourite woman in this story is less exalted though, as Katherine Pangonis describes: “An ordinary woman called Margaret of Beverley, who had come to Jerusalem on pilgrimage, had become trapped in the city as Saladin advanced. Wearing a cooking pot as a helmet, Margaret helped defend the city. She related: ‘I carried out all the functions of a soldier that I could. I wore a breastplate like a man; I came and went on the ramparts, with a cauldron on my head for a helmet. Though a woman, I seemed a warrior, I threw the weapon; though filled with fear, I learned to conceal my weakness.’”

So here we have a Yorkshirewoman who in 1187 had got herself to Jerusalem on pilgrimage, and then took an active part in the defence of the Holy City. It is a story which challenges so many of our contemporary assumptions about the past that it deserves to be shared.

As a Yorkshireman myself I will reprise the point I made about another medieval Yorkshirewoman - in that case from the battle of Wakefield in 1460 - and speculate if Margaret of Beverley was perhaps an ancestor of that icon of Yorkshire feminity, the incomparable Nora Battye …*

* For the uninitiated this is a reference to a key figure in the onetime long-running BBC telecom series Last of the Summer Wine. As a fellow son of the West Riding one made the point to me, people down south think it was a comedy programme; we however knew that it was a fly-on-the-wall documentary.

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