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 1 October 2021

Rival Queens seeking resolution

There was an interesting piece by John Guy in the Daily Telegraph about the discovery of a letter from Queen Elizabeth I whose existence he had postulated or assumed long before it was actually presented for his inspection. Now on long loan to the British Library with other associated documents from the archive of Sir Ralph Sadler it is part of a forthcoming exhibition at the Library about the way in which Queen Elizabeth and her cousin once removed and potential or likely heir - and therein lay the problem - Queen Mary of Scots negotiated with each other for over a quarter of a century.

I read John Guy’s fascinating biography of Queen Mary I of Scots My Heart is My Own a while back. The title is perhaps a little awkward - it is a quotation from the Queen but makes the book appear at first sight as if it were a work of historical fiction. That it most certainly is not, being a marvellously source based account of her life and death. The chapters covering her fraught and tantalising relationship with Queen Elizabeth I in the years 1561 to 1567, and, as part of that, the often tense relationship between the English Queen and her Secretary, William Cecil, opens up to the modern reader aspects of the nature of Gloriana’s rule - or perhaps rather, reign - that can be surprising. It is a book I highly recommend.

In his Daily Telegraph article Dr Guy also points to the fact that archival discoveries continue to be made about people and topics that one might think were already completely documented as to surviving evidence. That is part of the thrill of the chase for historians. It is also a reminder of just how dependent for our knowledge and interpretation we are on what has physically survived. 

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