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.

Wednesday, 10 November 2021

A fifteenth century find from Sheriff Hutton

Both the BBC News and the Mail Online have reports about the discovery by a metal detectorist of a fifteenth century tiny gold book, open at two facing pages with images of St Leonard and St Margaret. Both were saints invoked in childbirth. As the photographs show the detail of the rendering of the leatherwork binding on the other side is remarkable given the size of the item.

I assume it is intended to represent a Book of Hours rather than a Bible as the authors of the article describe it. A Book of Hours would frequently include illuminations of Christian saints whereas a Bible would not.

It is similar to a charm or badge worn on a necklet but has no obvious means of suspension. Perhaps that is why it was lost.

On stylistic grounds it has been suggested that it could be by the same craftsman who made the now famous Middleham Jewel, a gold lozenge shaped locket decorated with a sapphire and depicting the Annunciation which was found near the castle in that town in the 1980s.

This new discovery was made at Sheriff Hutton - it is rather misleading to say York, which is quite a few miles distant. The village is dominated by the dramatic ruins of the castle. Built in the late fourteenth century by the Neville family, from the early 1470s it was used by the future King Richard III. During his reign it housed relatives such as Elizabeth of York and the children of his deceased brother the Duke of Clarence, as well as prisoners like Earl Rivers. It was also used as a royal residence and seat of government by the King’s nephew the Earl of Lincoln and again by King Henry VIII’s son the Duke of Richmond in rhe 1520s. It is therefore a place, like Middleham, where expensive devotional trinkets would have been worn and lost.

One must hope that this gold book charm can join the Middleham Jewel in the Yorkshire Museum in York.

Sheriff Hutton played a not insignificant part in the development of my own historical interests. A holiday with relatives there on the eve of my sixth birthday was an important anf formative influence when I was indeed very young but already strongly interested in the past. The castle ruins, the parish church with the reputed tomb of Edward of Middleham, Prince of Wales, and visits to nearby Cadtle Howard, Gilling Castle, Helmsley Castle and Rievaulx Abbey fuelled an enthusiasm which has never left me.

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