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.

Thursday 31 March 2022

A moral and political disjunction

Yesterday saw the release of the report into the deaths of 201 babies and nine mothers, plus neo-natal damage to both mothers and babies over a number of years in the Shrewsbury and Telford NHS Trust maternity services. One factor appears to have been an obsession with natural birth as opposed to caesarian section - as someone who entered this world by a caesarian I feel I have a certain interest here. Ministers and MPs responded quickly to the report by promising reform and change. There is more about this report and the background at Shrewsbury maternity scandal: Police probe 600 cases of care

Yesterday evening a majority in the House of Commons voted to accept a House of Lords amendment to the Health Bill going through Parliament to retain the “do it at home” provision for abortion introduced during lockdown, and which the government* wished to stop. MPs argued this was all for the best of various groups of women.

Am I the only person to see a serious moral and political disjunction here? I doubt if I am.

* We know the Prime Minister’s view on abortion - he is only against having to pay for one personally.

Seventeen years in full peace and communion

Today, March 31, is the seventeenth anniversary of my reception into the Catholic Church, and, as is my wont on this important personal date, I will repost and revise my account of the reasons that led to my decision.

Originally  I wrote this piece in my early days of blogging about my reasons for being received. As the years go by I republish it with what seem to me appropriate emendations and additions.

It was on Thursday in the Octave of Easter 2005, and chosen because it enabled friends and relatives who would not have been able to attend at the Easter Vigil to be present and, in one case, to be my sponsor.

I took as my confirmation name Philip - not only the name of the founder of the Oratory and of an Apostle, but also my father's first name and one that I had always liked. So John Robert became John Robert Philip. I subsequently went to the not inconsiderable expense of adding the name by deed poll, so I can insist on officialdom recognising my spiritual journey.

As it happened, by being received when I was, I thereby became one of the very last Catholics to be received into the Church in the pontificate of Pope John Paul II - I feel I squeezed through the door of history in that respect. There are those converts who used to describe themselves as "John Paul II Catholics" or similar phrases. I am, by historic fact and by sympathy a "Benedict XVI Catholic", but, and it is a very important "but", I am a Catholic first - Popes inevitably come and go. That said I consider it an enormous good fortune for the Church and, for me as an individual member of it, to have had Pope Benedict in the Chair of Peter. His pontificate was a great blessing for the whole church, and a wonderful time in which to enter into a fully Catholic life.

As I made my decision to seek reception I codified my ideas about the matter into nine categories or groups. St Edmund Campion had his Decem Rationes which he placed so provocatively in St Mary's Church in Oxford in 1581. Mine are more personal perhaps, but, in that they may interest others, here are my Novem Rationes from 2005:

1. I believed all that the Catholic Church believed - so why was I not in full communion with it? I read the Catechism through and found nothing from which to dissent within it.

2. In particular I accepted the claims of the Papacy and its necessity in order to maintain orthodoxy and unity.

3. As a historian I appreciated the Catholic case for the nature of the Church and the Papacy, and the fact of its historical continuity - Walter Ullman's point that the Papacy is the one governing institution in the West that links the Apostolic age to the Atomic age resonates in my mind.

4. The call to Unity - not only the principal of Ut unum sint  but also the specific claims to expressing that unity with all other Catholics through the Holy See as described by the Fathers.

5. The Catholic Church is seen to act on issues contingent upon Christian belief - Life issues might be the most obvious, but there were others, and with an authentic response being made.

6. I realised that my historic sympathies were with Catholicism - which side would I have been on, or at least I believed I would have been on or wanted to be on in say, the Reformation? Well it was clear. My heart lay with the Catholic cause.

7. The state of Anglicanism was not encouraging. For Traditionalist Anglo-Catholics the situation was one of increasing isolation, and the sense that a Third Province would not be granted.

8. Much as I loved my Anglican places of worship - Pusey House and St Thomas the Martyr in Oxford - I felt that I was called to move on. I was at an age when I still could make a change, but that there was not time to delay. If this was the time, then so be it.

9. I thought that many of my Anglican friends were moving or would move into full communion with Rome. Those friendships, based and rooted in a shared spiritual life, were very important to my own spiritual development, and they were pointing all in the same direction.

Looking back from this point, seventeen years later, I have never had cause to regret my decision. There is no "seventeen year itch."

I still endorse those nine sets of ideas.

The last three invite some additional comments.

The Church of England has continued on its way, and has failed to have the generosity to provide for Traditionalist Anglo-Catholics. “Women bishops” have arrived and even if not quite as divisive as one expected it is because of them that many Anglo-Catholics have left. The argument that such inclusivity of personnel would lead to a national spiritual revival is seemingly as vacuous as one always thought it would be. What is so very sad to see is the decline of the “Vision Glorious” in the Church of England. 

Anglicanorum Coetibus has been issued - I pray it will be successful in extending the unity of the Church to others of like faith and mind outside its formal bounds. Since 2011 we have witnessed the establishment of the Ordinariate first in England and then in the USA and Australasia. I have been able to help to support those joining it here by acting as a pro-sponsor in two cases, or simply by turning up to support their Masses, and, of course, by praying for it.

Summorum Pontificum reasserted the right to have traditional forms of the liturgy and it has been followed by a strong and positive response, and that needs to be continued - as has been said what was sacred once is sacred now. What has been achieved there needs to be maintained and defended. The success of groups such as FSSP and ICKSP shows there is a real and growing demand for traditional liturgy. I have found myself that during “lockdown” I have been increasingly drawn towards EF rather than OF celebrations. That was, ironically, confined last summer with the publication of Traditiones Custodes. That came as a shock, but in this country it appears, so far, to have had little impact in most places, though I do have friends who have been deeply affected by it. 

I am still on excellent terms with friends from Pusey House and St Thomas', and I rejoiced at Fr Hunwicke's appointment to the latter in 2007 before he moved into the Ordinariate. It has been good to see all that is happening at both institutions for the wider Catholic cause. It was very good for my humility that they could manage and survive without me! I retain enormously happy memories of my time at both places and at also the churches I worshipped at in Yorkshire before I came to Oxford.

Nonetheless I increasingly find it difficult to see why more people in the Anglo-Catholic tradition are not availing themselves of all - and it is so much - that is offered by the Ordinariate. It is all they have ever said they wanted or indeed hoped for - bar, possibly, taking their church buildings with them, and, though I can sympathise in that matter to a great extent, but not to the exclusion of what ultimately matters.

As to my friends - well, I was the second of our group to make the move, and three more followed in the next eighteen months. Two of those married and I have had the privilege of being on three separate occasions proxy-godfather to their children. In the following years two other married couples and their families were received. At the end of last year two other friends from those years made the journey. Four of the men have been ordained to the priesthood.

Along the way I have made many other new friends amongst those converting, and I have been made very welcome in my new spiritual home. I am extremely lucky to have the Oratory and also SS Gregory and Augustine and Blackfriars as places in which to worship regularly here in Oxford. The last year has made me more familiar with FSSP and ICKSP churches both here in this country and worldwide - including ‘virtually’ attending Mass on occasion in Switzerland, Mexico, the US and Australia - and that helps to remind one that the Catholic Church is truly Universal. Last year I was enabled by Zoom to attend the Priestly Ordination in Washington DC and subsequently the First Mass in his home parish in New Orleans of a young Dominican I 
had taught in Oxford. That is in addition to physically being present at several such Ordinations, Masses and Professions here in Oxford, Bournemouth, Chelmsford and London. The Catholic Church is attracting some truly excellent young men to its priesthood.

It was as a Catholic that I was able to attend the Beatification of John Henry Newman in Birmingham in 2010 which was a great joy. I feel my journey, my Apologia ( were it ever written), owes not a little to his influence and intercession.

Being a Catholic has opened up so many opportunities for worship, devotion and understanding - not to mention contact with so many people and places - that I could never have imagined possible beforehand. There is a new sense of belonging, of that which is dignum et justum, from that time on. What happens in time and space also happens in Eternity. For all of that I have a profound gratitude. 

Soon after I was received a friend and I likened the process of conversion and reception not to swimming the Tiber, but to paddling across - when we reached the opposite bank we found friends waiting in the deck-chairs to hand one a towel to dry one's feet and then to hand you a missal or breviary to read as you sat down to watch who would be next to come over.

May St Philip Neri, St John Henry Newman and all the saints continue to pray for me, and for those seeking their home in the Church.

For a bit more background see also my post Ten years ago from 2014.

Wednesday 30 March 2022

The Battle of Towton 1461

Yesterday was the 561st anniversary of what was one of the more important, and probably the bloodiest, battles in English history, that of Towton fought on a snowy Palm Sunday in 1461. At stake was who was to occupy the throne, the Lancastrian King Henry VI or the Yorkist King Edward IV and also a major settling of scores between the rival nobles and their retainers with their opponents.

I have posted about the battle previously in 
Palm Sunday Field 1461 and Towton links from 2010, The Battle of Towton - 550th anniversary in 2011, Towton - remembering the dead in 2012, Victims of the Battle of Towton in 2014 and Palm Sunday Field in 2015. Last year I added to this series two more posts which can be seen at The Battle of Towton 1461 and, with a set of links to online presentations, at Towton videos

Witnessing as we are today the horrors of contemporary aggression against the people of the Ukraine and the destruction of lives, of families, of communities and of cities, if not yet, of a country one is inevitably faced by questions about the morality or immorality of warfare. If the Russian action in Ukraine is patently immoral in its motivation and destructiveness how do we look at past conflicts, be they a few years ago, fifty or more years ago or five hundred years ago? 

The Wars of the Roses were, of course, fought between quasi-professional armies and with little civilian involvement, there were no bombardments of cities or the mass destruction modernity can bring. Nonetheless warfare is warfare and human suffering is human suffering.

In a recent post to their members The Tewkesbury Battlefield Society offered these thoughts on how one can link that important and bloody battle in 1471 and what is happening today. It is, I think, worth sharing:

The Society has always been at pains to stress its position that the Battle of Tewkesbury is to be commemorated, and certainly not celebrated. For nearly all the participants it would have been by far the most pointless and frightening episode in their lives, even if they survived it. They were ‘cannon fodder’ in more recent parlance. Even at the distance of five hundred and fifty years there is ample evidence of post-traumatic stress amongst the survivors, something they have in common with ‘cannon fodder’ in the thousands of conflicts since. 

Whilst some wars might be claimed to have some moral purpose, and have moved freedom forward, or stopped it being moved back, most, and that definitely includes the Wars of the Roses, did not. They were about the egos of people who are simply seeking power. They were about the right of the country’s elite to dominate and exploit. Fourteen short years after the sacrifices of 1471 there was another battle and another regime took power, with no good consequences for most of the population.

Last year we were marking the anniversary, following the progress of the armies towards the battle and we had correspondence with members in Ukraine, discussing the similarities with events in Ukraine’s past. In the fifteenth century, the country was part of the Lithuanian state, later to be disrupted by the Polish-Lithuanian Union, which brought intolerance of their Eastern Orthodox religion and the inevitable persecution of believers.

It has been said many, many, times, but there is no other way of saying it. We all thought that the war against Hitler was to be the last war in Europe caused by the obsessions of a megalomaniac; that civilisation had taken us beyond that. We now know how wrong we were. Mr Putin obsesses on past glories and past empires. Someone less consumed with his imagined grievances would have taken the long view and realised that winning the peace is more important than winning the war, and subjugating a nation with terror is a very short-term victory which in the longer term will have consequences. 

There is small comfort to the Ukrainian people in knowing that the population of the rest of Europe are feeling impotent but doing what they can to support them, and from here in Tewkesbury it seems so little. Maybe just getting the message to Ukraine that we are outraged by the hell they have been so unjustly put through by the latest in a long line of despots who think that destroying proud and ancient cities and murdering their people is acceptable whilst he lies to the people of Russia about what his army are really doing to those towns and those people. Maybe some of our small Russian readership will see this as well  and understand the outrage which their leader has created in every other corner of Europe.

Sunday March 6th, was Forgiveness Day in the Russian Orthodox Church’s calendar. These sins will take a very, very, long time to forgive, which is a tragedy for the whole world.  

I am not a pacifist - as a historian one knows only too well that sometimes the use of military force is necessary and that is the traditional teaching of the Catholic Church. 

The current situation in the Ukraine can focus our minds, can horrify us, can, and should, evoke our prayers and charity. As we reflect on that it can also enable us to also feel the human pulse of past conflicts, the fears, and the bravery of young, and not so young, men
facing what might be, were to be for some, their last hours. The terrors of being at Towton or Tewkesbury in 1461 or 1471 feel just that bit closer, just that but more immediate, just that more human than being just another date in a history book, To those who were there the uncertainty and the fear, the adrenaline rush and the exhaustion, and the conflict of inner turmoil was doubtless every bit as intense as that being felt in Kyiv and Kharkiv today.

Pray for peace, pray for those who are engaged in fighting, pray for the departed.

Monday 28 March 2022

More on Arthurian Age royal burials

I wrote in Royal burials from the Arthurian Age about the work which has been done recently to identify royal burials from the Arthurian era and thereby add to our understanding of the post-Roman British kingdoms and principalities.

Live Science has a further report about this research which gives additional contextual information and describes some specific sites. It also draws attention to aspects of the burials that are distinctive to their date and British location. 

Sunday 27 March 2022

Recreating Wychwood

The BBC News website has an interesting article about a project by the Blenheim
Estate to create a series of woods with native English species as well as conifers ( as a long term cash crop to make the project economically viable ) to the north of the main parklands at Blenheim Palace outside Woodstock. 

The scheme is being funded by a Government grant attempt to see if this model is sustainable and if so as an exemplar of future woodland developments 

Woodstock as name implies has a long connection to a woodland economy. It had a royal hunting park and palace from at least the time of King Henry I, long before being given to the Churchills by Queen Anne. Adjacent to the park was the wider hunting ground and game preserve of Wychwood Forest.

The acorns from which the new oaks spring are ones from a tree that has witnessed all these comings and goings as it is believed to be 1,046 years old - so it began its life as a tree in the reign of King Edward the Martyr, and presumably as an acorn in the reign of King Edgar.

The BBC article can be read at 1,000-year-old oaks used to create 'super forest'

If a thousand year old tree seems impressive then it is worth looking at a short film that is linked to in the article. This is about some of the ancient yew trees of Wales, one of which at least is thought to be 5,000 years old …

The film can be seen at Trees as old as the pyramids 'should be revered'

The Annunciation and the Consecration of Russia and the Ukraine to the Immaculate Heart

On Friday evening I attended the High Mass at SS Gregory and Augustine to celebrate the Annunciation at which the Papal and Episcoplal consecration of Russia and of the Ukraine to the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary was reiterated so as to engage us as a congregation in that solemn act.
There was a sizeable congregation in attendance and a definite sense of the seriousness, of the religious solemnity of this event in current circumstances. There was also, to me at least, the sense of it being - and we know there has been much debate about the validity or efficaciousness of previous such consecrations - the fulfilment of a long standing Marian request.

May this solemn action help to bring true peace to the Ukraine and peace to the hearts of the peoples of both the Ukraine and Russia.

Jesu mercy, Mary pray

Thursday 24 March 2022

The quest for Ravenser Odd

Live Science has a very interesting article about an attempt to find the remains of the town of Ravenser Odd or Ravenspurn which was a medieval settlement at the tip of Spurn Point at the mouth of the Humber.

It appears to have come into being about 1235 but after a period of considerable growth began to decline about 1300. This may have been due in part to environmental factors and possibly also to the development of King Edward I’s new port of Kingston upon Hull. Other ports such as Hedon and Patrington were still flourishing as witnessed by their wonderful churches and Ravenspurn may well have been in an especially vulnerable position. A major inundation by the sea as recorded by the chronicle of the nearby abbey at Mesux in 1362 probably marked the end of the town. It seems to have had a reputation for smuggling and may well have been a maritime equivalent of places like the seventeenth century Port Royal in Jamaica or Gold Rush towns in North America and Australia. A ‘get rich quick’ place with s disreputable image, but big enough and important enough to send MPs to early Parliaments.

By 1399 when Henry Bolingbroke, and certainly by 1471 when King Edward IV landed there, it was just a windswept spit reaching out into the Humber. Apart from a lighthouse being built so it has remained, with the whole Point gradually shifting and curving into the mouth of the Humber.

Until the seventeenth century the Humber below Kingston upon Hull simply widened out to reach the North Sea between Spurn Point and Donna Nook. In the later seventeenth century Sunk Island was reclaimed from the waters of the Humber and by the beginning of the nineteenth century joined to the rest of the Eadt Riding, thus creating the distinctive’dog -leg’ profile of the estuary. 

Most maps in history books do not indicate the coastline as it was at the appropriate time between Flamborough Head and Beach Head, yet the coast has receded significantly along much of that littoral in historic rather than just geological time. In other places, such as the mouth of the Humber, parts of the Suffolk coast, around Thanet and at Dungeness the land mass has been reclaimed or simply deposited by the tide.


The Live Science article can be read at Yorkshire's 'Atlantis' may finally be revealed

It will be interesting to see if something of the town can be recovered and understood. I have seen maps reconstructing the plan of the other most famous victim of the North Sea, Dunwich on the coast of Suffolk based upon archaeological surveys as well as early maps in that particular case as more of the town survived into relatively modern times.

The fate of medieval Greenland

The decline and abandonment of the so called Eastern Settlement in Greenland soon after 1400 has been explained hitherto as a consequence of the early stages of the so-called ‘Little Ice Age’ in the later middle ages. However this view looks as if it will be modified at least by new evidence from research into other environmental factors that affected the colonists.. 

In addition to the cooling of the climate there were rising sea levels throughout the period 1000 to 1400 leading to coastal flooding in the areas of Scandinavian settlement as reported by a researcher last year in another Live Science report which can be seen at Epic sea level rise drove Vikings out of Greenland

Now US researchers working on a site close to one of the medieval settlements have also  found evidence of increasing drought in the period. So as it certainly got colder further north, as the coastlands flooded and with the water supply in doubt the colonists must have felt increasingly beleaguered and eventually drifted away or perhaps finally evacuated the region for the more temperate climes of Iceland. Indeed they must have been a hardy lot to have stuck it out so long. 

The history of the medieval Catholic bishopric and its cathedral - there was a resident bishop until 1378 and nominal one thereafter until the Danish-Norwegian reformation - can be read on Wikipedia at Garðar, Greenland and at Garðar Cathedral RuinsThat is, incidentally, and by several centuries margin, the oldest cathedral in the Americas.

There is more about the history of the medieval Norse in Greenland and the ecclesiastical life of the community in another Wikipedia article on the Western Settlement

The article about the latest research is from Phys Org and can be read at Rewriting the history books: Why the Vikings left Greenland

There is also an article about this project on the Mail Online at Vikings left Greenland in the 15th century due to drought, study says

Wednesday 23 March 2022

Understanding a Phoenician Temple complex

A major project which has reinterpreted the archaeological evidence of the Phoenician island site of Motya ( now San Pantaleo ) just off the western coast of Sicily has been making news on the Internet. What had been previously understood as a secure enclosed artificial harbour or Kothon has now been revealed as part of a sanctuary dedicated to Ba’al. This included not just temples and votive images  but the sacred pool around the statue of Ba’al, which also served as an observatory of the movement of the stars.

The new interpretation is set out in Antiquity and the full article can be read online at The sacred pool of Ba'al: a reinterpretation of the ‘Kothon’ at Motya.

There are also news reports deriving from that account from Live Science at Ancient sacred pool lined with temples and altars discovered on Sicilian island and from the MailOnline at Huge artificial lake in Sicily is identified as an ancient sacred pool which sets the site in the context of the rise and fall of Carthage and the Punic Wars. 

There is also a longer and more detailed article from Haaretz which looks, amongst other things at the cult of Ba’al, and which can be seen at Monumental structure in Sicily isn’t a Phoenician harbor – it’s a huge sacred pool of Baal

Wikipedia has an article about a fifth century BC statue of a charioteer found on the island in 1979 and thought to come from the sanctuary. The illustrated article can be seen at Motya Charioteer

This research shows not only that we can continue to learn about the lives of past civilisations by a close study of the surviving evidence and by interpreting it correctly. We can also discover that, when we do so, we gain an insight into the richness and complexities - physical and metaphysical - of their ways of life and thought.

Tuesday 22 March 2022

Thomas of Lancaster - from Rebel Earl to Popular Saint

Last week I posted about the 700th anniversary of the battle of Boroughbridge in 1322 and finished it with Thomas Earl of Lancaster awaiting his fate as a defeated rebel at the hands of his cousin King Edward II as he was conveyed from the battlefield to York and then to his castle at Pontefract.

There is a good account of the Eatl’s life from Fourteenth century fiend at A Royal Traitor: The Life & Execution of Thomas of Lancaster

Thomas arrived - whether by road or brought along the rivers Ouse and Aire - at Pontefract on March 21st. The Anonimalle Chronicle records that he was “contemptuously insulted … to his face with malicious and arrogant words” by the King and the Despensers. He was held overnight in a tower he was rumoured to have built with a view to imprisoning the King in it. This is often identified with the Swillington Tower on the northern side of the castle. However this extra-mural structure appears not to have been built until about eighty years later.

King Edward II in no mood to forgive his cousin and his supporters who must also have arrived with Earl Thomas to learn their fate. Given that the King had more than a decade of frustration at his opponents to drive him forward, and that they had been in active rebellion, they can have little doubt as to what that would be.

The following day, on March 22nd, Lancaster was led into the hall of his own castle to face the King and those selected to judge him. The King stood and recounted Thomas’ offences, and thus, tried on the King’s Record, which set out his obvious prima faciae guilt and with a bench of uniformly hostile peers he was sentenced to a traitor’s death. Thomas’ response of “Shall I die without answer?” ie being able to make a defence was inevitably ignored.

Queen Isabella interceded to mitigate the punishment to mere beheading rather than hanging, drawing and quartering. This was often the expected role of the King’s consort - and she was also Thomas’ niece, as her mother, Queen Joan of Navarre, wife of King Philip IV of France, was the Earl’s elder half-sister.

Presumably after Thomas’ fellow defendants had been as expeditiously condemned, but with no mitigation of their punishment, they were sent to their executions. Humiliation was further heaped upon the fallen Earl, led on horseback with his face to the animal’ tail, he was accompanied by a Dominican friar, presumably from the priory innthr town, out of the castle , past the Cluniac priory and up to the ‘Thieves Gallows’ above the main road to Ferrybridge and places to the north. Presumably the other condemned men who were to be executed with him followed others followed on. The other condemned men were sent to their county towns or similar to suffer.

Having dismounted, and before, or according to one account, after the hanging, drawing and quartering, of six of his followe, Thomas knelt facing east. He was then made to face north towards Scotland and his implicit links there and a “Villein of London” beheaded him. The near contemporary sources suggest the use of a sword and perhaps more than one stroke being employed.

Afterwards the Prior of the Cluniac house of 
St John begged the Earl’s remains and they were interred in the Priory church - the house was very much under the patronage of the Lacy and Lancaster lords of Pontefract. 

Apart from the executions in York and elsewhere of Thomas’ adherents the King marked his victory by summoning Parliament to York which revoked the Ordinances which had been imposed upon him a decade before and which had been championed by Lancaster. This legislation, the Statute of York, is set out in the link to Revocation of the New Ordinances (1322)

This marks the beginning of what is Oren termed the Tyranny of King Edward II - for which I would recommend Natalie Fryde’s book of the same name - and the King was not slow to seize the estates of Lancaster - and of his estranged wife, Countess Alice - as well as those of other noblemen anf their wives. If for a fairly brief while the King could enjoy the fruits of victory he was fuelling discontent and the memory of his defeated and executed cousin.

Meanwhile at Pontefract a cult of the dead Earl was developing. Dr Maddicutt in his biography of Thomas writes of the “almost repulsive” character of his subject as both political leader and as an individual. His reputation according to contemporaries was as promiscuous and one noted for casting his female conquests aside. Although he had no legitimate heirs he fathered two illegitimate sons, one of whom, called John of Lancaster, became a theologian.
Nonetheless Thomas began to be seen as a saintly figure, as a martyr

It says perhaps something as to how unpopular King Edward II and his close advisors the Despensers were that this movement developed so rapidly and so widely. This was I think more so than that of than Simon de Montfort at Evesham following his death and burial there in 1265.

Within a short time of Thomas’ execution a group of Gascon soldiers had to be sent to keep pilgrims way from the execution site on what came sooner or later to be known as St Thomas’ Hill. Devotion of his memory was not confined to Pontefract and the north. In 1323 the government was ordering the removal of a tablet commemorating the Earl in St Paul’s in London. This may have been the exemplar of the lead cut out panels of which some survive and which tell the srltory of the Earl’s defeat and death.

This devotion only grew after the toppling and abdication of the King 1326-7. In 1327 there was a petition from Parliament to Pope John XXII for the canonisation of Thomas. Pilgrimages on their behalf were funded by the aristocracy to Pontefract, Books of Hours included Thomas in their calendars anf illuminations and the complicated lead wall plaques were clearly worth making.

Discussion of this and other aspects of the cult in an illustrated post on The History Blog in 2015 which can be seen at The History Blog » Blog Archive » Rare Earl of Lancaster devotional panel found on Thames riverbank

A Book of Hours in the Douce MS 231  in the Bodleian image pairs the Earl with St George:

Image: Wikipedia 

If Thomas was paired with St George in a Book of Hours then at South Newington in Oxfordshire about 1330 a new pair of wall paintings placed him alongside St Thomas of Canterbury in their status as martyrs.

Execution of Thomas of Lancaster, South Newington
The remains of the South Newington painting,
Note the blood spurting from an initial cut on Thomas’ neck.

Image: reed design. co.uk

At Pontefract it appears likely that the entire eastern arm of the priory church was rebuilt on the proceeds of the offerings at Thomas’ tomb and it has been described as being for a period the most fashionable place of pilgrimage in the realm. In 1359 blood was reported to have flowed from the tomb and in 1361 a chapel was erected by a long-standing Lancastrian servant Simon Symeon on the site of the martyrdom. This stood within an enclosure and in the 1940s some carved stonework was found on the site. The chapel disappeared at the reformation and a windmill occupied its site until the twentieth centur.

An Office(s) was composed for the feast in these yesrs. Here is an example from The History Blog article linked to above. It is from Manuscript 13 (c.1330) in the Bridewell Library at Southern Methodist University:

Antiphon: Oh Thomas, Earl of Lancaster,
Jewel and flower of knighthood,
Who in the name of God,
For the sake of the state of England,
Offered yourself to be killed.
Versicle: Pray for us, soldier of Christ.
Response: Who never held the poor worthless.
Collect: Almighty everlasting God, you who wished to honor your holy soldier Thomas of Lancaster through the lamentable palm of the martyr for the peace and state of England just as he is lead through the sacrament for God’s own exceeding glory [and] through your holy miracles. Bestow, we pray, that you grant all faithful venerating him a good journey and life eternal. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

This presents a distinctly much more favourable image of the Earl than that of either King Edward II or most modern historians and does indicate why he was regarded as worthy of veneration.

Thomas, 2nd Earl of Lancaster
This illumination of the beheading of the Earl is from the same manuscript

Image: Bridewell Library/english monarchs.co.uk

The accession to the throne of the Lancastrian line in 1399 in the person of Thomas’ great great nephew King Henry IV appears to have maimed support for the cult at Pontefract. IOn his death in 1413 the King left a quantity of vestments to the priory there and his second son was named Thomas. In 1466 blood was again reported to have flowed from Thomas’ tomb. Was this seen as a comment on the dethronement of the house of Lancaster and the imprisonment of King Henry VI? The Prior of St John’s received the right to wear pontificals from Pope Alexander VI in the 1490s and at the dissolution of the house in 1539 it was, after the very wealthy priory at Lewes, the best endowed Clunic foundation in the country.

An early sixteenth century list and commentary on Yorkshire relics records the Earl’s belt - predictably of use for women in childbirth - and his hood. Perhaps this was one he wore to his death but it was believed to assist sufferers from migraine and “rye asthma” - hay fever - which leads one to wonder if Thomas himself suffered from them.

With one possible exception which I will consider below there is no contemporary portrait of Earl Thomas. We also lack literary descriptions other than the hints in the two nicknames given to him by Piers Gaveston.

These were “The Churl” and “The Fiddler”. The first, recorded in the English Brut was hardly respectful to the senior prince of the blood after the King and may indicate an awkward, ungracious or uncultured manner or a selfish reluctance to share. This might well accord with Maddicott’s view of Thomas. 

The other one of the Fiddler was commented upon in the French version of Brut by a contemporary as vielers. This was said to have been inspired by Lancaster’s appearance because he was slim and tall ( porceo quil est greles et de bel entaile ). It has also been suggested that this might refer Lancaster having a manipulative nature.

There is more about all of Gaveston’s nicknames for his opponents at  Piers Gaveston's Insulting Nicknames, and An Illegitimate Squire and at Those Insulting Nicknames

The one possible portrait is a carved head on the corbel table of the base of the shrine of 

St Edburga from Bicester Priory and which is now in Stanton Harcourt church in Oxfordshire.
Dated variously to 1302, 1294-1317 and to before 1320 it has a series of costs of arms and heads above. These look as if they could be portraits. The arms and putative heads of Thomas and Alice side by side. He is shown with curly hair and beard and it could be a portrait.

The arms and portrait heads can be seen on this Flickr pohotogrsph - Countess Alice is on the right sbove the Lacy arms, and Earl Thomas to the left above his arms: Stanton Harcourt, Oxford, St. Michael's, shrine of St. Edburg, detail

Previous articles about Earl Thomas which I have posted and which give additional information can be seen at St Thomas of Pontefract from 2011, and there are three posts from 2012, St Thomas of Pontefract at South Newington,  St Thomas of Pontefract in the British Museum and St Thomas of Pontefract in the Sellers Hours.

From 2014 there is The beheading of Thomas of Lancaster in 1322 which looks at an Italian depiction of his death in Villani’s Cronica Nuova

Saturday 19 March 2022

The medieval archaeology of Notre Dame

As the restoration of Notre Dame in Paris gathers pace archaeological work has revealed beneath the pavement a series of medieval burials in the central space at the crossing - one in an anthropomorphic lead coffin ascribed to the early fourteenth century - and also fragments of sculpture from the thirteenth century Rood Screen. These latter carvings are survivors from the reordering of the cathedral interior - wrecknovation? - in the post-Tridentine era.

There are reports about these discoveries from the MailOnline at Ancient sarcophagus is found under Notre Dame cathedralfrom Live Science at 14th-century sarcophagus found at fire-ravaged Notre Dame Cathedral and from Archaeology at Medieval Burials Uncovered at the Cathedral of Notre Dame

Friday 18 March 2022

Royal burials from the Arthurian Age

The Independent has an article about a class of graves from the post Roman period which it is argued are Christian from their location in western Britain and Ireland and the absence of grave goods. They are also, on the basis of their being clearly marked out and distinct from other burials by having being enclosed by individual fencing, of high status individuals. The inference is that these were the graves of local post-Roman kings or sub-kings.

On a related topic I came across a MailOnline article from 2016 which may well just reflect one man’s theory by locating the burial place of King Arthur in Shropshire. I have not heard anything else about this theory, and that may be all it is, but it is quite intriguing. The article can be read at Is King Arthur buried in a field in Shropshire?

Glastonbury is, of course, the traditional burial place of King Arthur. This tradition appeared to be dramatically confirmed when the monks excavated in the graveyard south of the Lsdy Chapel - the “Old Church of Glastonbury” - in 1191 and came upon the remains of a warrior and his presumed wife, beneath the famous lead cross - now lost - which identified that these were indeed the remains of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere. Research in recent years has suggested that the cross is similar in style to similar pieces of 10th century date from Wells Cathedral. This would suggest it dated from the raising of the level of the  graveyard in the time of St Dunstan.

I came upon an article on the Academia website which accepts the description of the bones as recorded by the chronicler and suggests that whilst they might not be those of the historical King Arthur the bones were indeed ancient and that the chronicle account should be accepted as s faithful account. The first English archaeological report perhaps. An early fifteenth century letter from the Abnot of Glastonbury to King Henry V about another excavation of bones at Glastonbury continues that early archaeological tradition at the abbey.

Another article I came upon ends with the intriguing notion that at his death King Arthur was changed into a raven, which is seen as a royal bird. This article can be read at King Arthur, his death, his burial

It made me wonder if this is not the origin of the ravens at the Tower of London and their presence seen as a guarantee of the survival of the Crown and the safety of the realm. This tradition was clearly there by the time of King Charles II. 

Now as we all know the site of the Tower is the burial place of the head of Bran the Blessed, which also serves to defend the country, and I see that the Wikipedia account of his life and legend does reference discussion of this possible link with the ravens. The article can be read at Brân the Blessed

I also wondered if the legend’s claim that Branmhad his base at Harlech was a factor in KingnEfward I’s decision to build his great castle there in the 1280s.

Whatever one makes of all this legendary history and whichever version one follows they do disclose a rich vein of myth and mystery that weave a wonderful web that draws together a fascinating series of stories and images. A reminder of the multi-faceted medieval imagination.

An illustrative reconstruction of the visit of Edward III to King Arthur's tomb in December 1331 (© Dominic Andrews, www.archaeoart.co.uk)

A reconstruction of the tomb of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere in the choir of Glastonbury Abbey as they might have appeared at the time of the visit of King Edward III and Queen Philippa in December 1331.

Image: University of Reading

Don’t ask me why the vested monks are wearing such a varied range of liturgical colours - it’s the sort of avoidable mistake that is made all too often ….

Thursday 17 March 2022

The Order of St Patrick

Most years it is my wont to write in St Patrick’s Day a post arguing for the restoration of The Most Illustrious Order of St Patrick, founded in 1783 by King George III as the Irish equivalent of the Garter and the Thistle. Such is my tradition, and I am not going to break it this year.

The insignia of the Order of St Patrick

The Badge is George V's Diamond Star. Made around 1890, The Star's centre has a shamrock of emeralds, with the Saint's cross in rubies on a diamond background. 'George, Prince of Wales, April 1910' is engraved on the reverse

The Order's motto was 'Quis Separabit MDCCLXXXIII' - 'Who will separate us 1783'.

The badge of the Usher of the Order

Images: doyle.com.au

The website from which these illustrations are taken also has a good introduction to the story of the theft of the ‘Irish Crown Jewels’ - the bejewelled insignia of the Order that were for the use of the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland as Grand Master - in 1907. A genuine period piece as a story it can be seen at The Order of St Patrick

That robbery, still unsolved, but not quite a ‘cold case’ even now, has produced at least two books and various online articles, some of which are linked to in the articles below.

My previous posts about the case for restoring appointments to the Order can be read at  The Order of St Patrick (2011), Banners of the Knights of St Patrick (2012), The Order of St Patrick (2013), Insignia of the Order of St Patrick (2014), The Most Illustrious Order of St Patrick (2015), Order of St Patrick (2016) Badges of the Order of St Patrick (2017 ) and The Most Illustrious Order of St Patrick (2021)

This year to reinforce my arguments from those posts for such a revival here are links to two discussion groups about the idea, one from Facebook in 2013 which can be seen atOrder of St Patrick - Revival - Home
and one on Reddit from two years ago

The comments from citizens of the Republic strike me as interesting and, by their lack of hostility, noteworthy.

It should of course be pointed out that for all that the Order has not been bestowed at all since 1936 and the deaths of the last ordinary KP in 1961 and the last Roysl one in 1974, its insignia of collar and star is displayed not only on the regimental Standards of the Irish Guards but the star appears on every uniform button, collar and cap badge of that distinguished regiment. Thus the Duke of Cambridge as its Colonel was wearing it today at the regimental St Patrick’s Day Parade.

Wednesday 16 March 2022

The Battle of Boroughbridge 1322

Today is the seventh centenary of the battle of Boroughbridge. In the battle the forces of Thomas, Earl of Lancaster and Humphrey Earl of Hereford were defeated by the Royalist troops, loyal to King Edward II and led by Sir Andrew Harclay. Lancaster himself was captured and Hereford killed in the fighting.

This was the military culmination of the decade long struggle for power between the King and the Lords Ordainers, led by his cousin Lancaster, who sought to constrain the monarch snd exclude or eliminate his favourites, first Piers Gaveston, who was killed in 1312, and by 1322 the Despensers. The victory of the King’s army led to what is often termed the tyranny of King Edward II which lasted until the invasion led by his estranged Queen, Isabella of France, in the autumn of 1326.

The arms of the Earl of Lancaster
These are still used by the Duchy of Lancaster

Image: Wikipedia 

The outbreak of civil war in 1322 originated over disputes over the activities of the Despensers in south Wales and a perceived insult to the Queen. Lancaster and his troops after retreating from a reverse at the bridge at Burton on Trent on March 7th made for his castle at Pontefract. There in an apparently factious meeting at the Blackfriars Lancaster was compelled by his allies to retreat northwards towards his castle at Dunstanburgh on the coast of Northumberland. In the meantime he was being pursued by the Earl of Kent - the King’s younger half-brother - and the Earl of Surrey - for whom Lancaster’s wife Alice had left him - or at least been abducted by - some years earlier. That had resulted in a local civil war in Yorkshire with attacks by Lancaster on Surrey’s castles at Sandal and Conisburgh. Alice never returned to Thomas and the story of her very eventful life is told by Wikimedia at Alice de Lacy, Countess of Lincoln

However Lancaster was beaten to the crossing of the river Ure at Boroughbridge by Sir Andrew Harclay, from Carlisle, a man in his early fifties, who had once a retainer of Lancaster but who was now committed to the King. Wikipedia has an account of his career at Andrew Harclay, 1st Earl of Carlisle

The arms of Sir Andrew Harclay 

Image: Wikipedia 

When Harclay arrived with his men from Cumberland and Westmorland at Ripon he was informed of Lancaster’s plan and marched during the night the short distance to take the bridge at Boroughbridge as well as the higher northern bank of the river before the Earl could arrive.

Battle of Boroughbridge Mary Ann Bernal History Trivia Battle of Boroughbridge First

A modern impression of the battle at the timber bridge

Image: Alchetron.com

Wikipedia has a good account of the battle itself and useful links, as well as above average footnotes for the site. The plan gives an indication of not only the site of the bridge but also of the likely position of the ford which Lancaster and his men had to approach across marshy ground under fire from the other side of the Ure. It can be viewed at Battle of Boroughbridge

Boroughbridge Historical Society are organising events to commemorate the battle as can be seen at Events to mark 700th anniversary of Battle of Boroughbridge

After an overnight armistice, during which Yorkshire troops in the King’s service arrived from the south, and with Harclay’s  men still on the north bank and holding the bridge, Lancaster finally accepted defeat and surrendered.

The chapel of St James where Lancaster took his final refuge, and doubtless somewhat altered over the succeeding medieval centuries, survived until it was regrettably demolished in 1852 and a new church erected on a new site.

The tower of the Victorian church reflects the design of that of its predecessor. The new church does also include some sculptured Norman work from the original twelfth century chapel, as can be seen, together with two drawings of the old church before its demolition, at St James, Boroughbridge, Yorkshire, West RidingEarl Thomas must have doubtless seen some of this during his last hours of freedom.

The body of the Earl of Hereford, of whom
Wikipedia has a life which draws attention to the cultured world of him and his family and which can be read at Humphrey de Bohun, 4th Earl of Hereford appears to have been sent to be buried in the cathedral at Hereford where an effigy of him survives. 

Nineteenth-century drawing of effigy of Humphrey de Bohun, 4th Earl of Hereford, Hereford Cathedral

Image: Wikipedia 

Arms of the Earl of Hereford
The Earl’s standard bearer died beside him on the bridge

Image: Wikipedia 

Following his surrender on the day after the battle Lancaster, humiliated by being dressed in servants clothing, and cursing Harclay for the insult and prophesying - accurately - Sir Andrew’s death within the year, was taken by river to York and thence, possibly again by water for speed and security, to his castle at Pontefract, there to await the King and his ultimate fate ….

Thomas Earl of Lancaster paired with St George in a posthumous image reflecting his cult as a martyr figure.

Image: Bodleian and Historic-UK.com