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.

Saturday 30 April 2022

Another May Marian Pilgrimage through Medieval England

As I did two years ago and again last year I set out on this blog a May Marian pilgrimage around the medieval shrines of Our Lady in England. I thought I would repost the links from
last year’s version as the more complete version on the appropriate days this month as well. 

The introduction to the shrines, the rather curious route followed and my own additions are all set out in my introductory post from last year at A May Marian Pilgrimage through Medieval England

I hope you will join me on this pilgrimage through May to seek out Our Lady in her medieval English shrines. 

As it is still, just, April, and as Spring is finally if full leaf and bloom, let me end by quoting Chaucer’s beginning to the Prologue of The Canterbury Tales ….

1         Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote
                  When April with its sweet-smelling showers
2         The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,
                 Has pierced the drought of March to the root,
3         And bathed every veyne in swich licour
                 And bathed every vein (of the plants) in such liquid
4         Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
                 By which power the flower is created;
5         Whan Zephirus eek with his sweete breeth
                 When the West Wind also with its sweet breath,
6         Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
                 In every wood and field has breathed life into 
7         The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
                 The tender new leaves, and the young sun
8         Hath in the Ram his half cours yronne,
                 Has run half its course in Aries,
9         And smale foweles maken melodye,
                 And small fowls make melody,
10         That slepen al the nyght with open ye
                 Those that sleep all the night with open eyes
11         (So priketh hem Nature in hir corages),
                 (So Nature incites them in their hearts),
12         Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,
                 Then folk long to go on pilgrimages,
13         And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes,
                 And professional pilgrims to seek foreign shores,
14         To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes;
                 To distant shrines, known in various lands;
15         And specially from every shires ende
                 And specially from every shire's end
16         Of Engelond to Caunterbury they wende,
                 Of England to Canterbury they travel,
17         The hooly blisful martir for to seke,
                 To seek the holy blessed martyr,
18         That hem hath holpen whan that they were seeke.
                 Who helped them when they were sick.

From Harvard’s Geoffrey Chaucer Website
available at Text and Translations

Friday 29 April 2022

Falconry as a sport of medieval Kings

I came upon an article from Science Norway about the medieval interest in falconry of Norwegian kings, and of how they gave goshawks, gyrfalcons, and rare Icelandic white falcons as diplomatic gifts to other rulers, and notably to English kings.

That falconry was especially a sport of kings is brought out by the treatise about it written in the 1240s by the Emperor Frederick II De arte Venandi cum Avibus. The work is described on Wikipedia at De arte venandi cum avibusIt remains, I understand, a classic account of the skills of falconry. 

Emperor Frederick II and a falcon from De arte Venandi cum Avibus
Bibliotheca VaticanaPal. lat 1071
Image: Wikipedia 

I wonder if the Emperor had Norwegian birds, which ai would think likely through diplomatic gifts, or whether he got them all from the lands bordering the Mediterranean.

There are videos on YouTube about the history of medieval falconry at Medieval birds of prey: How Did Knights Hunt With Birds of Prey? and a slightly humerous but informative one at The History of British Falconry | Medieval training, hunting, language and laws brought to life! Goshawks in particular are discussed at Falconry: Introduction to goshawks

Wednesday 27 April 2022

Medieval trading links between Greenland and Kyiv

As it happens I have posted several times recently about the possible causes of the decline of European settlement in medieval Greenland. There are links to those posts in the most recent one, Yet more on the fate of Medieval Greenland

I also posted about the trading world of the Handeatic League which ultimately linked that far north western frontier, looking as it did to Norway, to the wider Scandinavian world and thence to the eastern Atlantic, the Baltic and their hinterlands and ultimately to the river systems of what emerged as Russia, and thence, in theory and practice, to Constantinople. These links can be accessed at A Hanseatic Cog in Tallinn

With this still in mind and with our current acute awareness of the Ukraine I was particularly struck by coming upon and reading a report showing that in the middle ages Greenland walrus ivory was traded to Kyiv and worked there to form luxury products. This, inter alia, suggests another possible reason for the decline of the Greenland colony in the possible excessive hunting of the walrus for its valuable tusks and evidence for those of females and youngsters being taken. Fewer quality tusks meant less trade.

The length of these trading links is impressive and leads the mind to reflect on what else was transmitted along these extended routes in terms of ideas and images.

The article, from Science.org, can be read at Vikings shipped walrus ivory from Greenland to Kyiv, ancient skulls show

The cuisine of Al Andalus

I came upon an article on Atlas Obscura which was published last year about one of the earliest cookery books, which dates from the mid-thirteenth century, and which celebrates the Muslim cuisine of Al Andalus. 

The story is both that of the recovery of the complete text, which had hitherto been lacking a section but which was then rediscovered, and also that of the recipes and diet of Muslim Spain. It is also the story of the problems faced by both Muslims and Jews in respect of their dietary laws when they fell under Christian rule in the high and later middle ages and in the sixteenth century.

Tuesday 26 April 2022

St George

Today is the transferred Solemnity of St George.

Few saints beyond Our Lady and the Apostles have attracted so many commissions to artists as St George. This was particularly so in the medieval  and renaissance eras and, such was popular devotion to him that images of him occur right across Europe. For artists themselves St George offered great possibilities as an armoured man on horseback in icons, panel and wall paintings, carvings in teo and tree dimensions, and in books of devotion. Occasionally he appears without either horse or dragon, as in one of the most famous of all statues of St George, that carved by Donatello in 1415-17 for the Orsanmichele in Florence.

Donatello, san giorgio 01.2

Image: italianrenaissance.org

There is a good introduction to the statue, its history and losses - a metal sword, helmet and belt given by the Armourers guild who commissioned it to depict their patron ( and possibly to advertise their wares - ‘You too can look and feel like St George ….’  ) on Wikipedia at Saint George (Donatello)

There are other useful and more detailed online articles about the statue at St. George and at Donatello’s St. George

I have seen the point made that the Saint is shown in a design of armour that is s hybrid between classical Roman times and that of the contemporary early fifteenth century. Antiquarism and actuality are combined to create an archetype.

It looks to me that Donatello used the same model he used for his first, and far less well known, marble statue of David from 1408 - the faces have the same elements of strong youthful resolve moderated by a suggestion of uncertainty with a slightly furrowed brow. Be he a late Roman or an early renaissance Florentine he is a determined young man.

St George Pray for us 

Monday 25 April 2022

Anglo-Saxon feasting - more about intention and diet

The Mail Online has a more detailed account of the recent research into pre-Viking feasting and diet in Anglo-Saxon England, to which I linked to a BBC News article in my recent post Understanding Anglo Saxon royal feasts

The Daily Mail report goes into considerably more detail and sets out more about the menu choices. They suggest there was such a superabundance of meat that the residue may have been recycled on subsequent days, but I wonder if those attending - perhaps three hundred - would have taken portions home for their families to eat. That might well accord with social norms in a hierarchical society, where men were invited to a gathering and feasting but wives and junior members of families and children awaited their provender at home. The analogy of a modern barbecue is useful but I suspect the bread provided was larger than a modern burger-bun and one should perhaps think more in terms of an Indian meal today. I also wonder whether, although we know the quantities of meat specified for such communal meals, the meal and fish may have not only been roasted but also perhaps served in other, more complex ways. It is not until the fourteenth century that we have recipe books, and they suggest a sophisticated and complex cooking regime. That is of course several centuries later but that does not preclude the possibility of more haute cuisine in earlier times. 

Sense at Silchester

In my recent post More discoveries from Roman Britain I noted the threat to install a solar panel facility at the site of the Roman town of Calleva Atrebatum at Silchester. Happily the local authority has now emphatically rejected this planning application as can be read in an illustrated Mail Online article, which includes a summary of the history of the Roman town, at Plans for solar farm next to Roman village are REJECTED

Sunday 24 April 2022

Medieval English Hospitals

The Gresham College lectures are always worth watching on YouTube and none more so than one from a symposium ten years ago delivered by Professor Carole Rawcliffe on hospitals in medieval England. 

She begins by saying she has an evangelical intention to correct misunderstanding of these relatively little known institutions and she does so with intellectual honesty and commitment, fine examples and gentle humour. In under an hour she sets out her case and then supplements it in her answers to questions afterwards. It really is a talk I cannot commend too highly if you are interested in medieval life.

Understanding Anglo Saxon royal feasts

The BBC News website has an interesting article about the latest research into records of food renders to Anglo-Saxon kings which has been combined with archaeological analysis of human remains that looks at diet and social status. The result is to argue that an Anglo-Saxon king did not spend all his free time in gluttonous meat eating at feasts but rather that he usually enjoyed a relatively frugal diet not unlike his subjects, with relatively little meat, except on those occasions when he was entertained whilst travelling or at religious festivals.

I attended online an IHR seminar last year about part of this research into the scale and reason for the food renders listed in Anglo-Saxon source material for certain estates. The quantities of perishable food listed were not to feed a voracious household but a list of provisions to feed it and the local community when the King visited as part of his regular schedule of administration and dispensation of justice.

Not only do the lists indicate the basic ingredients for cooking for such a gathering - and hence the huge quantities listed - but they also demonstrate Anglo-Saxon kingship in action, travelling to see and be seen, going to administer justice and resolve disputes or difficulties, and forging social and political ties with local communities.

The article, which has a slightly misleading title ( perhaps reflecting modern attitudes ) can be read at Anglo-Saxon kings mostly vegetarian, study finds

A Hanseatic Cog in Tallinn

The Mail Online reports the discovery on a building site in the Estonian capital Tallinn of the very substantial remains of a Hanseatic cog dated by dendrochronology to 1298. It is not far from another such wreck discovered two years ago and both were originally in the mouth of a now silted up river. 

By coincidence I was looking at some YouTube  videos about the Hanseatic League a few weeks ago. These give insight into the history of the League, the lives of its members and its legacy today.

What Was the Hanseatic League? and Hanseatic League provide an introduction to the history of the Hanseatic League and how it operated. 

There is a more academic lecture to the Legatum Institute by the distinguished historian David Abulafia which is splendidly lucid and informative, and really worth watching, at Lubeck and the Hanseatic League: The Birthplace of the Common Market with David Abulafia

Once you get past the sponsors advertisement for online gaming Life of a Hansa Merchant : Hanseatic League History looks in a slightly humerous cartoon format whilst still being informative at the life of a young recruit to the Bergen kontor of the League in the fifteenth century - a subject touched upon by Prof. Abulafia.

The origins and nature of cogs is shown in What Type of Ship Is a Cog?

Medieval Sailors vs Modern Day Sailors looks at, and indeed goes sailing on, a reconstructed cog based in Kampen ( the home town of Thomas à Kempis ) in the Netherlands which regularly sails on the Ijesselmeer.

I acquired a greater awareness of the part played in late medieval English and European trading life through looking at the life of Boston in Lincolnshire where the future Bishop Fleming was Rector from 1408-20. After the Steelyard in London the Boston Kontor was probably the most important of the Hanseatic centres in England, and trading especially with Norway through Bergen - the merchants were the Bergenfahrer.

These ties were not just commercial as can be seen in linked artistic styles in England and Norway - most notably the piers with their curling flourishes along their shafts in the thirteenth century choir of Lincoln cathedral that are replicated, uniquely, in that at Trondheim.

However as the ship in Tallin demonstrates the Hanse bound together a much wider series of  routes and commodities, linking the Baltic and the North Sea, the Gulf of Finland to The Wash - a salutary reminder in our present uncertain times.

Thursday 21 April 2022

Happy Birthday Ma’am

Today is the 96th birthday of Her Majesty The Queen and this is to put on my loyal greetings and good wishes to her on this day. 

To reach the age of 96 is no mean achievement for anyone. Even with the health care the Royal Family receive it is still that, and although in her mother and the matrilineal lines of Queen Mary and Queen Alexandra Her Majesty has presumably a good genetic inheritance other members of the dynasty have had less lengthy lifespans - and less healthy lifestyles. The Queen is only the third monarch to reach their eighties - both King George III and Queen Victoria lived to be 81 - and to now be fifteen years older than them is noteworthy to say the least. That longevity has stood her, the Monsrchy and her realms well.

It is often said that when the then Princess Elizabeth of York was born in 1926 that no-one expected her to succeed to the throne. Even the Buckingham Palace website says that in effect today. That is not really true - in 1926 she was third in line after her uncle the Prince of Wales and her father thr Duke of York. Had she had a younger brother she would have moved down the list, but that was not to be. Even at the time of her birth there may well have been doubts as to whether the Prince of Wales would marry, and King George V, increasingly despondent about his eldest son, expressed the strong hope that nothing would come between his second son and his beloved granddaughter. In that he was prophetic. In 1936 Princess Elizabeth rose to second and then first in line to the throne. Her accession was certainly possible, if not indeed likely, from her birth onwards.

Wednesday 20 April 2022

More discoveries from Roman Britain

In February I wrote about a significant discovery of decapitated burials from the Roman period which had been discovered in excavations in advance of the dreadful HS2 project. That post, which was based upon an article on Live Sciencecan be seen at Losing one’s head in Roman Britain

Live Science returns in part to the theme of Roman beheadings in a new post about a series of discoveries in west Wales - the site is sensibly not yet identified - which suggests continuing settlement from the Bronze Age into the Iron Age and into the later stages of Roman Britain. Two interesting Roman burials of men in their twenties were opened up. One had been decapitated - whether causing or after his death is not clear - and a second appeared to be of a mercenary who had perhaps settled in the area and then died of an ear infection. He had been buried with some of his equipment. Interestingly his body was face-down in his now decayed coffin. 

The excavation has been carried out by an Irish team, and I was slightly amused to see how they were dating the end of the early middle ages to 1169 - no 1066, or the Welsh 1284 ….

The discovery of a very large Roman villa near Banbury is set out by the Banbury Guardian in an article at Why the Romans built a huge villa near Banbury - Time Team's dig reveals valuable evidence and artist's impressions show an incredibly beautiful site

Meanwhile the threat to the Roman site at Silvhester by proposals for a solar panel farm is set out by the Mail Online at Roman village of Silchester 'under threat from solar farm plans'

Yet more on the fate of Medieval Greenland

I see that Haaretz has an article building upon the recently published research into the decline and abandonment of the European colonies in Greenland around the beginning of the fifteenth century. I recently wrote about this clearly popular research topic and the interpretations that have been put forward in The fate of medieval Greenland and in More about the decline of Medieval Greenland

This interest in what happened in Greenland six or so centuries ago has more, I am sure, to do with present concerns about environmental change than just an uncomplicated fascination with medieval pioneering life in North America - even though it does mean that modern Americans can do archaeological work on medieval sites on, or under, their home turf, so as to speak. Maybe current television and film productions help to raise interest. Nonetheless the research being done is adding to our understanding of both past and also potential events.

Monday 18 April 2022

More about Easter Bunnies

Following on from my recent post Not your average Easter Bunny I came upon another, this time about the folklore of Easter bunnies, or, more likely, hares. It is by a folklorist and comes from The Conversation via a reprint in The Smithsonian Magazine and can be read at The Ancient Origins of the Easter Bunny

There is another short article from 2016 from The Conversation about the same subject which can be seen at The very strange history of the Easter Bunny

Easter humour in the pulpit

Public displays of clerical humour does not necessarily have a good reputation. It is often seen as either weak when delivered by the archetypical “wet curate” or as being unsuitable coming from a man of the cloth. Very different is the genuine wit and humour I have experienced from clergy over the years, but that was less often from the pulpit and more in private conversation.

Our ancestors had perhaps not dissimilar views but it appears that at Easter in particular medieval clergy felt they were expected to make jokes as part of the mood of celebration and to tie in with the notion that God had played the ultimate practical joke on the Devil by fooling him into thinking he could destroy, or misidentify, Christ.

I came across an article by a scholar of medieval German literature on The Conversation website about this topic which can be read at Easter laughter: the hilarious and controversial medieval history of religious jokes

Sunday 17 April 2022

He Is Risen!


The Resurrection 
Piero della Francesca

Image: Wikipedia 

Christ is Risen. Alleluia!
He is Risen Indeed. Alleluia!

Memorably described in 1925 by Aldous Huxley as “the greatest painting in the world” Piero della Francesca’s The Resurrection in Sansepolchro, created needs little introduction and invites reflection, humility and prayer.

The physicality of the painting, like the ones I have written about over the Triduum, gives it an impact that makes it so exceptional yet so accessible. Here is the resurrection of the body in a very real body, not ethereal but genuine flesh and muscle. This is a figure of Christ in which to put one’s faith and trust. As Huxley observed tjis is the face of a man - Man - who has been to the Dead and returned. Nothing less, nothing more.

For those who want to read more about its history and composition, its symbolism and significance I would suggest The Resurrection (Piero della Francesca) from Wikipedia, an article by Christine Zappella which can be read at both Piero della Francesca, Resurrection on Smart History and at Piero della Francesca, Resurrection from Khan Academy and, from the Edinburgh DominicansPiero della Francesca's Resurrection of Christ

A Holy and Joyful Easter to all my readers

Saturday 16 April 2022

Holy Saturday reflections

From the Office of Mattins for Holy Saturday 

Reading 4
From the Treatise of St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, Upon the Psalms
On Psalm lxiii, 7 
We shall attain to thoughts that are very deep: but God shall still be exalted. The enemies of our Lord had communed of laying snares privily; they had said, Who shall see them? They had searched out iniquities; they had accomplished a diligent search. And Man attained even unto (the realization of) their counsels, for the Lord, as Man, suffered Himself to be taken. For He had not been taken at all, unless He had been a Man, or seen, unless He had been a Man, or smitten, unless He had been a Man, or crucified, unless He had been a Man, or have died, unless He had been a Man. Man therefore, He attained unto all those sufferings, which had had nothing in Him, unless He had been a Man. But if He had not been Man, man had not been redeemed. And the Lord as Man attained to thoughts that were very deep, yea, secret; showing the Manhood to the eyes of men, and keeping the Godhead within Him; veiling the form of God, as touching Which, He is Equal to the Father, and manifesting the form of a servant, as touching which, He is inferior to the Father.

R. Our Shepherd, even the Fountain of living waters, is gone from us; He passed away, and the sun was darkened.
* For now hath our Saviour bound him captive, which bound the first man captive; this day hath He burst the gates and bars of death.
V. The bands of hell He hath utterly abolished, and hath done away the power of the devil.
R. For now hath our Saviour bound him captive, which bound the first man captive; this day hath He burst the gates and bars of death.

From Divinum Officium

The physicality of Christ’s Redemption of Mankind which St Augustine wrote of in the early fifth century can be seen in many depictions of the Lord’s death but few capture it as powerfully as Rogier van der Weyden was to do just over a millennium later in The Descent from the Cross painted about 1435 for an archers guild in Louvain ( Leeven ), and now in the Prado in Madrid. It not just the depiction of the limp dead body of Christ that speaks of real physical pain and suffering but also the actions and attitudes of the figures around, and all presented with an attention to flesh and blood, to cloth and wood and iron and thorns that makes it immediate and compelling.

The Descent from the Cross
Image: Wikipedia 

This proved to be one of the most influential paintings of its age, and its combination of technical skill and human compassion with spiritual insight make it one of the glories of Netherlandish art of that or any other time.
There is an online detailed study of the painting from Wikipedia at The Descent from the Cross (van der Weyden) and from the Prado website at The Descent from the Cross

Thursday 14 April 2022

Gethsemane - beauty and betrayal

Last year I posted a reproduction of one of Giotto’s most famous frescos, that of the Kiss of Judas from the Scrovegni or Arena Chapel in Padua. That short post can be seen at The Betrayal in Gethsemane

The Kiss of Judas 
1304–06 by Giotto (c.1267- 1337) in the Scrovegni or Arena Chspel in Padua
Image: thetempleblog.com

Such is the impact of the central figures in that painting I am returning to it again, as I have in past years on this day. I think of all Giotto’s paintings in the chapel this is the greatest, the most eloquent, the most timeless. The interaction of the two central figures of Our Lord and Judas is not only the height of the drama of the scene but of Giotto’s skill. It is a supremely great painting. It conveys a great truth. 

Giotto. Kiss of Judas (detail).
Giotto Detail from The Kiss of Judas 1303-1305. Fresco in the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, Italy.
Image: arts-pad.com
There is an online study of the painting at Kiss of Judas' by Giotto. Why is it considered a masterpiece?

This Holy Week as we reflect on the story of our Redemption in a time of contemporary brutal destruction in the Ukraine by a savage invader let us be thankful to the providence that Giotto’s work, unlike so much else in Padua, was not blasted to smithereens but survived the bombing of the city in 1943-5 as set out on Wikipedia in Bombing of Padua in World War II


We live in a terribly fallen world where the beautiful is fragile and which, as the Triduum and Easter tells us - not merely reminds us - tells us is only redeemed at a unique and terrible price.

The Royal Maundy

I see that I have posted twice, and at some length, with links, about the Royal Maundy. These articles, whichnInurge readers to look at, can be seen at The Royal Maundy from 2011 and at The Royal Maundy from last year.

The BBC News report of this year’s service at St George’s Chapel Windsor where the Maundy money was distributed by the Prince of Wales accompanied by the Duchess of Cornwall can be seen at Prince Charles stands in for Queen at Maundy Service

Wikipedia has a good account of the history and the developing practice over the centuries of the Royal Maundy and is clearly based on up to date research into its history. The article can be read at Royal Maundy

This refers to the fact that it was King Henry IV who standardised the practice of having as many recipients as the monarch had years. This appears to have come about because of his birth in Holy Week 1366. It may also reflect his own piety as a theologically literate layman and perhaps also a desire to demonstrate piety and humility in the wake of the events which brought him to the throne in 1399. His grandfather King Edward III had given fifty pence to fifty recipients in 1363 when he himself was fifty but it is not clear if this was a particular gesture rather than standard practice. This was a divergence from the usual twelve or thirteen ( as in the first recorded English Royal Maundy by King John ) of ecclesiastical communities and noble households as also of other monarchies such as Austria and Spain. The English tradition of having an equal number of men and women appears to have been a consequence of the shared monarchy of King William III and Queen Mary II, as previously the recipients had been men except for the reigns of Queen Mary I and Queen Elizabeth I when they were all women, as in the miniature reproduced in my previous blog posts about the ceremony. 

The location in earlier centuries was not necessarily in a church but in the hall of a castle or palace. This is like the custom until thr 1950s of the ecclesiastical pedelavium taking place outside the Mass and not in church. This seems to have been the case with the Royal Maundy until the seventeenth century. In the absence of the monarch after 1698 the ceremony was held in the Whitehall Banqueting House, which had become a  chapel until 1890, when it was transferred to Westminster Abbey. It was there that in 1932 KingnGeorge V was the first monarch since the late Stuart period to personally distribute the purses. Although yhrbKing did not do so again it set in motion the revival of the practice and in that respect is similar to various other aspects of the public ceremonial face of the monarchy which come from the early years of his reign, and indeed of his father, in respect of several of the Orders of Chivalry and their chapels as well as the revival of the public Investiture of the Prince of Wales.

As the Wikipedia article shows it only in the present reign that the Monarch has consistently distributed the Maundy Money.  The Queen has taken the service from Westminster Abbey around England to cathedrals and one or two other churches - St George’s Windsor on several occasions, including this year, to two former Benedictine abbeys which are now parish churches at Selby and Tewkesbury - linked in both their instances to their anniversaries of foundation - and once to Wales to St David’s and once to Northern Ireland to Armagh. The visit to St David’s also enabled The Queen to exercise her right as a Canon of the cathedral to occupy her stall in the choir. This unique status comes from John of Gaunt who was added to the capitular body there in the late fourteenth century. This was one of the relatively few occasions on which the service has been televised. I think it a pity that it is not broadcast each year.

My reason for that is what I wrote in 2011 and which I will cite again:

As an exercise in Royal humility, indeed in Christ-like humility, it is inevitibly ritualised, but anyone who has seen in person or on television the Queen distributing the Maundy money can recognise an authentic spirit of compassion in her demeanor as well as the reminder in the liturgy of the monarch as being at the service of their subjects. That is present in all Maundy ceremonies.

Interesting, is n't it, that those elected political leaders who so loudly claim to be of the people do not perform such ceremonies as a reminder to themselves or those they rule of the need for humility in high office. When did you last hear of the Presidential Maundy?

Wednesday 13 April 2022

Not your average Easter Bunny

I came across a short article on Mental Floss about thr thirteenth and fourteenth century delight in adding to the marginalia of illuminated texts pictures of rabbits ( and occasionally other creatures such as snails ) inflicting all manner of violence on human beings. 

This artistic motif has attracted attention from scholars and commentators in various academic articles. This recent article, whilst quite short, does offer a sensible interpretation of a frequently used theme which ties in with social norms of the age. Such role inversion is a key element in humour in any century and these violent rabbits fo demonstrate that medieval people did indeed have a sense of humour. Despite the article title these are not what I would describe as ‘doodles’ but rather a  conscious artistic decision in counterpoint to the text.

Tuesday 12 April 2022

The modern history of chocolate Easter Eggs

The Conversation has another article of seasonal interest about the relatively modern history of the chocolate Easter Egg. It can be read at Easter eggs were once a rare luxury – so how did they become so commonplace?

Lenten and Easter fare

An article on The Conversation website looks at traditional foods for both Lent and Easter. It can be seen at A history of Easter feasts and why the English breakfast might be medieval

I wrote last year about some aspects of this topic in Medieval Lenten and Easter cookery and also link therein to an older post from 2013  about the history of simnel cake which can be read at Simnel cake

A noble woman’s place …..

There is an interesting article on the website of The Conversation about household management in the middle ages by women of high estate. Such skills were very necessary then and in later centuries to ensure the health and well-being of family and servants, and also the maintaince of the dignity appropriate to the  household. These were not just medicinal skills but also concerned with oversight of the meals and provisions, and raising daughters, female relatives and staff to be able to marry well, and living devout lives.

Monday 11 April 2022

Cardinal Beaufort 575

Today is the 575th anniversary of the death in 1447 at his episcopal palace at Wolvesey Castle in Winchester of Cardinal Henry Beaufort.

I have posted about him and about the surviving images we have of him on this day in 2012 in Cardinal Henry Beaufort and in 2017 in Cardinal Beaufort.

Henry, Cardinal Beaufort

Portrait now believed to be of Cardinal 
Beaufort in the early 1430s and by Jan van Eyck. 
Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna 

Image: englishmonarchs.co.uk

Cardinal Beaufort belonged to an age when aristocratic bishops combined service to both Church and Crown, yet he was unique in his position as a churchman of royal blood, who was related to several of the leading dynasties of Europe. He was also a very substantial financier to the Crown, funding campaigns in France. He was an administrator as Chancellor of the realm three times, a diplomat and negotiator who played a key role in resolving the GreatSchism in 1417 as well as in attempts to negotiate a settlement in the Hundred Years War, notably in the early 1430s. As a domestic political figure he was at thrbcentre of English politics for over forty years. A patron of building and philanthropy he was also very keen to further the careers of his nephews the Earls and Dukes of Somerset, a fact which inflamed his opponents led by his nephew Humphrey Duke of Gloucester.

If he was unique in his own time so too he is almost unique in thr history of the country. The only comparable figures of a royal Bishop and Papal Legate or indeed Cardinsl, an
ecclesiatic with financial or political power, or at least the aspiration to that are his twelfth century predecessor at Winchester Henry of Blois, Cardinsl Reginald Pole and Cardinal York. All their lives are distinct but the similarities are striking. All were notable servants of both Church and Crown in their own way.

With Beaufort there appears to have been the assurance of being of the blood royal, for all that he was illegitimate, the grand seigneur, the man to whom basically no door was closed, the resolver of diplomatic and political impasses, the first resident English cardinal with ruling relatives from Portugal to Scandinavia. A man of ability, of intelligence, effortlessly grand and yet, in the van Eyck portrait, one with a gentler side, a hint of humour.

Cardinal Beaufort's Chantry Chapel

The tomb and chantry chapel of Cardinal Beaufort in Winchester Cathedral.

Image: englishmedievalcathedrals.com