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 30 June 2022

Lost manuscripts - more on what might have been lost

Last February I wrote two pieces based on a methodology trying to calculate how much is lost to us of medieval literature. They can be seen at Lost manuscripts and More about counting lost manuscripts I have now seen a new article in the Guardian which looks further at the research and helps indicate the scale of what has been lost but also reflects upon not only the quantity but also the quality of what is no longer available to us. That is an equally sobering matter and one that is less easily answered. The article can be read at The big idea: could the greatest works of literature be undiscovered?

Sunday 26 June 2022

A coin of King Harald Hardrada of Norway discovered in Hungary

Live Science recently had a report about the discovery of a coin in Hungary that had been minted in the name of the Norwegian King Harald Hardrada ( born c.1015, reigned 1046 -66 ).

King Harald Hardrada - King Harald III - is best known in the British Isles for his death at the battle of Stamford Bridge during his invasion in 1066 ….and indeed is often seen, accurately or not, as the “last Viking”

The article about the discovery in Hungary of this small silver coin issued by the King can be seen at Silver coin featuring famous Viking king unearthed in Hungary

The cultural and economic links which might explain the presence of the coin are various. King Harald’s wife’s sister was married to King Andrew I of Hungary whilst there were trading links across Central Europe or along  the Volga route to Byzantium, or maybe it travelled with someone on the First Crusade at the end of the century. In such matters it was the value and weight of the silver that mattered, not who had issued the coin.

It has been said before that the life of King Harald reads like a novel with his travels to Byzantium and involvement in its politics whilst serving in the Varangian Guard, and his return to Norway as first of all co-ruler and then as sole King. As such he was an ambitious and assertive ruler who sought to acquire both the Danish and English thrones.

Wikipedia has a lengthy biography of the king at Harald HardradaThe physical description of him is interesting in that it does make him appear as a man of flesh and blood, not just a name as a stock-in-trade Viking. 

That Wikipedia biography is detailed, and once one starts opening up the links there is a diverting time to be had reading and pursuing other lives and topics. As a a group of articles they are very good, informative, detailed and well researched. Amongst these is BerserkerThis is explains the concept and reality of fighting as a berserker, that is unarmoured and relying upon natural or acquired superhuman strength, which King Harald is said to have done, ultimately unsuccessfully, at Stamford Bridge. It opens up for the reader the world of this type of elite Viking warrior. There are also good linked accounts of his contemporaries, including his wife Elisiv of Kiev, his second son and ultimate successor Olaf III of Norway and about his possible sister-in-law, the mother of Edgar the Aetheling and his sisters at Agatha (wife of Edward the Exile)

The history of King Harald Hardrada is not just that of Norway and of England but of the Northern world and of contemporary Byzantium. His travels and his marriage in the lands of Kyivian or Kievian Rus gives a certain topicality to the narrative.
Once again we have an indicator through the finding of one small coin of the economic and political links that bound the continent together in all its diversity in the eleventh century. Such a single tangible link with the past can be a means to open up our understanding of lives, of politics and military campaigns, of economics and trade in a seemingly distant era, and to give it immediacy.

The Law Code of King Alfonso X

Another beautifully illustrated post on the British Library Medieval manuscripts blog is about the BL illuminated manuscript of the Law Code of King Alfonso X  ‘The Wise’ of Castile and Leon ( born 1221, reigned 1252-84). King Alfonso’s younger half-sister Eleanor is well remembered in England as she was to become the first Queen of King Edward I. 

Known as “El Sabio” because of his wide and cultured range of interests and for his codification of Castilian law he can, perhaps, and anachronistically, be seen as a thirteenth century version of the “Enlightened Despots” of the eighteenth century - itself a highly problematic way of understanding their rulership. A better way of understanding the King and his reign is to see him as monarch of his own time, using his acumen and his particular skills and interests to further his rulership. Not a man before his time, but of his time. Wikipedia has a biography, with access to all the relevant links, at Alfonso X of Castile

The blog article can be seen at The Law Code of Alfonso X

The Westminster Tournament of 1511

The British Library’s Medieval manuscripts blog is always well worth looking at. A recent post on it looked at a unique item in the BL collection, the Westminster Tournament challenge from 1511, in connection with it going on display in an exhibition at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool.

The Westminster Tournament was held by King Henry VIII to celebrate the birth of his first son, Henry Duke of Cornwall on January 1 1511-2. Sadly the infant was to die on February 22 but the celebrations that accompanied his brief life are outlined by Wikipedia in Henry, Duke of Cornwall

Had the young Duke lived, of course, the history of the English speaking world might well have been very different, as his father might well have had no reason to seek the annulment of his marriage to Queen Katherine and all that led to …..

The illustrated BL article can be seen at The Tudors in Liverpool

Friday 24 June 2022

By-election ruminations

Probably unwisely, but nonetheless, I stayed up to watch the results in the Wakefield and the Tiverton & Honiton by elections which were held yesterday. I had some element of passing interest in both - I was born in Wakefield and raised in my nearby home town, and I have relatives in Devon and one of the reporters covering the by-election there is a friend from Oxford days.

Here are a few random thoughts which came to me in the wee small hours:

1. Were it not for two busy-body women Conservative MPs snooping over his shoulder to squint at what he was watching on his mobile phone Neil Parish would still be MP for Tiverton and Honiton, and the Lib Dems would not have secured a famous victory.

2. If the Conservatives had dropped Imran Khan as their candidate for Wakefield like the proverbial hot potato once his past was flagged up to them by his victim they would have still probably won the seat in 2019 with another candidate, and still hold it.

3. The last time Wakefield made such an impact on national politics was probably as a result of the battle fought there in 1460. Unlike the aftermath of that, so far, no severed heads have appeared above Micklegate Bar in York. So far ….

4. Whilst Bojo is in Rwanda perhaps he should follow his Home Secretary’s idea and claim political asylum there.

Thursday 23 June 2022

The Nativity of St John the Baptist

Today is the anticipated Feast of the Natuvity of St John the Baptist - as this year the Sacred Heart falls tomorrow on the usual day assigned to celebrating the birth of St John.

File:Reni, Guido - St John the Baptist in the Wilderness - Google Art Project.jpg

St John the Baptist preaching in the Desert
Guido Reno 1575-1642
Painted 1636-7
Dulwich Picture Gallery

Image: Wikimedia

Looking online for images of St John I was struck by the number similar of the Guifo Reni reproduced above which seem more concerned to depict a handsome male virtually nude than to convey anything of what he might be actually preaching about. Another fine example from over a century later is by Mengs:

File:Anton Raphael Mengs - St. John the Baptist Preaching in the Wilderness - Google Art Project.jpg

St John the Baptist preaching in the Desert
Anton Raphael Mengs 1728 -1779
Painted probably in the 1760s
Museum of Fine Arts Houston

Image Wikimedia 

Saying that is not to be in any way censorious or puritanical, nor is it to criticise them as paintings but just to comment on the extent to which the image had politely and elegantly moved away from the doubtless more intimidating figure presented by the real St John in the first century Judean wilderness and on the banks of the Jordan. There is more of that in the painting by El Greco:

File:El Greco - St. John the Baptist - WGA10548.jpg

St John the Baptist
El Greco
Fine Arts Museum San Francisco 

Image: WikiPaintings

If you do not want to travel to California then in Cardiff there is a lightly later version from the workshop of El Greco:

St John the Baptist
Workshop of El Greco
Painted about 1610
National Museum of Wales

Image: Wikidata 

In 2013 I posted The Nativity of St John the Baptist  for today’s feast. That has links to other posts I had written previously about St John.

Last year I posted about two later fifteenth century Aragonrse paintings that depict the story of the birth of the Great Forerunner in The Birth of St John the Baptist

Some years ago I wrote for the other of St John’s Fessts, that of his Decollation, a piece about six English medieval churches dedicated to him and for which in different ways I have affection or a connection. That illustrated article can be seen at Churches of St John the Baptist

I realise looking at it again that I should have included Merton College Chapel in Oxford as well. Researching images for this article led me to the website of a church that I clearly need to visit, the very impressive late nineteenth century Anglo-Catholic St John the Baptist Holland Road which does not appear to be as well known as it should be. The parish’s well-illustrated website is at About St John the Baptist Church, Shepherd's Bush, London

St John the Baptist Pray for us

Wednesday 22 June 2022

Seeking to identify the scribe of Domesday Book

The Independent reports on a project which claims to have identified the facts that Domesday Book was written by a Normandy born scribe who was probably a member of the monastic community attached to Winchester cathedral priory. The thing that is lacking is an actual name for the scribe.

That the writing up of Domesday occurred at Winchester should not surprise us - the city was a principal royal residence, the base for the Treasury, a long m-standing place associated with the processes of government. Recognising the text to be largely the work of one scribe is not suprising given the nature of the work and the desire for an accomplished, clear copy of the results of what we often today term the Domesday Inquest. 

Whether a name can ever be attached to the scribe is another matter but intriguing. I imagine most medieval scribes, and particularly monastic ones, were usually content to remain anonymous. Anonymity was perceived as a virtue and an expression of humility. Indications of artistic or similar self-identification were rare at the time - hence the fame of Giselbertus at Autun or St Dunstan’s little pen-portrait of himself. What eventually became known as the Civil Service appear usually to have been and indeed are content with discreet and polite anonymity.

Nonetheless if this interpretation by the researchers is correct it adds to one’s appreciation of the austere Norman work of the transepts in Winchester Cathedral - for the monastic scribe must have witnessed their building.

An Anglo Saxon pendant from Buckinghamshire

I have posted twice in recent days about the excavation of an important early Anglo Saxon cemetary at Wendover in Buckinghamshire. Now there is a report on the BBC News website of the discovery in the same county by a metal detector of a pendant from the same period. It is in fact a reused Roman seal, presumably from a ring, which had been reset as a jewel in a silver mount to be worn on a chain or cord.

The seal appears to be made from bloodstone, a stone for which medicinal and therapeutic properties were claimed in the ancient and medieval world. These are set out by Wikipedia in Heliotrope (mineral)

The pendant is described and illustrated in tree BBC article at Saxon pendant with Roman jewel found in field

Monday 20 June 2022

St Alban in medieval art

Today, or, depending on which calendar you keep, the 22nd is the feast of St Alban, the protomartyr of Britain.  

Some years ago I posted about his medieval iconography in St AlbanThis is largely based upon the work of John Dillon and Gordon Plumb on the Medieval Religion discussion group. There is also a fifteenth century example in my post Humphrey Duke of Gloucester where St Alban is shown presenting Duke Humphrey to Christ as the Man of Sorrows.

St Albans Psalter of 1120/5-1140/5 has a striking illumination of the martyrdom which can be seen at Martyrdom of St Alban. St Albans Psalter. 1st half of 12th Century ...

There is more about the Psalter, with its rich and varied artistic palate, and which survived by being taken at the dissolution of the monasteries to Germany, where it remains at Hildesheim, in a series of linked posts from Medievalists. net at The St Albans Psalter now online This splendid manuscript, and associated with Christina of Markyate, was made just as the bulk of the present Cathedral and Abbey church - to use its current designation - was being completed. It is an indicator of the artistic culture of the monastic community there at that period, and the monastery continued to be a patron of art and learning, spiritual, scientific, literary and historical until its last years.

St Alban Pray for us

A sixteenth century tapestry celebrating the Blessed Sacrament

The New Liturgical Movement had an artivle st the weekend about an early sixteenth century tapestry in the church at Chalons-sur-Soâne that was given literally as a suitable back cloth for the celebration of Holy Thursday and Corpus Christi. It illustrates the typology of the Eucharist in the Old and New Trstaments. Given to the church in 1510 it has survived in wonderful condition and is a reminder of the type of textile that would have adorned many churches in the past. 

The very well illustrated article can be seen at A Eucharistic Tapestry in France

France has preserved more of these medieval wall hangings than many other parts of the continent, from the Bayeux Tapestry to the great cycle from the late fourteenth century depicting the Apocalypse and now to be seen in the castle at Angers, and treasures in the Musee de Cluny in Paris. 

From England little survives - there was great excitement the other year when a Spanish collection found that it possessed the one survivor of King Henry VIII’s great collection of tapestries. Due to their very nature and the accidents of time and chance, of political and religious upheaval the possibility of such pieces surviving is all the more one of chance.

Sunday 19 June 2022

Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico

Early on the morning of June 19th 1867 on the edge of Queretaro in Mexico the Emperor Maximilian I and two of his generals, Miguel Miramón and Tomas Mejia, were shot by a firing squad. It was an event thst marked the final failure of the second Mexican Empire and shocked Europe and the wider world.

In some ways the second attempt to establish a Mexican Empire began as something of a tragicomedy, the brainchild in part of that mid-nineteenth century snake oil salesman, Napoleon III, who was, of course, as trustworthy as most French politicians are .,.,

The scheme turned into tragedy, personal, political and national all too quickly after the Imperial couple arrived, and found themselves ill-prepared anf ill-advised as to what they had taken on.

For Mexico it was a tragedy thst something that in theory and on paper could have led to stability, constitutional rule, the balancing of conservative and liberal aspirations, genuine reform and development failed to happen. The history of Mexico and its upheavals for the past century and a half is not an edifying one. A stable Empire might well have avoided that.

Politically it fuelled the endemic civil conflict, led to the loss of life and the collapse of what was in many ways a noble attempt in three years. For the liberal Maximilian, a product of mid-nineteenth century European hope and culture to be plunged, barely aware at first, into the snake pit of Central American factions, was  enough to test anyone, and he was perhaps too well-meaning, too idealistic to have much chance. The whole episode can be interpreted in many ways - the rise and development of Hispanic American nationalism, the interplay of radical and reactionary politics and politicians, the cultural disjunction between the old and the new world, the legacy of colonialism, the clash of church and stste in an ever more modern and secular world all played a part in this drama. All these factors make the story one that remains ever interesting.

For the Emperor and Empress it was the terrible tragedy of disillusionment, defeat and death before a firing squad for Maximilian and Carlota similar disillusion, despair and apparent insanity that continued until her death in early 1927, almost sixty years later, a world away from that of the 1860s.

The point is often made that had Maximilian fled Mexico, as was proposed, or if Juarez had simply packed him off back to Austria he would have spent the rest of his life sitting at Miramar as a picturesque failure or a might-have-been - perhaps like the Stuart Jacobite claimants in the eighteenth century  or Amadeo of Aosta in the nineteenth century. As it was violent death came and transformed him into a figure of romance or nobility, which is why he is remembered, not for success but for tragic failure.

Many biographies of the Emperor and his Empress Charlotte or Carlota of Belgium. It is a long time since I read Joan Haslip’s book Imperial Adventurer and I have not so far seen Edward Shawcross’s very well reviewed new life The Last Emperor of Mexico. 

Wikipedia has a good, illustrated account of the Emperor’s life as both Austrian Archduke and as Mexican monarch. It is well illustrated and can be read at Maximilian I of Mexico

I posted five years ago about the Empress in Empress Carlota, which I would urge readers to look at, especially her great niece Queen Marie Jose’s recollections of her.

The Imperial couple were childless and adopted the grandsons of the previous Emperor Agustín I - who also died in front of a firing squad - either as heirs or as a bargaining ploy with the Emperor’s younger brother Archduke Karl Ludwig to send or assign one of his sons as heir to the Mexican throne. That never came about and the Iturbide family eventually, if somewhat fitfully, took up the claim in the persons of titular Emperor Augustín II, the Empresses Maria I, II and III and now, resident in Australia, the Emperor Maximilian II. For more on the Iturbide family see the Wikipedia article House of Iturbide

If nothing else say a prayer for the souls of the Emperor, his two companions in death and for that of the Empress.

A history of the origins of the Feast of Corpus Christi

Today in the Ordinary Form is the Feast of Corpus Christi, and for those celebrating according to both OF and EF calendars the likely date for Corpus Christi Processions. I obviously assume readers are in fact intending going on a Corpus Christi Procession if they are physically well enough….

Although Corpus Christi is now such an established part of the ecclesiastical year it was not always so. In the history of the Church it is relatively new, an innovation of the thirteenth century, arising as much as anything from popular devotion. It was also one that continued to become ever more popular. For those who do not know of its origins, or who are unaware of how long it took to be celebrated universally, the Catholic World Report this past week had a useful and succinct historical account. This looks both at the origins of the Feast in the Low Countries and also at the events at the Papal Curia that delayed for decades widespread awareness of this new addition to the calendar.

The article can be read at How the Feast of Corpus Christi developed

Saturday 18 June 2022

More on the Wendover Anglo-Saxon cemetary

Since I wrote my post An Anglo-Saxon cemetery in Buckinghamshire about the discovery of this significant early settlement burial site at Wendover more has appeared on the internet about the finds themselves and their interpretation. 

History Hit has a video about the site made by Dan Snow, which was referred to in one of the articles I linked to, which can be watched at  Astonishing Anglo-Saxon Burial Ground Found By HS2 Archaeologists. The same site has a post with a series of photographs of some of the more noteworthy discoveries at HS2: Photos of the Wendover Anglo-Saxon Burial Discovery

Ancient Origins has a fairly lengthy article about the site, notably the skeleton of a young man with a blade embedded in one of his vertebrae, at Huge, Artifact-rich Anglo-Saxon Cemetery Found on England’s HS2 Line!

The Mail Online has a lengthy and detailed report on the discovery which is, as one has come to expect from that website, very well illustrated. It can be seen at Anglo-Saxon burial containing 141 skeletons found in Buckinghamshire

All at sevens in the Roman Liturgy

Following on in part from my - and their - previous post which linked to their site the Liturgical Arts Journal has another interesting article about the origins and significance of the use of the number seven - seven deacons, seven sub-deacons etc - in the traditional Roman and Lyons Rites. 

Thursday 16 June 2022

The Papal Corpus Christi Procession until 1870

Today is the Feast of Corpus Christi in the Traditional Rite. To mark this Shawn Tribe has a splendid post on his Liturgical Arts Journal site about the great Papal procession through Rome on the Feast until the invasion and loss of Rome in 1870.

I think we can all agree that those were indeed the days ….

Origins of the Black Death

Research into the origins and diffusion of the mid-fourteenth century Black Death has proceeded on various fronts on recent years, possibly accentuated by our experience of coronavirus.

Looking for evidence of Y pestis in human remains from Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia in the nineteenth century and dated to 1338-9 has yielded evidence of the disease. Locating it in that region is not new but having direct evidence of deaths decade before it reached Europe along the trade routes that connected the two regions is a valuable addition to our knowledge. As is pointed out in the reports there may well be other centres that vectored the plague, but this does indicate at least one point on the map and that such research methods do yield results. It is not a complete answer in itself but it helps build a fuller picture, a better understanding.

The BBC News website outlines the discovery at Plague: Ancient teeth reveal where Black Death began, researchers say and there is more about the project from Scientific American at Ancient Women's Teeth Reveal Origins of 14-Century Black Death

An Anglo-Saxon cemetery in Buckinghamshire

The excavation in advance of the dreadful HS2 project of a major Anglo-Saxon cemetery at Wendover in Buckinghamshire is reported on by the BBC News website at Anglo-Saxon burial ground unearthed at HS2 site in Buckinghamshire

From what it says this is a clearly important discovery and the grave goods providing a further insight into the lives of the deceased. The range of cosmetic and toiletry aids once again refines our image of Anglo-Saxon life to one that is more elegant, more sophisticated than what is often assumed. So too does the presence of glass vessels in the burials - as we all know glass is always vulnerable and in the early medieval wotld an expensive and treasured possession usually an import from the Mediterranean world.

Saturday 11 June 2022

Katherine Swynford Society Study Day

Through the internet technology that is Zoom I was able today to attend a study day organised by the Katherine Swynford Society at Lincoln Csthedral. This was the first time I had managed to attend one of their events - I joined the society just as Covid shut everything down. The study day concentrated on the life of Lady Swynford in Lincoln and Kettlethorpe both before and after her marriage to Duke John of Lancaster in 1396


The tombs of Duchess Katherine and, in the foreground, her daughter Countess Joan in Lincoln Cathedral.
A drawing of 1640.

Image: Wikipedia 

Judi James, one of the cathedral guides,  spoke about Katherine’s later years living in and around the Close and it was there that she died in May 1403. Both of the houses she occupied still survive. Unfortunately her many gifts and those of her husband to the cathedral were casualties of the reformation in yhe mid-sixteenth century.

Her formidable daughter, Joan Beaufort, Countess of Westmorland was eventually to establish the chantry chapel in which she and her mother are buried. Despite serious damage by the Parliamentarians in the  Civil War in 1644 and later, including the loss of their monumental brasses, the much altered chantry remains a focal point for all who are interested by the story of Katherine Swynford.

Katherine Swynford, tomb
The Chantry Chapel today.
Duchess Katherine’s tomb is in its original position on the right, that of her daughter has been moved to where the altar once stood.

Image; A Bit About Britain

The second speaker was Sarah Hogg - policy maker, broadcaster and commentator aka Baroness Hogg /Viscountess Hailsham - the current chatelaine of Katherine’s home at Kettlethorpe Hall, just west of Lincoln, spoke about her historical work - part fiction, part fact - Katherine’s House published in 2019 which looks at the story of Kettlethorpe from the late ninth to the twentieth centuries.

A figure often considered to be Katherine. This shows her in her later years as the third wife of John of Gaunt with her daughter Joan to the right.

Image: The History Jar

The KSS website is at The Katherine Swynford Society

Finding ‘HMS Gloucester’

The recent identification of the wreck of HMS Gloucester’ which sank off Great Yarmouth in 1682 whilst taking the Duke of York - later King James II and VII - and his entourage to Edinburgh has attracted attention from the media.

Finds from the ship, including its bell which definitely identified it, are illustrated in the articles and will go on display at an exhibition in Norwich esrly next year.

As the reports point out there is an element of “what might have been” to the story of the loss of the ship in that amongst the survivors of the wreck were both the future King and John Churchill, the future Duke of Marlborough. Had they not survived the events of the King’s reign and exile, or the victories of the War of the Spanish Succession might very well not have happened. The history of the British Isles and indeed of the wider world might have been very different, for good or ill.

The reports of the discovery of HMS Gloucester and of its place in history can be seen from the BBC News website at Shipwreck The Gloucester hailed most important since Mary Rose, from The Independent at Royal warship’s wreckage found off coast of Norfolk after sinking in 1682 and from The Daily Mail at Wreck of HMS Gloucester is finally found off the Norfolk coast.

The Daily Telegraph also has an account of the discovery at Greatest shipwreck since Mary Rose discovered off coast of Norfolk

There is in addition a video account of the ship and its wreck from A Little Bit of History at The Sinking of HMS Gloucester

This gives a much more balanced account of the Duke’s escape with his core companions - as well as his dogs and priest - which appears much more fair than the claims made in the articles about James delaying his flight from the stricken vessel and thereby causing the consequent loss of life. In the video it is very much the Captain of the ship who is presented in charge both in deferring to the pilot and who was anxious to secure the safety of his important passengers by getting them away from the sinking ship first.

Friday 10 June 2022

A tale of two swords

No, sorry, this is not a discussion of Gelasian Dualism - much as I might like to reflect on the theory and expression of that particular theory as to the nature anf function of governmen - but rather is concerned with two recent archaeological finds. One is from Norway, the other from Greece, and both are of swords. In both cases they open up for us vistas of past conflicts and past trade routes.

The reports both come from Live Science on the internet which has had accounts of these two recent discoveries. 

The Norwegian example is of a relatively rare type and dated to about 800. It could have been made in England or France, but it is also possible that it was made by a Norwegian smith who copied or was influenced by English or Frankish models. The find is illustrated and described in Broken pieces of rare Viking sword reunited after 1,200 years apart

The Greek discovery appears to be a sword from the fourteenth century anf the time when the Ottomans were increasing their pressure on emwgat little remained of the Byzantine Empirein what are now the coastlands
of northern Greece. The article gives a useful glimpse of the turbulent conditions prevailing along the Aegean coastline in the fourteenth century. It can be read at Rusty saber, possibly wielded by medieval Turkish pirates, unearthed in Greece

Please don’t blame me for the North American spelling of sabre …. 

Wednesday 8 June 2022

Lucy Worsley on the Princes in the Tower

A friend tipped me off that Lucy Worsley’s recent programme about the fate of the Princes in the Tower from her series Lucy Worsley Investigates was available on BBC iplayer last night and I tuned in to the site.

As with so many history programmes there were the virtually inevitable costumed figures looking pensive or enigmatic in mood inducing tableaux, but one expects that. Less expected was the cameraman or director’s obsession with Lucy Worsley’s shoes…. but then it is a BBC production. However those things apart the programme was basically good.

There was a good range of locations and a sense of place was communicated as was the use of contemporary source material such as Dominic Mancini’s account of the events of 1483, and their evaluation.

The academics interviewed all seemed to agree as to the guilt of King Richard III in respect of the deaths of his two nephews, so this was therefore, in my opinion, an eminently sound programme.

I was not aware of the re-dating of the King Edward V coins to them actually being produced in the reign of his uncle. Issuing them does look rather odd and does to modern eyes at least look a bit like a cover-up or disinformation.

The Richard III Society chairman was not, I thought, very impressive in his arguments and seemed rather to be clutching at straws. If Lambert Simnel and Perkin Warbeck had been genuinely the sons of King Edward IV why did they have a biography as themselves, and they would not have survived as Simnel did and Warbeck could have done if he had not gone rogue again. A genuine pretender does not pretend to be another pretender pretending to be them ....

The programme drew upon the recent work of Prof Tim Thornton as to Thomas More’s sources for his detailed account of the murder of the Princes. This research indicates that More certainly was in a position to talk to at least the son of one of the reputed hired killers. Thst does of course beg the question as to how you sit down with somebody and ask about how their father carried out a contact killing of two boys…. 

This segment was filmed at Buckfast Abbey which now houses as a relic the hair shirt More gave on the eve of his execution to a family member. The point Lucy Worsley drew from this was Thomas More’ commitment to truth. He was not just a hack writing propaganda.

The programme could have been longer and more detailed but was nevertheless worth watching. 

The programme is one of a set of four in which Lucy Worsley looks at historical questions - the Witch hunts, the Black Death and the Madness of King George III, and I shall try to catch up with those.

Monday 6 June 2022

Mary Mother of the Church

Today is the recently established feast of Mary Mother of the Church which is designed to reflect upon this title, formally assigned to Our Lady by Pope Paul VI during Vatican II.

The idea is not of course new and several late medieval artists created images of Mary as Mother of Mercy that can be seen to convey something of the same idea with Our Lady sheltering representative figures from the whole range of the faithful under her mantle. There is something about this iconography from Wikipedia at Virgin of Mercy

File:Enguerrand Quarton, La vierge de miséricorde de la famille Cadard (1452).jpg

The Virgin of Mercy  
Painted in 1452 by Enguerrand Quarton (1410-66)
Image: Wikimedia

There is an account of Enguerrand Quarton, who was born in the north of France but who worked principally in Avignon and Provence, and of his work, again from Wikipedia, at Enguerrand Quarton

Another of his paintings, that of the Coronation of the Virgin, painted for a Charterhouse and now on display in a museum in Avignon, and discussed in the account of him linked to above, and painted about the same time or a year later, also used the same imagery of the faithful gathered around Our Lady as she is crowned by the Holy Trinity:

The Coronation of the Virgin painted by Enguerrand Quarton 1452-3

Image: Wikipedia

The Platinum Jubilee - Day 4

I was unable to watch the Jubiler Pageant live on television as I was attending a Jubilee Afternoon Tea with my neighbours as our community celebration. I must try and catch up with the events on The Mall on iplayer. When I got back home I did watch the appearance by The Queen on the balcony of the Palace together with her immediate heirs and their wives - plenty of symbolism in that and without the rather gloomy impression of a somewhat similar group looking out from the balcony under a lowering sky about to rain at the conclusion of the Diamond Jubilee a decade ago.

Our local tea party had a very positive feel to it and it was a good opportunity to get to know neighbours better and share common interests and enthusiasms. Very much what the national organisers wanted to see I think, and, from the news reports, that appears to have been achieved. For an instance of that look at John Ramsden’s comment which he made to my first post about the celebrations.

Sunday 5 June 2022

Roman celebrations of Pentecost

Shawn Tribe has an interesting piece on the Liturgical Arts Journal website about traditional Roman customs to celebrate Pentecost in the churches of the City. One which survives is the shower of red rose petals in the Pantheon.

In the past similar customs obtained elsewhere  as he described with not only flowers but doves and burning tow. What our present age with its concerns for animal welfare and about fire prevention or the risk of personal injury would make of such things is probably predictable if sad.

The use of such images or visual representations of the Holy Spirit and of Pentecostal Fire for many centuries is a reminder that visual aids are nothing new. They  were a way of signifying the particular nature of the day alongside the liturgy and show an imagination as to what could have an impact of the eyes and minds of the faithful. Spectacle is nothing new, and allied in such cases to charm and delight. 

To what extent these may derive from ancient Roman pre-Christian or Imperial practice is not discussed but Rome above all in the West was likely to keep such practice, or at least the memory of it, alive. It has all the exuberance associated with the Baroque long before that style or mood as we know it was conceived.

The article can be read at Forgotten Roman Customs of Pentecost

Saturday 4 June 2022

The Platinum Jubilee - Day 3

Today I watched a sequence of things relevant to the Jubilee on television. I caught up with the recent programme on archive film of The Queen’s life from home movies taken up to and including the Coronation, accompanied by repeated quotations from speeches and broadcasts by Her Majesty over the years.

This material was of interest in showing the Royal Family away from the public eye. Some of it was at one level unexceptional in that it could be any family, but then it was a striking reminder of the human side of life in the House of Windsor when that was not seen in the way we have become much more used to in the present reign. In total it is a fascinating archive resource for the life of the Roysl Family in those years. 

To me probably the most striking images were those of King George VI as Duke of York and then as monarch which showed him as very much a relaxed and proud husband and father. One gained from this a much clearer idea than literary descriptions might convey of happy family life and the bonds forged with his wife, daughters and grandchildren. It reveals much more than the formal photographs or the profile on a coin which is perhaps how he is remembered by many today.

The film is well worth catching up with on BBC iPlayer.

This was followed by a re-run of the 2018 programme on the Coronation with The Queen reflecting on that event with her very practical observations about the weight and awkwardness of St Edward’s Crown and of the Imperial State Crown, and the discomfort of the Gold State Coach. 

In the evening I watched the Platinum Party at the Palace. Now Pop Concerts are not especially ‘my thing’ but this was an undoubtedly impressive production, and its staging and use of Buckingham Palace, the Victoria Memorial and The Mall as a backdrop extraordinarily effective. The technology involved would have been unimaginable in the world of 1952 - an apt visual metaphor of the changes these last seventy years have seen. There was also a self-deprecating lightness of touch - not least Her Majesty taking tea with Paddington Bear - which is very British in its understatement and quirkiness.

Ten years ago I was struck when watching the equivalent performance by what a remarkable blend that was of contemporary popular culture with an ancient institution that was celebrating the reign of its latest custodian. That was even more true this evening, reinforced by both the celebration of seventy years of changing life and the call to safeguard the global environment. An institution in which continuity is implicit has, as is often pointed about monarchies, the ability to point to the long term, and call attention to what does need doing. This was also a long established institution which could be confident in itself to endorse the modern world and to look to the future - the future of the world in all its complexity and future of the monarchy with the speeches from the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Cambridge and the presence of Prince George in the audience. There was also one felt a great sense of genuine shared exhilaration and enthusiasm in displaying affection and regard for The Queen as well as simply enjoying a jolly good party.

Friday 3 June 2022

The Platinum Jubilee - Day 2

This morning I watched the coverage on television of the Thanksgiving Service at St Paul’s. From my memories of those for the other Jubilees this was one of the better services in terms of structure and content even though it did not have the presence of The Queen herself, or indeed of the Archbishop of Canterbury as the intended preacher.

The BBC coverage was again good, and better than on some previous occasions - one did not have as happened at one other such service that I recall a loquacious commentator talking over the singing of a hymn - and the discussions framing it were again informed and pertinent as well as appropriately entertaining.

This evening I watched Clive Myrie’s programme The Crown Jewels. In an hour he explored something of the history of both the English/British regalia as well as that of the Honours of Scotland. Along the way he looked at the making of the facsimile reproduction of the state crown of King Henry VIII - which I have suggested previously on this blog anf in a lecture to the OXford Heraldry Society was, I believe, originally fashioned in the Lancastrian era and periodically modified. At the Society of Antiquaries the inventory made when the old regalia was destroyed in 1649 was on view as well as the order for the new set in the autumn of 1660.

Technically there was the use of modern filming to reveal the detail of the best known pieces that make up the collection at the Tower including less well known items such as the frame of King George IV’s 182I state crown and the present Prince of Wales’ 1969 coronet.

Potentially there was a series to be made here but the hour long programme is worth looking at on the BBC i Player website.

Thursday 2 June 2022

The Platinum Jubilee - Day 1

I have, regular readers may not be surprised to read, spent much of the day watching the first day’s events of the extended Bank Holiday to commemorate the Platinum Jubilee of The Queen.

Trooping the Colour was very impressive. It is a long time since I have been free to watch it and it was very good to see the enhanced coverage that is now possible with the latest cameras and sound. Because of the nature of today’s event and its adaptation for the Jubilee this meant there was more coverage than in past years of the return to Buckingham Palace and the appearance of the Queen and members of the Royal Family on the balcony. That made for a more complete transmission of the whole event, not something that was rather abruptly terminated for the rest of a Saturday schedule.

One thing I noticed was the fact that uniformed members of the Royal Family were wearing their collars as members of the Order of the Garter. A friend suggested that today may have been specially designated as a collar-wearing day as I cannot recall seeing this done before. I also saw a GBE (Military) wearing his collar whilst being interviewed which seems to bear that theory out.

The BBC coverage was much, much better than it was ten years ago when frankly they did seem not to know what they were trying to do.
That may in part have been due to the different nature of the events with the river pageant and so on being novel. This years the celebration seems more traditional, more predictable than ten or twenty years ago and by being that easier to broadcast, and for viewers to follow.

This was also true of the coverage this evening of the lighting of the beacons across the country and Commonwealth, and also inthe  choice of guests to interview on the studio, and indeed what they said.

So a splendid start to the celebrations in both senses, and clear evidence of a lot of enthusiastic engagement by people with events in London or in their local communities.

Wednesday 1 June 2022

The Ascensiontide Octave

For those who still observe or are aware of the liturgical calendar of past years we are on the eve of the Octave Day of the Ascension. Gregory DiPippo has a good study of the traditional Gospel readings in the Roman and other ancient Rites for the Masses of the week on the New Liturgical Movement which can be read at Other Gospels for the Ascension
The artivle also gives a useful outline of the pattern in other Octaves, and how they evolved liturgically.

This season of the year one is reminded all the more of the loss of these Octaves for both the Ascension and for Pentecost. Such a prolongation of the day of celebration and with time to reflect over the succeeding days on its significance and meaning is surely a good idea in terms of encouraging the faithful to greater understanding. That was what was claimed as part of the case for liturgical change as “renewal”. As it is Ascension and Pentecost come and go with little time for such reflection and growth.