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.

Sunday 31 July 2022

Medieval syphilis

For a while archaeological evidence has been accumulating for the presence of syphilis in medieval society in contradiction of the widely held belief that the disease came to Europe following Columbus’ voyage to the New World in 1492, and first made itself apparent at the siege of Naples a couple of years later.

This evidence is reviewed and other possible evidence included from literary and visual sources in a recent article in The Conversation..  This appears to make a sensible case. It can be read at Manuscripts and art support archaeological evidence that syphilis was in Europe long before explorers could have brought it home from the Americas

I was particularly struck by the author’s suggestion that the death of King Edward IV in 1483 could be attributed to syphilis. I had not seen this idea before, although the cause of that monarch’s seemingly sudden and unexpected demise has attracted speculation for a long time, from a chill that turned to pneumonia, food poisoning and appendicitis. Syphilis would perhaps fit in with what we know of the King’s private life, especially if combined with the well-attested effects of over-indulgence in food and drink, and maybe the argument of his in many ways irrational move against Clarence in 1477-8 fits in with the mental effects of ventral disease. Whether of not this was the cause of his death it does help to carry forward discussion about the events of 1483.

Friday 29 July 2022

Early Anglo-Saxon bed burials

Live Science has an interesting piece about a project which has analysed an early Anglo-Saxon burial practice, in which the deceased was interred on a specially made bed, and considered the relationship of such a form to similar European examples.

The conclusion is interesting. Not only were the bodies high status, but all the English instances were female. It is argued that these are the burials of high status Christian wives, encouraged to marry pagan Anglo-Saxon kings or nobles to convert them - rathe like Queen Bertha, wife of King Ethelberht of Kent in the 590s. One such burial that receives particular attention is that from Trumpington near Cambridge. Amongst other grave goods that were found with the human remains is a gold cross of the type so often described as Celtic. This is increasingly suspect as an origin for such pieces, and the other evidence adduced for this article points the viewer to the east and the continent rather than the lands of western Britain or their neighbours.

The illustrated article can be seen at Mystery behind medieval 'bed burials' in UK possibly solved

More about the Poole Bay ship

Live Science has a quite lengthy report about the discovery of the wreck in Poole Bay about which I posted in A thirteenth century ship from Poole Bay

This additional article provides more information about the discovery and more interpretation about the boat itself and its cargo. The article can be seen at 13th-century 'Mortar Wreck' is England's oldest-ever preserved sunken ship

Thursday 28 July 2022

The Chatsworth Parterre revealed

As in several recent years with long dry summers lost landscape features created by past generations have revealed themselves through the patched grass as foundations or as evidence of lost pathways

At Chatsworth the South Lawn has yielded up the details on site of the parterre lad out for the  first Duke of Devonshire in 1699, but turfed over only thirty years later. Drawings exist of the intricate design but now there exists additional physical evidence as to the exact form of the design.

This re-emergence at Chatsworth is set out by the BBC News site at Drone footage reveals hidden 17th Century garden which includes a video with the drone footage about the feature.

The Chatsworth parterre is also discussed in a Mail Online article about several such parch marks indicating lost garden features or foundations. This article looks at new evidence from this summer at Gawthorpe Hall, Mottrsfont Abbey. at Polesden Lacey and Powis Castle. It can be seen at Heatwave reveals historic features at National Trust properties

At Chatsworth there is talk of possibly doing a temporary recreation of the parterre in future years. I think I would be inclined there and at Gawthorpe to see a permanent reconstruction of the former arrangement of paths and planting.

Monday 25 July 2022

A thirteenth century ship from Poole Bay

PetaPixel has a report about the recent discovery of the remains of a thirteenth century  ship in Poole Bay off the Dorset coast which was discovered in 2020.

The timber for the clinker built vessel was felled in the period 1242-65 which makes these remains an early survival. 

The ship was transporting goods such a ready made grave slabs and mortars which were in transit from Purbeck in Dorset. As a result we can learn not only about maritime trade in the period but also more about the industry on Purbeck fashioning these objects.

Two others, one from the late fifteenth or sixteenth century and another apparently from mid-seventeenth century from off The Needles, have also been identified and listed.

The illustrated article from PetaPixel can be seen at Sunken Medieval Boat is England's Oldest Ever Shipwreck

There is another good account with additional information about all three wrecks from Historic England at Three Exceptionally Rare Shipwrecks Off the Dorset Coast and the Isle of Wight Granted Highest Protection


Tuesday 19 July 2022

Coins from seventh century Kent

Kent online reports the discovery of four seventh century gold coins and what appear to be lead weights for weighing them in the county and that they have been declared Treasure Trove under the Portable Antiquites scheme. 

The Merovingian origins of at least three of the coins clearly points to cross-Channel contact, either through trading or raiding. The presence of the weights suggests a concern with the absolute value of the gold and its use either in trade or in jewellery or decorative work. 

In these years the See of Canterbury was still a recent creation from the year 597 and Christian Anglo-Saxon culture was developing its own forms and expression.

The illustrated article can be seen at Ancient find declared 'treasure' at inquest

Assessing the claimed discovery of the tomb of King Harald Bluetooth

In my recent posts  Locating King Harald Bluetooth and An update on the Vikings I linked to online articles which reported on the suggested identification of the burial mound of King Harald Bluetooth of Denmark at Wiejkowo in the extreme north west of modern Poland. In sharing them I tried to sound cautious about the idea, whilst not rejecting it altogether as I do not profess any particular expertise in that field.

However someone who does have that is the author of the site produced by The Welsh Viking. In a recent post he gives a critical examination of the evidence adduced for the Wiejkowo site. He finds it seriously lacking in hard evidence or indeed, academic credibility. His video can be seen at Archaeologist Debunks Harald Bluetooth's Tomb Discovery

It looks very much as if my own initial caution was probably right in this instance, although further ‘hard’ evidence might yet, of course, turn up to substantiate the theory.

Wednesday 13 July 2022

An update on the Vikings

As so often happens a story or stories relating to a story I have written about here on the blog are often followed within days by reports of new discoveries or interpretations of the subject have just posted about. This has happened again in respect of Viking age finds.

The Mail Online site has a report about the discovery by a Norwegian woman of a gold ring from the period 400-800 amongst a collection of modern costume jewellery. It also links to the suggested identification of King Harald Bluetooth’s burial site which I posted about in Locating King Harald Bluetooth and also to the latest suggested site for a Viking settlement in what is now New Brunswick. These three topics are all covered in Gold ring worn by a Viking chief found in a pile of costume jewelry

This report also links to their previous account of the mound at Wiejkowo and to related discoveries from the reign of King Harald Bluetooth and that can be seen at Burial mound of 'Bluetooth Viking king' is FOUND

Fécamp Furta Sacra

A friend sent me the link to the BBC News report about the recovery of relics stolen from the sacristy of the abbey at Fécamp in Normandy. This is obviously good news and an opportunity to reflect on the mysterious art crime underworld as well as the history of the relics and of their shrine. The blood relics look to be analagous to the still extant and venerated Holy Blood in Bruges and the story of the inevitabily lost cruets said to have been brought to Glastonbury by St Joseph of Arimathea.

Monday 11 July 2022

Fancy a game of Hnefatafl?

Staying with the Vikings for another post the May online edition of Invicta has an informative article about the ancient board game of Hnefatafl, its antecedents and its decline in the face of the popularity of the similar but possibly more stimulating game of chess.

The main problem with reviviving it as a game is the fact that the rules do not survive. Modern players have had to attempt to reconstruct these based on educated guesswork. As a result different players play variant forms of the game. The great quest is to find someone somewhere who plays according to ancient practice. I can also imagine that there may have been several different variations in the past, or that thee rules changed over time or place.

Viking Exhibition in Thetford

The BBC News website reports on an exhibition about the Vikings in East Anglia at the Ancient House Museum in Thetford. The exhibition entitled The Vikings: History on your doorstep opens this coming Saturday, July 16th.

The objects on display indicate the nature of the significant discoveries made in recent years in East Anglia of material from the period and suggest something of the variety and richness of life in the Viking era.

The illustrated BBC report can be seen at

Sunday 10 July 2022

Locating King Harald Bluetooth

The suggestion that the burial place of one of the greatest early Kings of Denmark, Harald Bluetooth, has been identified at Wiejkowo ( In German: Gross Weckow ) in Pomerania - and currently part of the modern Polish state - has attracted some online attention.

Wikipedia has a biography of the King at Harald Bluetooth

An article on warhistoryonline.com sets out the case for Wiejkowo being his burial place and can be viewed at 1,000-Year-Old Burial Site of Legendary Viking King Harald Bluetooth Discovered in Polish Village

The Wikipedia article about Wiejkowo/ Gross Weckow which provides a bit of background can be seen at Wiejkowo and on the same site is a much more detailed account of the Curmsun Disc

King Harald is perhaps most usually associated with the monuments at Jelling in Jutland and Wikipedia has a good account of this major historic site at Jelling stones

Friday 8 July 2022

A History of Strawberries

One of the perennial journalistic cliches of this time of year is that of strawberries and cream at Wimbledon. That fact is used as the beginning of what is an interesting article in Country Life about the historic development and use of strawberries both here and abroad.

Thursday 7 July 2022

Political matters

I do not often comment on current politics - it is usually far too depressing. However the events of the past 72 hours are of historic moment and do invite a few reflections …..

This has not been a Greek Tragedy but a French Farce. At one level this came about all because of the Conservatve MP for Tamworth. Now as I am sure everyone knows in the history of the Conservative Party Tamworth has a special place because of Sir Robert Peel’s appeal to his electors there in the 1830s arguing that Conservatives could and should adapt to changing circumstances ( I sometimes think that by this stage he was a bit of a pinko Liberal, but no matter ) - but that was not the reason for what has happen
ed. Rather it is because yet another MP has been alleged or shown to suffer from wanderng hand trouble. At another level it not only displayed once again the predilections when drunk of some government MPs, but it finalKT and fatally exposed to public gaze a government - or at least a Prime Minster and his staff - who were easy on evading the truth, on thinking they could say and do what they liked with no consequences. However time had run out on this experiment with reality and it has been found wanting.

Be that as it may it has proved to be a bitter harvest for Boris Johnson. Now let me be clear - I do not dislike Mr Johnson, I loathe him and virtually all his works ( support for Ukraine excluded ). Over my lifetime various Prime Ministers have attracted my impotent ire and contempt but none of them, none of them, comparable to that which I feel for Mr Johnson. After Cameron I did not think my opinion could sink lower, but then we have had the Johnson years and all that has entailed.

The seeming inability to tell the truth about so many things, the impression of there being teo diffrrrnt codes of behaviour for the favoured few as opposed to the rest of th he population, the virtual re-running of Hartley Shawcross’s trope “We are the masters now”, the appeal to a popularist politics, the appropriation of bits of national history to suit the needs of the moment, the seeming lack of concern for the financial difficulties faced by so many in contemporary society…. - all this was profoundly alienating to me and my understanding of traditional Tory or Conservative values.

Amidst the record breaking slew of resignations yesterday I did send a message of congratulations to an MP friend who had resigned ministerial office yesterday evening.
As I sit here enjoying my second celebratory gin and tonic I recall the words of Herself in 1982 and victory in the Falklands - “Rejoice Rejoice!”

Saturday 2 July 2022

The death of King Manuel II in 1932

Today is the ninetieth anniversary of the sudden and unexpected death at his home Fulwell Park at Twickenham of the exiled King Manuel II of Portugal. He was only 42. 

Following the 1910 revolution in Portugal he lived in England, establishing himself at Twickenham where his mother Queen Amelie had been born when the Orleanist branch of the French Royal house lived there.

Manoel II, King of Portugal (Nov 1909).png

King Manuel II
A photograph from c.1909
The King is wearing the riband and star of the Order of the Garter, the star of the Three Orders - of Christ, Santiago and Aviz - the collar and star of the Order of the Tower and the Sword and the star of the GCVO.
The British Orfers would indicate the photograph was taken during or just after his State Visit to Windsor in 1909.

Image: Wikipedia 

Wikipedia has a biography of the King at Manuel II of Portugal

During his exile in England he was a patron of hospitals - an interest of his mother as Queen Consort - and with the Red Cross during the Great War. At Fulwell, which he bought soon after his marriage in 1913, he and his own Queen Augusta Victoria were well known and esteemed residents of Twickenham and worshippers at and benefactors of the local Catholic parish church of St James. There is information about the church and its Manueline connection in the Wikipedia article at Church of St James, Twickenham

There are two videos from local historians of the area on YouTube about the King’s life at Fulwell which can be seen at The King of Fulwell and at The Last King of Portugal - in Twickenham

These years are also covered in a mixture of English and Portuguese which include reminiscences of the King and pictures of his gifts to the church. These can be seen at ULTIMO REI DE PORTUGAL D MANUEL II  1.PARTE and at D. Manuel II, O Exílio

I recall reading once in a letter to the Daily Telegraph of how the King and Queen aldo visited the local cinema and, sitting at the front, availed themselves of tea served on tray during the interval.

Amidst this genteel and sedate exile the King also commenced a significant study of the history of Portuguese literature.

Following his death he received a state funeral in Westminster Cathedral and his body was returned to Lisbon. His mother Queen Amelie died in 1951, and his widow, who remarried in 1939 into the Swedish-German Douglas family, and thereby becoming, Countess Douglas, died in 1966.

Fulwell Park, a not very prepossessing house, was sold soon after the King’s death and the house demolished. The housing built on the site has several road names that recall the Portuguese Royal connection of the neighbourhood - Manoel Road, Augusta Road, Lisbon Avenue and Portugal Gardens. Queen Augusta returned to Germany and built herself a house which she named Twickenham and furnished it with the contents of Fulwell Park.

Friday 1 July 2022

Roman gold coins in pre-Roman Britain

The BBC News website has a report today about a coroner’s inquest in Norwich into the status of some gold coins issued by the Emperor Augustus, who died in 14, through the mint at Lyons which had ended up in Iceni territory in Britain before the Roman conquest under Claudius after 43. Probably intended for the manufacture of torques they have been scattered by agricultural work and the hoard is gradually being recovered by responsible metal detectorists. The coins themselves are in very good condition and, declared to be treasure trove, are safe for the nation. The discovery clearly points to contact or inter-action between the British tribes and the Empire through trade or raids in the reign of Augustus or in the years following his death.

The article is well illustrated and the expert interviewed, Adrian Marsden, is an old acquaintance of mine from Oxford days. He is quite often cited as East Anglia continues to yield numismatic finds of this type. The article can be read at 'Exceptional' Roman gold coin hoard found