Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Wednesday 31 August 2022

King Henry V - 600th anniversary

Today is the sixth centenary of the death of King Henry V at the chateau of Vincennes outside Paris.

❱ The famous and, in fact, only extant likeness of Henry V showing his fashionable 'tonsure' and painted side-on, contrary to the customary three-quarters pose. This is probably because Henry received a serious and disfiguring arrow-wound at the Battle of Shrewsbury in 1403 and although tactfully no contemporaries ever passed comment on this the right side of his face must have been a bit of a mess.
King Henry V

Image: Dorset Life 

Whilst the death of the monarch did not bring the English advance in France to an end - that continued until 1429 - inevitably the loss of the man who had motivated and symbolised the invasion reduced impetus and rendered success - by any assessment - less likely. For his son the new nine month old King Henry VI, and for his realms and subjects the future was uncertain, and, ultimately, violent and destructive. The questions hangs in the air as to what might have transpired had King Henry V not died when he did, and as to what he might have achieved had he lived longer.

Ten years ago I posted about the king funeral procession, and the accompanying ceremonial, that conveyed the King’s body to its final resting place in Westminster Abbey in The death and obsequies of King Henry V

Most academic historians who write about the King and his reign take an essentially positive view of him as a ruler and administrator. This view is memorably, dramatically indeed, summed up by K.B.Macfarlane in his 1953 Oxford lecture when he described him as “the greatest man to rule England”.

By contrast there are those academics who tend to dissent from such a view and moreover make no real attempt to conceal their personal  dislike for King Henry. Such is their scholarly and personal right, but it goes rather against the grain of contemporary scholarly method and a concern for impartiality. To write a biography does not, of course,require the author to like the subject, though more often than not that would be likely in most cases. Asserting their dislike or distaste for the King as war leader or for his religious attitudes seems to suggest modern “virtue signalling” rather than concern for historical evaluation of a man from six centuries ago. One of these authors disapproval of Henry’s religious fervour suggests more a lack on his part of the necessary historical and theological understanding of the early fifteenth century.

Of course one positive result of differing interpretations is that it fuels the processes of research and interpretation of the period.

As a historian of the times in which King Henry V lived I take the side of those with a more positive view of him. His reign illustrates just what medieval government could achieve with the motivation of an intelligent and determined monarch. Indeed the more one looks at his life and reign the more fascinating and remarkable he is as a ruler and as a man, and the more one is inclined to cite or endorse Macfarlane’s peroration.

Tuesday 30 August 2022

Roman Temples

Archaeologists working at Cupra Marittima in the Marche in Italy have discovered significant remains of the wall painting of a first century AD temple. This can be closely dated and antedates a major reconstruction of the building in 127 by the Emperor Hadrian. The plaster was removed at that point and survived as underfloor filling.

The decorative scheme that is indicated - a heavenly blue ceiling and walls decorated in red, yellow and black with green bands and ornamental swags and candelabra - is clearly a rare survival and of interest in itself. It is also, to my mind, interesting as a link, or arguable link, between more ancient forms of shrine decoration and what became very much the norm for Christian art in churches for the next two millenia.

The excavation and the finds are described in a CNN report which can be seen at New discoveries hint at 2,000-year-old Roman temple's colorful history

There is a more concise account from Archaeology. org at Fresco Fragments Discovered at Roman Temple Site

Just as I came upon this story my algorithm turned up a detailed account of another Hadrianic temple, and one that survives much as it was rebuilt by the Emperor, the Pantheon in Rome. The article describes the origins and history of the temple, its rebuilding, and the changes wrought by time and chance that have created what we see today.

The article, from Art in Context, can be seen at Pantheon Rome - A Look at the Roman Pantheon's Architecture


Know your swans

The sale of two manuscripts detailing swan markings for East Anglia dating respectively to the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries is reported upon by the Eastern Daily Press in Rare Tudor Norfolk and Suffolk swan-marking guide sold for £70,000

The precision and variety of the markings is in itself fascinating as well as the continuity of the tradition in and around the Fens.

It is rather to be regretted that the volumes will be leaving this country having been bought, according to the article, by a Canadian institution. A case for the application of an export ban pending fund raising here?

I posted about the tradition of checking of the marks on the birds at Swan Upping last year in my post Swan Upping

Thursday 25 August 2022

Queen Margaret of Anjou

Today is the 540th anniversary of the death of Queen Margaret of Anjou, widow of King Henry Vi, in 1482. Suitably enough for a member of the royal house of France it is the feast day of her ancestor St Louis.

She was buried with her parents in Angers Cathedral, having eked out a life, or perhaps just an existence, as a widow, bereft of her only son for the previous eleven years, first in England and then from 1476 in France. Something of that bleakness seemed to hover around the dark slab that covers her grave in the choir - a somewhat similar position to that of her son at Tewkesbury Abbey - when I visited in 1993.

It has been said of Queen Margaret that she was the most significant female player in English history between Isabella of France in the early fourteenth century and Katherine of Aragon in the early sixteenth century. With the possible modification of adding in Lady Margaret Beaufort that still seems a fair assessment.

The English, possibly in her own time, and certainly through the pen of Shakespeare and later centuries have tended to dismiss her as a minor member of the French dynasty, tha daughter of a dilettante monarch in King Rene. A quick perusal of her life shows in fact how well and closely she was connnected to the French, Iberian and western Imperial families. Her father’s wider claims extended to the titular Kingdom of Jerusalem.

File:Arms of Margaret of Anjou.svg
 The arms of Queen Margaret of Anjou as consort of King Henry VI

The coats give some indication of her genealogy and status from the houses of Capetian and Valois Anjou - Hungary, Sicily, Jerusalem, Anjou, plus Bar and Lorraine - but not her Aragonese ancestry.

Image: Wikipedia 

The Wikipedia biography can be seen at Margaret of AnjouA somewhat more detailed account of her later years after 1471 can be read at Anjou: The Last Years of Henry VI’s Queen

Wikipedia comments on her place in the Shakespeare History plays. In these she is shown as tough, determined, tragic, prophetic if not necessarily sympathetic … Not mentioned in the list of modern theatrical castings contained therein is Mary Morris’ awesome performance in the BBC production “An Age of Kings” in 1960 - once seen not easily forgotten. Her performance well be of drama rather than of history, but what a dramatic performance! Not a lady to tangle with.

The real historic figure was indeed tough, raised in a family where the women were as likely to take the initiative as their husbands, fathers or sons - and that was by no means unknown in the Wars of the Roses in England. 

There is much that is tragic in her life - the loss of husband, son, loyal adherents, and the miseries of exile and poverty. There is also much of the time a spirited resilience which is impressive.

A bronze portrait medal by Pietro da Milano is probably the brest surviving contemporary portrait of the Queen and it is dated to 1463-4.
It can be seen here from the original in the Victoria and Albert Museum

Her appearance is discussed in So What Did Margaret of Anjou Look Like?

The Heart of Emperor Pedro I returns temporarily to Brazil

September 7th will be the bicentenary of the proclamation in 1822 of the independence of Brazil by the Infante Dom Pedro, Prince Royal of Portugal, who then, on October 12th, his twenty fourth birthday, became Empeor Pedro I, with his father King John VI as nominal co- Emperor. 

He himself was nominally King Pedro IV of Portugal in March to May 1826 before abdicating in favour of his daughter Queen Maria II, and abdicated as Emperor of Brazil in 1831, in favour of his son Emperor Pedro II. He died in Portugal in 1834 and was buried there. In 1972 to mark the 150th anniversary of Brazilian independence his body was transferred to and re-buried in Brazil as the father of independence. However his heart, at his request, is preserved in a church in Porto, and this year it is going temporarily to Brazil as part of the bicentennial.

The BBC News website reports on this brief return at  Pedro I: Emperor's embalmed heart arrives in Brazil

Euronews has film of the heart in its receptacle being put on display in advance in Porto at Heart of Brazil's first emperor returns home after almost 200 years and ABC News has pictures of the reception of the heart in Brasilia at Brazil to display embalmed heart of Dom Pedro I, monarch who declared independence in 1822

The life of the Emperor is remarkable and dramatic, and set out in reasonable detail in the Wikipedia biography at Pedro I of Brazil

Wednesday 24 August 2022

Heads in the sand and under the water

Two recent archaeological discoveries from different places and times can be linked in that the discoveries in both cases are carved heads.

The more ancient is in Turkey at Aizanoi, where the latest discoveries include two fine Hellenistic heads of Aphrodite and Dionysius. The torsos of the statues had been found separately in previous excavations. The account of the discovery and an introducttion to the cult centre around the temple of Zeus can be found from Greek Reporter at Statuary Heads of Greek Gods Unearthed in Ancient City of Aizanoi

Much more modern, in that it is only four or so centuries old, is the oak figurehead from a Dutch ship from the era of the Eighty Years War which was recently dredged up in excellent condition off Texel in the Frisian Islands. The discovery and the symbolism of the head is described on the Ancient Origins site at 400-year-old Ship Figurehead from 80 Years War Caught By Dutch Shrimpers!

Uncovering more of Hyde Abbey

The loss of the vast majority of Hyde Abbey on the north side of the medieval city in Winchester is not only a loss to the heritage of that historic city but to the country as a whole as the abbey was the burial place of King Alfred and his immediate family.
All that survives above ground today is the associated medieval parish church and some outbuildings of the monastic site.

In 2014 a fragment of a pelvis found on the site was tentatively assigned to either King Alfred or his son King Edward the Elder as reported by the BBC News at Bone fragment 'could be King Alfred'

The latest excavation at Hyde has revealed something of the water supply system that channeled under the buildings.

The community focussed dig is described on the BBC News website at Tunnel found at Alfred the Great's resting place

A possible thirteenth century hostelry near Beverley

The BBC News website reports on an archaeological excavation at a deserted village site at High Hunsley near Beverley. The article concentrated on what is being suggested May have been the village ale house or similar hostelry on the basis of broken crockery of thirteenth century date and a considerable number of animal bones, which suggests catering on a regular basis. We know such places existed, but clear physical evidence is far less common. It will be interesting to see what next year’s dig adds to knowledge of the village and its life.

The excavation of High Hunsley, and what is known of the village’s history and gradual decline, is introduced in another BBC report at  High Hunsley dig: Archaeologists hunt for deserted medieval village

Tuesday 23 August 2022

More on Cantre’r Gwaelod

In my recent post Evidence for Cantre’r Gwaelod? I wrote about a new theory that the medieval Gough Map preserves evidence for two now lost islands in Cardigan Bay during the thirteenth or fourteenth centuries at least.

The Independent has an article that does set out a little more about this latest theory and even suggests that it might not have been until towards 1600 that the islands could be said to have definitely disappeared.

More on the health of the medieval Cambridge Austin Friars

Having posted recently in Living with parasites in medieval Cambridge about the latest reports about the skeleton-based evidence for the health and well-being of the medieval Austin Friars in Cambridge I have now come upon another article about the excavations which gives additional insights into the subject. It is from the phys.org website and authored by the University of Cambridge and can be seen at Medieval friars were 'riddled with parasites,' study finds

Monday 22 August 2022

Hunger Stones emerge in European rivers as the Rhine dries up

The tradition of carving the date upon which a rock was visible at low water in drought years was, and is, a well-established one in central Europe. This was designed to serve as a record, and a warning to future generations.

The custom, with various examples, is set out in an article from bigthink.com can be read at Europe's dry rivers reveal creepy "hunger stones" iflscience.com also has a post about these hunger stones, and in particular one on the Elbe near the Bohemian-German border which was first inscribed in 1417 and periodically thereafter down to 1893, and that can be seen at What Are "Hunger Stones" And Why Did They Terrify People In Europe?

The BBC News website also has something about these hunger stones in an article looking at the effects of the drought across the continent and the revelation of foundations, wrecks and lost garden layouts and which can be seen at In pictures: Drought in Europe exposes sunken ships, lost villages and ominous 'hunger stones'

The BBC also has an article about the exceptionally low level of the Rhine at Rhine River – Europe’s Second-Largest River – Runs Dry This story reminds me of reading how in 1540 it was claimed the Rhine was so low it was possible the drive a horse and wagon across the river. Even allowing for shifts in the narrative looking at the current pictures this does not seem as far fetched as one might have thought. This drought was linked to the exceptional vintage of that year, which also survived in the popular memory.

There are some additional, striking images of the Rhine and of other affected areas in an ABC News report at Lakes and rivers in Germany, Italy, France, Spain, China and US run dry as drought and water shortages grip Northern Hemisphere - ABC News

Making medieval medicine accessible

Funded by the Wellcome Foundation Cambridge Universirty Library, the Fitzwilliam Museum and a number of the historic Cambridge colleges are digitising their collection of medieval medical manuscripts. This will make them more accessible to researchers and ultimately the wider scholarly and general public.

Something like 8000 potions and treatments are given in about 180 manuscripts, so there is a rich collection on offer for future perusal.

Wierd and wonderful the concoctions may be, but they also  display at very least an attempt to provide relief to a wide range of conditions.

The project is reported upon by Cambridge University Libraries in an illustrated post with instances of various examples of medieval potions, and which can be seen at Do not try this at home: Medieval medicine under the spotlight in major new project

Sunday 21 August 2022

Evidence for Cantre’r Gwaelod?

The legend of Cantre’r Gwaelod, the lost lands submerged by Cardigan Bay, is a long established one in Wales. 

It has been partly explained as a folk memory of gradual coastal erosion and submersion along the coast, or as an explanation of the discovery on the shore of the remains of trees from long-submerged ancient woodlands. I wrote about this in 2020 in The legend - and reality - of Cantre’r Gwaelod

Evidence of an historic or record nature has, by contrast,  been lacking until a possible breakthrough involving the Gough Map in the Bodleian Library. Although its date remains in part open to scholarly debate as is set out in the Wikipedia account at Gough Map it does demonstrate a remarkable mastery of detail about the geography of the country in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.

The BBC News site reports that academics have taken note that the Gough Map shows two islands in Cardigan Bay that are not there now. Could these be part of the lost lands of Cardigan Bay which disappeared due to coastal changes?

This reminded me of the argument that until the thirteenth century - the same time period - there was a chain of several small islands off the Lincolnshire coast and across the mouth of The Wash which then disappeared as sea levels changed. This period was to be remembered in the Netherlands as a time of serious, catastrophic inundations by the North Sea. Maybe rising sea levels did indeed sweep away low lying off shore islands on both sides of Britain.

The report also highlights how Harlech Castle once stood above the sea and could be provisioned fron ships moored at the base of the rock on which it stands. Today however it is well inland. I do not know when the coastline changed there but think that may be much later - the way in which Harlech withstood attempts to capture it in the 1410s and 1460s suggests it could then still be so provisioned as originally intended.

Guédelon and the restoration of Notre Dame

In my post How to build your own medieval castle about the building as a piece of experimental archaeological research the castle at Guédelon in France I mentioned that the expertise acquired on this new castle was now being applied to the reconstruction of the roof of the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris.

A friend has now sent me the link to an article in The Guardian about these specific skills and their deployment in Paris which can be seen at ‘They said it was impossible’: how medieval carpenters are rebuilding Notre Dame

Friday 19 August 2022

Reburying the Scarborough villa complex

Last year I posted about an important and indeed seemingly unique Roman villa site that had been uncovered during house building work just outside Scarborough on the Yorkshire coast.
The Smithsonian Magazine has now reports on the reburial, so as to conserve them for future generations, of these remains of a high status, if still rather mysterious, structure at Archaeologists Rebury 'First-of-Its-Kind' Roman Villa

I think it is a pity that the remains cannot be left visible, although they do appear to no more than at foundation level. However an information site is to be created on the open ground to explain the site.

I posted about the discovery of this site in The Romans on the Yorkshire Coast

There are also reports about the site from that time from The Guardian at  Roman site uncovered in Scarborough hailed as first of its kind in UK and from the Scarborough News at Scarborough Roman villa: History of the Romans on the Yorkshire Coast and at Scarborough Roman villa: Trespass at significant ruins 'inevitable' say Historic England which outlines the vulnerability of the site.

English Heritage itself gives an account of the site at Rare Roman Remains Discovered in Scarborough

Living with parasites in medieval Cambridge

Over the years I have noticed a trend amongst some archaeologists towards a fascination with parasites and related unsavoury medical matters that might well put other people off their mid-morning break or indeed a whole meal. Nonetheless the information that such studies reveal does augment our understanding of medieval daily life, and of the medical constraints upon it.

The ongoing research in medieval graveyards in Cambridge has yielded much about the daily life of both clergy and townspeople there in the thirteenth to fifteenth centuries. The latest study from the project has moved on to worms in the human gut and seeks to explain why this was much more of a problem for the Augustinian friars than for the laity. I am not sure that I am convinced by the proffered explanation, but that may just be me being fastidious.

The BBC News report of the research - which typically manages to describe friars as monks - can be seen at Medieval Cambridge monks were riddled with worms, study finds

Thursday 18 August 2022

How to build your own medieval castle

A friend very kindly sent me the link to a stimulating and informative video about how to build a castle in the thirteenth century. This is achieved by building one from scratch - not a reconstruction or restoration - in the twenty first century in rural France.

It is in woodland at Guédelon which is well to the south of Paris. When the project began twenty five years ago the agreed virtual date was 1229. That is at the beginning of the reign of King Louis IX, who succeeded to the throne in 1226, and in the regency of his formidable mother Queen Blanche.

Twenty five years on it is now 1253 on the video, with another decade or so to go before the castle will be complete. The organisers admit that it is slower than in the middle ages - the speed demanded by King Richard I of the builders at Chateau Gaillard in the later 1190s is famous testimony to what could be achieved where there was the will and the resources.

The building methods methods ( with appropriate attention to modern health and safety requirements ) are an insight into the realities of medieval life and craftsmanship. It is a tribute to the expertise of the teams at Guédelon that the restorers of Notre Dame in Paris have visited to learn necessary skills. 

Medieval building technology is accompanied by those of the decorative arts and of food preparation in the new castle. Local supplies of stone, wood, clay etc are being used - as we know from historic sites was indeed the case. In addition to masons and carpenters there are all the ancillary workers such as wheelwrights, basket weavers, lime burners and rope makers

Al in all this appears to be an impressive and instructive project about a whole series of interconnected aspects of medieval life,

Monday 15 August 2022

King George IV’s visit to Scotland in 1822

Today is the bicentenary of the arrival at Leith of King George IV on his historic visit to Scotland in 1822. Not since 1650-51 had a reigning monarch visited their northern realm unless count one counts the stay by King James VIII in 1715-16 the Jacobite uprising of that year, or the presence of Prince Charles Edward in 1745-6 as Regent during the rising of those months.

King George IV was often underrated in his own lifetime and since as a monarch and as a man. Notwithstanding that he was of course one of the greatest patrons of the visual arts to occupy the throne and his taste for spectacle laid the foundations of what came to fruition in later reigns.

His  Scottish visit paved way for not just his visit to to Ireland but for Queen Victoria’s discovery of and love for Scotland and all things Scottish. That she bequeathed to her descendants and imagery of the monarch and their family in Scotland has become very much part of the modern iconography of the monarchy.

Sir Walter Scott was very much the inspiration for the 1822 visit and for much of its detail - as well indeed as the rediscovery of the history of Scotland by those who read his novels.

The BBC News website has an interesting account of the King’s visit and how kilts and tartan, once proscribed, now became de rigeur, which can be seen at How the king's visit saw kilts become Scotland's national dress

Prominent in the ceremonies of the visit were the Honours of Scotland, which Sir Walter had rediscovered in Edinburgh Castlr in 1818, and which had gone on permanent display the following year. Wikipedia has a good account of their history and of their use in 1822 at Honours of Scotland

Christopher Duffy’s excellent “ The ‘45” recounts how amongst those presented to the King at Holyrood were his “Oldest enemy” - a surviving Jacobite volunteer from 1745 - and also the granddaughter of the then Bishop of Carlisle who had been born at the episcopal residence of Rose Castle in 1745. A Jacobite officer sent to reassure the bishop gave the baby a white cockade - symbol of the Cause - which she wore to meet King George seventy seven years later. There is more about these two stories in Duffy’s book.

Friday 12 August 2022

Herefordshire hoard to go on display in Hereford

The BBC News website reports that the significant hoard of Anglo-Saxon jewellery as well as those of the coins that were not illegally sold off, and which was found in Herefordshire in 2015, will eventually go on display at Hereford Museum and Art Gallery. So something else to look forward to seeing on a visit to that historic and charming city.

The theft of the coins by those who discovered the hoard is a shocking instance of greed and is being duly punished by prison sentences.

The illustrated article about the hoard can be seen at Stolen Viking hoard 'comes home' after fundraiser

A seventeenth century cargo vessel found near Lübeck

Live Science reports on the discovery of a well preserved seventeenth century trading ship in the waterways near Lübeck. The vessel, which appears to have sunk in 1680, is extremely well preserved - a very unusual feature in those waters - and potentially offers an insight into the Hanseatic trade in lime at the time and also into contemporary domestic life.

Wednesday 10 August 2022

A kitchen from the Hussite era

The website of Radio Prague International has a report about the excavation of a kitchen of a house at Novy Jičin in eastern Moravia. The house was probably destroyed in 1427 by a Hussite raid. The kitchen with its utensils has been preserved as a time capsule rather like the houses at Pompeii. In this Moravian case the household appears to have been that of a typical burgher family.

Saturday 6 August 2022

Re-assessing and re-interpreting Tattershall Castle

Lincolnshire Live has a report about recent work on the dating and construction of that marvellously evocative structure Tattershall Castle. This can be seen at Tattershall Castle could be even older than previously thought

The report is, of course, only a summary and it would be very interesting to read the full study and see what else it adds to our understanding of the castle. 

There is a useful account of the castle from Wikipedia at Tattershall Castle, Lincolnshire

Lord Cromwell’s tower at Tattershall Castle

Image: Wikipedia

The National Trust has another useful account of the history of the castle at The history of Tattershall Castle in a nutshell

There are some good photographs of the castle before it was restored and also some of the adjacent collegiate church at The Remarkable Story Of Tattershall Castle, Lincolnshire.

The fifteenth century brick Great Tower is basically all that survives beyond foundations and most of this impressive castle. Nevertheless it is a wonderful structure, rescued and restored by Lord Curzon rather over a century ago. The Great Tower is certainly impressive and emanates the life in its echoing rooms the grandeur of aristocratic life in the reign of King Henry VI.

The tower was the work of Ralph Lord Cromwell, Treasurer of England and a significant builder - in addition to the new great tower at Tattershall he also founded and rebuilt the collegiate church there and also his impressive manor house at Wingfield in Derbyshire. In that respect he was rather like the “new men” - the Cecils, Christopher Hatton, the Cavendishs and their like as well as older families like the Talbots a century and more later. In addition building accounts survive for the work offering a detailed insight into the creation of this landmark building. 

Lincolnshire is a county from whence come some of my ancestors, and I first visited Tattershall with my parents when I was about four years old or thereabouts. The period when what survives there was built is one in which I have particular interest as an historian and Tattershall has a particular call on my caffections.

If readers have not visited Tattershall I would strongly urge making time to do so - the castle and church are a wonderful insight inro the age of King Henry VI.

The re-burial of Abbot Whethamstede

A week ago the bones of John Whethamstede, who served twice as Abbot of St Albans from 1420-40 and then again from 1451 until his death in 1465,were reinterred adjacent to the tomb of Humphrey Duke of Gloucester in the Shrine chapel of the former abbey and now cathedral. The BBC News website has an illustrated report on the service at How the mystery of the long lost Abbot was solved

I wrote about the discovery in 2017 of the Abbot’s remains in his destroyed chantry chapel in a 2020 post at Face to face with Abbot John Wheathamstead

That also looks at the facial reconstruction of the Abbot’s features, as does another article from the Herts Advertiser which can be seen at