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.

Friday 30 September 2022

Sailing the Roman Mediterranean

The Washington Post recently had an interesting piece about an Israeli research project into how the Romans managed to sail loads of grain from the granary that was Egypt or to travel by sea from other eastern parts of the Empire against the prevailing westerly winds in the summer. Ship design did not permit setting the sails to accompany this, and delays could be long if a ship was becalmed.

The research, which involved using a replica vessel of the type used in the Roman era, looked at wind patterns - which are unchanged - as well as how to navigate such a ship.

The answer lay in catching such easterly breezes as there were early or late in the day and patiently sitting at anchor when the westerlies dominated. It made for slow progress but, in the hands of a skilled crew, the ships did eventually reach their destination with their cargo by a zig-zag or similar route.

St Paul was someone who experienced such a journey on his route from Caesarea to Italy, and there are references in Acts to making good progress, to delays and, of course to shipwreck at Malta.

Thirteenth century faces from Whithorn

The Daily Telegraph has a report about recent facial reconstruction work on skeletons found in the the 1950s in the ruins of the choir of Whithorn Cathedral in south-west Scotland and dated to the thirteenth century. One of the burials is of Bishop Walter who held the see of Galloway from 1209 until his death in 1235. There is a Wikipedia biography of him at Walter of Whithorn

The other two adjacent and anonymous burials, of a woman and a man, are thought to be of people of similarly high standing. The woman’s body had, unusually, been laid on a layer of shells. 

The account of the project and research can be seen at 'Beautiful' face of medieval woman brought back to life after 700 years

A fifteenth century King’s flagship

The waters of the Baltic have yielded up another historic shipwreck, that of the Gribshunden, which was apparently the flagship of King John (Hans) of Denmark and Norway, and, on occasion, of Sweden. The ship was one of the first carvel built vessels in the Baltic and also one of the first designed from the beginning to carry artillery. It sank off the coast of south-east Sweden in 1495 whilst the King was ashore at Kalmar seeking to re-establish the Union of all the Scandinavian realms agreed there in 1397. The sinking may have occurred after an explosion of gunpowder.

There is an online biography of King John on Wikipedia at John of Denmark

Wikipedia also has an account of the Gribshunden and of funds and items recovered, including apparently the figurehead,  made in recent years at Gribshunden

The latest discoveries on the wreck are described in a Live Science article which can be seen at 15th-century Baltic warship served as a 'floating castle' for an intrepid king

The first new coins to be issued for King Charles III

The Royal Mint has released the designs for the first two coins to be issued with the name and portrait of King Charles III. They are a 50p piece and a crown - now valued at £5 rather than 5/- - to commemorate Queen Elizabeth II.

I read somewhere a while ago that a new coin portrait had been created for the then future King, hence the speed with which the Royal Mint can produce these two new coins.

The obverse bears the King’s portrait, facing left in the tradition of alternating the royal profile in each reign and the inscription in Latin. Like his mother the monarch’s name is in English, whereas before 1952 it was latinised. The portrait and design has a classic quality, reminiscent of the coins of King George VI and the later issues of King George V.

The reverse of the 50p re-uses the design from the 1953 Coronation crown, used again in the 1960 minting. This still looks very good and, scaled down, fits the shape of the coin well. Whether it might be retained as the standard reverse had not been said but it would be very suitable. It certainly fits well with the theme of the Spring Tide royal visits in the first week of the reign.

The design of the reverse on the £5 piece is also good and dignified despite its relative complexity with two images of the late Queen.

Both auger well for future regular issues of coins, and might reflect the new King’s interest in the visual arts. His potential role as a patron in that sphere was highlighted by Simon Heffer in an article in the Daily Telegraph which can be seen at The King of culture: why Charles III will be good for the arts

Thursday 29 September 2022

A soldier’s savings from the Wars of the Roses

The BBC News website has a report about the sale of a small collection of coins and a gold ring from the time of the Wars of the Roses. They were found by a metal detector near Harrogate. The face value of the coins is 2s 3d and even by the values of the fifteenth century no great fortune. Indeed reading the story one was struck by the smallness of what is presumed to be a soldier’s savings. There is pathos in this story of an anonymous soldier secreting, or perhaps losing, his little hoard and never recovering it.

To my thinking it seems a pity that this very human collection is being dispersed rather than being acquired and kept together in a public collection, such as The Yorkshire Museum. The small scale of the hoard is a window into one life, but also so many in those years.


One for Inspector Morse?

The Spectator has an article by my friend Dan Hitchens about the closure of St Benet’s Hall in Oxford. St Benet’s was a Permanent Private Hall (PPH) of the University offering degrees to students. Founded by Ampleforth Abbey it was originally for their monks - such as the late Cardinal Hume - but in more recent decades took in laymen, ad more recently, laywomen. In its original intention it was a revival of such medieval Benedictine foundations in the University as Gloucester College ( now Worcester ), Durham College ( now Trinity ), and St Bernard’s ( Cistercian - now St John’s ) It was a Catholic foundation, like Blackfriars and Campion Hall, although non-Catholics were admitted.

That its future was somewhat uncertain has been known for a while, but the announcement this last spring of its impending closure was a great shock to not only the students and staff but to the wider Oxford community.

The article by Dan Hitchens can be read at Why has Oxford killed off a much-loved Catholic college?

I agree with what Dan offers as an interpretation of the events he describes. I would perhaps modify it slightly by saying that St Benet’s has been changing for a decade and more, and not I think for the better.

When I was first in Oxford in the 1990s the typical ‘Benet’s boy’ was from the college at Ampleforth - and as likely as not heading towards a commission in the Life Guards…Red  moleskin trousers were almost a uniform for these young men. That is not to say there were also some very studious  chaps there who got good degrees and were academics or religious in the making. That is no longer the public perception of St Benet’s. Indeed friends from that second archetype have expressed to me in recent years their regret at the increasing secularisation of the Hall. This was most obvious when Ampleforth said it could no longer provide a monk as Master. The advent of a secular Master was a significant change in the eyes of all.

It has also been fairly obvious that the University administration has had the PPH’s in their sights for a while. Those that might expand to become full colleges are I suspect being nudged that way, the others need to look  carefully at their future.

The loss of St Benet’s is very sad, and possibly sinister. Along with the closure of Greyfriars as a PPH a decade or so ago the opportunity for a Catholic education in Oxford is much diminished.

Wednesday 28 September 2022

“The Lost King”

I didn’t think I would be going to see the new film “The Lost King” about the discovery of the skeleton of King Richard III. Reading news reports in recent days about the controversy that now surrounds the film raises one’s interest and awareness, but in fact makes me even less likely to go and see it. 

The discovery and identification of King Richard’s remains was, and is, a remarkable achievement. It would be best to leave it at that rather than turn it into what appears to be a cliché-ridden account of the plucky lady amateur Philippa Langley battling against entrenched Leicester academics. The clearly very considerable anger of those academics at the way they are depicted may have brought the film publicity but probably not the sort the makers wanted. It all very much seems  to reflect badly on the script and direction of the film. Such is, alas, very often the way of filmmakers, anxious to spin a sentimental yarn with little regard for the truth. There have been, and are, far too many instances of this in recent years when the historical record is mangled in what are purported to be depictions of recent or relatively recent events to create entertainment, and not provide enlightenment.

It does seem also to reflect that “chippiness” that one has seen or sensed with some Ricardians, disdainful of established academics, convinced of their King’s innocence and goodness, selective in their emphases.

Souring the achievement of all concerned by making this film does appear very regrettable - the story has quite enough fascination without introducing non-existent rivalries, only to bring them into existence. Unnecessary, futile and sad seems to sum up the situation.

I first saw this disputed narrative about the film aired on the BBC News website at The Lost King: Steve Coogan defends Richard III film in university row

There is extensive coverage from the Daily Mail  of the sorry saga at War over the hunt for Richard III and from The Guardian at Royal row erupts over Steve Coogan film about Richard III

Most film reviews available online appear to go along with it uncritically but The Guardian was not impressed in its review by Peter Bradshaw which can be seen at The Lost King review – Frears and Coogan’s Richard III excavation story rewrites its own history

Also unimpressed was goombastomp in their review of the film’s first showing at the Toronto International Film Festival, as can be seen at The Lost King is an Unlively Attempt at Revisionism

Independently the point occurred to me, as I subsequently found it did to the The Guardian film reviewer, that this rewriting of history, and demonising of perceived opponents, is just what the King Richard III enthusiasts claim Thomas More and William Shakespeare did to their hero.

Aristocratic Anglo-Scottish recusancy in the Stuart era

The assiduous Stephanie A. Mann had an interesting post the other day on her Supremacy and Survival blog about the in many ways dramatic and tragic life of Katherine Clifton, Baroness Clinton and successively by her two marriages Lady d’Aubigny and then Countess of Abercorn in the reigns  of King James I and VI and of King Charles I. 

The life of the Countess and her family reads like the narrative of an historical novel - a genre for which I will add I am only occasionally an enthusiast - but does show the possibilities and problems of aristocratic life in the early seventeenth century. This was especially true for a family whose interests lay in both England and Scotland in the decades following the Union of the Crowns, and especially the difficulties facing recusants. Active persecution as in the late sixteenth century had ceased and whilst the King might be friendly, and indeed kin, there was always the risk of hostility from less tolerant groups.

The two sons of the Countess shown in the Van Dyck painting and who died fighting for the King are, if I recall aright, buried in Christ Church Cathedral in Oxford.

Excavating the Hull blockhouses

The year 1539 brought a potentially serious threat to the government of King Henry VIII. Finding itself facing a possible reprochment between the Emperor Charles V and King Francis I, and largely without any significant allies the possibility of an armed intervention to undo the breach with Rome led in the following years to a significant programme of military building.

The best known part of this rapid operation are the distinctive line of castles designed as artillery forts that stretch from Cornwall to Kent, from St Mawes to Deal. There were also plans to add to the defences of Calais.

In the north the military reinforcement was less prominent but not insignificant.  The traditional friendship of Scotland with France had been reinforced by King James V’s two successive marriages to French brides. Castles such as Pontefract and Scarborough were surveyed in 1541. At Carlisle a new fortification was added to the city walls. The Citadel that was added there survived at their southern point until the earlier nineteenth century and the court building that replace it echo its design of two round towers. 

The other great project in the north was the building at Kingston upon Hull in 1542-3 of a new castle with outlying forts linked by a curtain wall. It was often referred to as the Hull blockhouses, before being subsumed into a seventeenth century replacement known as the Citadel. This substantial structure protected the eastern side of the city along the line of the river Hull and comprised three towers linked by two fortified walls. It can be clearly seen on the 1611 plan of the city by John Speed and in greater detail in this one by Wenceslaus Hollar from 1638:

The blockhouses are at the top of the plan and can be seen in the right in the prospect of the city above it.

Image: Wikipedia

As things turned out the Emperor and the French King never posed a realistic threat and resumed their hostilities, King Henry made his unfortunate marriage to Anne of Cleves in the hope of a German princely alliance, and King James V died following the defeat of his army by the English at Solway Moss late in 1542.

The Hull blockhouses became notorious as a damp prison for recusants such as the heAd of the Towneley family in the Elizabethan period and eventually disappeared as the city expanded.

The history of the defences of the city is set out on Wikipedia in Fortifications of Kingston upon Hull

However at the moment archaeological excavations are revealing the foundations of the structure of the southern blockhouse, and there are plans to develop the site as a heritage feature. This is described and illustrated by Hull Live from the Hull Daily Mail at Take a look at the dig revealing King Henry VIII's hidden castle in Hull

There is more from the same paper about the closure of the excavation, the need to re-bury the site to protect it, the finds made, and anticipated presentation of the site after an evaluation of what can be displayed at King Henry VIII's hidden Hull fortress to disappear from view

Arminghall Henge

I must confess that as someone with no special knowledge of prehistory I had never even heard of the significant site at Arminghall on the outskirts of Norwich.

The Arminghall Henge with its innermost horseshoe of timber uprights and its bank and ditch appears to have been a regional cult centre focussed on the Winter Solstice. Around the site burials took place, some in barrows destroyed in modern times.

The site was discovered from the air in 1929 and was initially excavated in 1935. Recent centuries have not been kind to Arminghall. The railway system had already had adverse effects on the area before it was identified. Since then road and electricity works have further encroached on the site and in the long term it faces the risk of flooding.

The Eastern Daily Press has an illustrated report about the recent excavations which are just ending which can be seen at 'It’s a magical place' - the secrets of ‘Norfolk’s Stonehenge’

Tuesday 27 September 2022

The new Royal Cypher

The design of the new Royal Cypher has been released. We shall become ever more used to seeing this as it is used over coming years on uniforms and regimental standards, on letterheads and pillar boxes and much more besides.

The design is elegant and a conscious break with that of Queen Elizabeth II. With its curves and more sinuous flow, including the intertwining of the C and the R, it is more reminiscent of that used by King Edward VII. 

There is also a Scottish version using the crown of King James V created by the Lord Lyon. That appears only to have been released so far only in a black and white version rather than the full colour version to match the one from the College of Arms.

The designs are set out on the College of Arms website at Royal Cypher

The resemblance to the cyphers of the earlier twentieth century is also true in the use of a stylised version of the Imperial State Crown rather than St Edward’s Crown, which the late Queen specifically chose. My own aesthetic might have led me to retain that, partly because the curve of the arches would complement the design of the CR, and partly because of the link to the Coronation rite that crown symbolises. That however is just my sense, not a criticism, of a good piece of design. It stands well in the tradition of such Royal Cyphers. It also reflects, in his selection of it, His Majesty’s  well known concern for excellence and tradition in matters of design.

More on the genetic evidence from the Anglo-Saxon migration

Having posted yesterday about the research into the genomes of burials from time of the Anglo-Saxon migration into Britain two further and quite lengthy articles summarising and interpreting the research have now presented themselves on my system.

The first is from Ancient Origins and can be read at Anglo-Saxon Migration Created a ‘European’ Medieval England

The second is from ClassiCult.it and can be accessed at Anglo-Saxon migration into England during the early Medieval Period

Monday 26 September 2022

Viking weaving

Scientific American has an interesting article about a research project looking at Viking weaving, notably in Iceland, and based upon the examination of surviving cloth fragments. Now I realise describing the study thus may make some amused, and yes, it does read like something from Kingsley Amis or Tom Sharpe. However, like the researcher and the medieval weaver, be patient.

Although there may be an element to the study of that academic enthusiasm which sees everything, but everything, reflected in a particular project in this account, nonetheless what is argued is striking and revealing of many aspects of Icelandic life, society, economy and cultural adaption through the middle ages. Thus the significant relationship of women to economic activity, the changing relationship with Denmark in the later centuries, adaptability to climate change - that is by weaving a warmer cloth - and the complex world of commerce across the North Atlantic are all opened up for inspection and reflection.

Genetic profiling the Anglo-Saxons - and who they were

A recent study about the genetic profile of the population of the migration age in what we term Anglo-Saxon England has confirmed a much more complicated pattern than was once thought. The debate about rupture or continuity of settlement and about the extent of the interaction of different ethnic or social groups has, it would appear, been tipped further towards a narrative of coexistence rather than one of entrenched hostility. The research is set out in an article from Phys.org which can be seen at The Anglo-Saxon migration: New insights from genetics

The article has links to four related articles on the same site. They are from 2014, 2016, 2017, and 2021 and are about what it was, or is, that makes someone Anglo-Saxon.

In order of publication the first looks at evidence from an Anglo-Saxon cemetary in Oxfordshire and can be viewed at Ancient graves hint at cultural shift to Anglo-Saxon Britain

The second is about a genome study of migration age skeletons from a Cambridgeshire cemetary excavation. It can be seen at Ancient genomes reveal that the English are one-third Anglo-Saxon

The third is a sharing of an interpretive piece from The Conversation about the population mix of the migration era and at later perceptions of the Anglo-Saxon nature of the English. It can be read at Why the idea that the English have a common Anglo-Saxon origin is a myth

Finally there is another interpretive article from an Australian research group drawing upon  the archaeological evidence and seeing a mixed population which came to be united or defined by language. It can be seen at Being Anglo-Saxon was a matter of language and culture, not genetics

Sunday 25 September 2022

The funeral of King George II in 1760

In my post The Queen’s Funera I said that the last time a monarch’s funeral was held in Westminster Abbey was in 1760 following the death of King George II. I also wrote that I knew nothing of its nature.

That has now been remedied thanks to the Special Correspondent who sent me a very good account of the 1760 ceremony from the always informative History of Parliament Trust website. The ceremony was a distinctive mix of the public and the private - more like the committal service at Windsor. This article can be seen at The Last Burial of a King in Westminster Abbey

Linked to it is another article from the same site about eighteenth century lyings-in-state in the Prince’s Chamber by monarchs and members of the Royal Family. The Prince’s Chamber adjoined the House of Lords ( as does its replacement in Sir Charles Barry’s New Palace of Westminster ) and was a surviving part of the medieval Palace of Westminster that was demolished in 1823. It is an equally interesting article and can be accessed at ‘A noble sight’: the Prince’s Chamber and Royal Lyings in State in the Eighteenth Century

The National Anthem

There has been quite a bit in the media about the necessary adjustment to singing the National Anthem with the change of monarch. I am tempted to think this is a bit exaggerated as it is really not that difficult to substitute “King” for “Queen”, let alone “him” and “he” for “her” and “she”.

The Internet led me to a slightly intriguing article from the Eastern Daily Press utilising a research project at UEA which is looking at the history of protest songs in this country. This includes the idea that the National Anthrm might originate as a Jacobite song rather than a Hanoverian one. The article is interesting in showing how protest had been articulated in song over the past four centuries.  In addition I would add we have those medieval verses which voice criticism of those in power collected by Thomas Wright for the Camden Society and first published in 1839. The article can be read at UEA academics reveal rebellious roots of God Save the King

Having read that my algorithm led me to Country Life, This has a much more detailed account of the rather complicated, and often obscure, history of such a universally known piece. It can be seen at Who wrote 'God Save The King'? The extraordinary tale of the British national anthem

What exactly is the story before 1745 and the response in London to the news of the Jacobite victory at Prestonpans is fragmented. However it does look, ironically, actually to be Jacobite in origin and originally sung in support of King James II on the eve of the invasion by his nephew and  son-in-law Prince William in 1688. 

The seventeenth century appears to have been the origin of the music - the identity of the actual composer remains very debatable - of the basic text and of the very concept of a national piece of music, which seems to come from the reign of King Charles I. 

The later influence of a patriotic anthem seeking God’s blessing on the Sovereign on Haydn during a visit to London and his subsequent composition of Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser for the Habsburg monarchy is well known. The later text from 1854 Gott erhalte, Gott beschutze could be translated into the many languages of the Empire. 

Perhaps less will known is that the tune was also used in the German Empire from 1871 down to 1918 for Heil dir im Siegerkranz. There are several spirited renditions of this on YouTube.

The eighteenth century habit of adding topical verses persisted well into the nineteenth century. Thus in January 1859 London theatregoers were regaled with an extra verse to God save the Queen which had been composed celebrating the birth of Queen Victoria’s first grandchild, the future Kaiser Wilhelm II.

So, that digression finished, let us all resolve to sing with heart and voice “God Save the King”

Saturday 24 September 2022

The Queen’s Funeral

Like millions of others here and abroad I followed closely the television broadcast of the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II last Monday. Statistics suggest that 37.5 million people here are estimated to have watched all or part of the broadcast, and 4 billion worldwide. 

The sheer number of foreign heads of state attending, and notably monarchs from Europe and beyond, was in one way not surprising, but seeing their combined presence in Westminster Abbey was a striking tribute.

Spectacle, dignity, precision were the order of the day from the armed services and others involved. Comments about how only this country can do such ceremonial have been quite frequent. This may well be true but is I think rather dismissive of other European monarchies on equivalent ceremonial occasions. The Danish ceremonies at the death of King Frederick IX in 1972 and of Queen Ingrid in 2000, let alone the funerals of Queen Juliana and Prince Bernhard in the Netherlands in 2004 - worth looking at on YouTube - are testimony to a wider, shared tradition of monarchical state funerals.

The crowds lining the routes in London, in Windsor and in between indicate the regard, the affection, the love in which the Queen was held. People were not there just for the show or the spectacle. Some BBC commentators pointed out the standard phrases used by people about it being an historic moment or the importance of being there were attempts to  describe a much more complex set of emotions about community, service and identity, as well as loyalty, respect and devotion on their part.

Dr Kat of the excellent Reading the Past website posted a video on the death and funeral of Queen Elizabeth I in 1603, which can be seen at The End of the First Elizabethan EraIt was particularly interesting to see the striking similarities in the funeral procession of the first Queen Elizabeth to that of the second 419 years later.

The playing of the Beethoven Funeral March composed by Walch  had an almost hypnotic effect with the combination of the music, of the drum beat and marching feet, accompanied by Big Ben. It was in some ways almost exhausting or enervating to watch and hear. The effect for those involved, let alone the Royal Family and for those who knew the late Queen as staff is difficult to imagine.

The various parts of the funeral ceremonies were an instance of the “Invention of tradition” in the proper sense of that oft used phrase. I prefer to think of it as the recovery of tradition, or a blending of tradition and inspiration. This can certainly be said of the ceremonies the preceding week in Edinburgh. This was the most elaborate funeral of a monarch in centuries.

In both Westminster Abbey and St George’s Windsor the nation has temporarily churches which are not only rich in the history of the monarchy but also two buildings where the visual impact for participants and viewers is profound. The vision of King Henry III in commissioning Westminster and of King Edward III in founding the Otder of the Garter and of King Edward IV and King Henry VIII in building St George’s element has withstood the passage of centuries.

This was arguably the most elaborate and public funeral of a sovereign since that of King James I and VI in 1625. Her Majesty was the first monarch to have a funeral service in Westminster Abbey since King George II in 1760. I know nothing of that occasion but suspect that like most royal burials of that period it was muted in its tone. The processions were perhaps longer, more  impressive than others in the twentieth century which were mainly a means of moving the late monarch across the capital to burial at Windsor. Again the Westminster Hall lying- in-state, first held for a monarch in 1910 was longer than previous ones.

The actual service at Westminster had an ecumenical dimension that is a sign of the times. The presence of the Catholic Archbishop of Armagh or the participation of the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster would have been unthinkable in 1952. The only other time a Cardinal has been involved on such an occasion would or could have been at the funeral of King Edward IV in 1483 when Cardinal Thomas Bourchier was Archbishop of Canterbury.

At Windsor again there were huge crowds and the service m, which had not been broadcast television in 1952, was transmitted. Much was made by the commentators about the symbolic breaking of the Lord Chamberlain’s wand as something never seen by the public hitherto. This specific action is recorded certainly for the funeral of King Henry VIII in the same chapel in 1547, and presumably has an earlier origin.

This then was a day of great emotion, rich in symbolism and history, yet made accessible to a vast viewing public. It was a ceremonial and liturgical celebration in both senses of the word.

Wednesday 14 September 2022

The passing of The Queen, the advent of The King

Like I suspect very many people I have spent much of my waking time since Thursday lunchtime following news and developments on television and the internet. There does not seem to have been time to write about all one has seen and thought.

Here are a series of reflections on these past few days, what we have witnessed and what they perhaps signify. 

The television coverage on BBC has been, I think excellent, and enabled one to both follow events and also watch interesting background material about the last seventy years. One legacy of those seven decades is indeed the ways in which events can now be covered and transmitted to phones and iPads and allowing a far greater range of angles than could have ever been thought - possibly imagined -at the time of the immensely significant broadcast of the Coronation in 1953. This past few days this has meant one could thereby participate in a whole range of events that would otherwise would not be visible. In this media-obsessed age this is important, and monarchies have always understood the importance, the potency of images.

As I wrote to a US friend who sent her condolences to me I had sensed that the reign was drawing to a close and that Her Majesty was frail. To some extent that was an unspoken undercurrent to the Platinum Jubilee. Nonetheless I thought she might still live a while longer. On Tuesday of last week we saw images of her exercising her responsibility of appointing a new Prime Minister and despite the report of the postponed Privy Council on Wednesday evening the news of medical concern about  her health fairly rapidly led to a heightened mood of concern and the realisation that this was indeed serious, very serious. An event one realised would happen fairly soon appeared to be upon the nation and Commonwealth. The heavy rain and then the rainbow just before the announcement of the Queen’s death seemed that nature was reflecting what was happening. That is an ancient idea with the death of monarchs as evidenced by Shakespeare in  Henry IV pt II, or the idea in 1553 that the thunderstorm which accompanied the death of King Edward VI was his father’s rage at the death of that so long desired male heir.

If the death of the Queen was unexpected in its timing yet expected in a foreseeable future it is also the disappearance from the life of this, and her other realm, from the Commonwealth and indeed the world of a person who has been there as long as one could remember. I was born six months before she succeeded to the throne but I obviously have no memory of King George VI. My earliest dateable memory is of just after the Coronation and my father brining home a commemorative mug driven by the local council to the schoolchildren and, if requested by parents, pre-school children. One of the first books I recall was a splendid Coronation souvenir volume from probably Pitkin that my mother brought out to cheer me up when recovering from childhood illnesses. As some said at the time of the Platinum Jubilee for those of us of that generation beyond our own families and neighbours the Queen was one of the first people we knew of.

The tributes from so many people to her stress duty, fidelity, constancy, and stability. To that are added vignettes of her energetic enquiring attitude when meeting people, her dry humour and robust common sense - occasionally caught also on the films about her working life as monarch, but more often dependent upon a narrator’s memory. It was always slightly surprising when one saw film of her engaging in animated conversation and revealing her enthusiasm for equine matters in contrast to her more reserved appearance on so many public appearances. There is great consistency in the memories of her shared by so many people. 

What emerges in the mosaic of memories, the subtle texture of a richly woven tapestry, is a probably naturally rather shy woman who found herself in a unique situation and, as she remarked, had no real time to learn the task of kingship before it was thrust upon her. A stern sense of duty, derived from her mother fromand grandmother Queen Mary, a policy of following in her father’s footsteps, a fidelity to the institution she incarnated and to the peoples given into her care steered her successfully for over seventy years. No mean achievement. 

Some commentators have pointed out that in 1952 women very rarely occupied high profile positions in public life - along with Queen Juliana in the Netherlands she was placed at the head of the country, the Empire, the Commonwealth. In one way that was an advantage, a young glamorous Queen could catch the imagination of her people, but it must have taken a toll on her life and that of Prince Philip and their elder children - little privacy to raise a family.

Much of what the monarch does is of course hidden from the public eye, and the public persona hiding the real individual. The themes discussed by Kantorowicz in The King’s Two Bodies were ones Queen Elizabeth II understood and skilfully negotiated.

Hers was a remarkable life, a life well lived, grounded in tradition but open to and often welcoming present realities. In an interview at the time of the Platinum Jubilee the King of Jordan emphasised her moral authority as one of Queen Elizabeth’s great qualities and contributions. That has unfortunately not been emphasised as much in current commentary as the emphasis on her deep personal religious faith. The two go together - the woman of faith became in consequence a moral force for good in the governance and welfare of her realms. 

The great strength offered by our tradition of constitutional monarchy of stability and continuity with a recognised successor has been superbly demonstrated, so much so that it takes time to realise that we shall not see again the familiar figure of Queen Elizabeth II at state events or speaking to us in her Christmas broadcast, or enjoying a race meeting. Much of the public grief, the need for many to express that by travelling to royal residences and laying flowers is not just a tribute to her as monarch but a way of dealing with that dawning sense of personal loss. 

The variety of that sense reflects the innumerable ways in which we as a nation engaged with the Queen, and she with us. The mourning is therefore personal as well as institutional, reflecting our own lives in hers and that of the realm.

I have always admired our new King, and said so in those years when too many people were quick to criticise or denigrate him. Happily that time is well past, and the response to him and his splendid Queen is positive and warm. That is no inconsiderable achievement in itself. It bodes well for the future.

His addresses have been widely praised and are very much in the style he has developed over his years as heir apparent - distinctively personal, thoughtful, elegant and displaying a sense of place and history.

The first ever broadcasting of the Accession Council was very interesting from historical and constitutional points of view. What one saw emphasised the significance of what was happening - the custody and transfer of authority. The commentary said it originated in the particular circumstances of the accession of King James I in 1603. This seems likely but fifty years earlier the attempt to put Queen Jane on the throne seems to have involved a Council meeting at which, complete with dramatic swoons, she accepted the Crown under King Edward VI’s will in a meeting of the Privy Council. The involvement of the City of London is far older, going back it would appear to the involvement of representatives of London in the accession of King Edmund II in 1016 - another reminder of the long continuities of our system.

The concern of the Orders in Council with the various seals might seem arcane but is, of course, actually key to both the continuity and also the legality of government. Today our understanding of the processes of governance might not put such emphasis on the various seals. They were once more obviously important but are still vital to the legal basis of government. I was struck by the reference to the possibility of replacing the Privy Seal. Despite being in the custody of a specific minister it has not been required for use since legislation in 1884 in the reign of Queen Victoria, and the actual seal is still hers, yet it still is there as part of the machinery of government.

The implementation of Operation London Bridge, which has clearly been very well prepared, with both its long established elements and the newer ones of the King travelling to Edinburgh, Belfast and Cardiff has been assured. The particular circumstances of the Queen dying in Scotland has led under Operation Unicorn to the ceremonies in Edinburgh of her resting in state at Holyroodhouse and then St Giles Cathedral. This has been a dignified and very suitable addition - an instance of “the invention of tradition”. It has been both a fitting acknowledgment of the Queen’s love for Scotland but also of the distinctive place of the    northern kingdom within the UK. The last time a monarch died in Scotland was 1542 with that of King James V, whose crown rested on his descendant’s coffin in St Giles this week.

One aspect of the ceremonies that I do rather regret is the decision to transfer the Queen’s coffin from Edinburgh to London by plane rather than by train. For all the dignity of the farewell from Edinburgh airport a move by train 
would have allowed more people to pay their respects, as the Scots were able to do along the route by road on Sunday from Balmoral. Those scenes and those last night of the journey from RAF Northolt to Buckingham Palace with so many stopping or turning out in the dusk of a wet September evening, and in both instances in striking silence and respect, will be one of the many memories one will take from this past few days. The sheer scale and gravitas of the crowds in London and Edinburgh, the very wide range of ages involved, along the processional routes and at royal residences has been an eloquent, silent, sombre testimony of loyalty and love.

Thursday 8 September 2022

The battle over the Liturgy

For a considerable while now I have largely refrained from commenting on this site about the conflicts over liturgy in the Catholic Church. This is not because I am not interested - I am - or concerned - I am. The reason is much more that in the torrent of words generated by these liturgy wars I feel just adding more is only very occasionally going to be useful or constructive. Silence may be the better option.

Regular readers will doubtless be aware that I was a keen supporter of Summorum Pontificum and that I much prefer the traditional form of Mass, but do not dispute the validity of the Ordinary Form. That position has consolidated over the period of lockdown and upon reflection, and with increased attendance at the Usus Antiquior. 

With that said I would urge readers to look at a very good article from the Catholic Herald. It is by Dom Hugh Somerville Knapman OSB of Douai Abbey and in a concise and informed way sets out the current situation clearly and magisterially. 

Dom Hugh’s essay can be read at The Emperor’s New-Rite Clothes

Wednesday 7 September 2022

The Newport Medieval Ship

I was aware of the fact of a medieval ship having been found at Newport in South Wales in 2002 but had not seen more about it until my online search facility presented me yesterday with an excellent animated video about this fifteenth century ship and its last voyage and abandonment in dry dock at Newport.

This led me to look up the ship on Wikipedia , which has a good introduction to the discovery  and seeks to reconstruct my its history, and likely ownership by Warwick the Kingmaker in 1469. Warwick had a not inconsiderable career as little more than a privateer in the English Channel from the end of the 1450s. This account, which dates the ship’s life and service to the twenty years between its building in 1449 and its dry-docking in 1469, can be read at Newport Ship

The really very good reconstruction video I spotted yesterday can be seen at Newport Medieval Ship, The ship's final voyage.

There are other videos about the ship and of conference papers about it from a decade ago at SHIP SHAPE: Newport's Medieval Ship - 10 years on, and from seven years back at The Newport Medieval Ship in Context 

The survivsl of what remsins is fascinating in itself. The history that can be reconstructed and contextualised of what appears to be a Basque built vessel trading across Biscay to England and Wales, and the likelihood of a link to the maritime exploits - or depredations - of the Earl of Warwick gives it a secure place in historical understanding and great potential as an object to be visited as and when it is available. The accounts stress how local people ‘owned’ the discovery and argued for its proper preservation.  It could well become a significant tourist attraction with its attendant benefits both economically and in supporting local pride.

Tuesday 6 September 2022

Houses of Ivory

The Biblical references to ivory furnishings in the kingdoms of Israel and Judah are few but striking. They have carried over into the Christian tradition as a way of highlighting the singularity of the Virgin Mary - “Tower of Ivory”.

Now, as my algorithm informs me, archaeologists working in the City of David have found ornamental ivory plaques that are believed to have decorated eighth and seventh century BC furniture in what was clearly an elite household. This is the first such evidence from Jerusalem itself.

The plaques are described in a post from Israel National News which can be seen at https://www.israelnationalnews.com/news/359281

There is a second report on the discovery of the ivories in Dawn which also has a photograph and which can be seen at Iron Age ivory plaques unearthed in ancient Jerusalem mansion

Sunday 4 September 2022

Understanding the Medieval ‘warm period’

Our current concern with understanding and responding to climate change has led to a closer examination of historical evidence for changes and differences in the climate of past centuries.

By something like chance I came across a new short video which reassesses the evidence we do have for the so-called medieval warm period, preceding what is often termed the “Little Ice Age” from around 1400 to the mid-nineteenth century. Despite the odd bit of presentational quirkiness this sets out a cogent case against there being anything more than a localised warmer phase in the North Atlantic region in the middle ages and questions how significant that and the succeeding cooler period were in relation to the present changes.

Saturday 3 September 2022

Evidence of the Jewish massacre in Norwich in 1190

Detailed analysis of the remains of seventeen skeletons found in a well in Norwich indicates that they were amongst the victims of the massacre of the Jewish community in Norwich in 1190. 

The massacre came about as participants in the Third Crusade prepared to set off for the Holy Land and was not unique - the one at the same time in York is better known today. As Norman Cohn pointed out in The Pursuit of the Millenium such attacks on Jewish communities on the eve of a Crusade appear to have occurred as expressions of popularist fervour and also resentment at Jewish moneylenders, and were usually deplored by the ecclesiastical and secular hierarchies of the time.

Thursday 1 September 2022

The Funeral of Metropolitan Kallistos

At lunchtime today I watched online the funeral liturgy for Metropolitan Kallistos of Diokleia - Timothy Ware - which was held at the Oxford Oratory. This ecumenical gesture was doubtless because the Orthodox churches in the city were not large enough to accommodate the great number who would wish to attend to pay their respects and pray for him.

To a westerner, Catholic, the Orthodox tradition of a funeral liturgy that is just an Office rather than a Mass, seems a little strange, but that is their tradition, and obviously to be respected.

The recording of the funeral liturgy can be seen on YouTube at Funeral of Metropolitan Kallistos

I was never actually introduced to him, but he was a familiar sight about OxfordMore than that he was something of a living legend, a status acquired by some, but by no means all Oxford academics of the old school.

I heard him preach on two occasions at Pusey House when I worshipped there. His measured and mellifluous delivery included his mastery of the delivery of the punch lines of the gentle and humerous stories he used, with great elegance, to illustrate his narrative. 

I also heard him speak about Catholic-Orthodox dialogue on one occasion. The difficulties therein were tactfully outlined. He would also appear at talks at Pusey in more recent years on Orthodox topics by speakers such as Fr Andrew Louth from Durham. He was also invited along by the present Archbishop of Birmingham to join in the blessing of the renovated Parish Centre - the Orthodox prayers seemed much longer than the Catholic ones …

Fr Hunwicke recalls Metropolitan Kallistos in his recent post on his blog at Timothy [Metropolitan Kallistos] WARE

St Giles

Today is the feast of St Giles. 

Saint Giles closeup.jpg

Detail of Saint Giles and the Hind
by the Master of Saint Giles c.1500. National Gallery
There is more about the artist and the original altarpiece at The Mass of St Gilles by MASTER of Saint Gilles

Image: Wikipedia 

As someone who was baptised and worshipped in a church dedicated to him until my early forties he is a saint who figures in my mind and prayers.

A very popular saint in the middle ages many historic churches are dedicated to him across Europe, often representing ecclesial or cultural links along pilgrimage or trade routes.

Wikipedia sets out his legend and something of its historical context at Saint Giles

Jacapo de Voragine’s account of St Giles and his miracles from the thirteenth century Golden Legend as printed by William Caxton in the late fifteenth century can be read at Golden Legend: Life of Saint GilesThis has a number of images of the saint added to the text.

A modern devotional piece about St Giles and which includes various prayers seeking his aid can be found at St. Giles, Hermit and Abbot

There is an illustrated account of his life at Saint of the Day – 1 September – St Giles

Another life of the saint can be found on two separate websites but with different illustrations to each which is, despite its occasionally intrusive and tiresome attempts at humour, a useful introduction and can be viewed at St. Giles • V&A Blog and at Saint Giles, Hermit and Vegetarian

St Giles Pray for us