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, 27 November 2022

Decoding the Emperor Charles V


Several websites have carried the story of the decoding of an encrypted letter from the Emperor Charles V to his ambassador at the French court early in 1547. The letter itself is in the archives at Nancy. 

The first report I saw about this research was on the phys.org website at Emperor Charles V's secret code cracked after five centuries

The Guardian also had a report about the letter which can be seen at Emperor Charles V's secret code cracked after five centuries

There is a longer and fuller account on the BBC News site which places the letter in the immediate context of when it was written, just after the death of King Henry VIII, and also into the rather wider picture of the shifting fortunes of the Habsburg and Valois monarchies as they jockeyed for position and advantage amidst the political and confessional uncertainties of the time. It also shows that part of the letter was written en clair so that were it to fall into opponant’s hands it could still be useful in shaping diplomacy. This report can be seen at Charles V: French scientists decode 500-year-old letter


Rediscovering a sketch of King Henry III


750 years ago in 1272 there occurred the death on November 16th of King Henry III. This was followed by his burial on November 20th in the former tomb of St Edward the Confessor in Westminster Abbey, the rebuilding of which had been since 1245 one of the principal concerns of King Henry. Subsequently his body was moved to the splendid tomb created for it in the space around St Edward’s new shrine.

The Special Correspondent drew my attention to a post on the National Archives blog which commemorates this anniversary and also both draws attention to the treasure the NA holds and to the second volume of David Carpenter’s magisterial biography of the King.

The post arose from Prof Carpenter’s search for a doodle on the Exchequer Memoranda roll cover for what turns out to be 51 Henry III (1266-7) as an illustration for his new book. The article considers these doodles or sketches of prominent figures and their significance as well as their importance as a record of their subjects actual appearance.

The result of this, with the aid of modern technology, is that we are brought face to face with a quick sketch of the King, done by someone who would have seen him regularly at Westminster and who sought to depict the distinctive drooping eyelid recorded elsewhere.

So alongside the formal image conveyed by beautiful and elegant tomb effigy in Westminster Abbey and various label stops in other churches we can see King Henry as one of his clerks did. It is the medieval equivalent of a snapshot of the King aged sixty or thereabouts, able to resume his great project at Westminster after the upheavel of the baronial revolt spearheaded by his brother-in-law Simon de Montfort. Earl Simon’s defeat and death in a suitably apocalyptic thunderstorm at the battle of Evesham had restored the King’s freedom of action. An older, sadder perhaps, maybe wiser monarch in the autumn of his reign.

""
E 159/41, memoranda roll 51 Henry III, cover, showing sketch of King Henry III under ultra-violet light, false colour
Image: National Archives

The article about the drawing can be viewed at

More controversy over the restoration of Notre Dame


The Art Newspaper has a report about the latest stage - and controversy - in the restoration of Notre Dame. This is the use of latex paste, press on thr interiot stonework and then, having been left to dry, peeled off to reveal freshly cleaned masonry.

This is controversial for two reasons. The first are health and safety issues in connection with the compound being applied to the walls and pillars. That should be regulated by the competent authorities. The second appears to be a debate which has occurred elsewhere in recent years at the cathedrals of St Paul in London and at Chartres about whether restorers should attempt to restore such great buildings to their original colour scheme.

I recognise the inconsistencies in my own views about those two schemes. That at St Pauls which is referred to in the article resulted in an essentially white interior with gold detailing. That is different from Wren’s scheme which painted the walls ochre and left the vaults plain, other than Thornhill’s painting of the dome. The Victorian age introduced mosaics to the cathedral. Personally I prefer the modern scheme to the rather dour one conceived by Wren.

I visited Chartres many years ago before the controversial cleaning and redecoration of recent years. I have posted about that in 2012 at Restoration at Chartres and in 2014 at Repainting Chartres Cathedral.

The debate about the project, indeed the passions aroused, can be sampled at, from those opposed, The Destruction of Chartres Cathedral fron 2014, in A Petition to Stop "Irresponsible" Restoration of Chartres Cathedral from 2015 and A Controversial Restoration That Wipes Away the Past from 2017.

It is interesting that this criticism seems to come from the US. North American enthusiasm for Chartres is long established but is perhaps a rather romanticising tendency. I do wonder if these authors linked to above are aware of the serious proposal in 1944 by the US military, when Chartres suffered in any case very badly in the fighting after D Day, to blast the cathedral in case there were any German snipers in the north west tower, and of how Airey Neave volunteered to go and see if, as it was, deserted, thus saving the cathedral?

Apollo commissioned a pro and con discussion about the restoration at Forum: Does the restoration of Chartres Cathedral deserve praise? and my good friend Fr Ray Blake offered a balanced appraisal of the situation at How far do you go? Chartres' Restoration

Not having seen the renovated interior it is difficult to pass judgement but as I said ten years ago I recall Chartres as rather dull and grimey inside, with that slightly uncared-for quality of many great churches in France. Whilst I see the point about not choosing a point in the past and aiming for that as an ideal  I do think that it is better to present Chartres as it was in the time of St Louis rather than as it was when I visited in 1993. Those who complain appear to be those who feel ‘their’ aesthetic experience has been diminished by the cleaning and redecoration. Do they apply that rule of thumb at home to housework and redecoration?

Chartres in 1993 largely felt like a museum with prayers anf flowers tolerated round the statue of Our Lady. Rouen in 2004 and certainly Reims in 2014 felt like cathedrals with an active liturgical and prayer life.

Restoration work at Notre Dame is proceeding apace so as to be more or less complete for the 2024 Olympics ( pagan in origin, pagan in practice ) in Paris - the work restoring Viollet le Duc’s spire will come after that.

There are links in the article to reports on other controversies over the restoration - notably how the ecclesiastical authorities wish to arrange and decorate the interior given that the French state has apparently given them carte blanche in that respect. In this case the regrettably and emphatically secular French state just might have had better ideas about Notre Dame than the regrettably and post-Vatican II French church establishment. I bet SSPX would make a better job of it.



Friday, 25 November 2022

Planning for the Coronation

 
My Oriel friend the Rev. Marcus Walker, who is now the incumbent of St Bartholmew the Great in Smithfield, has a good article in this month’s edition of The Critic about the planning of the forthcoming Coronation. As I would he takes what might be termed a traditionalist position and argues the case for splendour rather than misguided ideas of frugality and so-called modernity or “relevance”.

The arguments he advances in that cause are good and coherent, and as he argues, consonant with the experience for so many millions of observing the late Queen’s funeral.

I recommend his piece which can be seen online at Make a spectacle of oneself


Wednesday, 23 November 2022

Excavating a grange of Rievaulx Abbey

  
The Yorkshire Post website has a report about the excavation of a grange near Helmsley which had been established by the Cistercian monks of Rievaulx Abbey in Yorkshire. As is pointed out in the article few such sites have been investigated by archaeologists. This one appears to have been quite sophisticated, but it was obviously close to the main abbey, which lies just outside Helmsley and had was under the patronage of the lords of the castle there.

Cistercian houses like Rievaulx and its sister houses in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire are those most associated with farming using granges as their administrative bases. Consciously placing themselves outside the mainstream of society the Cistercians, unlike the older Black monk Benedictines, avoided manorial ties and drew their income in large part from sheep rearing on upland pastures and the sale of the wool to the home and export markets. 

The evidence for metal working at this particular site reminded me that we have documentary evidence for such commercial activities by Rievaulx on their Pennine estates in the West Riding. This was also done by other Yorkshire houses often close to the main monastery, and this was also done with tanning, as has recently been revealed at Fountains.

Monastic life in these houses was supported by agricultural and industrial endowment and enterprise. Ora et labore was indeed the order of the day.

The original Cistercian impulse for a reformed monasticism based on abbeys removed from the commercial and tenurial system of the early twelfth century ironically gave rise to massive sheep farming that served the main English export market and a significant source of government revenue through customs and loan securities, and also the beginnings of industrial enterprises, some of whose successors are still functioning today. The beauty of the setting of these Cistercian monasteries in the Yorkshire Dales belies the financial acumen of the monks and lay brothers. Their “seeds of contemplation” ( to quote the twentieth century Cistercian Thomas Merton ) were also seeds of trade and industry.


If readers are interested in more about monastic granges then I think the book to go to is Colin Platt’s The Monastic Grange in Medieval England and also his Abbeys of Yorkshire and, more generally, The Abbeys and Priories of Medieval England. The Yorkshire Cistercian monasteries have attracted a lot of studies - the most recent is probably David H Williams The Tudor Cistercians. He has written extensively about medieval Cistercian life, as can be seen on Amazon.


Monday, 21 November 2022

The Newfoundland fifteenth century gold coin


The recent announcement of the discovery of a gold quarter noble of the reign of King Henry VI on the coast of Newfoundland continues to generate articles in the media. 

The website Ancient Origins has a piece about the coin and its possible implications for contact by someone from England before the arrival of the Cabots. The suggested hypothesis is that it was the quest for the ‘Island of Brasile’ which had brought Bristol sailors who found cod in profusion on the Grand Banks that had brought English sailors to the island. 

The tradition of islands in the Atlantic to the west included what is now known as Madeira  and another called Brazil was well established long before what is now actually known as Brazil was discovered and settled in 1500 by the Portuguese. Was the idea of the island a folk memory of the findings of earlier explorers? It also appears likely that early Portuguese navigators concealed or limited knowledge of their discoveries to safeguard their commercial and, indeed, political interests with early maps progressively showing less rather than more of the newly discovered coastlines of the mid-Atlantic. Similarly English navigators might well have been chary of publicising new and rich fishing grounds.

In this case absolute certainty will probably always elude us even if more archaeological evidence were to be revealed, and always assuming that there has been no modern interference. More dateable material could well confirm contact earlier than has been hitherto believed but the names of any of those involved are doubtless unrecorded beyond what is already known about the 1481 voyage mentioned in the article.



Sixth century church life in Galilee


The online website of Haaretz has an article about the continuing excavations at the site of the abandoned Roman and Byzantine city of Hippos in the Decapolis above the eastern shore of Lake Galilee.

The site has already yielded a rich collection of seven early churches and the recent excavations in one of them, the Martyrion of Theodoros, have now revealed mosaics with memorial inscriptions which offer something of the personal history of those being commemorated. In some instances they give the year, according to the local calendar, of the 
construction of the churches which clearly adds further information about the history of the community.

These discoveries provide a fascinating and stimulating glimpse of church life in the sixth century, one that was lively and which we can comprehend. There are as well indications of links to mainstream Byzantine culture and the place within it of a provincial artistic style and also the emergence of a local patois, displacing to some extent the Greek of more formal usage.

The illustrated online post, which has links to other related articles about the excavations at the site of Hippos, can be seen at new-inscriptions-in-roman-city-in-israel-shed-personal-light-on-early-christians


Sunday, 20 November 2022

Mary Queen of Scots’ embroideries return to display at Oxburgh Hall


The online Eastern Daily Press carries a report about the return to display at Oxburgh Hall in Norfolk of a number of embroideries created by Mary Queen of Scots during her captivity in England.

Extensive restoration work at Oxburgh in recent years meant that these textiles from the collection were put into storage while this major project was carried out.

The embroideries are not only worked by Queen Mary but were often political allegories to try to advance her cause for recognition as heiress to Queen Elizabeth I, or to surplant her.



Did the Ancient Greeks discover Iceland?


The website of Greek Reporter has a piece about a theory which seeks to explain the origin of the name Thule, given by the ancient Greeks to the northern limits of the earth, and identifies it as being Iceland.

The argument seems plausible - after all Iceland is more or less in the right place to be Thule - and the suggestion that the appearance of the southern coast inspired the name also appears reasonable. That said the theory turns upon the original name having been miscopied to emerge as Thule. Thus our old friend scribal error becomes a major player in the story. That and the debatable nature of evidence derived from etymology, must be borne in mind. Even so, as I wrote, the theory looks perfectly reasonable given the geography of the northern Atlantic.

If that is accepted or considered worthy o serious consideration then it can be seen to reinforce the case for early navigation in those northern seas. Such voyages may have left no record or scant record but their feasibility or their memory in legend should not be discounted.



Saturday, 19 November 2022

Zigzag


Anyone who has spent any time at all looking at Norman or Romanesque architecture will be familiar with zigzag decoration of doorway and window surrounds, of vaulting ribs and, on occasion of pillars. More than any other leitmotif of the style it is emblematic of the Romanesque.

An article in New Lines Magazine offers an interesting explanation of its origins. I would want to check the dates of construction of the buildings mentioned to be sure, and their possible relationship each to the other, but it offers an hypothesis that seems reasonable and worth reflecting upon. The illustrated article can be read at A New Theory: European Cathedrals Show Traces of Ancient Egypt

Artistic ideas could travel quickly in the past - as fast as the fastest horseman or ship could carry a man with an idea or a sketchbook and a client awaiting him.

Norman Sicily was linked to its origins in Normandy and other areas ruled by Normans. People went back and forth and maintained contact. It was also a vital trading centre and major point of contact with Byzantium and the Near East not only for the Crusades but also for trade and for learning across a wide range of matters. If you have not read them I cannot recommend highly enough John Julius Norwich’s The Normans in the South and The Kingdom in the Sun as an introduction and cultural companion.

If the zigzag motif was seen as a stylised depiction of flowing water then it could well have been adopted in a Christian context to symbolise the living water associated with the Temple in Ezekiel 47, with the living water of the Gospel in John 4, and with the waters of baptism. It might also suggest water as the interface between the heavenly and earthly realms.

Further proof might lie in resolving how zigzag carving was painted, as it must often have been. If we had or knew of instances where it was blue and white then the case is reinforced. The blue and white lozenges on the arms of the Wittelsbach family are said to represent flowing water, so similarly in a stylised form could zigzag.

It could also be seen as a means of rendering in stone the wavy blue borders one sees in some twelfth century illuminations, which again appear to be signs of Divine illumination or grace.


Thursday, 17 November 2022

A new home for the Knaresborough Iron Age gold ring?


I wrote in Iron Age finds go to auction about the impending sale of the gold ring from the Iron Age discovered in 1994 near Knaresborough in Yorkshire. The auction has now taken place and it appears probable from the BBC News report that the ring will go on display at the Yorkshire Museum in the grounds of St Mary’s Abbey at York. That is good news. 

The report, which offers an explanation of how a piece of jewellery linked to the Iceni in what is now East Anglia ended up in the territory of the Brigantes, can be seen at Celtic ruler's ring sold for £36,000 at auction



Armour and the man


History Net reproduces an article from Military History Quarterly which is a very good introduction to the manufacture and wearing of armour in the later middle ages and the era of courtly jousting. It is based upon a major exhibition earlier this year entitled Iron Men: Fashion in Steel at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, and using the wonderful treasures the museum holds from the Imperial court. 

Various key aspects of these armours are discussed, including their weight and the manoeuvrability they permitted, manufacture - including ordering and the time taken to produce pieces - the size of workshops and the interaction with fashion and design. The point is made that for royal and aristocratic men armour really was made to fit, and to fit well. Therefore as youngsters grew and older men put on weight replacements were necessary - the possibility for alterations was limited. So when we see today the armours of figures such as the Emperor Maximilian I or King Henry VIII we really are seeing these men as they appeared to contemporaries - slight in the case of the youthful Archduke and future Emperor, bulky in that of the ageing King.
 


Field armour of Archduke Maximilian by Lorenz Helmschmeid of Augsburg 1479-80.
The suit of armour is in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, the helmet is now in the Metropolitan Museum in New York.The two were reunited for the 2019 exhibition The Last Knight in the Met on the Emperor.

Image: Daily Beast

The article, which provides a digest of the book accompanying the exhibition, and contains some fascinating vignettes from the historical record of armourers at work, can be accessed at What Made A Good Suit Of Medieval Armor?

On a related topic I also came across another online piece, this time a discussion on wearing armour, and, relevant to those of us with impairment to our natural vision, which looks as to how the short-sighted, or long-sighted, coped on the battlefield when squinting through a visor. 

The discussion, from history.stackexchange, can be viewed at How did knights who required glasses to see survive on the battlefield?


Wednesday, 16 November 2022

Jeffrey Hudson


BBC News has a report about the sale at auction of what it describes as the trousers - I would have thought breeches would be more accurate - of Jeffrey Hudson (1619 - circa 1682) , the famous dwarf in the household of Queen Henrietta Maria. The article can be seen at Tiny trousers of 'Queen's dwarf' sold at auctionThere is another article about the clothing from the Antiques Trade Gazette, which is a little more cautious in accepting a definite attribution, but which can be seen at Pick of the week: Court dwarf’s trousers – or just a tall story? I understand other items of Hudson’s wardrobe survive in the collections at Sherborne Castle in Dorset.

As the purchaser of the trousers or breeches is reported to be Belgian it is a pity that the item will, presumably, be leaving this country.

Queen Henrietta Maria with Jeffrey Hudson in 1633 by Sir Antony van Dyck

Image: Wikipedia 
 
Jeffrey Hudson is a by no means unfamiliar figure and there are biographies of him from Wikipedia at Jeffrey Hudson and from History Extra at The amazing life of Jeffrey Hudson, the queen's dwarf

Looking at them I was struck by his luck at getting into the life of the Carolean court and his loyal and determined service, not to say ultimately disastrous action in successfully fighting a duel. His misfortunes thereafter were terrible and that he survived them is a tribute to his resilience. Even when he did get back to England it was to find more troubles. His life is in many respects a sad one after the glittering years in the brittle heyday of the court of King Charles I and his Queen.

The presence of dwarfs at courts across Europe is well attested. In some ways it provided a safe environment for people who might well otherwise have been marginalised or vulnerable. In other ways, as Hudson’s life shows only too well, it was still a vulnerable existence both in a royal household and certainly so once outside it.  


Tuesday, 15 November 2022

A fifteenth century English gold coin found in Newfoundland


News of the discovery this past summer of a gold quarter noble from the early years of the reign of King Henry VI being found on a beach on the south coast of Newfoundland has attracted quite a bit of attention.

Hitherto the oldest English coin found in Newfoundland was a silver half groat from the 1490s minted in Canterbury. Discovered last year in Cupids, the oldest continuous settlement on the island, the assumption was that it, like an early Elizabethan groat found earlier, was one of the coins still in circulation when Cupids was established in 1610. That could well be confirmed by its worn condition. There is more about that coin from Medievalists.net at Medieval coin discovered in Canada and from the Smithsonian Magazine at How Did a 15th-Century Coin Minted Under Henry VII End Up in Newfoundland? There is more about the settlement in the Wikipedia article which can be seen at Cupids


The new discovery - its exact location is sensibly being kept secret - is of a gold coin minted between 1422 and 1427 and with a face value of 1s 8d, so it was much more valuable than the 2d silver coin found previously. Given that it was presumably, unlike that coin, no longer in circulation as a result of the 1460s gold recoinage the question arises as to whether it had somehow remained in circulation simply because of its specie value or, more intriguingly, had it made its way across the Atlantic at a date earlier than the reign of King James I?

There are illustrated online articles about the discovery from Medievalists.net at Medieval Gold Coin discovered in Canada and from the Newfoundland and Labrador Government at Gold Coin Found on Island of Newfoundland’s South Coast May be Oldest Ever Found in Canada

There are other online reports which set out more about how the coin might have got to Newfoundland before the Jacobean colonisers. These are from CBC at Gold coin discovered in Newfoundland could be oldest English coin in Canada, from CTV News at 600-year-old gold coin discovered in Newfoundland could be oldest found in Canada, and from the Art Newspaper at Amateur historian discovers 600-year-old English coin in Newfoundland


Monday, 14 November 2022

A Hittite Deity on Hadrian’s Wall


By chance - or rather thanks to the algorithm - I came across an article from Military History Now about the presence at Vindolanda on Hadrian’s Wall of the cult of the originally Hittite deity Jupiter Dolichenus.

We are familiar with devotion amongst the Romans to the Persian cult of Mithras both from the temple discovered in London and from that on Hadrian’s Wall, but the survival of a Hittite cult, adopted into the Roman pantheon, does, at first sight appear somewhat exotic, if not quixotic, in this particular context.

Wikipedia has a detailed and illustrated account of the cult and its place in Roman life in the second and third centuries which can be read at Jupiter Dolichenus

The presence of such a specialised cult on the Wall demonstrates the cultural and religious breadth of the Roman Empire as well as its territorial spread, such that cults could be transmitted not just to individuals but to groups who ranged across the Pax Romana. It appears to have been a devotion with a strong appeal to military men posted on the frontiers of the Empire, and hence its appearance at Vindolanda.



Saturday, 12 November 2022

Iron Age finds go to auction


The BBC News website has two reports about late Iron Age discoveries that are going to be auctioned.

The first is a gold ring dated to circa 100 BC which was found in 1994 by a metal detector in a field at Knaresborough in Yorkshire. The assumption is that it belonged to a high status figure.

The ring is illustrated in the report which can be seen at Celtic ruler's 2,000-year-old ring kept in cupboard for 28 years

The other item is a figurine of a woman riding a bill and thought to be from the 1st century AD. It is also described as being unique. It was found by a metal detector in 2016 at Barnetby le Wold in north Lincolnshire. It is shown in the article at  lron Age bull rider found in field set for auction

Both of these finds are very desirable in their own way and clearly very important from an historical and archaeological point of view.

I hope they are purchased by or for public collections rather than by private collectors. That the Knaresborough ring has sat in a cupboard out of sight and knowledge for more than a quarter of a century is rather extraordineary. 

Whilst there is a perfectly decent and longstanding tradition of private collectors these days we do have public collections that can safeguard and display such finds for both scholarly and public instruction. Indeed in the time before the widespread presence of museums private collections were often made in effect on behalf of the wider public to safeguard items of cultural heritage. Objects of such an early date or rarity ought nowadays to be accessible to the wider public. I hesitate to say they belong to all of us, as that can be misconstrued, but the wider community has, or should have, an interest in such discoveries. Surely the Yorkshire Museum for the ring and the museum in Lincoln or Scunthorpe for the figurine would be the most suitable destinations.
 
Having written that I checked the internet and found that the Barnetby bull rider has been purchased by a public body and that it will go on display. This is reported by the BBC site at lron Age bull rider fetches £7,800 at auction

The figure and its sale is also reported upon by Detecting Finds which gives a more detailed description of the piece and suggests the figure might well be intended to depict the story of Europa and the Bull rather than a purely British cultic image. This article can be seen at "Barnetby Bull Rider" sold at auction


Friday, 11 November 2022

Revealing Roman Britain


Archaeology continues to add to our knowledge and understanding of Roman Britain. A number of recent online reports about archaeological investigations which indicate something of the range and variety of life in that period.

At Folkestone a villa, first excavated in 1924, opened up as a visitor site and subsequently reburied to protect it, has been re-investigated - in part because the cliff top site is in danger of falling into the sea. It has been suggested that this might well have been the residence of the commander of the Classis Britannia, the naval force that patrolled the Channel in the later Imperial period. 

The villa is discussed in an article from The Past at Rediscovering a Roman mosaic at Folkestone

A study involving the digging of six test trenches, each a metre square, on the site of the urban centre of Verulamium at St Albans has revealed considerable evidence of the life of the town in terms of small finds. It is indeed due to St Alban that the site of Verulamium is largely open ground rather than, as in the case of most Roman towns, buried beneath later periods of urban activity. The medieval town grew up adjacent to the abbey which is on the site of his martyrdom, outside the Roman city.

This series of test pits is reported upon by the Hertfordshire Mercury website at 'Remarkable' finds in St Albans park following archeology dig

The continuing excavations at Caistor St Edmund in Norfolk, the site of the regional tribal capital of Venta Icenorum, have found evidence around a temple complex of human activity and of an aqueduct for the shrine, which is a rather unusual aspect for a religious building. These finds are dated to the first decades or century of the town. The Past has a description of the discoveries from Current Archaeology at Caistor St Edmund: excavating an aqueduct in Roman Norfolk

In the Lake District the evidence for otherwise unrecorded fighting at the Roman fort at Ambleside on the shore of Windermere that has emerged from studying finds of different types of lead sling shot found there is set out in by The Past A battle in the mists of the Lake District? Ambleside Roman fort under attack

At Farndon in Cheshire on Deeside an excavation by local archaeologists has revealed evidence of what appears to have been a later Roman ironworking bloomery which, like a tile factory on the other bank of the river, appears to have utilised the Dee to transport materials and products. Cheshire Live has a report about the investigation at Roman remains discovered during ten-day Cheshire dig


Thursday, 10 November 2022

The York statue of Queen Elizabeth II


A friend asked me yesterday evening my opinion about the statue of Her late Majesty which the King unveiled on the west front of York Minster yesterday on his visit to the city. The statue was originally conceived of as a Platinum Jubilee commemoration which has turned also into a commemorative figure of the late Queen and her reign.

The statue depicts a 'mature' Queen Elizabeth dressed in her Order of the Garter Robes
The statue of Queen Elizabeth II on the west front of York Minster

Image: Peter Powell/EPA-EFE/ Shutterstock/ Daily Telegraph
I replied that I quite like the piece. It is forceful both in the Queen’s features and in her pose. There is something to it that is rather more earlier nineteenth century, more romantic, in style than the often slightly more stolid statues of the later decades in the Jubilee statues of her great great grandmother. 

It conflates formal images of the Queen, who is wearing the robes and collar of the Order of the Garter, with the George IV State Diadem and accompanied by the orb and sceptre - a combined assemblage which Her Majesty would not, I am sure, have actually worn in real life. That may be less than ideal. The orb and sceptre appear to be in bronze: I think I would have preferred them gilded.


I do have a greater misgiving not so much about the statue but the use of the particular niche in which it is located. Those four wider niches were meant, as I understand it, to have figures on horseback - four of them across the facade. They may have been intended as allegorical virtues or probably to commemorate donors to the building fund for the nave from the Yorkshire baronage as it was about 1300. That same idea is to be found at the east end but with two, restored, standing figures. Filling just one niche seems a little odd. Given that the niches are for figures on horseback why not use the  classic image of Queen Elizabeth on horseback as at Trooping the Colour for much of her reign. We do not know if all the niches were occupied by statues when this part of the Minster was completed in 1338, though I would think they were, whether they were coloured - again I would think they were - and when they were removed. Placing this statue where it is inhibits any future restoration project. It suggests less than joined-up thinking on the part of the Minster authorities.

Maybe it would have been better to use the striking design in a larger form as a free standing statue on a pedestal on the paved area of the newly named Queen Elizabeth Square in front of the Minster, like Queen Anne stands outside St Paul’s.

I will add that I am, of course, delighted to see the erection of the statue as a memorial to Queen Elizabeth and to think that she joins the fifteen of her predecessors whose statues adorn the fifteenth century Choir Screen inside the Minster.


Tuesday, 8 November 2022

The burial of King Henry V in 1422


I am grateful to the Special Correspondent for reminding me that these recent days are the 600th anniversary of the last rites in London and the burial in Westminster Abbey of the body of King Henry V in 1422. 

I have posted about the lengthy and elaborate ceremonial that accompanied the deceased monarch from Vincennes to Westminster in September, October and early November of that year in an illustrated post a decade ago which can be seen at The death and obsequies of King Henry V

I apologise for the fact that one or two pictures have disappeared from that but I think it worth sharing once again.

The funeral ceremonies of the King were on a scale without precedent or indeed emulation by his successors until that of Queen Elizabeth II this year. A recent biography of King Henry VI begins with his father’s funeral and states that when the head of the procession reached the west door of St Paul’s the rear was passing under the bridge gate at the southern end of London Bridge. It was a funeral on an unprecedented scale for a monarch who had achieved unprecedented things.

This evening Westminster Abbey commemorated the anniversary at Evensong,  which included the incensation of the King’s tomb during the singing of William Bytd’s Justorum animae and afterwards the laying of a wreath by representatives of the Worshipful Companies of Fletchers and Bowyers, accompanied by the strains of William Walton’s Henry V Suite. 

May he rest in peace. 




Monday, 7 November 2022

The Witch Hunt in early modern Europe - truth and fiction


Halloween and the days around it, and, let’s be honest, the commercial hype that nowadays acccompanies it, conjures up and utilises images of witches and witchcraft, and that plays to our residual fear of malevolence, that someone means us ill - and maybe has the means to accomplish that. These days it is essentially just for fun - but in the past it was deadly serious.

The Catholic World Report has an excellent pair of articles by Sandra Miesel about the rise and incidence of prosecutions for witchcraft, especially in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The articles are a revision of the form in which they were originally published in 2001.

The Witch craze was a phenomenon that arose from previous and occasional instances in the middle ages and which, combined with the existing laws concerning heresy, became in the late fifteenth century both more intense and far more widespread. It occurred in different forms across most of the continent in the next two centuries with varying intensity and location. It is revealing - perhaps surprising - where these events took place and where and indeed how they did not. From Europe it also extended to colonies in the New World in those centuries and lingered on into the eighteenth. 

Witchcraft and witch hunts have been a popular topic in recent decades with historians of the period. Those who identified with either a feminist agenda or who claimed spiritual kinship as neo-pagans with the victims have been prominent in this, and in the formation of contemporary popular discussion. 

In her two articles Sandra Miesel addresses this with scholarly detachment and offers a calm and balanced model about the incidence and spread of the witch mania. They are extremely useful reading for anyone interested in the period or in the topics of alternative belief systems and marginal communities in the past. 

I would thoroughly recommend the two pieces as a valuable, thoughtful and dispassionate summary of the evidence rather than popular or prejudiced misconceptions. They can be read at Who Burned the Witches? (Part 1) and Who Burned the Witches (Part 2)

There is a select bibliography at the end of the second article. I would be inclined to add to that Norman Cohn’s Europe’s Inner Demons which seeks to understand what it was that so fascinated people with the fear of malign forces being assembled and used to destabilise society. Conspiracy theories anyone?


Sunday, 6 November 2022

An instance of kinship in Roman Britain


The Past has an article about the results of the DNA analysis of three skeletons found in one grave from Roman Britain. It was discovered at Cheddington in Buckinghamshire in 2018. Such multiple burials are unusual in themselves but this one revealed an interesting familial connection between three generations. The article can be read at Ancient DNA reveals family relationships in Late Roman grave

The lives of the two women and the male infant  are inevitably lost but the possibilities suggested by what we do know gives us an idea of family life and maybe of a family tragedy some sixteen or so centuries ago.


Saturday, 5 November 2022

The gruesome fate of a Gotland soldier from 1361


The battle of Visby or Gotland on July 27th 1361 is well known to students of medieval armour because of the examples left behind with the dead when they were hurriedly buried after the battle. This fact, together with the impressive medieval walls of Visby, have made it now the centrepiece of an important Medieval Festival. The story of the battle and something about the modern festival and re-enactment can be found on Wikipedia at Battle of Visby

There is a biography of King Waldemar IV of Denmark, the victor of the battle, and an impressive example of a fourteenth century ‘state-builder’ monarch at Valdemar IV of DenmarkHis assertive policies can be understood as a reaction to the calamitous reign of his father King Christopher II of Denmark

Live Science has a report on an investigation of one victim of the battle and the facial reconstruction that has been made of him by a graphic artist. This aims to present his facial features and also the axe blow to his lower face that almost certainly killed him.

As the report says this points to the grim realities of hand to hand combat in medieval warfare - and indeed of any warfare.



An important Pictish carved stone found in Perthshire


It used to be rather the case that what we knew about the Picts was how little we knew about then in so far as they left little in the way of literary remains other than a few inscriptions and that our information came almost entirely from the records of other peoples. 

Archaeological evidence in the surviving and striking standing stones and instances of treasure trove is central to such understanding as we have of the time beforre Pictland yielded to the emergence of what became Scotland.

That picture has now been modified as canbe seen from the Wikipedia account of the Picts, but it also demonstrates the numbers of questions that remain without clear answers in respect of the history and culture of the Picts. It can be seen at Picts

The discovery of another toppled Pictish standing stone, this time in the kirkyard at Old Kilmadock near Doune in Perthshire, adds not only another fine example of Pictish art to the total already known but raises new questions of its own because of where it was found and its design and Ogham inscription. Dated to between 500 and 700 it is in what was then both a geographical border region as well as a cultural one between Pictish and Irish cultures.




Friday, 4 November 2022

Another article on the Islamic glass from Caerlaverock


Arkeonews has an online article about the glass fragments I posted about in Medieval Islamic glass found at Caelaverock Castle

The report adds a little more about the reconstruction that has been made of the original vessel and also about how the piece might have come to Caerlaverock originally. It can be seen at Medieval Islamic glass of Scottish Caerlaverock Castle reveals untold histories


Thursday, 3 November 2022

Soul Cakes and Funeral Biscuits


Yesterday was All Souls Day and November is traditionally the Month of the Holy Souls.

With this in mind I posted in 2020 about the custom of giving out soul cakes in return for the promise of prayers for the departed in Commemorating All Saints and All Souls

That post has a series of links to online articles which show how prayers for the dead and their remembrance was closely woven into medieval traditional and Catholic culture. The living and the dead co-existed in ways that are now remote for many. As a sign of that integration there were seasonal foods and some of the links are to surviving recipes. One of those is to Tasting History which offers both a recipe as well as a history of soul cakes and that can still be seen at Soul Cakes & Trick-or-Treating

This year to mark the season of All Souls that always interesting blog looks at another appropriate type of confectionary in funeral biscuits, and at the linked tradition of the Sin Eater. The video can be seen at Sin Eaters & Funeral Biscuits

The Sin Eater appears to be a tradition associated with the Welsh Marches, or at least one which endured there longest. It may reflect a residual Catholic piety about Purgatory in a region where reforming zeal had made less headway.

The video gives several interesting examples of this custom, but does not include that recorded in Anne Hughes’ The Diary of a Farmer’s Wife 1796 -1797. When I saw that dramatised on television in 1978 it was the first time I had come across the ideas of the Sin Eater. The diary is set, like the other instances, in the Welsh borders. Having said that I am fully aware that the authenticity of the book is a debatable matter as is explained, with references in the Wikipedia article at The Diary of a Farmer's Wife 1796–1797

John Aubrey, in the story cited from his writings in the video, appears to record a residual legacy of such a tradition in seventeenth century Oxfordshire with the gift of cake and ale to the officiating clergyman in the porch after a funeral. That may suggest it was not, or had not been, just a custom exclusive to the Welsh Marches.

As I suggested two years ago maybe churches could take a lead and give out soul cakes after Mass this time of year to revive the custom, and families could counterbalance the modern commercialisation of the season into “Trick or treat” by sharing soul cakes with friends and neighbours. 

Handing out wrapped gingerbreads to invite someone to a funeral might however go down less well in this death-denying age. However if you want to try there is the recipe online.


Coventry city wall


There is a temptation to think of Coventry as an industrial city and to forget its medieval importance as a cathedral city and home to aspects of the cloth industry, notably cap making. Despite industrial expansion and rebuilding in the nineteenth century and the impact and legacy of the bombing in 1940 it retiains not a few remains of its late medieval aspect in churches and secular buildings.

To these can now be added more of the remains of the city walls which have been uncovered in advance of new building works. Part of these are to be laid out in a landscaped feature.

The discoveries are set out in a report from BBC News at Hidden 500-year-old city wall uncovered


Wednesday, 2 November 2022

More about the Swedish ship Äpplet


I posted the other day in A sister ship to the Vasa about the discovery ad identification of the seventeenth century Swedish naval vessel the Äpplet.

Live Science now has an article about the discovery which gives more about the history of the ship and its place in the history and development of the Swedish navy in the mid-seventeenth century.

It occurs to me that as its sister ships were names Kronang (the Crown) and the Scepter that the Äpplet presumably should be translated not literally as The Apple but as The Orb - the Golden Apple.