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.

Tuesday 31 January 2023

Early sixteenth century pendant with Court connections

The Historic England website reports today the discovery in Warwickshire of a gold heart shaped pendant linked by an enamelled hand to a substantial gold chain. The pendant itself is decorated in enamel with the English rose and the pomegranate and the linked initials H and K for King Henry VIII and his first wife Queen Katherine of Aragon. A suggested date for the piece is 1521. It has been acquired by the British Museum.

The Independent also has a report about the discovery with better and more detailed photographs, speculates as how it was lost and also suggests that the locket may be linked to the celebrations around the birth of the King and Queen’s son the very short-lived Henry, Duke of Cornwall in 1511. The article can be seen at Does a metal detectorist’s mystery discovery reveal Henry VIII’s soft side?

The BBC News website reports the find and had some more good photographs which give a better idea of its size and quality and it can be seen at Tudor pendant linked to Henry VIII among new finds

The Daily Express covers the find, again with good photographs and more about the actual discovery of the item in Metal detectorist unearths Tudor pendant linked to Henry VIII

The discovery is used to highlight the Portable Antiquities Scheme for small finds by metal detectorists and others.

Another significant Anglo Saxon find from Harpole

Last December I posted in An Anglo-Saxon necklace from Northamptonshire about an important necklace and other items from a seventh century Anglo Saxon female burial that has been excavated at Harpole in central Northamptonshire.

Now the BBC News website has reported on the continuing process of excavating from a block of earth a handsome silver cross with a garnet at its centre from the same grave. From what has been revealed already by X-rays and by the delicate cleaning process this is a very significant piece ofwork and, it would appear, of considerable beauty. One looks forward to seeing what is finally revealed.

More than that it is also a further indicator of the material culture of Mercia in the time of its conversion to Christianity and of the wider world to which the population belonged.

The piece about the careful revealing of this cross can be seen at Unique medieval cross reveals its garnet centre

Monday 30 January 2023

A fourteenth century almanac decoded

The Mail Online website has an article about a fourteenth century almanac that was an early gift to the Royal Society. Until now part of it has remained in code until that was understood by researchers.

The almanac posseses in part similarities to the calendar pages of Books of Hours, but also to portable devices such as those in the Museum of the History of Science in Oxford that are perpetual calendars as well as to the astrolabes in that collection and elsewhere. All of these are a reminder that the antique and medieval worlds were much more formed by mathematical and scientific formulations than is the current popular perception - but then you would need some maths in order to build cathedrals….

Sunday 29 January 2023

Lost Victorian architectural heritage

The Mail Online has an article about a number of major losses in our heritage of Victorian buildings in the late 1950s and 1960s - when it was open season on any such structures seemingly just because they were Victorian - and about a few which escaped the wrecking ball.

It is in many ways so very depressing to realise what we lost in so short a time and for such tawdry and fleeting reasons. 

We should be very grateful indeed for those who changed opinions such as Sir John Betjeman and the Victorian Society.

That era was not just destructive of Victorian buildings but of much else - in those years one historic country house is reckoned to have been destroyed each week, town centres were ravaged with the wholesale loss of historic buildings, any old building not actively in use was a sitting target and the Church of England and then the Catholic Church got in on the act with closing historic churches and not infrequently demolishing them. This was not just due to greed or stupidity - important as those undoubtedly were - but it was the spirit of the age, the zeitgeist, of creating a modern and brave new world that infected planners
( that’s how they make money after all ) and politicians both left and right. This was a new triumph for Burke’s despised sophists, economists and calculators. It was already established by the 1930s and the post WWII world gave it uninhibited free rein. For an instance of that with horror at the late 1940s Plan for Oxford, too much of which was regrettably realised and relentlessly copied in so many other towns. It was, of course, there in Victorian Britain and in other centuries before that, driven by religion and political upheavel in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries - but by the early to mid-twentieth century we should surely as a society have known better. Even as a boy I deplored such destruction, and I have, mercifully, lived long enough to see attitudes change, but at what an appalling cost not just to our physical surroundings but to our mental landscape as well. We are all diminished by such losses.

‘Outlander’ outrage

I have never seen ‘Outlander’, and as a historian, am always very suspicious of such fictionalised time-travelling dramas about the past. The author of the books Diana Gabaldon has recently been in hot water over her use of terminology - notably the use of the word ‘Scotch’ as an adjective to describe things Scottish. Whilst it may have been used in the past other than for whisky it is at best antiquated and at worst deemed offensive by the Scots.

The redoubtable Deborah Dennison, a serious historian, writer and film maker on the Jacobite cause, has now written an excellent article for The Scotsman which assails the misrepresentation of the Highlands, Highlanders and Jacobites of the eighteenth century in the television series. As a fellow member of the 1745 Association, with no Scots ancestry but an historian’s appreciation of the history and identity of Scotland, I commend her article which can be read at "Outlander promotes a deeply distorted view of the known nature of the Gàidhealtachd".

Saturday 28 January 2023

King Henry III and the Chertsey - Westminster tiles

The Independent had recently an interesting article about a study of the well known Chertsey tiles depicting the exploits of King Richard I on the Third Crusade. Commissioned by King Henry III about 1250 for the royal palace at Westminster, and apparently also used at Winchester Castle, the design was also reused at Chertsey Abbey, whence come the surviving tile fragments. 

A US academic has carried out a study of the surviving tiles and reconstructed the original layout with its celebration of what were believed to be King Richard’s successes against Saladin. This it is suggested ties in with attempts to engage the English nobility with the crusading ideal - which were to prove unsuccessful.

It is also a reminder of the cultured world created by King Henry III not only at Westminster but in all his residences, and which surrounded his successors until the loss of much of the residential part of the Westminster palace to fire in the early sixteenth century, and the further losses after the 1834 conflagration.

As it is from The Independent readers will have to forget ( or possibly forgive ) the tiresome woke spin on “medieval racism”, as well as describing a tiled floor as mosaic, in the otherwise interesting report.

The article can be seen at Revealed: London's long-lost medieval palace recreated after 500 years and it contains a link to a piece from the current exhibition of some of the tiles in Worcester Massachusetts

Friday 27 January 2023

The Liturgical debate warms up again

Gregory DiPippo has a post on the New Liturgical Movement website alerting readers to possible or, indeed, potential looming threats to access to the traditional Roman liturgy.  This can be read at Wars and Rumors of Wars

In it he also draws attention to two recent critiques of the 1970 Pauline liturgy and urges his readers to share them. So that is what I am doing.

The first is by Dom Alcuin Reid OSB, whom I met on several occasions in Oxford, and is a forceful rebuttal of a trio of advocates or defenders of the “Pauline reform”. I have, incidentally met one of them, Fr Tom Weinandy OFM Cap. I am definitely on Dom Alcuin’s side in this debate. His article, from the One Peter Five blog site can be read at The One Thread By Which the Council Hangs: a Response to Cavadini, Healy, and Weinandy

The second is, in effect, a supporting afterword by John Byron Kuhner and looks particularly at the active part played in this process by Pope Paul VI. It can be read at Paul VI: Refounder of Catholicism

Similar ideas are articulated in in an article in this week’s Catholic World Report which can be read at Why is <i>ad orientem</i> worship so controversial?

Summorum Pontificum offered a pragmatic solution to these issues, without declaring definitively in favour of one form of the Toman Rite or the other. It was a wise and pastoral move. In contrast Traditionis Custodes was not, in my view, either wise or pastoral - it has reopened wounds and raised the temperature within the Church. To take that process further, given all the other issues facing Catholicism, would be improvident in the extreme.

A final thought - a very wise priest of my acquaintance, now alas, no longer in the Church Militant but with its Expectant or Triumpnant used to say “What is the difference between a Liturgist and a Terrorist? You can negotiate with a Terrorist.”

Thursday 26 January 2023

Hadrian’s Wall - a 1900th anniversary summary

Hadrian’s Wall should need no introduction but it is worth stating that it remains a remarkable and fascinating monument, a series of sites and places in which one can sense the pulse of life in the past.

Hadrian began hisWall in 122 so this is its 1900th year and it continues to yield archaeological material that augments our knowledge of life under Roman rule.

Country Life has a good summary of the history of the Wall, of our increasing knowledge derived from it, and of how to see and appreciate not only it but also the wild and majestic countryside through which it runs.

When I was younger I was fortunate over a number of years to have visited sites along the Wall and to have acquired some sense of what an achievement it was to create and maintain it for almost three centuries. If you have not visited Hadrian’s Wall I would urge you to take the time to do so, and to see the other historic sites in the Borders, and the sweeping and dramatic landscape that was once the very edge of the Roman Empire.

Wednesday 25 January 2023

Colour and classical statuary

I have posted a while back on a major recent exhibition about the fact that classical sculpture was painted and not the gleaming while or cream toned marble we see in galleries and museums today. This use of colour on statuary can, of course, be found in the ancient Near East, and in cultures far to the east of that. It survived or was revived in the medieval centuries by the Catholic Church for its own imagery.

Countering the tradition of white or nearly white marble is not that easy as we have centuries of cultural formation that tells us that Greece and Rome wrought their sculpture in that particular way.

The evidence for the original use of colour and the way the modern misperception of how these sculptures should look is set out in more detail than I have previously seen online in a useful article from The Hindustan Times which can be seen at How the myth of whiteness in classical sculpture was created

Having seen that I then found a much longer and wide ranging article from The New Yorker from 2018 which really expounds the evidence for the use of colour on antique sculpture with surviving evidence and literary references. I fully take on board the suggestion that modern copies re-coloured may well lack the subtlety the originals doubtless displayed - the painters were probably commensurate in skill to the sculptors who created the statues originally. That article can be seen at The Myth of Whiteness in Classical Sculpture

So next time one visits the British Museum or the Ashmolean one needs to take not just the head lamp suggested in the New Yorker piece but also a mental paint box to try to envisage the statues and sculpture as they once were, and in doing that come closer to the society that created them.

Stylite once in residence

Greek Reporter has an interesting article about the remains of the Temple of Zeus in Athens and evidence that after it was sacked and fell into ruin a stylite had somehow created his perch on top of the ruined colonnade. I assume that the temple pillars were probably then half-buried in rubble rather than standing clear as in the photographs.

Those early photographs show what is interpreted as the stylite’s shelter before it was removed during nineteenth century restoration of the site. That is interpreted as a manipulation of the history and the heritage not just of the Temple itself but of the wider cultural construct of what it is to be Greece. The emphasis was on the Classical era, and later Byzantine, let alone Ottoman, features were discounted or removed in pursuit of a purified vision of the past - rather like the ruthless schemes adopted in Rome between the two World Wars to recover its Imperial past at the expense of anything that had been grafted on to it.

Looking at the photographs I am definitely of the view that such a prayer perch would definitely, definitely, not, were I ever to consider becoming a stylite, be for the vertiginous like myself …

The development and richness of the Arthurian legend

A vast body of literary history has arisen about the complex process whereby we came to possess the Arthurian legend - never mind the quest for the historical figure himself. I have taught both themes and the variety of sources, interpretation, opinion is vast. 

By chance I recently came across a short introduction to the development of the legend online which I thought worth sharing so as to give others an idea of the fascinating structure of what we think we know and its influence on chivalric culture and the legacy of that in today’s world. Attractively illustrated it can be seen on The Collector website at Arthurian Legends and Their Impact on Medieval Culture

Linked to it are two other articles by the same author, firstly about the story and significance of the story of the mysterious Green Knight at Devil or Judge of Knights: Who is the Green Knight? and a second about several sites associated with the Arthurian legends which can be seen at Land and King Are One: 5 Real Sites from Arthurian Legend

Taken together these three short articles serve as an introduction to the Arthurian literary corpus and for those already aware of it as a stimulus to look at it further.

Sunday 22 January 2023

More decapitated Romans

Archaeologists have discovered a series of eleven out of seventeen third century burials where the head of the person has been cut off in a Roman burial ground on the site of the deserted medieval village at Winteringham on the edge of St Neots in Huntingdonshire.

The remains appear to be linked to other similar burials which have been found in recent years. It is apparently not yet clear if they indicate death by judicial or military execution, ‘mercy killing’ of gladiators ( as has been suggested of a series of such burials in York ), or a funeral ritual.
These burials are just part of the history of a village whose history stretched back into the Iron Age.

The report from the BBC News site can be seen at Roman headless remains found by archaeologists

The discovery of Coleshill Manor

The relentless progress of the appalling HS2 project - why do we not have politicians with the guts to cancel this wickedly expensive environmental disaster? - has one mitigating benefit in the excavation of archaeological sites which lie in its path. 

The latest discovery to be publicised is the site of Coleshill Manor, a medieval moated fortified house with both the remains of a handsome gatehouse and evidence of some of the earliest military action in the English Civil War.

The BBC News website reports about the excavation in an illustrated piece at Evidence of early Civil War fight found by HS2 dig

The Guardian has a useful report about the site at ‘Better than finding gold’: towers’ remains may rewrite history of English civil war and the Oxford Mail also has a shorter piece about it at HS2 archaeologists find scars of early Civil War skirmish

Saturday 21 January 2023

Martyred Monarchs: King Louis XVI and King Charles I

A friend has shared with me this prayer:

louis xvi
King Louis XVI

Image: alpha history.com

To be said every day between the 21st and 30th of January

In honour of the glorious memory of

LOUIS XVI of France and CHARLES I of England And for the good estate and virtue of all Christian Princes

Ant. IN the sight of the unwise he seemed to die and his departure was taken for misery; but he is in peace.

Let us pray

BLESSED Lord, in whose sight the death of thy saints is precious; We magnifie thy name for that abundant grace bestowed upon our late Martyred Soveraigns; by which they were enabled so chearfully to follow the steps of their blessed Master and Saviour, in a constant meek suffering of all barbarous indignities, and at last resisting unto bloud; and even then, according to the same pattern, praying for their murderers. Let their memory, O Lord, be ever blessed among us, that we may follow the example of their patience, and charity. And grant, that our Lands may be freed from the vengeance of their bloud, and thy mercy glorified in the forgiveness of our sins: and all

for Jesus Christ his sake. Amen.

King Charles I

Image- History Today

Friday 20 January 2023

Listing for five Catholic Churches in East Anglia

I chanced upon a BBC News report about the listing on the recommendation by Historic England of five Catholic Churches in the diocese of East Anglia.

Catholic churches are often overlooked in books on Victorian and later gothic revival creations. When asked why this was so Sir John Betjeman, sincere Anglo Catholic that he was, commented “But ours are better”. Whilst this may well be true of many instances it is not of these five, nor of the works of Pugin - father, son and grandson - of A.W. Pugin’s  pupil Wardel, both here and in Australia, of the three cathedrals to be built by the fifteenth Duke of Norfolk in Arundel, Norwich and Sheffield ( imagine building three cathedrals ) or of St James Spanish Place, Holy Name and St Chad’s in Manchester, Chideock in Dorset and Clifford in Yorkshire. There are the monastic churches at Pantasaph, let alone Downside or Belmont, or St Peter’s Winchester and indeed Buckfast from the early twentieth century, to name but a few. Not gothic but in a variant on Counter-Reformation baroque are the very fine churches of the London and Birmingham Oratories. 

The article, with pictures of all five churches, can br seen at Roman Catholic churches granted special protection

The only one of these which I have visited and where I have attended Mass is the marvellous church of Our Lady and the English Martyrs in Cambridge - a glorious building that is on a scale worthy to be a cathedral and built on the basis that everything was to be of the highest quality.

The church in Kings Lynn dates from 1896-7 and the article highlights the fact that the future King Edward VII was a contributor to the building fund. That appears to have been a not untypical ecumenical gesture by him, and unusual at the time or for some decades to come. 

The church is of especial interest in that it houses the first post-reformation shrine to be set up of Our Lady of Walsingham. Thr convert Charlotte Boyd had bought the derelict Slipper Chapel and restored it to the Church, but no-one knew what to do with it - it was to be a generation before the great Fr Hope Patten began the recreation of active pilgrimage at Walsingham, followed by the restoration of the Slipper Chapel. The Lynn News website has a piece about the listing of the church and its link with King Edward which can be seen at Historic town church, which was built with a king's support, awarded listed status

I was interested to read about the church in Great Yarmouth and in particular the painting in that building of Our Lady of Arneburgh ( or Ardenbergh ).The later medieval devotion to this shrine at Ardenbergh in the Netherlands in a chapel in the churchyard of the priory of St Nicholas Great Yarmouth  is something I have written about in my May Marian Pilgrimage articles, but I was unaware of the revived devotion in the town. There is a link to an article from last year about a major roof repair following storm damage and the hoped-for restoration of the painting of Our Lady of Arneburgh at Great Yarmouth church roof repairs allow mural to be restored

The church at Felixstowe is more recent with its first phase completed in 1912. It was interesting to see the presence of King Manuel II of Portugal at its dedication that year. He was a great benefactor of the Catholic church in  Twickenham, and of other charitable causes when he lived in exile in England 

Beccles is well known for its historic medieval parish church with its detached bell tower but the Catholic church appears to be well worth a visit also. This Minster church of St Benet looks to be a very scholarly work, splendidly recreating a Norman church of the earlier twelfth century.

Tracey Rowland and George Weigel remember Cardinal Pell

The Catholic World Report has an excellent piece by the distinguished Australian theologian Tracey Rowland recalling her friendship with the late Cardinal George Pell and reflecting upon his impact upon the Catholic Church.

On the same site is another excellent tribute from the well-known US Catholic writer George Weigel to the Australian Cardinal which draws on both personal friendship and theological understanding.

Both are very well worth reading and can be accessed at Remembering Cardinal Pell for the article by Tracey Rowland. George Weigel’s piece can be seen at Cardinal George Pell: The Encourager.

Thursday 19 January 2023

Reassembling the Newport Ship

The BBC News website has today an interesting article about the reassembly of the pieces of the Newport Ship now that they have been conserved having been recovered.

I have posted previously about the ship which was discovered in 2002 during building work in  Newport which revealed substantial remains of the vessel which had gone aground and been abandoned in a creek during repairs and refitting.

Built about 1449 in the Basque country it appears to have been employed in carrying barrels as part of the wine trade. The ship founded in 1468 or 1469, and it has been suggested that it might have been involved in or with Warwick the Kingmaker’s fleet in those years as political tensions rose in England. 

As a preserved ship it is being hailed as a fifteenth century discovery comparable to the sixteenth century Mary Rose or the seventeenth century Vasa. The article points out its significance as a survivor from a crucial stage in the development of ships able to undertake not just trading and coastal military operations but also long distance and deep sea voyages to the Indies and the Americas. The vessel has also yielded something like a thousand artefacts which can offer an insight into mid-fifteenth century life.

The illustrated article can be read at Newport Ship: Medieval vessel is 'world's largest 3D puzzle'

This has a series of links to other articles, which also have further links, on the same website about the discovery and conservation of the ship.  Amongst these Newport Ship could be Wales' answer to the Mary Rose from 2020 is particularly useful as an introduction to the ship, its history and its place both in maritime history and in the modern world of heritage presentation. For Newport and its region this is a discovery with very considerable potential for the future.


I suspect that to most people Laodicea is just a name, a city that was home to one of the seven churches addressed by St John in the Apocalypse/Book of Revelation, although the Laodicean Christians may be the most memorable for all the wrong reasons, being typified for being neither hot nor cold in Revelation 3 14-22. How many sermons has that text elicited over the centuries from exasperated clergy one might well wonder.

The sizeable and wealthy trading city known by St John, St Paul, and other early Christians was eventually abandoned in the time of the Mongol invasions but has left extensive remains of its former splendour in a wealthy part of western Anatolia. Its neighbours included the cities of Colossae and Hierapolis. Recent work to restore the amphitheatre at Laodicea is featured in an online article from Greek Reporter which can be seen at Ancient Greek Amphitheater at Laodicea Restored to Former Glory

Sunday 15 January 2023

Customs in the calendar

I have posted in recent weeks about Christmas  customs and, more recently, about the Haxey Hood and other Lincolnshire folk customs and entertainments in Lincolnshire - the Haxey Hood, Plough Jaggers and Hobby Horses.

have now come upon a BBC News report about a revived tradition at Whittlesey in Cambridgeshire, that of the Straw Bear. This is at least mid-nineteenth century in origin, but looks as if it could be much older, unless that is false antiquarianism on my part. Stopped by the police in 1909 it was revived in 1980. The illustrated article can be seen at Straw bear returns to town after Covid hiatus

A BBC News article from 2018 introduces several of these folk celebrations including the Haxey Hood and the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance in Staffordshire in September, both of which I have posted about beforehand as linked to above and in The Abbots Bromley Horn DanceThe article also covers the very well known Helston Hobby Horse ( Obby Oss ) as well as the Barwick in Elmet maypole in my home area and in addition others which I did not know. At the end of the article there are additional links to previous posts about autumn and Christmastide events. The illustrated post and its links can be viewed at Queer as folklore: A year of English customs

So if you live near any of these locations make a note in your diary for this coming year and go along and get in contact with our rural past.

Friday 13 January 2023

The medieval pavement at Canterbury Cathedral

Christopher Howse wrote recently in his regular column Sacred Mysteries in the Daily Telegraph about a new study of the geometric pavement in the Trinity Chapel at Canterbury Cathedral.

The latest research suggests that the pavement was originally created by Italian craftsmen for the Italian born Archbishop St Anselm at the beginning of the twelfth century, and subsequently moved and re-installed in the Trinity Chapel in front of the Shrine of St Thomas. Such an example of medieval appreciation of the skill of past generations and its manifestation as conservation in practice is like the survival of Norman doorways which were dismantled and re-erected when parish churches were extended with the addition of aisles or otherwise completely rebuilt. Instances of this can be seen in several Yorkshire churches.

The Canterbury pavement is also seen as the inspiration for the great Westminster sanctuary pavement commissioned by King Henry III from Italian workmen, and which, no longer covered by a carpet, can now once again be appreciated. I have also seen the suggestion that the Westminster floor was inspired by the floor, long lost, of the Lady Chapel in the abbey at Glastonbury which the King may well also have seen. The two theories are not mutually exclusive but do all point to a desire to create the most beautiful adornment for the focus of devotion on those three great churches.

There is an article from Current Archaeology from 2020 about recent work at Canterbury Cathedral which includes, inter alia, a digital reconstruction of the Shrine of St Thomas as it may well have appeared circa 1408, which shows the pavement in the left foreground. It can be seen at England in stone: recounting recent research at Canterbury Cathedral

Thursday 12 January 2023

A medieval Italian murder victim

Live Science has an account of the facial reconstruction of a young man from northern Italy who was the victim of a murder sometime in the couple of centuries before 1260. 

Although he remains anonymous the recreation of his facial tissues gives him personality in addition to the four sword wounds to his skull that ended his life. His burial place would suggest he was from a prosperous family and the attack that caused his death appears to be a targeted killing rather than one in battle or in any way accidental. Recreating his facial features not only recreates something of his personality but also makes his violent fate that bit more immediate. Whether it shocked his contemporaries or was just one of the things that comprised the round of medieval life and death remains, of course, unknown.

Wednesday 11 January 2023

Cardinal George Pell

The death of Cardinal Pell following surgery has been a shock in that he was apparently fit and active at the time of the funeral of Pope Benedict XVI only last week.

He is being hailed as the most important Australian Catholic of the past century, and continues to attract both positive and hostile comments. His conviction and imprisonment appeared utterly scandalous, an aberration of the Australian legal system, and on this blog I compared it to events in Central Europe in the late 1940s.

On one of his visits to Oxford, following a votive Mass for the canonisation of John Henry Newman I did meet him and requested his blessing. On that same visit I also attended Solemn Vespers in Merton Chapel at which he presided at the throne.

On occasions of his other Oxford visits to the Oratory I had to rely on livestream as, for example, only last year to celebrate and preach for St Philip’s Day. Then, as with the interviews he gave following his release from prison, I was impressed by his insight, his humility, his humour, his prayerful theology and his Christian charity. From stories I have heard he could also be a forceful father-in-God to his flock - he was not an Australian for nothing…
To my mind and memory he was in all senses an impressive figure, indeed a towering figure when attired in pontificals.

May he rest in peace.

In relation to his death Rorate Cæli has a post about Cardinal Pell linked to the last article he wrote, which was for The Spectator, and it can be read at “The Catholic Church must free itself from this ‘toxic nightmare’” — Cardinal Pells’ final public statement

The King of the Hellenes

The announcement last night of the death of the King of the Hellenes was not, I imagine, unexpected in that he has been in failing health for a number of years. There was whenever one saw pictures of him at royal events a sense that his potential to serve his people in his homeland was not only denied him, but being actively wasted by his enforced exile. His death is therefore a sad occasion and one which brings back memories of the events of his active reign.

His accession and marriage in 1964 and the birth of his and the Queen’s first two children were very much indicators of a youthful and attractive monarch and his consort, tied in by family connections to the other European monarchies. Then, after rising political tensions and parliamentary stalemate, came the April 1967 coup. The King’s freedom of action was doubtless limited and, like other monarchs in such circumstances, he would have been anxious to avoid bloodshed. When he did seek to overthrow the military government the following December his attempt failed and exile followed. The formal move to abolish the monarchy in the summer of 1973 came in the last year of military rule, but eas confined in the aftermath of its ending whrn, in part, those whom he expected to support him simply looked the other way. This was to be followed by long wrangles over property, passports, names and the right to visit his homeland. Like Italy the Greek republic was more actively hostile than other countries to their exiled royal house, and certainly different to attitudes in other Balkan counties since 1989.

Some of this is a legacy of the Greek Civil War after WWII, but ever since the Balkan Wats of 1912 and 1913 the Greek monarchy was at the mercy of both internal and external events it had difficulty influencing. It strikes me this in part came from two popularist nationalisms- one left leaning drawing upon the Greek War of Independence and popular rule, the other drawing upon seeking territorial gains from the declining Ottoman Empire right down to the disastrous events of 1922, and indeed the quest for Cypriot enosis. Both had a tradition of a dislike of foreign rule let alone the invasions of 1941. For a dynasty from Denmark, with Russian and German consorts asked to take the crown to heal the country’s divisions such a task was difficult. Yet the monarchy did achieve that much of the time and could represent the country to the world outside. Pushing to either extreme invited the opposite and inverse reaction. Those tensions still surface in a volatile political climate, but without the uniting force the crown could have been. 

Furthermore behind those modern divisions are far older ones, the legacy of the centuries. If the newly independent Greek kingdom of 1829-30 claimed for itself an Athenian democratic and intellectual heritage ( not that Classical Athens with its slaves was a democracy in modern terms ) it was also the successor of the authoritarian and militaristic world of Sparta.  Equally Greece is the heir of the Byzantine tradition of Orthodoxy in all its richness and Imperial absolutism tempered by military coups and assassinations. To some Greeks therefore he and his grandfather were not Constantine I and II, but Constantine XII and XIII. So here were, and are, deeply rooted and contradictory inheritances for the Greek people and their polity.  These different strands make for no easy resolution or coherence. To quote the title of the biography of King Paul I this was “no ordinary crown”.

As with other countries and at other times monarchs and monarchies have been assailed by a populace afraid of, or in denial of their own failings and looking for someone or something else to blame, so too was the fate of King Constantine and his throne.

On a personal note I heard King Constantine speak to a meeting in the Oxford Union in the early summer of 1994. He spoke with good humour and a breadth of vision, combined with a love of his family and his country.

May he rest in peace.

Tuesday 10 January 2023

Bayeux Tapestry - copying and reconstruction

The BBC News website has two reports about modern embroiderers work in connection with the Bayeux Tapestry

The first is about a Swedish born Wisbech woman who is creating a facsimile of the embroidery and has now reached the half way point in her project. As a linked article reports she has spotted minor errors in the original 
copy which give additional insight into the making of the original.

Reading Museum has a nineteenth century embroidered facsimile of the Tapestry on display. That however has a few emendations to alter figures in the border who might have been deemed improper in late Victorian society. 

Doubtless the most discussed and famous scene in the Tapestry, the death of King Harold II, is considered in relation to both chronicle accounts and the repairs over time to the fabric and embroidery, in an article from Medievalists.net which shows how restoration has significantly altered the scene. It can be viewed at The Arrow in King Harold's Eye: The Legend That Just Won't Die

In 2019 the Smithsonian Magazine had an article about research which appears to confirm the understanding that the tapestry was designed to hang in the nave of Bayeux Cathedral on feast days along the south side west end and north side. It can be viewed at Architecture and Math Show the Bayeux Tapestry Was Designed to Decorate a Cathedral

The second report from the BBC News website is from 2014 and is about a project in Alderney that recreated the missing last portion of the original and depicts the coronation of King William I on Christmas Day 1066. The design is closely based on the original tapestry which lost this concluding portion centuries ago, long before eighteenth century antiquarians started taking an interest in it.

The report on this new embroidery can be seen at Bayeux Tapestry: The islanders who finished the final scenes

Sunday 8 January 2023

Civic life in Roman Anatolia

Recent archaeological work and consolidation of the surviving fabric at Cibyra ( Kibyra) in south-western Turkey has revealed more impressive evidence about life in what was once a major Roman city. Life there was clearly prosperous, comfortable, and elegant with a stadium, theatre and the newly restored fountain.

The article from the Mail Online can be seen at Fountain in Turkey's ancient 'City of Gladiators' has been restored

There is more about the history of the city and its impressive surviving remains from Wikipedia at Cibyra

The wider effects of the ‘Little Ice Age’

I recently posted about research on the fifth century and the Hunnic invasions. and the case for seeing those events as originating in changes in the climate.

Now I have come upon an article looking at the effect of the so-called ‘Little Ice Age’ on events of the seventeenth century. The limits assigned to the ‘Little Ice Age’ varies somewhat with different scholars, but it is generally agreed that the seventeenth century was not only very much in that era but was indeed its coldest period. This is epitomised in popular perception by the London Frost Fairs on the frozen Thames in that century and later, although the earliest recorded freezing of the river and the setting up of booths on the ice was in 695. The last frost fair was held in 1814. There is an introduction to them from Wikipedia at River Thames frost fairs

The wider effects of cooler temperatures on all aspects of life are summarised, and linked to the idea of a “General Crisis”, an idea developed and popularised by a number of historians over fifty years ago. 

The article from the iflscience website can be read at The 17th Century Was A Truly Terrible Time To Be A Human

That said if one uses the Thames as an indicator whilst this period was the heyday of the Frost Fairs the river had frozen over beforehand in 695, 1150, 1281, 1309, 1408, 1410, 1434 - showing greater frequency - and notably in 1515, 1536 and 1564, before the first Frost Fair in 1608. Which suggests both an underlying tendency by the slow moving river and that once a century events were becoming once a decade or more as the mean annual temperature dropped.

The frozen Thames and even more the Frost Fairs were, and are, an indicator of a wider climatic pattern. Although the Thames flows more swiftly now and there is no longer the significant blockage caused by the piers of Old London Bridge, who knows, maybe, just maybe, climate change could restore this feature to the life of the capital- but don’t tell the health and safety fanatics….

An Elizabethan shipwreck at Dungeness

Several online websites have reported on the discovery in a quarry at Dungeness of the significant remains of an Elizabethan ship. The oak timbers of which it was constructed were felled between 1558 and 1580. Where it was found is now somr distance from the sea but, as it well known, Dungeness has changed its profile significantly over the centuries. What was a beach in the late sixteenth century is thus now nearly a thousand feet inland.

There are articles about the discovery of the ship. One is from LiveScience at Quarry workers make 'unexpected' discovery of ship from Queen Elizabeth I's reign

There is a third article about the discovery from the Financial Times at Elizabethan ship found in ‘remarkable condition’ in Kent quarry

Saturday 7 January 2023

Mothers and daughters

In our online exchange of Christmas greetings my friend Professor James Clark sent me the link to his faculty blog from the Exeter Centre for Medieval Studies.

One of their recent posts struck me as both insightful and entertaining. It can be seen at Mothers and daughters: a snapshot from early Tudor England.

I will add a link to the blog, and to others, to the sidebar when the Eminence Grise and I find the time.

Lincolnshire - the Haxey Hood, Plough Jaggers and Hobby Horses

Yesterday being Epiphany was the day for the annual Haxey Hood. This is a contest with few discernible rules played by the villagers of Haxey and Westwoodside in the Isle of Axholme in the north west of Lincolnshire.It is said to commemorate the loss by Lady Mowbray, whose husband was the lord of Axholme, of her hood in the early fourteenth century. The traditional story of its origins and of yesterday’s resumption of the tradition after a lockdown induced gap for two years is recounted in a report from BBC News at Haxey Hood in triumphant post-Covid return

Whether the story of Lady Mowbray’s hood is the origin is doubtless lost in folk memory. It may be, at least in part, a rough and tumble game to mark the feast and to get the village lads fit after the Christmas break and ready for a return to agricultural labour.

Haxey is also the second best preserved surving example, after Laxton in Nottinghamshire, of open field agriculture.

I recently came upon an interesting online article  from 2018 bay Lincolnshire student about midwinter village customs such as Plough Jagging and mummers with hobby horses in the north of the county - the Parts of Lindsey - in the late nineteenth century. His work drew on the collection of the North Lincolnshire Museum. Lincolnshire is also blessed with the excellent resources of the Museum of Lincolnshire Life in Lincoln itself which preserves a great collection of material about rural life in the county.

I blogged recently about similar customs in other parts of the country in Christmas Past and in Christmas Mummers and Wren Day

In a similar vein BBC News website also reported on the Boxing Day Sword Dance at Grenoside on the edge of Sheffield which goes back at least two centuries in Sword dancers perform in Boxing day tradition

Thinking about it I wonder if my north Lincolnshire maternal ancestors took part in such frolics when they were living there in the nineteenth century.

Friday 6 January 2023

St Leo the Great on the Epiphany

Here, courtesy of Divinum Officium is part of St Leo the Great’s second Epiphany Sermon, the fourth, fifth and sixth lections for Mattins:

Dearly beloved brethren, rejoice in the Lord; again I say, rejoice. But a few days are past since the solemnity of Christ's Birth, and now the glorious light of His Manifestation is breaking upon us. On that day the Virgin brought Him forth, and on this the world knew Him. The Word made Flesh was pleased to reveal Himself by degrees to those for whom He had come. When Jesus was born He was manifested indeed to the believing, but hidden from His enemies. Already indeed the heavens declared the glory of God, and their sound went out into all lands, when the Herald Angels appeared to tell to the shepherds the glad tidings of a Saviour's Birth; and now the guiding star leadeth the wise men to worship Him, that from the rising of the sun to the going down thereof, the Birth of the true King may be known abroad; that through those wise men the kingdoms of the east might learn the great truth, and the Roman empire remain no more in darkness.

The very cruelty of Herod, when he strove to crush at His birth this King Whom he alone feared, was made a blind means to carry out this dispensation of mercy. While the tyrant with horrid guilt sought to slay the little Child he did not know, amid an indiscriminate slaughter of innocents, his infamous act served to spread wider abroad the heaven-told news of the Birth of the Lord. Thus were these glad tidings loudly proclaimed, both by the novelty of their story, and the iniquity of their enemies. Then was the Saviour borne into Egypt, that nation, of a long time hardened in idolatry, might by the mysterious virtue which went out of Him, even when His presence was unknown, be prepared for the saving light so soon to dawn on them, and might receive the Truth as a wanderer even before they had banished.

Dearly beloved brethren, we recognize in the wise men who came to worship Christ, the first-fruits of that dispensation to the Gentiles wherein we also are called and enlightened. Let us then keep this Feast with grateful hearts, in thanksgiving for our blessed hope, whereof it doth commemorate the dawn. From that worship paid to the new-born Christ is to be dated the entry of us Gentiles upon our heirship of God and co-heirship with Christ. Since that joyful day the Scriptures which testify of Christ have lain open for us as well as for the Jews. Yea, their blindness rejected that Truth, Which, since that day, hath shed Its bright beams upon all nations. Let all observance, then, be paid to this most sacred day, whereon the Author of our salvation was made manifest, and as the wise men fell down and worshipped Him in the manger, so let us fall down and worship Him enthroned Almighty in heaven. As they also opened their treasures and presented unto Him mystic and symbolic gifts, so let us strive to open our hearts to Him, and offer Him from thence some worthy offering.

Thursday 5 January 2023

Old St Peter’s revisited

The funeral today of the Pope Emeritus on the steps of St Peter’s reminded thrviewer of thelong continuity of the Papacy and the way in whic it bound up with the historic churches of Rome. This is especially true of what are now termed the Papal - formerly Patriarchal -  basilicas. Ancient foundations adapted, renovated, restored in the case of St John Lateran and Sta Maria Maggiore, entirely reconstructed after a disastrous fire in the early nineteenth century in the case of St Paul’s Outside the Walls, but in the case of St Peter’s completely replaced from 1506 onwards. 

There are paintings and reconstructions of Old St Peter’s but for the vast majority who visit it there are the Roman remains underneath around the tomb of St Peter and then there is the Renaissance symbol of Papal claims above - of the intervening millenium or more there is little to see, and I imagine it needs hunting out.

A new exhibition about medieval Rome seek to correct this, drawing together a hundred and sixty surviving pieces from the medieval centuries of Roman history. There is a report about it from Art and object at Rome's Missing Medieval Past

Looking at the medieval mosaics that survive from Old St Peter’s and which it illustrates and are dated  to the end of the thirteenth century I was reminded of George Holmes’ very readable Rome, Florence and the Origins of the Renaissance which begins with a look at the last years of Papal Rome before the Avignon Papacy. In particular he draws attention to the artistic commissions associated with the Franciscan Pope Nicolas IV and the monumental statues commissioned by Pope Boniface VIII with their classical references. In particular he suggests artists were looking at uncovered paintings from the Imperial period and seeking to imitate or emulate them in the 1290s. Such resonances are surely there on the mosaics featured in this new exhibition.

Medieval moggies - and the Papacy?

It seems not too inappropriate on the day we say farewell to Pope Benedict XVI to allude to his great affection for cats. This was commemorated by the National Catholic Register in an article which includes the late Pushkin of the Birmingham Oratory and which can be seen at Benedict XVI: A Look Back at the Cat-Loving Pope’s Favorite Feline Friends

Recently there was an article on the website The Conversation about cats as pets and companions in the medieval period. It can be seen at Cats in the middle ages: what medieval manuscripts teach us about our ancestors' pets

I had the impression that other than as mousers - including, of course, the famous Welsh feline guardian of the native Prince’s  grain store - cats were rather despised in the medieval centuries or seen as potentially malign. Reading the article showed me that I was wrong in that, and indeed that pet cats could be seen as signifying domesticity.

Going back to where I started I suppose one can try to imagine various medieval and Renaissance Popes accompanied by cats - maybe Celestine V with one as a companion in his hermitage, the Avignon popes and some Renaissance popes with pampered pets, but perhaps more so a Blofeld like white cat to accompany the real toughies - Gregory VII, Innocent IV, Bonifave VIII, Alexander VI, Julius II, Paul IV…. Innocent III a discreet feline companion, a rescue stray for Urban VI ….a street cat to accompany the besieged Clement VII, something exotic like a Siamese for Julius III, an English tabby for Adrian IV ….

Tuesday 3 January 2023

Progress on recreating two historic ships

The BBC News website reports that significant progress is being made on the building of a replica of the Sutton Hoo ship that is being undertaken, close to the site of the discovery of the ghost of the ship in the burial mound, at Woodbridge on the banks of the Deben in Suffolk. 

Meanwhile the Daily Telegraph recently had an article about a French project to recreate and sail William the Conqueror’s flagship from 1066, La Mora, and, hopefully, for it to visit London in 2027, the milleniary of the King-Duke’s birth. The design of the ship comes in part from its depiction on the Bayeux Tapestry and also from knowledge about ships of that time. 

Don’t be put off by the Telegraph’s obsessive Eurosceptic headline* and read the report which can be seen at Norman conquest boat project could be dead in the water - because of EU red tape

* I do rather wonder, given their attitude, why the Daily Telegraph would wish to report on a story that might just suggest that this country has ever had a creative engagement with the rest of Europe.