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.

Monday 31 July 2023

Downside Revisited

The Daily Telegraph has a lengthy article today by a former pupil of Downside about a return visit he had made to the school and his reflections on his own time there, on the abuse suffered by some of the other boys, and which sought to understand what had brought about the situation. He also visited the remaining members of the monastic community in their temporary home at Buckfast. The article is considered and reflective, and offers no easy answers as to how such a situation is to be processed by survivors, or by the wider community who failed to appreciate or understand what was happening alongside an otherwise  conventional, and esteemed, public school and Benedictine monastery.

I have only visited Downside once. That was, if I recall aright, in 1990 when I was, as an Anglican, on a Benedictine retreat led by Esther de Waal at Glastonbury. We had monks talking to us about the life of the Downside community and visited the abbey for an afternoon for a tour, tea and Vespers. I was deeply impressed by the beauty and scale of the monastic church, and its sense of prayerfulness. This was seemingly a place that stood in a tradition of fifteen centuries of spiritual discipline and creativity. Everything suggested tranquility and orderliness. We did not visit the school but I imagine that if we had a similar spirit would have prevailed. Downside appeared a citadel of a restored English Catholic life in the depths of rural Somerset. It remains in my mind as a very special visit.

Since then revelations of what some monks at Downside and other Benedictine houses were doing have not merely shaken the public perception of monastic houses and schools but have done irreparable harm to both monastic and school life. This is tragic and the result of human wickedness. 

The author of the article shows how seeking to understand what happened offers no easy answers. That is perhaps similar to the reflections about abusive priests by Martin Mosebach from Rorate Caeli which I linked to the other day. The incomprehension most of us have as to what leads to such behaviour also renders us unable to fully understand how it can exist as known yet not known in religious individuals and communities. 

As a historian I wonder as to how long such things have gone on in monastic houses, or indeed parishes. Whilst I can fully believe that recent decades have seen the emergence of lax discipline and a pursuit of a very wrong type of individualism I suspect that such evils may have been hiding in plain sight for much longer. Accusations of such behaviour can be detected amongst the hostile critics of monasticism in the sixteenth century, amongst the Lollards, and in the sometimes surprisingly candid comments of continental ecclesiastical writers of the thirteenth century. One does not have to have the obsessive seeking after scandal of a Coulton to sense that this is not a new problem. 

It is a dispiriting idea to set against the undoubtedly great  and positive part Benedictine life has contributed to the life and history of the Church and of Christendom. The fact that that achievement is in risk of being denigrated as a result is a further tragic legacy of whatever was going wrong behind the walls of the enclosure.

Searching the site of Cerne Abbey

Today the village of Cerne Abbas in Dorset is best known for the figure of the Giant cut into the hillside above the houses. Recent years have seen further research to establish its date as being Anglo-Saxon, and there has been discussion about the extent to which it has been ‘modified’over the centuries.

In the high and later middle ages however it was not the figure of the Giant - which may indeed have been overgrown at the time - but the Benedictine abbey which drew visitors to the valley. The abbey was associated with legends of a visit by St Augustine of Canterbury and the hermit St Eadwold, who was belived to be the brother of the East Anglian St Edmund the Martyr. The monastery was founded, or maybe refounded, in 987, and survived until 1539, but today all that survives above ground is the Guest House, the very handsome porch of the Abbot’s House from the turn of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries and a portion of the South Gate incorporated into a house, as well as a tithe barn. In terms of national history arguably the visit to the abbey of Queen Margaret of Anjou and her son the Prince of Wales together with Lancastrian leaders in April 1471 was the most famous event in the later centuries of the abbey’s existence 

BBC News has a report about the proposed excavation at Archaeologists dig for medieval abbey

Cerne Historical Society has a webpage with more aboout the abbey and links to other information at The History of Cerne Abbas

There is another useful account of the history of the abbey and the visible remains from Escape to Britain at A Guide to the Ancient Benedictine Abbey at Cerne Abbas in Dorset

The Victoria County History account of the abbey can be seen at Houses of Benedictine monks: The abbey of Cerne

Sunday 30 July 2023

Evidence for Anglo-Saxon malting revealed in Norfolk

Coming as I do from a town which had numerous malt kilns in the nineteenth and earlier twentieth centuries, with their distinctive architecture and indeed aroma, my interest was piqued by a report on Arkeonews about the excavation of a series of malt kilns from the Anglo-Saxon period at Sedgeford near Hunstanton in north Norfolk.

The evidence of series of such grain drying huts suggests an established trade with the buildings being replaced after accidental fires consumed previous buildings.

The current theory is that this served a fairly large community who would have taken the malt back to their homes and then brewed their domestic ale.

Given the relatively transient nature of the buildings, the agricultural base of the economy and the ubiquity of ale one wonders if this site is a fortuitous discovery of what was perhaps a not uncommon feature across the Anglo-Saxon landscape.

Urban renewal - French style

By fortuitous chance I came upon on the Internet a video about the very striking way in which the Mayor of one of the outer suburbs of Paris had regenerated life in his domain. 

Le Plessis-Robinson - the curious name is explained by Wikipedia at Le Plessis-Robinson - lies on the south west edge of the French capital and was essentially yet another of those depressed outlying dormitory towns which are dominated by high rise flats, youth disaffection and crime which we witnessed explode into riots only a few weeks back. It’s transformation - physical, economic and social - was led by the man who was Mayor from 1989 to 2018. A conservative he replaced forty years of Communist rule and embarked with architects and others on a hugely ambitious scheme to transform the town.

It is a very French model in its statist nature, but the video draws the parallels with, inter alia, the King’s creation in this country of Poundbury in Dorset, and the recovery of the human scale in planning and the promotion of local identity and services.

The video can be seen at This Town Did The Impossible

Although one would need more evidence in which to proceed to fully assess such a scheme it does suggest that vision can become reality, and that recovering the human dimension in urban planning can be a significant contribution towards not just aesthetic harmony but also social harmony.

Thursday 27 July 2023

Two more reflections from Rorate Cæli

In recent days Rorate Cæli has posted two striking reflections about the background to what is happening in the Catholic Church. They seem to me eloquent and forceful, articles that are worth reflecting upon.

The first was submitted by Peter Kwasniewski and is a translation of an article from last year by Martin Mosebach - I have heard both of them speak in Oxford - and looks into the background of the “abuse crisis” involving priests. It sets out to place this in the historical context of both the post-Vatican II Church and, to a lesser extent, of what went before.

The second article is by Roberto di Mattei, well known as a historian of the Church in recent decades and as a commentator on trends within it. In his essay he looks at the change in status and effectiveness of what used to be the Holy Office and which has now become the  Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Whether or not you agree with everything the two essays say they are certainly intellectually stimulating and historically apposite. They should be seen as at very least contributing to the debate and discussion within the Church.

Monday 24 July 2023

Restoring Bess of Hardwick’s tapestries

Having commented further on the surviving tapestry from the set illustrating the life of St Paul ordered by King Henry VIII it seems suitable to link to the restoration of the largest set of tapestries to survive from sixteenth century England.

These are at Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire where  they were hung in 1592 by the builder of that remarkable house, the equally remarkable Elizabeth Countess of Shrewsbury - Bess of Hardwick. This set of tapestries also has a Biblical narrative, the story of Gideon. They have hung in the Long Gallery on the top floor since they were acquired, but a twenty four year long programme of cleaning, conservation and repair of the set has now been completed by the National Trust.

The BBC News website reports on this notable  achievement at Historic tapestries unveiled after 24-year project

I have visited Hardwick Hall over many years and it remains a remarkable insight not just into Elizabethan aristocratic life but into the very distinctive attitudes of the formidable Countess. She can well be seen as the woman who established the Cavendish family, from her second marriage, on their path to power and prestige and who showed how a woman could exercise significant economic independence and assume a political role in her locality. Her tough mindedness and determination are apparent, and triumphantly expressed in her spectacular house.

There is a history of the Hall from Wikipedia at Hardwick Hall and there is more about it in an online piece by Sophie Ploeg, which adds more about the origin of the Long Gallery tapestries with Sir Christopher Hatton who sold them to the Countess from his house at Holdenby in Northamptonshire, at Hardwick Hall

Hatdwick Hall

Image: Sophie Ploeg.com

More about the surviving tapestry commissioned by King Henry VIII

Whilst we are on the theme of objects that survive from the court of King Henry VIII I posted a while back about the moves being made to acquire for the new gallery in Bishop Auckland the sole surviving tapestry from the series created for the King that depicted the life of St Paul in Recovering a tapestry commissioned by King Henry VIII

Tapestries were of great importance as a means of displaying wealth and status, created a setting of luxury and splendour for courts and households on the move in the medieval and early modern periods, as well as fulfilling the purely practical in making rooms warmer and more welcoming than with just plain walls. Just as cathedrals were hung with tapestries on vestal occasions, so too were palaces, castles and manor houses. They were not necessarily always permanently hung with tapestries and wall hangings, although some certainly do appear to have been from surviving records. Being portable a monarch or noble could send such textiles ahead to create a new home from home, including probably in tented accommodation as in the visit to York in 1541. The royal court and noble households were in some ways analagous to a shifting stage set for the living out of a very public life. The tapestry pieces commissioned by King Henry - and he had a great number - were perhaps intended as more or less permanent features.

Since my note the Mail Online has featured the story of the tapestry and its significance in terms of its quality and preservation in an article which can be seen at Campaign to return Henry VIII tapestry that turned up in Spain

Further thoughts about King Henry VIII’s Prayer Book

In wrote in my note Prayers of a fretful and ailing monarch a few weeks ago about the annotations made by King Henry VIII in his copy of the prayer book compiled by his sixth Queen, Katherine Parr. Since then I have found an article on The Conversation by the distinguished historian of the Protestant movement Alex Ryrie which looks at the prayer book and its place in the context of the events of the last years of the King’s reign. His reflections can be read at Henry VIII’s notes in prayer book written by his sixth wife reveal musings on faith, sin and his deteriorating health – new discovery

Sunday 23 July 2023

The Culture War in Catholicism

When writing this blog I have tried as much as possible in recent years to avoid commenting on the culture conflict in the Catholic Church in an attempt to be peaceable and to avoid adding to the poisoned atmosphere. However on occasion I let my guard slip. I am going to do that now.

Rorate Cæli is a website that does not pull its punches in defence of traditional belief and practice in the Church. Their latest article is a splendid and searing contrast of Pope St John Paul II and Pope Francis. I commend it to all my readers - I could not have expressed the thoughts in it any better. The article can - and should - be read at Francis Has Systematically Dismantled John Paul II's Legacy

Renewed Indulgences at Our Lady of Oxford

Our Lady of Oxford

Image: Oxford Oratory

The Oxford Oratory has announced the renewal of the Indulgences attached to the painting of Our Lady of Oxford Mother of Mercy in their church of St Aloysius.

The image of Our Lady of Oxford can be found in the Relic Chapel, next to St Philip’s Chapel. This image, depicting the Blessed Virgin Mary as ‘Mother of Mercy’, was brought to Oxford in the late nineteenth century by Hartwell de la Garde Grissell. Grissell, who had been a member of the Papal Household, had showed the image to his friend, Pope Pius IX, who in 1869 granted indulgences to those who recited certain prayers before the image. Grissell bequeathed the contents of his private chapel - including an extensive collection of relics - in his house in the High Street to the church of St Aloysius when he died in 1907, and what was the baptistery was converted into the chapel as we see it today to house it all. Very regrettably virtually all of Grissell’s bequest of primary relics of saints and other memorabilia was destroyed in the 1960s.

The indulgences granted by Pope Pius IX expired at the beginning of 1969 in the wake of   Indulgentiarum Doctrina issued by Pope Paul VI in 1967, but this year the Oratory applied to have them reinstated. The Oratorians are very pleased to announce that the Apostolic Penitentiary, in the name of the Holy Father, has renewed the grant of indulgences as follows:

• A partial indulgence applicable to the Holy Souls is granted to anyone who recites the Salve Regina (Hail, Holy Queen) before the image.
• A partial indulgence is now granted to anyone who recites the Litany of Loreto before the image of Our Lady of Oxford.

The feast of Our Lady, Mother of Mercy, is the Saturday before the fourth Sunday of July. (The feast would have been yesterday, but this year the date coincided with the feast of St Mary Magdalene.) The Litany of Loreto will be sung after the Sunday Solemn Mass this weekend. There are devotions to Our Lady of Oxford every Saturday after the 10am Mass.

With acknowledgments to the Oxford Oratory 

Wednesday 19 July 2023

Reappraising William Camden

Last Friday I attended online a day conference organised by the Society of Antiquaries about the life and work of William Camden who died four centuries ago in 1623. 

Not only was he a founder of the original Society of Antiquaries and a pioneering antiquarian researcher of firstly Roman and then medieval remains, but also a historian of his own times with his officially sponsored Annals of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, a collaborator with his former pupil Sir Robert Cotton in preserving medieval manuscripts, a member of the College of Arms from 1598 as Clarenceux King of Arms, and generally a back room boy of later Elizabethan and Jacobean England.

Amongst the subjects discussed at the conference was new work on the manuscript of the Annals which has used modern technology to look through Camden’s paste downs to see how he amended and revised his account of the later years of the Queen’s reign and, in particular, the background to the tacit acceptance of the succession passing to King James VI of Scots.

This research is explained in a post on the British Library Medieval Manuscripts Blog at Showing Elizabeth I in a new light

Tuesday 18 July 2023

Heraldry and identification in manuscripts

Whilst searching online for images for a forthcoming talk I came upon an article from 2015 produced by the Getty Museum in Los Angeles about two of their fifteenth century illuminated manuscripts.

In the first the identification of the coat of arms of the family of the man who commissioned the volume helped, and the more so when his mark of cadency was recognised, and thus identify him. In this instance a seventeenth century overpainting of the original arms had impeded identification. It is interesting to see that such a manuscript was still valued and considered worth appropriation by a princely family two centuries later.

The second manuscript has a still unidentified cost of arms, but the grisaille painting of the young knight kneeling before St Anthony is both charming in itself and resonant of ideas in chivalric romances such as Tirant lo Blanc from the same period.

The article about these two manuscripts, with illustrations and a bibliography, can be seen at Heraldry Illuminated: Deciphering Coats of Arms and Other Manuscript Mysteries

The Wintour Vestments

Staying on a traditionalist liturgical theme, and with the clear warning that this has nothing to do with a tie in between Vogue and Mass of Ages, the Liturgical Arts Journal had an article about the vestments made by Helena Wintour in the seventeenth century which can be seen at Vestments of Recusant England: The Peasecod Chasuble of Helen of Wintour

The background to Helena and her embroidery, and the subsequent history of the vestments - now divided between Douai and Stonyhurst, is set out more clearly on Wikipedia at The Wintour vestments

I have seen the point made that given the covert nature of recusancy and the risks involved it is striking that these vestments, made for worship in hidden chapels and behind necessarily closed doors, yielded nothing to such circumstances. They are not the seventeenth century equivalent of tie-dyed hop sack decorated with felt stuck on with copydex. They are as splendid as could possibly be, made of the finest materials, because nothing less than the very best was worthy of the Sacrifice of the Mass.

Reasons for Hope: “A Bitter Trial” revisited

The trenchantly traditionalist Catholic website Rorate Cæli had an article the other day drawing upon A Bitter Trial, the published correspondence between two very great Catholics, Cardinal John Heenan and Evelyn Waugh, about the liturgical changes that began in the 1950s and culminated in the 1970 Novus Ordo Missal. By then Waugh had died and the Cardinal was in weakening health and died in 1975. It is in many ways a sad book to read, two very different men linked by a deep understanding of the traditional liturgy witnessing its mauling and abandonment.

The Rorate Cæli article however sees signs of hope in the letters in the context of our own times and in the wake of Traditionis Custodes and its implementation. The fact that Catholics are now prepared to voice their dissent and also that there are clergy ready and willing to celebrate when they can the traditional forms of the historic liturgy are seen as more positive than the situation was in the 1960s. 

Furthermore it reminds the reader that it was through Cardinal Heenan that the Agatha Christie Indult came about. Nil desperandum.

Sunday 16 July 2023

Rebuilding Coventry Cross

Yesterday the BBC News website reported on the unveiling of the re-sited reconstruction of the sixteenth century Coventry Cross in the heard of the historic city. The original was a rebuilding of an earlier structure, and was completed in 1544, and survived until the  1770s. Recreated in 1976 from drawings of the original it then faced removal as part of replanning in the city by 2007. Dismantled in 2021 it has now been re-erected close to Holy Trinity church, and not far from the original site.

I recall visiting Coventry in 1963 and being intrigued by engravings of the then long destroyed Cross. In recent years I had also read about the proposed removal of the modern replacement. It was therefore a delight to read of its return to the city centre.

The BBC report, with links to previous articles about the Cross, can be read at Modern replica of ancient city landmark unveiled

There is a detailed account of the history of the Cross, its predecessors and of its design and decay from Wikipedia at Coventry Cross

Saturday 15 July 2023

The crosier and mitre of St Bonaventure

The always interesting Liturgical Arts Journal has an article about two secondary relics of St Bonaventure of whose existence I, for one, was quite unaware. These are his crosier and mitre which survive in Pisa. The article can be seen at The Thirteenth Century Mitre and Crozier of St. Bonaventure, the Seraphic Doctor

Today is the feast day of St Bonaventure who died on this day in 1274. There is an introduction to his life and writings as well as to the fate of his relics at Lyon set out by Wikipedia at Bonaventure

From what I have read and come to know about him I find his blend of the mystical with the scholastic a very appealing one. Indeed he has been presented as the Franciscan who took St Francis’ depth of mystic insight and channelled it into the disciplined system of scholastic theology. If for some Franciscans that is too limiting, for the rest of us it offers a unified theological route towards God that is illuminated by those insights beyond words.

Amongst the books by and about St Bonaventure available on Amazon I noted the recent one by Douglas Dales Truth and Reality: The Wisdom of St Bonaventure (James Clarke) about which I heard the author speak at Pusey House the other year. Although I have not so far read it I think that would be a good way into understanding the thought of the Seraphic Doctor.

I remain slightly bemused by the fact that for the year 1265-6 St Bonaventure was the Papally appointed Archbishop of York. Probably wisely he resigned, but one does wonder just what might have happened had Giovanni di Fidanza actually made it to northern England in the wake of the Baron’s Wars.

St Bonaventure, pray for us 

Remembering Fr Jerome Bertram

Fr Hunwicke posted the other day about the late and much lamented Fr Jerome Bertram C.O., who died in 2019, on the anniversary of his priestly ordination. The post draws upon some of the symbolic symmetries of his life and can be seen at Bastille Day

I knew Fr Jerome and asked him to receive me into the Catholic Church, which he did in 2005.

Fr Jerome was indeed as Fr Hunwicke recalls him but I would augment what he says in respect of just how important was his scholarly contribution to the study of monumental brasses. Very much a pursuit of the traditional antiquary Jerome Bertram published his first book on the subject whilst still a sixth-former. It is one of the best introductions to the subject yet written. He went on not metely to rub and write up brasses across Britain and northern Europe all the way to the Baltic States, but to completely reorientate the study of the subject as part of an extensive business of monuments as well as the cult of the departed. As a priest he understood why such monuments were created, and that they were far more than memorial slabs. Looking at a brass with him one was transported to the London or wherever workshop in which it was engraved and to which school and type it belonged. I half expected him to say that the brass had been made on a wet Tuesday afternoon in London in March 1392 ….

There was something definitely dignum et justum est that the very last brass rubbing he did only a couple of months or so before he died was of the almost inaccessible monumental brass of Bishop John Waltham in St Edward’s Chapel in Westminster Abbey. A spectacular figure of the bishop from the 1390s it was a fitting conclusion to his career. He showed it to me and, though he observed sadly that though he thought it was not quite as good as he would have been capable of doing previously, still with a very proper pride in what he had achieved, and we had a lively discussion about the arms of the diocese of Salisbury.

So thank you to Fr Jerome for the prayer and guidance, for the scholarship and the fun, and to Fr Hunwicke for prompting these reflections.

Thursday 13 July 2023

The debate about the Declaration of Arbroath

I recently wrote Conserving and exhibiting the Declaration of Arbroath in connection with the recent exhibition of the manuscript of the letter of the Scottish nobility to Pope John XXII. In it I included links to two other of my posts about the Declaration which I wrote in 2020 to commemorate its seven hundredth anniversary.

I have now come upon an article by Gordon McKelvie which was originally on The Conversation website and has been republished by that of the University of Winchester  In it he sets out to rescue the Declaration from modern politicians and from political debate about  the place of Scotland within Great Britain. 

Although very different in its nature and status  from Magna Carta the Declaration has acquired a similar cultural significance as a part of national identity. With reference to it McKelvie is trying, in a way, to pose the equivalent to the essay title about Magna Carta - is it a great constitutional enactment or a failed peace treaty? ( The answer to that is, of course, not either or but both and ).

With both documents the correct interpretation or interpretations must lie in what that say, in who composed them, in what the reader would have understood them to mean, and in their place in the culture of their times.

British rule in Corfu

UnHerd has a readable and insightful article by Aris Roussinos about the history of British rule over the protectorate of the Ionian Islands - Corfu - between 1815 and 1863.

Whether the author is to be followed in seeing it as an anticipation of other involvements by Britain in the region of the east Mediterranean, other than Cyprus after 1878 might be arguable, but the main story is illustrative of the  issues facing both the British and the Corfiot-Greek communities. The tension between the need to exercise appropriate rulership and emerging ideas of nationalism, and how those forces interacted, is explored, and can indeed be applied to other parts of the region in the era. It is aso an entertaining sidelight on life in a curious enclave in early to mid-nineteenth century Europe.

Apart from the physical survival of buildings and the Corfiot fondness for playing cricket one of the other legacies of the British administration is the Order of St Michael and St George which was created in 1818 as a system of rewards for the people of Corfu and Malta, but which rapidly became the honour for British diplomats and overseas administrators. 

The article can be read at Britain's forgotten European empire

Tuesday 11 July 2023

Unhappiness at The Wallace Collection

The Daily Telegraph had a report the other day about managerial issues at The Wallace Collection, with curatorial departures, cutbacks in opportunities for research, and tensions over how the collection is presented. The article can be read at Prestigious Wallace Collection is ‘haemorrhaging curatorial expertise’

The Wallace Collection is one of the lesser known parts of the national museums and galleries in London, a fact which to my mind makes it all the more appealing. Held in an aristocratic town house within its own gardens, yet still so very close to the West End, it has retained the feel of a very personal and very select collection, idiosyncratic at times, but rich in quality and full of familiar faces - not least the portrait of Robert Dudley Earl of Leicester as a young and dashing courtier, Franz Hal’s ‘The Laughing Cavalier’ and Fragonard’s ‘The Swing’. The visitor can get close to such works - indeed it is difficult not to in so crowded a display space - and to the spectacular pieces of late medieval armour. This is a collection to go to and set out on a journey of intellectual discovery. It always seemed to me a very civilised place.

If the article is to be believed ( and I fear I suspect there is no reason not to ) my attitude would be condemned by the current state powers-that-be at the Wallace as wickedly old fashioned and elitist. By its very nature the Collection is elitist, and it should be properly proud of that fact. To lose curatorial excellence and expertise over the vain pursuit of some modish modern mode of appealing to the masses is very regrettable indeed. Dumbing down will not raise awareness of the Wallace Collection, but celebrating its richness and insight into the world of past elites will.

Monday 10 July 2023

The coded letters of Mary Queen of Scots

Last February I wrote about the decoding of a series of original letters from Mary Queen of Scots that have survived in the French National Archives. The discovery was featured quite extensively and I link to some of the articles in my post Decoding Mary Queen of Scots

A friend has now shared with me a longer article from the recent Financial Times Magazine about the process of cracking the code which Queen Mary used. It also gives some interesting and insightful historical interpretation of the situation in which the exiled Queen found herself, and the wider political pressures that circled around her and her cousin Queen Elizabeth I. Queen Mary appears to have been in her lifetime something of an enigma to her contemporaries and to have been the object of both passionate devotion and passionate loathing. Almost four and a half centuries later there is no great consensus as to how to understand her - which may tell us more about those who study her than about the Scottish Queen herself. That is perhaps something she shared with not a few of her Stewart ancestors and her Stuart descendants.

Sunday 9 July 2023

Another Jacobite Counterfactual

Following my previous post a friend reminded me of the well-known Jacobite counterfactual essay published in 1926 by the prolific author on, inter alia, Jacobitism and Spanish history, Sir Charles Petrie, 3rd Baronet

His historical jeu d’esprit ties in neatly with the one from the Mail Online from last week and can be read at If: A Jacobite Fantasy

Thursday 6 July 2023

A Jacobite Counterfactual

As part of their coverage of the lead up to yesterday’s Service of Thanksgiving and Presentation of the Honours of Scotland in Edinburgh the Daily Mail had a study in counter factual history. This looked at what might well have happened if Prince Charles Edward - the “other” King Charles III - had been successful in 1745-6. 

I am usually somewhat wary of placing too much reliance on counter factual models of what might have happened in the past. As an investigation of the possibilities facing people at significant points centuries, or decades, ago  they can help us understand motives and aims, hopes and fears. As illustrations of what could have resulted had things turned out differently they can yield insight. Beyond that counter factuals can become a mental game with oneself that generates little useful.

The Daily Mail article is definitely in the first category and offers a serious set of possible consequences - though those all hinge on nothing else changing independently to further amend the historical record.

It draws upon the work of two distinguished scholars of the period in Murray Pittock and Daniel Szechi, and offers some remarkable possibilities that could have ensued from a Jacobite victory and restoration. It can be read at What would have happened to the UK if Bonnie Prince Charlie had WON?

Wednesday 5 July 2023

The Edinburgh Service of Thanksgiving and Presentation of the Honours of Scotland

I spent most of the afternoon watching the broadcast of the National Service of Thanksgiving held at St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh today, at the heart of which was the presentation of the Honours of Scotland to The King.

The Service has been described as being a coronation in some parts of the media and, as a friend and I were discussing on Monday, that points to the low standard of so much reporting. It was not a coronation - though here he and I took different positions, as I would argue, as I have for many years, for restoring the Scottish coronation either within the existing constitutional dispensation or in some other future form, and he was not in favour as someone who took a more outwardly Unionist position and is perhaps more ‘originalist’ with regard to the 1707 Treaty and Act.

So not a coronation, but closer to one than say the Dutch royal inauguration. That too takes place in a church ( though now no longer used as a church I believe ) but has no religious element because of the diversity of the Netherlands Kingdom. It includes the monarch’s oath to the Constitution. The St Giles service was definitely religious - Scots Presbyterian, ecumenical with Catholics and Episcopalians participating ( what would John Knox and the Covenanters think - never mind a woman preaching ?), and inter-faith. The presentation of the Honours was accompanied by something that sounded quite like an affirmation of office, if not an oath. 

Furthermore the way in which sword, sceptre and crown were presented and formally received by The King when he touched each was strongly reminiscent of the way both he and The Queen touched those items of the regalia in the Westminster Coronation - spurs, armils, rings and the Queen’s sceptres - which they did not wear but with which they were still deemed to have been liturgically invested. So was this after all a Scottish Coronation?

As has been pointed out in the advance coverage the Service closely follows that devised in 1953, which drew in part on the only other similar event, the presentation to King George IV at The Palace of Holyroodhouse of the Honours in 1822. The UK Constitutional Law Association has an interesting article about how the 1953 Service came about which can be seen at David Torrance: “Nothing in the Nature of a Second Coronation”

Some changes had been made. The interior of St Giles has been reordered since 1953 and the Communion Table is now under the tower rather than at the east end of the former choir. In 1953 the Stone of Scone was still in Westminster Abbey, but today it was adjacent to the central space. One issue in 1953 was what The Queen should and did wear. As Torrance shows there was anxiety not to create a ‘Scottish Coronation’ so Her Majesty wore a day dress and hat: there was to be no impulsive crowning by the Dean of the Chapel Royal. Some apparently felt this showed a lack of respect to what was happening. Photographs of the occasion do indeed look a little odd with everyone except The Queen in full robes or uniform. Today The King and The Queen, and the  Duke of Rothesay wore their mantles as members of the Order of the Thistle. That I think was a definite improvement. 

There has been quite a bit about the creation of the new Elizabeth Sword to act as the sword of state as the historic one given to King James IV in 1507 by Pope Julius II is now too fragile. Between 1971 and 1986 it was used at services of the Order of the Thistle until deemed too vulnerable. Whilst that fact is very sad the new sword is a superb piece of design and craftsmanship. There are accounts of its making from the Scottish Government at The Elizabeth Swordfrom the BBC News website at King Charles to receive new sword at Scottish ceremony and from the MailOnline at Who is the 'new Penny Mordaunt' presenting massive sword to the King?

One can look forward to seeing it in use on future state occasions.

It was perhaps a pity that cars not carriages, as in 1953, were used to convey both the Royal party and the Honours but a variety of considerations may have influenced that decision.

St Giles’ Cathedral may not have the grandeur or space of Westminster Abbey but it is as embedded in the history of Scotland as is the Abbey in that of England. That sense of the past, of a living past, not a museum display, was strong in today’s Service. Past, present and future were bound together in the person and institution of the Monarch.

Monday 3 July 2023

A thirteenth century chasuble

The Liturgical Arts Journal has an illustrated article today about a thirteenth century chasuble in the treasury of St Aldegonde in the Low Countries. The conicle chasuble is made of a gold and red silk fabric decorated with parrots which had originated in China. The orpheries, now faded, are patterned with an alternating design of crosses. As the article points out the vestment shows the rich textiles that were available for vestment makers at the time and the splendour of what could be produced.