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

Friday, 7 October 2022

A numismatist’s critique of the new coinage for King Charles III

I posted recently in The first new coins to be issued for King Charles III about the designs of the first two coins that are to be issued with the portrait and name of the new King. In that I commented that the monarch’s name is not rendered as Carolus to match the rest of the Latin inscription of his title but as Charles. I should perhaps have suggested that I regretted this change, but the late Queen was always named on her coins as Elizabeth not Elizabetha. 

Today the Special Correspondent alerted me to a pretty scathing letter about the Royal Mint in The Times from Gregory Edmund the director of numismatics at the prestigious London coin and medal specialists Spink and Son. In it he criticises the Mint both for producing coins before the Coronation - to literally cash in on Christmas sales - and in using English rather than Latin for the Sovereign’s name. The same points are raised in an article in The Daily Telegraph, which quotes Mr Edmund’s forceful criticism as well as a response from the Royal Mint. 

It should be pointed out that the obverse of the new coins carries the value, fifty pence and five pounds, in English behind the King’s head. Although the designs are good Iwould prefer to have the value on the reverse of a coin rather than the obverse. This would inter alia avoid or reduce the mixing of Latin and English.

Wednesday, 5 October 2022

The Royal Hall at Rendlesham

Several websites today have reports about the immensely significant discovery by archaeologists of an early Anglo-Saxon hall of very considerable size at the site of the royal vill at Rendlesham in the Deben valley of south-east Suffolk. 

The excavations at Rendlesham are part of an ongoing project examining this admistrative centre linked to the burial ground at Sutton Hoo and which was one of the centres of royal authority in the Kingdom of the East Angles. Rendlesham was a place known of by Bede when he wrote his Ecclesiastical History. 

The BBC News report about the excavation can be seen at Ancient royal hall unearthed on private land and that from the ITV website is at Ancient 'Hall of Kings' dating back 1,400 years unearthed

There is an article from Heritage Daily which can be read at Royal hall of the first Kings of East Anglia has been discovered in Suffolk

The excavation is also reported upon by the Daily Express at Archaeology: Royal Hall of the first East Anglian Kings unearthed in Suffolk

The East Anglian Daily Times gives an account at Dig uncovers Anglo-Saxon royal palace in Deben Valley

I am sure there will be more in coming days about this latest discovery at Rendlesham and if I see any further useful links I will post them. 

This is an archaeological site that will doubtless continue to be seen as of great importance to our understanding of seventh and eighth century governance and society and of the development of what we think of as the Anglo-Saxon era. The age of the Heptarchy  feels that bit more tangible, that bit more real as a result of such discoveries.

More on thirteenth century faces from Whithorn

I wrote recently about three facial reconstructions from the skeletons discovered during excavations in the ruins of Whithorn Cathedral in Thirteenth century faces from Whithorn

Now Live Science has another article about this work with illustrations of all three faces, including that of Bishop Walter, who held the diocese of Galloway from 1209-35, and who is the only one who can be specifically identified. The article concentrates on the way in which the reconstructions were made and the results are amongst the best I have seen of such work.

The Daily Express also has an illustrated and informative article about the facial reconstructions and the wider context of the burials in the cathedral. This can be seen at Archaeology news: Faces of three medieval Scots revealed in stunning reconstructions

Monday, 3 October 2022

Good news from Nottingham Cathedral

The BBC News website has an article about funding being allocated by the National Lottery Heritage Fund for the uncovering and restoration of the Pugin decoration in the three eastern chapels of Nottingham Cathedral.

Nottingham Cathedral

Image Wikipedia

I have never visited the cathedral and only ever seen it once as a boy with my mother when being driven past by friends with whom we used to stay in the city. That was fifty odd years ago when it was still smoke blackened and before it was cleaned. I do recall the devout Anglican son of our friends being rather dismissive of it. That was the 1960s when Victorian architecture was very much at a discount.

St Barnabas was built to Pugin’s design in 1841-44, before the re-establishment of the hierarchy and is somewhat unusual amongst Pugin’s works in that it is Early English rather than Decorated in style. So it has a rather plain exterior to the nave and transepts with single lancet widows but is completed by a splendid tower and spire. It is perhsps, and this is obviously influenced by what has survived, closer in style to medieval Scottish and Irish great churches than those of medieval England.

It appears, like so many Catholic churches, to have suffered wrecknovation in the 1960s - this is chronicled in part in the Wikipedia history of the cathedral which can be seen at Nottingham Cathedral and also in the reminiscences of another Nottingham raised friend who once worshipped there. The article also indicates that moves have been made in recent years, as tastes have changed, to restore some of Pugin’s work and vision for the building.

What survives of the original Pugin decorative scheme is the splendid work in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel as shown below:

Image: Wikipedia 

This new and very positive project involves removing the overpainting of the eastern chapels to reveal the decorative scheme underneath. It looks as if it will also give the opportunity for young people to be trained in conservation work, which of itself is a very good thing.

Taken alongside the continuing restoration of Pugin work at Shrewsbury Cathedral and conservation work at St Chad’s Cathedral in Birmingham this demonstrates a praiseworthy concern for great ecclesiastical art, and great Victorian art. A splendid turnaround to have seen in one’s lifetime.

The report about the work can be read at Cathedral work awarded £800,000 Lottery cash

Sunday, 2 October 2022

King Richard III 570

Today is the 570th anniversary of the birth of the future King Richard III at Fotheringhay Castle.

A reconstruction of the northern aspect of Fotheringhay Castle 


A reconstruction of Fotheringhay Castle from the south-east by Julian Rowe

Image: Richard III Society by permission of Peter Hammond

Fotheringhay Castle
A plan of the site of Fotheringhay Castle

Image: abitaboutbritain.com

The always informative site of The Tudor Travel Guide has an article which draws together material about the lay out and appearance of the castle, in particular as it would have been in 1587 when Mary Queen of Scots was beheaded there, which can be viewed at Fotheringhay Castle: The Final Dark Act of a Scottish Tragedy

It does, unfortunately, refer several times to the  capitular clergy of the collegiate church as “monks” - which, of course, they were not.

The tower and nave, all that survives, alas, of the ducally sponsored collegiate church, and where the infant Richard was probably baptised, is adjacent and dominates the landscape. However the surviving part was probably built after 1452, though certainly in Richard’s adolescence and early twenties.

Fotheringhay seems to have been a favourite place for the Duchess of York to chose to give birth, at least six of her and Duke Richard’s children were born there - Anne, Duchess of Exeter ( the ancestor of those who gave mitochondrial DNA to identify her brother when he was found in the Leicester car park ) in 1439, Margaret Duchess of Burgundy in 1446 and Richard in 1452, as well as William, Thomas and Ursula who were born in 1447, 1451, and 1455 respectively, but died who all died in infancy. The Duchess herself was to outlive all her sons, and of the four who did reach maturity only one, King Edward IV, died in his bed. His death was to spell the beginning of the process that took his brother to Bosworth.

The England into which the latest York infant was born was a troubled land. Two years earlier Jack Cades’s Kentish uprising had swarmed briefly into London before being suppressed with a belated show of force by the government. 1451 the remaining English lands in France had fallen to the armies of King Charles VII in both Normandy after the battle of Formigny and in Guienne.  Politics at home was driven by reactions to the situation in France, rival Dukes from the cadet branches of the royal family vying for power around the still childless King Henry VI. 

One of those competing players as the new born baby’s father, the Duke of York. In his eyes, and those of his supporters he was next in line to the throne after the King, yet enjoyed little of the influence he thought he should exercise. The King seemed unlikely to extend that to him, preferring the company and advice of his closer blood relatives, the Beaufort Dukes of Somerset - who may well have thought they had a claim as good, if not better than, that of York, to the throne.

The prospects for the Duke of York were not very good at Christmas 1451. His military  intervention after Cade’s rebellion by returning from Ireland had not been well received, an attempt to get him declared heir to the throne had been clearly rebuffed and his client Sir William Oldhall had been imprisoned. The Duke’s attempts to try to flex his political muscle had seemingly failed.

His son Richard was probably conceived over the Christmas holiday at Ludlow - the Duke his father was definitely at the castle there on February 3 when he set in motion by letters his latest moves against his bitter rival Somerset. That scheme, backed by his retainers no doubt, and by the Earl of Devon and Lord Cobham ended in a humiliating failure at the beginning of March at Dartford in Kent. The Earl of Devon and his sons were thereafter committed to the Lancastrian cause - a cause in which all three sons died bloody deaths.

York’s day was, of course to come in October 1460 when he was declared heir to the throne. Two months later he, his second son Edmund and several of his prominent supporters were killed at the battle of Wakefield. The Wars of the Roses had entered their boodiest phase, and although two of York’s sons were to wear the Crown, yet the actions of one of them, the son born 570 years ago brought the Yorkist edifice crashing down. Not quite a case of like father, like son but two men, said to be similar in appearance, perhaps similarly motivated to press on regardless of consequences. Consequences in the fifteenth century could be bloody, violent and fatal.

King Richard III
The earliest surviving painting, c.1520

Image: Society of Antiquaries/Wikipedia 

For a monarch who ruled for a little over two years and was defeated and killed on the battlefield - the first English king to suffer such a fate since 1066 - King Richard III remains very much in the public consciousness. It is of course try that his defeat and death brought to the throne a branch of the royal line who stamped their authority upon England and upon the emerging English-speaking world. Without King Richard destabilising the Yorkists who knows what might, or might not have happened. Without King Richard III no King Henry VII? 

The latest instance of this fascination with his brief life and reign is the publicity around the new film The Lost King. posted recently in “The Lost King” about this. In that piece I link to a lengthy and well researched article available on the Mail Online website about the veracity of the film. Yet today my algorithm sent me a very positive piece about the film from the same newspaper. It can be seen at New film tells true story of the woman who found Richard III's bones.  The debate about all aspects of the king, his reign, the man under the crown and inside the armour shows no sign of abating.

There is, I found, an excellent and succinct article about the King from The Conversation written by Professor Philippa Maddern. This was written as a response to statements made on behalf of the Richard III Society. It can be viewed at Bones of contention: why Richard III's skeleton won't change history

Saturday, 1 October 2022

Temple Bar

I came across an interesting concise history of Temple Bar in London from Look Up London on the internet. This covers the origins of the bar, its predecessors, and the Wren archway completed in 1672 and removed in 1878.

The campaign to rescue it from decay at Theobalds Park and for its re-erection on a new site north of St Pauls is one I recall as a substantive piece of conservation and restoration. Indeed I would have wished to go further and re-erect it on its original site - the Temple Bar Memorial from 1880 could have been re-located and preserved, though it is by no means a great piece of mid-Victoriana. That I, just about, concede might as a plan have been too ambitious. Nonetheless the scheme which restored Temple Bar to the City was an excellent one, and does allow people to stand back and appreciate the architecture, which its  on The Strand might not permit today.

The illustrated account can be seen at The History of Temple Bar

The article refers to the head of Col. Francis  Towneley that was displayed above the Bar after his execution in 1746. I posted about the subsequent history of his head in The problem with Uncle Frank

Friday, 30 September 2022

Sailing the Roman Mediterranean

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

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

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

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

Thirteenth century faces from Whithorn

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

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

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