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.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Woodeaton and Islip

This afternoon I went with a friend for a pleasant excursion to two villages just to the north-east of Oxford, Woodeaton and Islip. As it was warm and sunny it was especially pleasant, as well as an opportunity to catch up with him and his news.

Woodeaton is virtually an outermost suburb of Oxford but a distinct village community with a clear identity. The village is pretty and has real charm clustered around the parish church.

The church is medieval with significant remains of wall painting both figurative and red-lining, and an impressive array of Georgian woodwork. The impression is rather that of what must have once been common before Victorian restorations took place. It is largely pre-Tractarian and pre-Camden Society, and that in itself is of real interest.


The Church of Holy Rood, Woodeaton from the north


The church interior looking east

Image: Wikipedia

The church interior looking west

Image: Wikipedia

St Christopher and red-line decoration in Woodeaton Church

Image: Wikipedia


  Red-line decoration around a lancet window in the tower in Woodeaton Church

Image: Wikipedia

There is a useful account of both the village and church at Woodeaton. As an example of a small rural parish church it is an excellent example from which to illustrate or teach the evolution of the building and worship of the established church over eight or more centuries. The extensive remains of the red-lining masonry simulation is a reminder of just how skillful and competant medeival decorators were and of how brightly finished even a small rural church could be. Definitely a church well worth visiting.

We then travelled on a short distance to Islip. This is more clearly still a village in the country, and rather larger, with an impressive set of thatched houses around the church. The first thing to strike me was that same master-builder or architect built the tower of both Woodeaton and Islip churches.

Islip StNicholasTheConfessor E.JPG 

St Nicholas Church Islip

Image: Wikipedia 

The church was extensively restored in 1861, and the result is perhaps rather bland, although it does retain original features. There is more about its history at St Nicholas' Church, Islip and at Islip, Oxfordshire. The parish website has more at St Nicholas Islip./our-history/our-church-building/ The VCH Oxfordshire account of the village can be read at Islip | British History Online

The accounts cited above refer to the now lost chapel of St Edward the Confessor, the most famous son of the village, born at Islip in 1004. Demolished in the 1780s it is depicted in this eighteenth century engraving:

Image result for islip church oxford wall paintings

The Chapel of St Edward the Confessor at Islip

Image: St Nicholas Islip

In 1824 some medieval wall-paintings were uncovered in the south aisle. They included an Adoration of the Magi and a weighing of souls both of which were considered to have been painted late in the 14th century. There was also an earlier Adoration, over which the later version had been painted, and there was also a Resurrection. All the paintings, alas, were plastered over during E.G.Bruton's restoration of the St. Nicholas' in 1861. There is however in the church a watercolour showing what they looked like.

These paintings are discussed in John Edwards Some Lost Mediaeval Wall-Paintings Oxoniensia Oxfordshire Architectural and Historical Society 1990 and in J.C.B.Lowe The Lost Paintings of Islip Church Oxoniensia Oxfordshire Architectural and Historical Society 2000

In the church there are references to King Edward the Confessor and also to Archbishop Simon Islip of Canterbury.

After looking at the church in the best antiquarian tradition we repaired to the nearby pub for a drink sitting in the late afternoon sunshine before returning to Oxford for an early supper. A most enjoyable afternoon out.


Friday, 23 June 2017

Hill forts catalogued across the British Isles

The BBC News website has a report about a new and comprehensive catalogue of hill forts in the British Isles. Researchers discovered 4,147 sites across the UK and Ireland, with nearly 40% of them being found in Scotland. The illustrated story can be seen here

The Oxford Times also has a report about this, with special reference to local examples as follows:

A new online atlas of Britain’s 4,100 hillforts has been developed by academics from Oxford, Edinburgh and University College Cork. Mostly built during the Iron Age, the oldest hillforts date to 1,000BC and the most recent to 700AD. Among the local forts mapped are Thornbury, just off the Botley Road at Binsey, and Ilbury Camp, halfway between Oxford and Banbury, which was mentioned in the Domesday Book.

The expandable map can be found online at hillforts.arch.ox.ac.uk.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

What more for a boy with everything?

Today, June 21, is the feast of St Aloysius Gonzaga, the Jesuit saint in whose honour the Oxford Oratory church is dedicated. The church was built in 1875 by the Society of Jesus and the youthful St Aloysius seen a very suitable patron for a church in a University town - even if at that date in 1875 Catholics were discouraged by the hierarchy from sending their sons to Oxford, and later on when that was approved, the church was seen as being for the townspeople rather than students who were expected to go to the Chaplaincy established in the 1890s.

There is an online account of his life and sanctity at Aloysius Gonzaga and a Jesuit account from IgnatianSpirituality.com at  St. Aloysius Gonzaga, SJ (1568—1591)

St Aloysius Gonzaga in Glory
Gian Battista Tiepolo

Image: Wikipedia

This evening I attended the Mass celebrating his feast day at the Oratory. As is the custom on this day the preacher was a Jesuit, and this year the choice fell on Fr Keith McMillan SJ. His sermon drew out the extent of St Aloysius' many connections to the rich and powerful, and that when the future saint told his father he ws destined for better things than his family and its inheritance could offer that thing was indeed Heaven. That indeed was the what more for a boy with everything.

Death of King Edward III

Today is the 640th anniversary of the death at Sheen Palace on June 21 1377 of King Edward III. He was 65 and the longest lived English monarch until Queen Elizabeth I.

It is said that his mistress Alice Perrers snatched the rings from the dying kings hands when she realised what was happening. If the story is true it marks an undignified end to areign of just over fifty years and one mrked by signal victorie sin France and Scotland and was period crucial to the develiopment of English national identity. The King is buried in Westminster Abbey.

There is an online biography of the King at Edward III of England


The funeral effigy of King Edward III at Westminster Abbey

 Image: westminster-abbey.org

The King died of a stroke at Sheen Palace on 21 June 1377. A torch lit procession accompanied the coffin which first stopped at St Paul's cathedral. His funeral took place in the Abbey on 5 July and he was buried near his wife's monument in the chapel of St Edward the Confessor. His bones lie in the tomb chest

The wooden effigy, which was carried at his funeral, is preserved in the Abbey collection and the face (a plaster mask fixed to the wood, slightly distorted on the left side of the mouth) is thought to be taken from a death mask.

On his Purbeck marble tomb is a gilt bronze effigy, with long hair and beard, which is possibly by John Orchard. He wears his coronation robes and holds the handles of two sceptres (the rest being broken off). He has small buttons on his cuffs and decoration on his shoes. On the flat  tomb top are niches, some of which still hold small gilt angels. The pillow below the king's head is a replacement from 1871 (given by Queen Victoria), the original having been lost. The lion at his feet (shown in an engraving of 1677) has now gone. The inscription can be translated:

"Here is the glory of the English, the paragon of past kings, the model of future kings, a merciful king, the peace of the peoples, Edward the third fulfilling the jubilee of his reign, the unconquered leopard, powerful in war like a Maccabee.  While he lived prosperously, his realm lived again in honesty.  He ruled mighty in arms; now in Heaven let him be a king".

Originally there were bronze weepers (or statuettes) of twelve of his children round the tomb but only six of these now remain on the south side - Edward the "Black Prince", Edmund of Langley, William of Hatfield, Lionel of Antwerp, Mary of Brittany and Joan of the Tower. (Those that are now missing were to Isabel, Dame de Couci, William of Woodstock, John of Gaunt, Blanche of the Tower, Margery Countess of Pembroke and Thomas Duke of Gloucester, with their enamelled coats of arms below).

Above the tomb is an elaborate wooden tester by Hugh Herland. The arches terminate in half-angels as pendants. The soffit has a rich ribbed vault of six bays with cusping and bosses carved with human and beast-heads, many of which are missing. Four large enamelled shields (showing the cross of St George and the arms of France and England quarterly) remain on the south side of the tomb chest.

A state sword, seven feet long, was traditionally associated with this king and was kept near his tomb for many centuries. Also a shield covered with canvas and black leather, now much mutilated.

During the Great War the effigy was stored in the crypt of the Chapter House. Both effigy and tester were evacuated to a country house during the Second World War.

Tomb dimensions in metres: length 2.90. width 1.35. height 1.70.

The funeral effigy,  state sword and the shield will be on show in the new Jubilee Galleries, due to open in mid 2018.

From the Westmister Abbey website


King Edward III
The tomb effigy in Westminster Abbey

Image westminster-abbey.org


 King Edward III from the paintings in St Stephen's Chapel in the old Palace of Westminster and dated to the early 1360s

Image: royal.uk

He was succeeded by his grandson King Richard II.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

The Kingdom of Georgia

The online news service Royal Central had the following post today which is perhaps worth sharing more widely....


Georgia considering restoring the monarchy

by Oskar Aanmoen


The Republic of Georgia is considering a restoration of the monarchy and turning the nation into a parliamentarian constitutional monarchy after the same model as western European monarchies. The Georgian church also has recommended looking at the possibilities to see if this is possible.


“We could think of Georgia as the oldest monarchy in the world,” said Ilia II, who is the Patriarch of the Georgian Orthodox Church. He added that a shift to a constitutional monarchy is a long process and cannot be done in the near future. “We must analyse the past, present, and future,” said the Patriarch.

Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia Ilia II. 
Photo: David1010 via Wikimedia Commons.
Chairman of the Georgian Parliament, Irakli Kobakhidze, met with the monarchist Patriarch on Monday to discuss the possible restoration of the monarchy in the small republic which lies on the border between Europe and Asia. Parliament member and leader of the Georgian Legal Issues Committee, Eka Beselia met with the press after the meeting. He said that the Patriarch’s initiative is a notable idea, but that people need to understand the idea first.
Before meeting with the Patriarch of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Chairman of the Georgian Parliament, Irakli Kobakhidze, said that a monarchy would bring back stability to Georgian politics and the Georgian state life. In addition, other members of the parliament have spoken warmly about the restoration of the monarchy; parliament member Volski said to the press, “The monarchy would bring positive changes to Georgia.”

The Crown of Georgia. 
Photo: Fyodor Solntsev via Wikimedia Commons.
The Kingdom of Georgia, also known as the Georgian Empire, was a medieval monarchy that emerged in the year 1008 and fell in 1490. As of today, there are two pretenders to the Georgian throne. They are David Bagration Mukhrani of the Bagrationi Dynasty and Nugzar Bagration-Gruzinsky of the House of Gruzinsky. It is unclear which of the two would become King of Georgia if the monarchy was restored today.
The monarchists in Georgia today make up an enormous political group. In 2013, a survey was conducted questioning the population on their opinions of the monarchy being reinstated; then, 78.9% of the respondents favoured a monarchy over the current republic.

St Alban

Whether you observe St Alban on June 20th, which we lost with it falling on a Sunday this year, and raises the question as to why he is only a memoria given that he is the proto-martyr of Britain, or on his dies natalis of June 22nd it is worth saying that a visit to St Alban's shrine church of the Cathedral and Abbey Church of St Alban is well worth while

It is a while since I visited it but it is a deeply moving building, one that has survived the ravages of time, including partial collapses of the nave in the middle ages and partial rebuildings, of the upheavals of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, neglect, a drastic and heavy handed "restoration" in the late nineteenth century and much besides. It still has one of the richest collections of surviving medeival art in a major church, with wall paintings and sculpture of the highest quality. Its survival at all is almost miraculous, and in that time honoured cliche it is a sermon in stone not only of English church history but also an eloquent one of the survival of the Church amidst all that the world can do to it.

There is an online account of its history at St Albans Cathedral and the informative cathedral website can be seen at  The Cathedral and Abbey Church of Saint Alban

Today the restored shrine base is the focus of prayer and devotion to St Alban, even if his relics are lost, or possibly in part in Germany.

Related image

The restored Shrine of St Alban

Image: Wikiwand

A reconstruction of the Abbey and its buildings on the eve of the dissolution
A painting by Joan Freeman

Image: Wikipedia


The abbey before Lord Grimsthorpe's "restoration"

Image: Herts Memories

Lord Grimsthorpe's drastic restoration campaign did save the building from collapse and his west front is more impressive than its predecessor, and probably what at least of the type at least one medieval abbot intended. Other changes to the main windows of the transepts, the re-roofing and the addition of buttresses cutting through medieval work are more than questionable, as is the loss of the " Hertfordshire spike" from the tower.

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The south wall of the nave built partly of reused Roman brick from Verulamium and local flint. The early fourteenth century cloister arcading is brutally cut by Lord Grimsthorpe's nineteenth century buttresses.

Image: vidimus.org

St Albans had agreat tradition of  chronicle writing in the middle ages, and is best known for the work of matthew paris in the thirteenth century and Thomas Walsingham in the later fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries.

As someone who already knew the abbey I was interested to find in my research on Bishop Richard Fleming a link. Like all self-respecting medieval Bishops of Lincoln - in whose diocese the abbey lay but with its autonomy protected by a series of Papal privileges - and with an Abbot qually keen, indeed obliged,  to uphold the status of his house as an anney nullius there was the inevitable clash of jurisdictions and furious exchanges of letters in the 1420s. This afforded a great insight into the exempt status of the abbey both then and throughout its history. It was fascinating to see how the monastic Archdeaconry of St Albans, transferred to the diocese of London from that of Lincoln in 1550 survived until the mid-nineteenth century, only being reconfigured in 1845 and close to the foundation of the modern diocese. There is something of its history at Archdeacon of St Albans

Humphrey Duke of Gloucester sponsored by St Alban before the Blessed Sacrament and Christ as the Man of Sorrows circa 1430-40


There is perhaps something of an irony that Humphrey Duke of Gloucester, a great patron of the abbey and is buried there, was to be Bishop  Fleming's principal adversary in the conflict over Fleming's failure to become Archbishop of York in 1424-6. The St Albans factor may have added to the attendant disharmony.

St Alban pray for us

Monday, 19 June 2017

Emperor Maximilian of Mexico

150 years ago today the Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico and two of his generals Miguel Miramón and Tomás Mejía were shot by firing squad at Santiago de Querétaro in central Mexico. Their deaths took place in the Cerro de las Campanas  - the Hill of the Bells.

I recently read a story, and which I am not sure if it is true, about an exchange between the Emperor and General Miramón just before they were shot. The Emperor asked if it would be painful. The General replied "I don't know. It's the first time for me too." 

In 1900 diplomatic relations were restored between Austria and Mexico and in 1901 Emperor Francis Joseph paid for a chapel to be erected on the site of his brother's death. There are accounts of that chapel and of the site at Maximilian's memorial at El Cerro de las Campanas and at Emperor Maximilian Memorial Chapel

There are not a few depictions in art and commemorative images, often inaccurate, as well as in photographs of the death of the Emperor and his comapnions, and Édouard Manet painted a series of five pictures of the event, indicative of the impact on public consciousness at the time.

The most certain is this photograph:


The Emperor was shot first, and the two Generals last words were "Viva el Emperador!"

General Mejia is on the left, General Miramón in the centre, the Emperor on the right

Image: Wikipedia

In 1868 the body of the Emperor was returned to Austria and burie din the Imperial vault in the Capuchin church in Vienna.


Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico

One of many images of what was hoped to be


There are a number of biographies of the Emperor and an online one at Maximilian I of Mexico

There is a useful illustrated piece about his relationship with his brother the Emperor Francis Joseph and the divisive matter of the family pact removing Maximilian and his possible heirs from the Austrian succession here.

A monarch of liberal intentions, who was perhaps naive in many ways, and unaware of the vicious and factious nature of Mexican politics he remains a tragic and sad figure.

Inspired with German medievalist Romanticism he lived out achivalric code in a situation that was conducted by anything but that. This can be seen in his refusal to escape, or to countenace shaving off his whiskers to disguise himself as detailed in the account of his life linked to above.

He and his consort are interesting in the number of images that were created in a short perios of him and his Empress Charlotte/Carlota - they had clearly embraced the new technologies as well as traditional paintings to celebrate the monarchical image.

I have posted earlier in the year about Empress Carlota on the anniversary of her death. 

Interest in this brief episode in the history of Mexico remains strong - the Emperor is far better known than the previous Mexican Emperor Agustin I in the 1820s, and his monarchy far better known than that of Brazil which was much more successful and survived from the 1820s to 1888/89.

In having him shot Juarez made Maximilian a martyr - and that was a political mistake. As Joan Haslip points out in her life of him Imperial Adventurer a failed Emperor ejected from Mexico and living out a shadowy exile on the fringes of the Austro-Hungarian court was little threat to Juarez and his successors and would have slipped from public consciousness. The firing squad on the Hill of Bells made the Emperor and his Generals world famous and martyrs for a cause.

With the second, and as with the first, Mexican Empire there is an element of what might-have-been. Had either prospered it is possible that Mexico might have had a less violent and troubled two centuries and that the type of reformist traditionalism Emperor Maximilian embodied and offered would have served it better than so many of the regimes it has witnessed.

Being childless the Emperor had adopted two of the grandsons of the previous Emperor Agustin I of the house of Iturbide as heirs. According to biographers what he really wanted was one of his brother Archduke Karl Ludwig's sons to succeed him - which might indeed have led to avery different fate for Archduke Franz Ferdinand or Archduke Otto and his son Bl.Charles of Austria.

As events turned out it was the Iturbides who inherited what was left of Emperor Maximilian's claim. Their history can be read in The Iturbide Dynasty Genealogy and at House of Iturbide.

The first inheritor of that claim was Agustín de Iturbide y Green, the de jure Emperor Agustin II who became an academic at Georgetown and died 1925. There is more about him at Georgetown University's Imperial Prince 

From him the claim passed to the daughter and then the two grandaughters of his cousin. So technically there were three Empresses of Mexico  - Maria I 1925-49, Maria II 1949-62, and Maria III 1962-99  - and currently there is the son of the last named the titualr Emperor Maximilian II based in Australia.


  Arms of the House of Iturbide granted by Emperor Maximilian I in 1865

Image: Wikipedia

Emperor Maximilian and his Empress were never actually crowned and the actual crown itself was destroyed as is mentioned in Imperial Crown of Mexico but replicas do survive:


Replica of the Imperial Crown of Mexico
Made for the obsequies of Emperor Maximilian I in Vienna and now in the Imperial Furniture collection

Image: Wikipedia


Arms of the Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico

Image: Wikipedia