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, 15 July 2017

Waiting and watching for the King and Queen of Spain

Yesterday on the last day of their State Visit to the UK the King and Queen of Spain visited Oxford.

Having found out roughly the times of their arrival I got to the area by the steps to the Sheldonian theatre in good time. I was joined early on by several other "royal-watchers"and a Spanish family whose bespectacled teenage son had arrived complete with his own red and yellow flag to wave. The crowd built up  and the great and the good as well as officials and schoolchildren arrived, and in their case were provided with Spanish flags to wave by people from the Embassy. Some Spanish women near me hailed those distributing them across the road for flags which were duly provided.

Escorted by motorcyle outriders the car from the Royal mews glided to a halt just opposite me - and was a sight in itselfas it gleamed in the sun. The King and Queen alighted and immediately made for the welcoming group of children before visiting the Weston Library.

The King and Queen of Spain with schoolchildren outside the Weston Library

Image: ox.ac.uk

At that point I had to go and give a guided tour to some customers, but realised from the crowd still hanging around the entrance to Exeter College on the Broad that the visitors had not yet arrived there. At this point I ran into a friend and told him what was happening and we took station in the middle of the Broad by the motorcycles and their riders and the series of people-carriers, emblazoned appropriately with the Union or Spanish flag, for the suites in attendance.

The King and Queen walked from the lunch in the Divinity School along to Exeter College - the centre in many ways of Spanish studies in Oxford - for a reception with Hispanic academics and students and stopped to talk to well-wishers at the gate. Here I spotted the Spanish teenager with his flag whom I had seen earlier. His patience - and evident loyalty - was rewarded by a conversation with the King. We waited, talking at one point to one of the Police motorcyclists as he topped up the polish on his machine, until the Royal party re-emerged in their car to travel followed by the accompanying households to fly back to Spain from RAF Brize Norton. I joined in with the shouts of " Viva El Rey!"

The Oxford University website has an account of Their Majesties visit and also puts it in the wider historical and cultural context and can be viewed at  King and Queen of Spain visit Oxford 

Search ResultKing and Queen of Spain visit Oxford 

ITV News has film of the visit to the Weston Library and of the King and Queen at Exeter College accessible at King and Queen of Spain delight school children during visit to Oxford ...

I did have a real sense of witnessing history in the persons of the Spanish monarchs and not just of another page turning in the history of Oxford. Here were a very professional King and Queen, obviously relaxed and very approachable, but with immense dignity and firmness of purpose - and, yes, they do look just like their photographs...

Mind you, all that standing and waiting did not do much good for my rheumatic joints - but it was well worth it!

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Fr Richard Duffield's Silver Jubilee

Yesterday was the Silver Jubilee of the Ordination to the Priesthood of Fr Richard Duffield Cong.Orat., who now presides over the York Oratory-in-formation.

I have copied this post from the Oratory website


11th July, the feast of St Benedict, was the Silver Jubilee of Fr Richard Duffield's priesthood. Fr Richard was ordained in our church twenty-five years ago by Bishop Terence Brain.
Fr Richard celebrated the six o'clock Mass on the day of his anniversary.




After Mass, there was a celebration in the Parish Centre, when many of our parishioners congratulated Fr Richard:


Fr Richard made a speech:




Images and text: Oxford Oratory

Fr Richard is a York man, and some years ago I realised that he was once the toddler I recalled in his father's wonderful bookshop in the city when as ateenager I went in on book-buying trips with my mother on our regular visits to York. Small world.


Monday, 10 July 2017

Tally sticks

The BBC News online website has an article about medieval tally sticks and similar means of recording money transfers which is of interest to those with a sense of the past, both in terms of the course of the Exchequer and the fate of the old Palace of Westminster. It can be read at

What tally sticks tell us about how money works
Medieval tally sticks illustrate what money really is: a kind of debt that can be traded freely.

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Royal Palaces of the Hundred Years War

History Extra has an illustrated article on Royal palaces of the Hundred Years’ War which is of interest and links in with other posts I have written, such as those on the Très Riches Heures of the Duke of Berry and castles such as Vincennes.

The article is introduced as follows: Made famous in popular history by the battle of Agincourt, Joan of Arc and Edward the Black Prince, the Hundred Years' War was an epic conflict between two nations, England and France. As Anthony Emery explains, over the course of the war the balance of architectural power moved from religious to secular domination; the Gothic style of architecture continued to develop and the palace-fortress became the pre-eminent form of a residence. Read the full story here.

I think it does bring out the point that these really were palace-fortresses, and not just stark military establishments, in what was an age of royal and aristocratic luxurious living.

Friday, 7 July 2017

The hidden depths of the medieval church

I found this piece online and thought it might be worth sharing. It is from History Extra and looks at the question  How naughty was the past? The hidden depths of the medieval church

Hidden messages and tongue-in-cheek depictions were widespread throughout medieval churches. But was the medieval world simply rife with satire or did these etchings and carvings hold deeper meanings? Here, Dr Emma J. Wells from the University of York explores seven of the most curious examples… Read the full story here

In my humble opinion, human nature does not change...

Thursday, 6 July 2017


There is an article on the Daily Telegraph online website about the degree of fitness that was required for a medieval jouster, and comparing it with that of modern athletes.

It can be read in two versions at Study reveals jousters are as fit as today's top athletes and at What it takes to be a jouster, the fittest sportsman of them all

It confirms what I have always suspected, that the men who competed in the lists, Kings and princes, aristocrats and knights, were physically very fit indeed. That it was in part training for warfare - just as modern equestrian sports derive from military training in more recent centuries for the cavalry - as indeed was hunting, is true, but, as with the chase, some practitioners were keener and more committed than others, and may well have spent a great deal of time training and keeping physically fit. It was not a hobby you could just indulge in without considerable, and expensive, preparation.

King Henry IV was a noted jouster in the 1390s and McNiven argues in a well-known article which seeks to give an analysis of the King's health, and its decline from fairly soon after his accession, that the King may have suffered from being unable to maintain his customary level of fitness but put on weight and that like some modern athletes suffered health problems as a consequence of his enforced idleness of retirement from physical competition.

It has also been suggested that King Henry VIII's last years were shaped in part by the consequences of injuries he had received  in the lists or conditions which developed as a result of jousting. Robert Hutchinson has written about this in The Last Days of Henry VIII:Conspiracies, Treason, and Heresy at the Court of the Dying Tyrant

That said, of course, both these English Kings came off better that King Henri II of France who died as a result of a joust in 1559. No amount of fitness can prepare you for something like his fate.

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Avebury reappraised

The Daily Telegraph has an online report about the latest siscoveries at the great prehistoric site at Avebury in Wiltshire.

Entitled  Avebury stone circle was once a ‘weird’ square, archaeologists find it is one of the greatest marvels of prehistoric Britain, the largest stone circle in Europe and a sacred meeting place for its creators and their successors and appears to be aligned with the stars. Read the full story