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, 10 February 2017

Kirk O’ Field 450 years on

450 years ago today at about 2am an explosion at the house at  Kirk O’ Field on what were then the outskirts of Edinburgh - the site is now occupied by the main quadrangle of Edinburgh University - apparently killed the 21 year old King Consort Henry, better known to history as Lord Darnley, together with his servant. Further examination showed that they had in fact been strangled, probably whilst seeking to flee the planned explosion.

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 Henry Darnley aged 17 in 1563


There is an online account of his life at Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley and the excellent biography by Elaine Finnie Greig in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Stewart, Henry, duke of Albany [Lord Darnley] (1545/6–1567)’, (2004) can  be read at here

I have extensively adapted, corrected and supplemented a post from the website Royal Central about Lord Darnley, as he is best known. It was written by Peter Anderson:

Around 2:00 am on the 10th February 1567 the area around Kirk O’ Field in Scotland was rocked by two large explosions. Following them, two people were found dead in a nearby orchard. One was Lord Darnley, and the other his valet.

Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley was born in Temple Newsham in the West Riding of Yorkshire in 1545 the son of Matthew Stewart, Earl of Lennox and his wife Margaret (nee Douglas). Brought up a Roman Catholic, he had claims to the thrones of both England and Scotland through his parents. Matthew had been third in line to the Scottish throne. However, having sided with the English at the time of the Rough Wooing - the attempt to marry King Edward VI to the infant Mary, Queen of Scots he fled to England. Margaret was the daughter of Margaret Tudor, one of the sisters of Henry VIII, who married, as widow of King James IV and mother of King James V, Archibald Douglas.

What I had not realised was how much Darnley can be accounted a Yorkshireman, not only being born at Temple Newsham but apparently brought up there or at Settrington in the East Riding until he travelled to France in 1559.

He received a very good education, and in 1559 he was sent to the French court where his cousin Mary, Queen of Scots who had married the Dauphin Francis had become Queen Consort of France following the death of King Henry II. Though Mary became Queen of Scotland, she had ruled through regents as she was only seven days old when her father died. Her husband  King Francis I and II died in 1560, and she returned to the Scottish Court.

Some five years later, in mid-February 1565, Henry was presented to Mary at Wemyss Castle. Contemporary accounts detail Mary’s pleasure at the sight of Henry, and they were married July 29th  in Mary’s private chapel in Holyrood. However, he was leaning towards Protestantism in his faith and did not accompany his wife to Mass after the wedding.


Queen Mary I and King Henry of Scots 1565

Image:Art Fund/ Hunterian Museum Glasgow

After the wedding, Mary soon saw a different side to Henry, one that was disruptive at court sometimes due to drinking. Though the Scottish Parliament had consented to the couple ruling together, Mary would not give Henry the right of Crown Matrimonial, so in the event of her death, he would continue to rule solely as King. In addition to his displeasure over this, Henry also did not like the attention paid to his wife by her private secretary, David Rizzio. Mary had become pregnant, and there was a little question of who the father may be.

Seven months into the pregnancy, Rizzio has knifed and killed in front of Mary, by confederates of Henry who then fled to England, though Henry protested his innocence. Mary gave birth to a child christened Henry James; later he would become James VI of Scotland and then James I of England. Following the birth, it appeared the couple were heading for reconciliation, despite Henry’s continued insistence of wanting the Crown Matrimonial.

Henry was murdered eight months after the birth of his son. Weeks before he had been ill with smallpox and was recuperating with his relatives. However, Mary brought him to be near her at Kirk O’ Field, a two-storey provost’s house fairly close to her residense at Holyrood.

Mary was implicated in his death, rightly or wrongly , married the Earl of Bothwell who was thought to be one of its masterminds, deposed, imprisoned, escaped and and fled to England - and so her extrordinary and tragic life took its course to the block at Fotheringhay.

The scene at Kirk O'Field - a contemporary drawing done for William Cecil, Queen Elizabeth I's Secretary of State

Image: Wikipedia 

The Daily Telegraph last August had a report on the identification of his skull and a facial reconstruction based upon it which can be read in  Face of Lord Darnley revealed - Mary Queen of Scots' 'lusty and well proportioned' husband


Henry Lord Darnley in 1560

Image: Daily Mail

Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley

The figure of King Henry from the tomb of his mother the Countess of Lennox in Westminster Abbey 

Image: Westminster-Abbey.org 



The painting is in Quuen Mary's Outer Chamber at Holyroodhouse and is part of the Royal Collection. Their website says of the painting:

This painting was commissioned by Darnley’s parents, the Earl and Countess of Lennox, who kneel beside the tomb of their son, with their grandson, the future James VI and I in front of them and Darnley’s brother, Charles Stewart, behind them.

On the tomb are two reliefs, one showing the murder of Darnley and his page as they are dragged from their beds. The other, showing their bodies lying in the garden. In the corner is an inset picture of the encounter at Carberry Hill (15 June 1567); Mary is seen surrendering to the insurgent lords, supporters of the Lennox family. In the distance Bothwell can be seen riding from the field according to the terms of the Queen’s surrender. He fled to Denmark where he was imprisoned and later died.

This picture should be read as a damning indictment of the part played by Mary, Queen of Scots, in the murder of her husband and of her association with the Earl of Bothwell and as a cry for vengeance on Darnley’s murderers. The meaning is driven home by the succession of inscriptions, some of them now illegible. The section referring to Mary’s part in Lord Darnley’s murder may have been erased by her son, James VI.

Indistinctly signed: Livinus Voghelarius...
Presented to Queen Caroline

Thursday, 9 February 2017

The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Emeritus at the Oxford Oratory

As I arrived this morning to do my shift as porter in the Oxford Oratory bookshop I encountered in the forecourt one of the Fathers in cassock and white stole blessing a parishioner's cat before it went for a vetinary examination .... so just a normal day at the Oratory I thought. Well no, it was n't, and not for feline reasons.

One of my volunteer colleagues told me that the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Emeritus was coming to celebrate a Mass later in the morning. Due to some misunderstanding the celebration had been transferred at short notice to the Oratory from the chapel of Exeter College.

So later in the morning I was able to take some time off from my shift and to witness His Beatitude Fouad Twal, successor of St James the Brother of Our Lord, celebrate Mass in the church.

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 Patriarch Emeritus Fouad Twal
 Image: Zenit

His homily made the eloquent and telling point that his was very much the church of Calvary. He spoke of the problems facing Palestinian Christians and the need for dialogue. He also spoke of their schools and hospitals, which are open to all and of the need to care for refugees.

His community is distributed between Cyprus, Israel, Palestine and Jordan, and he urged his hearers to visit and speak to the Christians of the Patriarchate. They are 2%, possibly 3%, of the population in Jordan, where there is stability.

His Beatitude is in Oxford to take part in a debate on religious liberty at the Oxford Union tonight. There is an online biography of him at Fouad Twal

With the risk of some slight repetition  and as it gives more details of his homily I have copied the more detailed account of the Patriarch Emeritus's visit from the Oxford Oratory website as follows:

Today we were delighted to welcome the Latin Patriarch Emeritus of Jerusalem, Fouad Twal. His Beatitude is visiting Oxford to take part in a debate at the Oxford Union on the interplay between religious freedom and civil liberties.

As part of his visit, his Beatitude celebrated a votive Mass for persecuted Christians in our Church.


In his sermon, the Patriarch explained that the Church of Jerusalem is and always has been the Church of Calvary. As the whole Church was founded when Christ's side was pierced on Calvary, so the Church of Jerusalem came into being. Calvary is physically within the territory of the Church of Jerusalem, and the suffering experienced by Christ on Calvary has been a characteristic of that church's members to the present day.

There are currently 10,000 Christians living in Jerusalem, who are very much a minority. The Patriarchate is responsible for a diocese spanning four states: Israel, Palestine, Jordan and Cyprus. Across those areas, the Church runs schools that serve 75,000 students, and 11 hospitals in Jerusalem alone. Despite being very much a minority in Jerusalem, Christians are able to provide a strong witness of their love of neighbour, and in some areas the Church flourishes. His Beatitude gave the example of the Church in Jordan, where numbers of young Christians are so strong that he advised arriving an hour early for Mass in order to get into the church.

As a result of persecutions, many Christians are leaving the Holy Land. The Patriarch asked our continued prayers for the Church in these parts, but added that a very practical way of supporting persecuted Christians is to visit Jerusalem as pilgrims and tell others what we have seen. He ended by expressing his trust in Our Lord's promise, ‘I am with you always’ (Mt 28:20).


Images and text: Oxford Oratory

Otherwise perhaps it was an ordinary day at the Oxford Oratory...

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

History’s most surprising statistics


This article was first published in the February 2014 issue of BBC History Magazine and turned up in one of my online in-boxes today. I think it is worth sharing with my readers as the statistics quoted are often surprising, striking or shocking...

Think that numbers should be left to accountants? Then think again. The humble statistic can give lovers of history valuable, fascinating and preconception-busting insights into the huge changes that have swept through the world over the centuries. With this in mind, we’ve asked eight historians to share some surprising statistics from their fields of expertise – from the Roman empire to the Second World War…

4:  The number of years' wages that a pound of wool – twice dyed in best quality Tyrian purple – would cost a Roman soldier during the first century AD

Since c1500 BC, purple – a dye produced from the gland secretions of types of shellfish – was the colour of kings, priests, magistrates and emperors, with the highest quality dye originating in Tyre, in ancient Phoenicia (now modern Lebanon).

Its cost was phenomenal. In the first century AD, a pound of wool, twice dyed in best quality Tyrian purple, cost around 1,000 denarii – more than four times the annual wage of a Roman soldier. The AD 301 Edict of Diocletian (also know as the Edict of Maximum Prices), which attempted to control runaway inflation in the empire, lists the most expensive dyed silk as costing 150,000 denarii per pound! Meanwhile the, admittedly satirical, poet Martial claimed that a praetor’s purple cloak actually cost 100 times more than a soldier’s pay.

The reasons behind the astronomical cost lie in the obtaining of the dye itself. This procedure involved a lengthy process of fishing – using wicker traps primed with bait – followed by the extraction of minute quantities of the dye by a long, laborious and smelly process from thousands of shellfish. Pliny the Elder explained the process and gave production statistics which indicate the vast number of shells required. Pliny stated that if a mollusc gland weighed a gram (in modern weights), more than 3.5m molluscs would produce just 500 pounds of dye.

Pliny the Elder was not exaggerating. In modern times, Tyrian purple has been recreated, at great expense. When the German chemist Paul Friedander tried to recreate the colour in 1909, he needed 12,000 molluscs to produce just 1.4 ounces of dye, enough to colour a handkerchief. In 2000, a gram of Tyrian purple, made from 10,000 molluscs according to the original formula, cost 2,000 euros.

Peter Jones is author of Veni, Vidi, Vici (Atlantic Books, 2013)

10 million :  The number of fleeces exported annually from England by c1300

England has often been referred to as the Australia of the Middle Ages, a reference to its booming wool trade (something that Australia experienced in the 19th century). By the 14th century, English farmers had developed breeds of sheep that produced fleeces of varying weight and quality, some of which were among the best in Europe.

English wool was widely sought after by the cloth-makers of Flanders and Italy who needed fine wool to produce the rich scarlet cloths worn by kings, nobles and bishops. The 14th century had seen a huge growth in the cloth trade, particularly in Ypres, Ghent and Bruges.

To keep up with the high demand, English wool producers expanded their flocks, often going to great trouble to keep them from harm. Many kept their sheep on hill pastures during the summer, moving them to sheltered valleys in the winter. Others built sheep houses or sheepcotes where the animals could shelter in the worst weather and where food, such as peas in straw, was kept.

It is often assumed that monasteries such as Fountains Abbey in North Yorkshire, which kept thousands of sheep, met Europe’s increasing demand for wool, but in fact the combined flocks of peasants, each of whom kept 30–50 animals, outnumbered those of the great estates. To gather the fleeces of these scattered flocks needed organisation – a role that was filled by entrepreneurs, woolmen or woolmongers who bought the wool and sent it to the ports. Some of the big producers – monasteries and lay landlords – often acted as middlemen, collecting the local peasant wool and sending it with their own.

Finances, too, were complicated, and there was much use of credit during the period. An Italian or Flemish merchant would often advance money to a producer, such as a monastery, on the condition that he would buy their wool, sometimes quite cheaply. These contracts usually stretched into the future, so that a monastery might have sold its wool four years in advance.

Chris Dyer is Emeritus Professor of Regional and Local History at the University of Leicester

25 :  The percentage of English men believed to have served in arms for King or Parliament at one time or another during the Civil War

The Civil War of the 17th century saw huge numbers of men leave their towns and villages to go and fight, as England, Scotland and Ireland were torn apart by the bitter conflict between the crown and parliament. The historian Charles Carlton has calculated that, proportionately, more of the English population died in the Civil War than in the First World War, and some 25 per cent of English men are thought to have served in arms for king or parliament at one time or another.

The village of Myddle in Shropshire is the only parish in England for which we know exactly how many people went to war. This is thanks to the writings of yeoman Richard Gough, whose History of Myddle, written between 1700 and 1706, tells us that “out of these three towns – that’s to say the hamlets of Myddle parish – of Myddle, Marton and Newton, there went no less than 20 men, of which number 13 were killed in the wars...”

Gough then proceeds to name the Myddle men who went to fight, along with their occupations and whether they lived or died. “Richard Chalenor of Myddle”, he writes, “being a big lad went to Shrewsbury and there listed, and went to Edgehill Fight which was on October 23rd 1642, and was never heard of afterwards in this country...”

The experience of Myddle in the Civil War is by no means unique: it is remarkable simply for the information recorded by Gough. What’s more, his description of one John Mould – who “was shot through the leg with a musket bullet which broke the master bone of his leg” so that it remained “very crooked as long as he lived” – reminds us that, just as in modern wars, huge numbers of men returned to their daily lives physically scarred by the events of the Civil War.

In the wake of the conflict, parliament, which was now in power, provided pensions for wounded parliamentarian soldiers, but offered nothing for those who had fought for the king. In 1660, however, when the monarchy was restored in the form of Charles II, the situation was turned on its head and injured royalists received financial help. Others had to rely on the assistance of their charitable neighbours.

Gough’s writings give historians a wonderful insight into the lives of ordinary soldiers in an era that is so often recorded by the gentry alone. And, to quote Gough himself, who was a young boy during the Civil War: “If so many died out of these three [hamlets], we may reasonably guess that many thousands died in England in that war.” Gough’s History of Myddle is a fitting tribute to those men.

Professor Mark Stoyle is author of  The Black Legend of Prince Rupert’s Dog: Witchcraft and Propaganda during the English Civil War (Exeter, 2011)

6: The life expectancy in weeks for newly arrived horses in South Africa during the Anglo-Boer War

Horses played an essential role in the Anglo-Boer War (1899–1902), but paid a terrible price: of the 518,704 horses and 150,781 mules and donkeys sent to British forces in South Africa during the conflict, around two thirds (347,007 horses, 53,339 mules and donkeys) never made it home.

At the start of the war, British units travelled from a northern hemisphere winter to a South African summer, meaning that cavalry horses still had their winter coats and suffered severely from the heat. What’s more, the animals endured a long sea voyage of up to six weeks before they even reached South Africa. On arrival, horses were often given no time to recover from the voyage or acclimatise to South African conditions; instead they were rushed into action right away. What’s more, some 13,144 horses and 2,816 mules and donkeys were lost on the outward voyage.

The constant demand for fresh animals meant that additional horses had to be imported but, in contrast to the ponies of the Boers, these imported horses could not eat South African foliage. It proved almost impossible to provide enough food for the animals, especially as Boer guerrillas constantly attacked British supply lines.

After the war, cavalry officer Michael Rimington recalled that the process of bringing animals to the front was “thirty days’ voyage, followed by a five or six days’ railway journey, then semi-starvation at the end of a line of communication, then some quick work followed by two or three days’ total starvation, then more work...”. Ignorance in horse care did not help either: one newly arrived soldier asked Rimington whether he should feed his horse beef or mutton, and the animals were often ridden until they simply collapsed. Little surprise, then, that the average life expectancy of a newly arrived horse in South Africa was just six weeks.

Dr Spencer Jones is author of  Stemming the Tide: Officers and Leadership in the British Expeditionary Force 1914 (Helion and Co, 2013)

$1,000 :  The price per ounce that the US government was paying for penicillin in 1943

In 1940, a team of scientists, led by pharmacologist Howard Florey, discovered the means of extracting penicillin from the very dilute solution produced by penicillium mould. After proving that the substance could cure infections in mice, the Oxford team tested penicillin on human patients – with remarkable results.

But despite taking a small sample of the mould to America and discussing production methods with the US government laboratory and several US companies, by 1943, penicillin was being produced at scarcely more than the laboratory scale previously seen at Oxford.

After testing the substance on patients, the US government purchased penicillin from its manufacturers at a price of $200 for a million units. This was equivalent to $1,000 an ounce at a time when gold cost just $35 an ounce.

The big breakthrough for the drug came with developments in manufacturing techniques, which saw pharmaceutical companies such as Pfizer producing penicillin on a massive scale in huge vats. This meant that a single tank of 10,000 gallons could produce the equivalent amount of penicillin as would fill 60,000–70,000 two-litre bottles. The impact of this engineering triumph was intensified by the discovery in 1943 of a new strain of penicillium mould that was much more suitable for growing in the deep vats than the original British strain. This new strain was first found on a melon in Peoria, Illinois, by a technician who later came to be known as Moldy Mary.

By 1945, the American pharmaceutical company Merck was selling penicillin at $6,000 per billion units at a time when penicillin in Europe was still scarce. Three years later, the price had halved and Procaine penicillin, which was metabolised more slowly (meaning fewer injections), had been introduced.

Although two large processing plants were built in Britain after the Second World War, demand for penicillin was so great and so unexpected that its cost – and that of other new drugs including streptomycin and cortisone – forced the new NHS to charge for medicines.

Robert Bud is Keeper of Science and Medicine at the Science Museum, London

17 :  The number of women candidates who stood for election to parliament in 1918

Thousands of women during the Edwardian era became politicised during the campaign for the parliamentary vote, so at first glance it may seem surprising that only 17 women stood for election in 1918 – the first in which women could participate in the representative process, both as voters and as parliamentary candidates.

The Representation of the People Act, which received Royal Assent on 6 February 1918, was unclear as to whether women could stand as parliamentary candidates and opinions on the issue were divided. When the coalition government rushed through the Parliament (Qualification of Women) Bill, which became law on 21 November 1918, a general election for 14 December had already been announced, with 4 December given as the date when nominations for parliamentary candidates had to be received. This gave women who wished to stand for election just three weeks in which to find a seat, enter a nomination, choose an election agent, draw up election policy, secure the support of unpaid helpers, raise funds, organise meetings and publicity – and, perhaps most importantly of all, decide whether they would stand as an independent or seek the nomination of one of the main, male-oriented political parties of the day: Conservative, Liberal or Labour.

Of the 17 women who stood as parliamentary candidates contesting 706 seats, only nine were adopted by the three main political parties. Christabel Pankhurst was the most well-known, but she stood for the Women’s Party, an organisation that she and her mother had founded in 1917. Christabel was the only woman candidate to receive the support of the coalition government, but lost out to her Labour rival by just 775 votes.

Only one woman was elected to parliament in 1918 – Constance Markievicz. But, as a member of Sinn Fein, she refused to swear allegiance to the British crown and never took her seat in the Commons.

June Purvis is Professor of Women’s and Gender history at the University of Portsmouth

500,000 :  The estimated number of German civilian deaths from strategic bombing during the Second World War

The Blitz was the biggest thing to happen to Britain during the Second World War, and in many ways has come to define the whole of Britain’s experience of war on the home front. But what many people tend to overlook is that, inflicting 50,000 deaths, strategic bombings on Britain by German aircraft killed around a tenth of the number of those who died in similar attacks on Germany. Many of these attacks were carried out by Britain’s Bomber Command, which itself lost some 50,000 crew in the conflict.

The story of Britain during the Second World War needs to be less fixated on the Blitz, and recognise that Britain was itself the perpetrator of far heavier bombing raids on Germany. This was not an aberration, or a response to the Blitz, but rather a long-standing policy of the British state to use machines to wreck the German war economy.

David Edgerton is Professor of Modern British History at King’s College London

1,138 :  The number of London children recorded as dying of “teeth” in 1685

This statistic is taken from a 1685 London Bill of Mortality, which listed causes of death in London parishes. Poor women called ‘searchers’ were responsible for collecting the data; they were paid small sums to knock on doors to find out causes of death. Searchers were widely feared because they were associated with infection.

The diseases listed are bizarre: they include things like “frighted”, “suddenly” and “teeth”. The latter was short for “the breeding of teeth” – or teething as we would know it today. It was considered a major cause of infant disease and death in the early modern period: in 1664 the physician J.S. declared that teething “is alwayes dangerous by reason of the grievous Symptomes it produces, as Convulsions, Feavers, and other evils”.

But how did teething cause disease? It was believed that living beings were made up of special substances called humours, which contained different amounts of heat and moisture. When the humours were balanced, the body was healthy, but when they became imbalanced, disease resulted. Teething was dangerous because it caused “sharp Pain like the pricking of needles”, which in turn generated “great heat”, and heat brought diseases caused by hot humours, such as fevers. In childhood, bodies were especially warm; ageing was deemed a cooling process. Thus, any extra warmth in children was believed to spell trouble health-wise.

Doctors and parents went to great lengths to mitigate the hazards of teething. The most popular treatment was to “annoint the gummes with the braynes of a hare”. The midwifery expert François Mauriceau suggested giving children “a little stick of Liquorish to chomp on”, or “a Silver Coral, furnish’d with small Bells”, to “divert the Child from the Pain”. More extreme measures included cutting the gums with a lancet, or hanging a “Viper’s Tooth about the child’s Neck”, which by a “certayne hidden propertie, have vertue to ease the payne”.

Dr Hannah Newton is author of The Sick Child in Early Modern England, 1580–1720 (Oxford University Press, 2012)

Monday, 6 February 2017

The Prince of Monaco at the Oxford Union

This afternoon I went to hear the address to the Oxford Union by the Prince of Monaco.


HSH Prince Albert II of Monaco

Image: Wikipedia

Like members of other Royal houses Prince Albert II has consistently drawn attention to environmental issues, used his influence to develop responses to the problems facing the world community and sought to make his Principality a model of how to address these issues - which maybe easier in a territory as small as Monaco than others, but it is showing the way. In that he and other such royal advocates of giving these matters serious attention show one of the many advantages afforded by the longer perspective a monarch or dynasty can have than polititians worrying about the next election.

He began, and this was the most telling part of his speech I thought, by giving examples of change to the environment since he was born in 1958. These were sobering statistics about population growth, climate change, pollution and species decline.

However he had a positive theme, addressing young people on what we as individuals and as societies can do to respond to such changes, and detailing what he had initiated in Monaco and encouraged elsewhere.

Incidental to his important topic but something which was striking was to hear a European Prince speak with an American accent. Now everyone knows that Princess Grace was from the US so that would be in a very real sense his mother tongue, but I somehow expected a slightly Francophone English from HSH!

Great coat of arms of the house of Grimaldi.svg

Arms of HSH The Prince of Monaco


Sapphire Jubilee

Today is the sixty-fifth anniversary of the accession of Her Majesty The Queen, and has been termed the Sapphire Jubilee.

The only other monarchs to celebrate a Sapphire Jubilee are King Louis XIV of France, who reigned for 72 years (the longest reign in European history); Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria, who reigned for very nearly 68 years; Prince Johann II of Lichtenstein, who reigned for 70 years; and the recently-deceased King Bhumibol of Thailand, who reigned for 70 years.

In addition amongst exiled or claimant monarchs there are the King of Romania 1927-30 and since 1940, and Emperor-King Otto of Austria-Hungary for the period 1922-2011.

It is also longer than the claim of King James III and VIII - September 1701 to January 1766

 Image result for Elizabeth Ii Sapphire Jubilee

Image: New York Times

On 6 February 2017, Buckingham Palace re-released an official 2014 portrait of The Queen by David Bailey, wearing the sapphire jewellery which she received from her father, the so-called 'George VI Victorian Suite'. It was a wedding gift from her father, George VI to her on her marriage to Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark in 1947.

A parure is a set of jewellery which normally includes a tiara or diadem; the parure came to true popularity in the 17th century. According to Encyclopaedia Britannica, a parure in around 1700 could mean "earrings, brooch, necklace or clasp, ring and sometimes shoulder brooches or buckles, all set with diamonds" and its design is invariably adaptable, which allows its many component pieces to be reset. Without at least three matching pieces, the suite does not constitute a proper 'parure', and a 'demi-parure' is instead the correct term for a necklace worn alone, together with earrings or a bracelet or brooch. The term 'parure' comes from the French for 'finery' and means 'a set' in the collaborative. The suite of matching jewellery is intended to be worn as an overall ensemble.

The 'George VI Victorian Suite' is part of The Queen's personal jewellery collection and originally was a sapphire and diamond necklace and pendant earrings set. The 'George VI Victorian Suite' is called Victorian, because the stones date from around 1850. It was purchased by George VI from Carrington and Co. The set was altered by Garrards in 1952 to shorten the 18 sapphire cluster necklace by four and again in 1959, so that a pendant could be made from the largest sapphire - however, the suite did not properly become a 'parure' until 1963 when a sapphire and diamond bracelet and tiara were made to match the other pieces. The tiara was made from a necklace that had originally belonged to Princess Louise of Belgium, daughter of King Leopold II of Belgium and wife of Prince Philip of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha.

The Queen also owns the so-called 'Prince Albert Sapphire Brooch', perhaps better known as the 'Queen Victoria's Wedding Brooch' which was gifted by Prince Albert to Queen Victoria the day before their wedding and consisting of a large oblong sapphire surrounded with open-backed diamonds. Queen Victoria wore the brooch on her wedding day, 10 February 1840 - and continued to wear it often until the Prince's death in 1861. Queen Victoria willed the brooch as a Crown heirloom, and the brooch has been worn ever since.

Adapted from a post on the website Royal Central:

The original owner Princess Louise wearing the necklace, the tiara being worn by The Queen and the necklace and earrings given to her by King George VI

Image:the naturalsapphirecomany 

There is more about these particular jewels together with pictures at The Modern Sapphire Tiara
from last year. They and other pieces are also featured in The 10 Most Amazing Royal Sapphire Tiaras Of All Time

Wednesday, 1 February 2017


Image Wikipedia

This scene of rural life illustrating February from the Très Riches Heures is attributed to the artist identified as the 'the courtly painter'.

One group sensibly stays indoors and keeps warm by the fire in some comfort. Outside the sheep huddle under their shelter whilst the birds feed in the farmyard and the bees presumably hibernate in their hives. Some are still at work, including chopping down a tree for fuel, and another goes off to market. Despite the cold weather there is a sense of all being gathered safely in to keep warm and secure through this early fifteenth century winter. It may be idealised - whether places were as neat and tidy as the illuminators depict them throuhout the Très Riches Heures may be a reasonable question to ask - but it is nonetheless a world we can envisage and of which we can have some sense even in today's more hi-tech world.

The painting inspired one of the scenes in Olivier's film of "Henry V" for the aftermath of Agincourt.
The picture is also a reminder that our familiar friend climate change was operating in these years. After a warmer period in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries the climate was getting colder, for which we have evidence in the retreat of the cultivated areas in Scandinavia and in Greenland where the settlements finally failed in this period. This situation continued to develop until the coldest point, the "Little Ice Age" of the seventeenth century, before warming up again. So more severe winters may have been the norm in the years when the Limbourgs were painting their miniatures.

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Fourteenth century alabaster Virgin and Child

I saw on Medievalists.net on Tumblr the following report of the acquisition by the British Museum of an Engliah alabaster statue of circa 1350 of the Virgin and Child and am reproducing it below, with some additional images.


Image:Art Fund

The British Museum has acquired an outstanding fourteenth-century English alabaster figure of the Virgin and Child which is the best-preserved of its kind on display in a UK national collection.

The sculpture probably originates from the Midlands and provides a precious insight into carved alabaster from the period that was otherwise largely destroyed, hidden or sold abroad during the English Reformation. The fourteenth-century artists who worked alabaster of this quality attracted the attention of King Edward III, who ordered a carved alabaster altarpiece from Peter the Maceon of Nottingham in the late 1360s. The altarpiece he commissioned for the chapel of St George at Windsor, along with the totality of comparable pieces in situ, were destroyed, buried or sold abroad during the English Reformation. This statue of the Virgin and Child is a rare survivor that escaped this wave of destruction triggered by Protestantism, having perhaps been exported to the continent at the time of its manufacture, or sold off when imagery of this sort was no longer allowed.

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The unknown British sculptor demonstrates great skill in suggesting both the divinity of the Virgin and her role as loving mother. The viewer is encouraged to identify with the tender relationship between the mother and her son. This interactive object has been touched and kissed by the faithful with the face of the Virgin and the foot of Christ worn through adoration. The standing Virgin is crowned as Queen of Heaven. The Christ Child is seated on her right arm and holds an orb in his right hand and, with his other hand, touches the Virgin’s chest.

The sculpture is in remarkable condition and is extraordinary in having suffered no major breakages. Even rarer is the survival of large portions of the original decoration, including gilding and imitation jewels which decorate the chest of the Virgin. There are traces of original red and green painting and substantial gilding across the sculpture. The figure has a sophisticated sway emphasising the relationship of mother and child. The reverse of the sculpture is uncarved, suggesting that the figure was originally positioned against something within a tabernacle or architectural niche.

The alabaster figure was purchase by the British Museum from the dealer Sam Fogg with support from the Art Fund, National Heritage Memorial Fund and private donations.

The sculpture is now on display in the Sir Paul and Lady Jill Ruddock Gallery of Medieval Europe (G40).

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Image: The Guardian

The British Museum website itself reports on the statue at British Museum acquires outstanding alabaster Virgin and Child, together with a set of views of another statue already in the collection featured at British Museum - Image gallery: statue

There are other website articles about the statue from the Guardian at Medieval statue that survived persecution is back on show at British Museum acquires rare alabaster of the Virgin and Child
from the Art Fund and in an article from the Catholic Herald at 'A haunting glimpse of what we lost'

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Image: Catholic Herald