Monthly Archives: August 2015

Benn. Aphra Behn. Neither shaken nor stirred.

article-1277341-09581352000005DC-485_634x528Aphra Johnson is one of England’s foremost literary ladies. She wrote plays and poems and even a book on botany but I first heard of her because she was an early novelist and spent a grim week wading through her novel Oroonoko – though to be fair Eighteenth Century Studies was by far the grimmest of the courses I followed many moons ago at university and I didn’t know the extent that she was drawing on her experiences and coming to think of it she had nothing to do with the eighteenth century!

Her own life story reads like an adventure novel. She was born near Canterbury in 1640 at Wye. Some accounts identify her father as a barber from Canterbury others identify her father as John Amis – there being a world of difference in the status of the two men.

What we can be sure of is that at that time that area was full of Huguenot refugees and Dutch emigrees. The Huguenots were famously silk weavers but the Dutch left a legacy of linen thread making – meaning that the fields of Kent weren’t necessarily full of hops but flax.
At some point Aphra travelled to Dutch Guiana or Surinam as it was then known in the company of her parents- her father had been made lieutenant-general of the colony but he died en route.

During the two years she was in Surinam, Aphra became friends with William Scot, the son of a convicted and executed regicide. It is possible that they became lovers but the evidence is sketchy.

When she returned to London in approximately 1664 she married a Dutch- or possibly German- merchant – or possibly sea captain- who seems to have promptly died of the plague leaving her somewhat financially challenged. It has also been suggested that for some reason Johan Behn may well have been a product of her imagination as no evidence of him can readily be found.

Fortunately her mother had a friend who was a groom of the king’s bedchamber called Sir Thomas Killigrew. He managed to get her an introduction at court. The next thing you know Aphra found herself working as a spy with Killigrew as her handler in Flanders and the Netherlands during the Anglo-Dutch wars (1652- 74). In part she was selected for the role because a certain William Scot was now in the Low Countries. One of Aphra’s jobs was to convince him to support Charles II – the man who’d signed the death warrant for his father. She was to offer him a pardon which proved lamentably slow in its arrival.

Before she returned home Aphra warned her London spymasters that the Dutch were planning an attack up the Thames. Her warnings were ignored and the fleet burned on the Medway raid that saw the flagship the Royal Charles captured.

Aphra should have checked Charles II’s record for paying his staff. Back in London, where she’d managed to miss the Great Fire, she found herself in debtors’ prison and never did get paid for her work. In order to extract herself from this rather unpleasant situation she picked up her quill and started writing. She became England’s leading female writer and earned a place in Westminster Abbey. The truth, is as they say, stranger than fiction.

1 Comment

Filed under Seventeenth Century

Of Kings and family ties…

king-john-570Roger Bigod, Earl of Norfolk -whose father rebelled against Henry II and lost his title- managed to scrape his lands and his titles back from Henry II and Richard the Lion-heart despite a dispute with his step-mother and two half-brothers. He was known for his hard work as a lawyer travelling the country on the business of both kings. He is mentioned on the boarding list of noble hostages going to join Richard the Lion-heart in Captivity. Yet he appears on the Magna Carta as one of the twenty-five barons, along with his oldest son, who would ensure that John stuck to the deal that was made at Runnymede.

He got excommunicated for his pains in 1215 and it was only in 1217 that he made his peace with the guardians of young King Henry III, which must have made things difficult for his son who was married to William Marshall’s daughter. Marshall famously managed to serve his Plantagenet masters loyally from the ‘Young King’ through to King Henry III.

Bigod’s difficulties with King John were complicated by yet another family factor. William Longspee, King John’s illegitimate half-brother was Bigod’s step-son. William remained loyal to John throughout the period. One woman – Ida de Tosny, links the two men on opposite sides of the Barons’ War.

History does not tell us exactly when Ida de Tosny was born nor are we totally sure about her parents. It is generally accepted that her father was Ralph de Tosny who died in 1162 and her mother was Margaret de Beaumont.   After her father’s death she became a royal ward.

We know that she attracted the attention of King Henry II who had a bit of a reputation for seducing young women including Alice of France who was to have married Henry’s son Richard (the Lionheart). The fact that Henry was Ida’s guardian did not stop him from making her his mistress. We do not know what Ida thought of the proposition and we certainly don’t have a portrait of her.

It was only in 1979 that a letter written from William Longsword or Longspee was discovered and which identified his mother as Countess Ida pinning the position firmly on the wife of the Earl of Norfolk, Roger Bigod. Ida was married to Roger four years after William’s birth in 1176.

It was at about the same time as the marriage that Henry II granted Roger a number of disputed manors that had been confiscated at the time of his father’s rebellion but not his father’s title. Roger had to wait for that until the reign of Richard the Lionheart. History does not tell us how Ida and Roger came to be married. All we can say is that young William stayed with the royal court while Ida went with her husband to his main seat at Framlingham Castle in Norfolk.  She went on to have at least seven more children.

We cannot even say with any certainty when she died but there is no mention of her made in Roger Bigod’s will, so in all probability she died before 1221.

Leave a comment

Filed under Thirteenth Century

King Henry VI

images-17It was possible for medieval kings to be too nice; too pious and too scholarly. Henry VI was the last Lancastrian Plantagenet king. The chaos that spiralled out of control during his reign came about, in part, because of the king’s inability to control his nobility.

In October 1421 Catherine of Valois, wife of Henry V became a mother for the first time at Windsor. Nine months later the infant boy became King Henry VI although he was not crowned in Westminster until 1429. According to the treaty that the French signed after the Battle of Agincourt the boy, following his maternal grandfather’s death was King of England, Wales, Ireland and France.

Indeed, the boy was crowned in Paris on 16th December 1431 to popular acclaim in Paris but much disgust that the English form of coronation was used rather than the French form. Unfortunately most of the rest of France wanted the dauphin, the son of Charles VI, to rule. The future Charles VII had luck on his side in the form of Joan of Arc; the death of the Duke of Bedford’s wife (Anne of Burgundy) resulted in the Duke of Burgundy changing sides; the death of the Duke of Bedford and faction politics back in England. It probably also helped Charles that Henry VI loathed bloodshed and felt that it was his Christian duty to make peace. This duly occurred in 1445 when Henry married Margaret of Anjou and handed back huge tracts of land to the French.

The Duke of Gloucester was furious but his fall from power was just round the corner. His wife Eleanor was found guilty of witchcraft. Ultimately Gloucester would be accused of treason and then found dead in his bed a couple of days later. It wasn’t long before people were whispering that ‘Good Duke Humphrey’ had been murdered and that the queen had somehow been involved.

Henry, who had no mistresses and had an abhorrence of nudity in both men and women, was unlucky in his queen. He thought she was one of the wisest people that he knew but his people never came to love her. She was French and her marriage, without much in the way of dowry, had cost them hard won lands in France. In later years she headed south with a band of ferocious northerners at her back, something that London never forgave her for.

Money, which had flowed readily enough when the English were winning the Hundred Years War, became a problem the older Henry got. It wasn’t helped that when he achieved his majority he gave away approximately two hundred manors and insisted on spending £2,000 on endowing his colleges at Eton and Cambridge. Before long the crown was in debt to the tune of £400,000.

Inevitably the peace in France could not be sustained and before long the roads were filled with English refugees fleeing the French. It didn’t go down well with the English. Henry V, the victor of Agincourt, successful charismatic warrior king was a hard act for his son to follow. As is usual in these occurrences the people blamed the king’s ‘bad advisers’ for the king’s own failings and bad luck. In 1450 Adam Moleyns, the Bishop of Chichester, managed to get himself lynched by an angry mob in Portsmouth who blamed him for the fall of Normandy. The mob’s wrath then turned on the Duke of Suffolk who found himself on the wrong side of the law for pursuing the policies that Henry wanted him to pursue. Henry insisted that Suffolk was set free but he was forced to leave the country. It didn’t help him. Suffolk, on his way to Calais, was hijacked and beheaded.

In June 1450 Kent revolted. This was Jack Cade’s rebellion. The name Mortimer was tangled up in proceedings. People were reminded that Henry IV, our Henry’s grandfather had usurped the throne from his cousin Richard II, and that actually the Duke of York through his mother Ann Mortimer had a much better claim to the throne – it helped that he had a reputation as an effective warrior.

After the rebellion was quelled, Henry VI turned to the Duke of Somerset for guidance. The peer was very unpopular and York, who was owed huge sums of money for his work in France, felt excluded from his rightful role in government. It didn’t help that Somerset used resources in France that might have enabled York to maintain his garrisons. He returned to England from France with an army. On this occasion Henry VI had a larger and better-led army. The enmity that York felt towards Somerset and Margaret of Anjou would become progressively more bitter as did the in-fighting between the various factions which sought to gain power through the king or his wife. However, this is not a post about the Wars of the Roses.

One of Henry VI’s chaplains wrote that the king was a simple man, incapable of lying. This was not necessarily the best news for the English. Medieval kings needed guile and they needed to be strong. Henry was aware of this and perhaps it was why he chose the advisors he did. He appointed bishops, often men he knew personally and who had reputations as theologians; he administered the law diligently. He spent much of his year on progress dispensing justice.

He was also an intensely pious man. On state occasions he wore a hair shirt. Part of the role of Eton was that it should be a chantry for priests to say Masses for his soul. His end of the deal was to provide the foundation and the money to educate poor boys.

Unfortunately for Henry being a likeable man wasn’t going to help rule a country riven by faction and suffering from a dearth of ready cash due to the on-going problems in France which became much worse. At Clarendon, August 1453, Henry VI received news that his army had been defeated in Gascony. The king fell into a coma where he remained until Christmas 1454, missing his son’s birth in the process.

Leaving aside the various tooings and froings of the Wars of the Roses the Battle of Towton on 29th March 1461 was the bloodiest battle fought on English soil if the figures are correct. Henry’s men fought to the death and when the remaining men finally broke and fled they were slaughtered on the road. Those who were captured faced execution. The king and his immediate family fled to Scotland. In payment Berwick was ordered to surrender itself to the Scots. Lancastrian forces began to take over key fortifications in Northumberland but in May 1464 Henry was almost caught following Lancastrian defeat at the Battle of Hexham. By that time Margaret of Anjou and Prince Edward were in France.

Henry spent almost a year on the run hiding in the hills and moors of Westmorland and Lancashire. We know that he found a welcome at Muncaster Castle. But in June 1465 he was betrayed and taken south to London and the Tower where someone tried to assassinate him but where he was able to spend time in prayer and contemplation.

The Earl of Warwick – the Kingmaker had expected that King Edward IV would be extremely grateful for being given a crown. Edward made a bit of a fool of Warwick who was trying to arrange an advantageous foreign match by secretly marrying the widowed and impoverished Elizabeth Woodville, then proceeding to shower all kinds of goodies on her family. Warwick was not amused.

On the 6th October 1470 Henry VI discovered that he was king again on the say so of the Kingmaker who promptly married his youngest daughter off to Prince Edward having already married his oldest daughter off to Edward’s younger brother, the Duke of Buckingham (possibly known as having your cake and eating it.) After the service in St Paul’s, where he was re-crowned, Henry was rarely seen in public.

DSC_0049-47In March 1471 Edward returned and Henry was led by the hand through the streets of London by Bishop Neville in a bid to raise London’s loyal support. Edward swiftly took London, secured Henry and took him with him to Tewkesbury. After the Yorkist victory which saw the death of Henry’s son, Prince Edward, Henry was returned swiftly to the Tower where the Edward claimed he died of melancholy but in reality where the pious, scholarly, likeable and weary man was murdered by the Yorkists. He was forty-nine years old and had been on a troubled throne for thirty-nine years.

DSC_0047-49

6 Comments

Filed under Fifteenth Century, Kings of England, Wars of the Roses

King John

king_john_stag_3231934bThe Victorians did not like King John, medieval chroniclers weren’t that keen on him and Walt Disney portrayed him as a lion who sucked his thumb. Mathew Paris, one of the medieval writers, proclaimed that ‘Hell would be befouled’ by John’s presence.

So what did John do so wrong? First of all he spent much more time in England than previous kings. It wasn’t because he liked the scenery or the people. It was because he’d lost his father’s empire. At the start of his reign in 1199 he arrived at an agreement with King Philip II of France, stopped a war that King Richard had been winning and accepted Philip’s overlordship – and, ultimately, he handed over the Lionheart’s magnificent fortress at Chinon without so much as a quibble. This earned John the nickname Soft Sword. He then managed to loose Normandy – which was careless and put his nobility in a difficult position as most of them owned property in what had suddenly become France as well as in England. It was impossible to do homage to both monarchs so they had to choose – French or English. Most of them found a way round it by handing part of their land over to a son sooner rather than later so that the estate at least stayed in the family. Medieval kings were supposed to win wars not hand over their best fortresses on a platter to their enemies or make life more difficult than necessary for everybody else.

In an age of brutality John excelled. He had people blinded, starved and brutally executed left, right and centre. He is even purported to be the only King of England who has actually murdered someone in person with his own hands. That person, his nephew Arthur-was the son of his eldest brother and who had a better claim to the throne than John- was apparently killed by John in a drunken rage and then thrown into the Seine. This is, of course, all here say. No one in his or her right mind would add that juicy little bit of information to a chronicle.

However, Matilda or Maud (depending upon your frame of mind) de Braose was the wife of William de Braose. He was one of King John’s favourites. In 1208 the two men had a bit of a disagreement. William owed John five thousand marks and John demanded William’s grandsons as hostages. Matilda refused to part with them saying very loudly and clearly that she would not give her boys to the man who’d murdered his own nephew. Matilda and her oldest son ended up in a dungeon in Corfe Castle where they were deliberately starved to death. In later years, when John realised that his time was up he allowed a kinswoman of the murder victims to become a nun in order to pray for the souls of Maud and her son. Draw your own conclusions.

John’s personality wasn’t what you might call winning either. All the Plantagenets seem to have been prone to temper tantrums. Henry II is reported to have rolled around on the floor in his rages. John’s moments of irritation were exacerbated by his drunkenness. He had numerous mistresses, which in itself wasn’t unusual for Norman or Plantagenet kings, but he didn’t necessarily get the lady’s agreement first and he made a habit of making off with his barons’ wives and daughters which was tactless to put it mildly. Eustace de Vesci tried to save his wife from John’s attentions by putting a servant in John’s bed instead of his wife. John was not pleased but then neither was Eustace and it might go some way towards explaining why Eustace would eventually rebel against John. Famously one woman promised the king two hundred chickens if she could just be allowed to spend one night with her husband. In addition, he was spiteful and vindictive.   It is alleged that one woman who turned down his advances was sent a poisoned egg.  He thought nothing of having people dragged to their deaths behind horses and having priests wrapped up in leaden copes if they dared to disagree with him.

The thing that really ensured that history knows all John’s character flaws was his attitude to the Church. He hunted on fast days, ate meat on Fridays and once told a bishop to keep his sermon short, as he wanted to eat his dinner. To cap it all he got England excommunicated in 1208 when he refused to accept Simon Langton as Archbishop of Canterbury. For five years there were no masses, baptisms or funeral rites. In an age where most people were very concerned abut their immortal souls it spelled disaster. John, on the other hand, had a fine old time stealing Church property and wealth. Ultimately the Pope made him give it back but it is easy to see how monastic chroniclers wouldn’t have spared John’s blushes. One of them, known to be a bit wild in his story telling, even suggests that John spent three months in 1215 as a pirate.

What John really excelled at was administration and administering justice. The former ensured that the system of taxation worked very efficiently. He imposed eye-watering death duties; taxes on widows who didn’t wish to remarry; taxes on heiresses and taxes on personal property that were applied quite often by the mercenaries he’d appointed to positions of power. He became very, very, wealthy and his people became very, very, hacked off. The Jewish population were particularly scared. John exhorted additional taxation from them and was known to use torture to get even more money.

Ironically, assuming you hadn’t been taxed out of existence and you didn’t have a pretty daughter or wife the smaller landowners got a better deal out of John than they had from previous kings because John possessed a detailed knowledge of the law, wanted to ensure that everyone understood Royal Justice was the ultimate justice within the country and because he travelled so widely administering it. Poor men could appeal to the king and ask for a trial by jury in a way that the barons couldn’t if they’d received a raw deal from their overlord. John was far too busy using the legal system to squeeze the great and powerful for every penny they had in any case – so if he found against the great magnates he could levy huge fines upon them.

No wonder that in 1215 the Barons rose up and forced John to sign Magna Carta. Little did they realise it was all going to get much worse in very short order.

Seward, Desmond. (2014). The Demon’s Brood. London: Constable & Robinson Ltd

http://magnacarta.cmp.uea.ac.uk/read/itinerary

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/11671441/King-John-the-most-evil-monarch-in-Britains-history.html

10 Comments

Filed under Kings of England, Thirteenth Century

Nostell Priory

Picture 651Before Nostell Priory came into being there was a hermitage but when the Augustinian Canons were introduced to Britain a priory was established soon afterwards on its site. The story of Nostell’s foundation is told in a fourteenth century manuscript detailing twelfth century events.

Apparently King Henry I was on his way to do nasty things to the Scots when his chaplain was taken ill at Pontefract. Whilst he was recovering the chaplain, Ralph Adlave or Adulphus, went hunting and came across the hermits in St Oswald’s Wood (we don’t know how many of them and it was quite normal to be on your own in a group if you were a medieval hermit). Adulphus decided on the spot that he wanted found a priory on the exact spot where he’d encountered the hermits and to become a monastic. Obviously you don’t resign from a job with a Plantagenet king, you ask nicely if it would be possible. King Henry I, having finished with the Scots for the time being gave his gracious consent. Adulphus became an Augustinian Canon in charge of eleven canons. Henry I favoured the new establishment, after all Adulphus had been his confessor, and made a grant of 12d. a day to it from his revenues in Yorkshire.

It was a good thing for a king to become a patron of a monastery. Nobles tended to trip over themselves to follow suit in order to win royal favour. Ilbert or Robert de Lacy swiftly handed over the land on which the priory would sit along with several churches including those at Huddersfield and Batley along with other property.

King Henry II, following the bust up between King Stephen and Empress Matilda, reconfirmed the grants including a three-day fair at the end of February each year coinciding with St Oswald’s feast day.

Nostell Priory was undoubtedly well endowed. As a result it ended up with six daughter houses. The two most important were at Bamburgh in Northumberland, and Breedon in Leicestershire.

Of course, things didn’t always go so swimmingly. The reign of King Edward II was not, in general, noted for its successes. The Scots raided deep into England and the revenue from Bamburgh turned into a loss for fifteen years in succession. The arrival of the Black Death didn’t help matters, neither did the politics of the period nor the fact that avaricious archbishops kept trying to snaffle the most profitable churches from the care of the canons. By 1438 the canons of Nostell Priory were in so much financial difficulty that the young and pious King Henry VI granted to the canons the hospital of St. Nicholas, in Pontefract. These financial woes were not unusual. Bottomley notes that about a fifth of all Augustinian foundations failed because of lack of income.

Nostell Priory,however, was able to overcome its difficulties. It developed a reputation for fine manuscripts that ensured a steady flow of income from their commission.  In 1536 it’s gross income was £606 9s. 3½d in part also because it had become a site of pilgrimage to St Oswald which Cromwell’s commissioners recorded as superstition. Dr Legh, one of the most notorious of Cromwell’s henchmen, was granted the site on which Nostell Priory stood.

Nothing medieval remains at Nostell Priory. In its place is the eighteenth century house and gardens created by the Winn family. There are three buildings that date from the monastic period “Wragby church, which, though it stands within the park, served the parish and not the monastery; and buildings called ‘The Brewhouse’ and ‘The Refectory’ which lie within the precincts of the adjacent 18th-century Nostell Home Farm. These are all at some distance from the Winns’ house”(Wrathmell ).

Where the Augustinian Canons had parochial responsibilities their priory churches survive rather better. Carlisle Cathedral was an Augustinian priory church as was Hexham Abbey. It is interesting to note that despite the fact that Carlisle, Lanercost and Hexham were Augustinian establishments that the main stronghold of the Augustinians was in fact the Midlands. Derby for instance was home to a number of Augustinian priories but little or nothing of their buildings have survived.

Bottomley, Frank. (1995).  Abbey Explorer’s Guide. Otley: Smith Settle

‘Houses of Austin canons: Priory of Nostell’, in A History of the County of York: Volume 3, ed. William Page (London, 1974), pp. 231-235 http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/yorks/vol3/pp231-235 [accessed 8 August 2015].

Wrathmell, Stuart. Nostell Priory. http://www.archaeology.wyjs.org.uk/documents/archaeology/newsletters/News21pag6.pdf accessed11.08.2015 09:23

2 Comments

Filed under Monasteries

Wellingtonia on the doorstep.

Scotland_Forever!I’ve gone a bit off my usual tangent with this post in the spirit of waste not, want not.  I recently contacted a regional newspaper in the hope that they would want a regular history columnist.  It’s surprising the number of papers that do have a history slot including my favourite regional paper The Cumberland News which wins prizes on a regular basis.  What follows is my sample article which didn’t even merit a response from the editor several weeks ago – obviously I’m not doing something right.  So back to the drawing board and try again.

The two hundredth anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo has sailed by. But who would have thought that Derbyshire had so many links with the Napoleonic Wars?

In Chesterfield a plaque bearing the legend 1816 above a scruffy looking red brick building marks the remnants of Griffin Foundry. It produced shot that was fired during the Napoleonic Wars, the way some local Chesterfield books tell it they produced the cannon shells that tore into the French forces on Sunday 18 June 1815.

In Ashbourne, French prisoners-of-war married local girls and provided the town with a recipe for very tasty gingerbread that’s still being made today in the same bakery where it was first produced.  The black and white Tudor building on St John’s Street has been a bakery for more than two hundred and fifty years.  By now the smell of newly baked bread must have seeped into the joists.

Both Chesterfield and Ashbourne parish churches contain the graves of French prisoners-of-war who didn’t make it home as well as a few British officers who did.  Elsewhere in Derbyshire there are tales of men who refused to be conscripted into Wellington’s army.

Along the A517 at Holbrook, William Leeke was once the vicar. There’s a window to him inside the church. His headstone, in the graveyard, reveals not only that he died aged eighty-one but also that in 1815 he carried his company colours into the battle. At the time he was seventeen-years-old. He served with the 52nd Regiment. As luck would have it he recorded his experiences but they are not always in accord with the official version of events. He was firmly of the opinion that it was the 52nd Regiment who beat off Napoleon’s Imperial Guards rather than the 1st British Guards. His account has caused a fair amount of controversy amongst historians over the years.

E.M. Wrench was another ex-soldier. In 1866, Doctor Wrench, raised the ten-foot high cross that stands on Baslow Edge, it’s outline stark against the sky and a magnet for walkers. Other monuments to the battle and its hero are rather leafier. There’s a Wellington Oak at Renishaw Hall.

EXHIBITION USE ONLY npg.896.1337Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington by Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1815-16 NATIONAL PORTRAIT GALLERY MARKS 200th ANNIVERSARY OF WATERLOO WITH THE FIRST EXHIBITION ON THE DUKE OF WELLINGTON The first gallery exhibition devoted to the Duke of Wellington will open at the National Portrait Gallery, to mark the 200th anniversary year of the Battle of Waterloo in 2015. APSLEY HOUSE, London. "Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington" c.1815 by Sir Thomas LAWRENCE (1769-1830). WM 1567-1948.

EXHIBITION USE ONLY
npg.896.1337 Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington by Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1815-16
NATIONAL PORTRAIT GALLERY MARKS 200th ANNIVERSARY OF WATERLOO WITH THE FIRST EXHIBITION ON THE DUKE OF WELLINGTON
The first gallery exhibition devoted to the Duke of Wellington will open at the National Portrait Gallery, to mark the 200th anniversary year of the Battle of Waterloo in 2015. APSLEY HOUSE, London. “Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington” c.1815 by Sir Thomas LAWRENCE (1769-1830). WM 1567-1948.

Wellington died at Walmer Castle in Kent in1852. William Lobb introduced the following year a tree, native of Sierra Nevada, California into Britain. It’s become rather an unusual monument to the man who avoided the unnecessary bloodshed of his troops where possible  and said of his men, “I don’t know what they effect they have on the enemy but by God they terrify me.”  John Lindley of the Horticultural Society was given the job of naming the tree. The Americans wanted to call it after Washington but Lindley called it after the Iron Duke, the hero of Waterloo. The tree became the Wellingtonia. We also call them giant sequoia or giant redwood. Sequoia are the largest trees in the world. Wellingtonia can be found in stately homes from Chatsworth to Kedleston. These towering conifers with their furrowed rusty red trunks are babies. They’ll still be growing on the 2,000th anniversary of Waterloo.

There’s even a Wellingtonia Society  called Redwood World. Why not visit the site to find out if there’s one near you, or you may know of one that’s not on their list http://www.redwoodworld.co.uk/locations.htm.

Leave a comment

Filed under Local History links, Napoleonic Wars, Nineteenth Century

Galilee Porch

DSCN3945-2Many medieval Cistercian churches were entered through something called a galilee or ‘paradise’. It was a porch (it’s sometimes also called a narthex because why have one word when there’re are so many available to bother and bewilder the casual lover of monastic ruins) situated on the west front of the church. It was an important starting point for religious processions into the church. It was also a popular place for patrons to be buried. In Rievaulx there are the remains of eight graves in the galilee. There was often also a smaller altar. The galilee porch at Tintern Abbey was said to house  a miraculous image of the Virgin Mary.

In Cistercian monasteries there was initially no place for lay visitors in the church during canonical hours and mass but it was recognised that visitors should be admitted on very holy days such as Easter, though historians are unclear where the guests sat once they were inside the church. The other thing to be remembered is that these guests were largely male as Cistercians took a dim view of women entering their precincts although they did provide hospitality to noble guests outside the abbey.

These days it isn’t just monasteries and cathedrals that have galilee porches. A number of parish churches have them as well and in my perusing of the Internet I discovered that the reason the porch is called a galilee- allegedly- is because the Corpus Christi procession finished in the porch at the point where Christ leads the disciples after his resurrection into galilee http://www.suffolkchurches.co.uk/zgalilee.htm (accessed 8th July 2015 at 18.00) The writer of the aforementioned website places the blame for the name squarely on the Victorians.

2 Comments

Filed under Monasteries

Chapter Houses

DSCN3977-2The chapter house was the second most important building in the monastery range after the church. It was here that the monks met every day to discuss abbey business and to listen to a chapter from the Rule of St Benedict. The monks sat on stone benches around the walls as shown in the first picture showing the ruins of the chapter house at Rievaulx.  It was here also that punishments were metered out to erring monks, important visitors greeted and Visitations conducted.  It was here also that the abbots and monks of monasteries across the land surrendered their properties into the hands of Cromwell’s agents.

Burton and Kerr (page 80) emphasise how unusual the chapter house is at Rievaulx. Instead of being rectangular it has an apse (semi-circular end).  It was also large enough to accommodate the lay brothers as well as the choir monks. The chapter house was built during the time of Abbot Aelred  (abbot -1147-1167) but the shrine to Sir William of Rievaulx who was Aelred’s predecessor can still be seen behind a window of the chapter house.

Indeed in the earlier chapter houses it is perfectly normal to find the tombs of  abbots as well as pavements bearing reference to patrons, even tombs of patrons in some cases.  On a more prosaic level in Cistercian chapter houses libraries in the form of book cupboards built into the walls can also be found.

IMG_4456As with much else about monasteries the chapter house changed according to the period in which it was built. Early chapter houses are rectangular ground floor affairs beneath the dormitory but they became increasingly ornate as the medieval period advanced. The chapter house became a separate vaulted building, some with apses and others, which took on a polygon shape- sometimes the original rectangular chapter house became an outer room leading to the chapter house which projected out of the east range.  Many chapter houses are separate from the church, with a slype or alleyway between the church and the chapter house but in other places, such as Chester the chapter house adjoins the church.  Some chapter houses such as the ones at Southwell are heavily decorated.  In Southwell it’s possible to spend hours in the chapter house looking for green men.  Foliate heads of all sizes peer at you from the masonry where as at Wells, as the two photographs in this paragraph show, the vaulted ceiling and lantern of glasswork will have you craning your neck. IMG_4455

Burton, Janet and Kerr, Julie (2011) The Cistercians in the Middle Ages (Monastic Orders). Woodbridge: Boydell and Brewer,

2 Comments

Filed under Monasteries