Friday, 30 January 2015

Bestowing a Knighthood

                                   The Accolade

The image we can see deals with medieval knighthood. We all know of it, a brave knight kneels before his monarch who then touches each of his shoulders with a sword and states "Arise Sir......!" Sadly, this term is not actually used, only in movies anyway. 

It is not really known how or when this ceremony originated or even how it was performed, some historians suggest that it may have been in the form of an embrace or a slight touch to the cheek. Incidentally it has been said that William the Conqueror, on knighting his son Henry, used a heavy blow! An older term for this ceremony is dubbing and was not necessarily performed by the monarch it could be performed by another knight or sometimes by a medieval lady. A double edged sword was used which served to remind the knight that justice and loyalty were two sides of the knight's power.

This painting, by Edmund Blair Leighton, an English artist who was often inspired by the medieval period, is a fine of example of the dubbing ceremony and is entitled The Accolade, meaning is of course the bestowal of a knighthood. No doubt Leighton was inspired by medieval chivalric values such as, courtesy, honor and gallantry toward women all of which can be seen in his work. It has also been suggested that he was inspired by the work Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott, the heroic story of the last English family and their fight against the invading Normans.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

What Women Want

                                  Portrait of a Lady by Angelica Kauffman

Apart from Dr Suzannah Lipscomb's The Last Days of Ann Boleyn which was shown in January, and Helen Castors She Wolves in 2012 there have been few documentaries on our screens about the lives and talents of women. We never seem to see much about the lives of women much past Elizabeth I. 

However other two programmes I do recall are Lucy Worsley's Harlots, Housewives and Heroines: A 17th Century History for Girls which was a fascinating study of women in Restoration England and the most recent, last year in fact was The Story of Women and Art which was presented by Amanda Vickery. 

In Lucy's programme it was Aphra Behn, the first professional female writer who I remember most and in Amanda's programme it was two women who lived on the peripheries of the art world but whose work was equal to their male contemporaries. These women were Angelica Kauffman and Anne Seymour Darmer. 

Angelica Kauffman, was a woman who forged herself a successful career in the male dominated world of historical art. Angelica cleverly spotted a 'niche market' that was historical art through a woman's perspective. Secondly, there was sculptress Anne Seymour Darmer, an only child of doting parents, who employed noted sculptors to instruct her, but whose budding new career was damaged by her inheritance spending, drunken, womanising husband.

These two women were brilliant artists so why is it that we not know little about their talents? Florence Hallett, art writer and critic explains:

"......the truth is that those of us who do not believe that women lack the talent to become artists have by and large fallen for a bigger and more pernicious lie, that women artists have barely existed at all, so successfully were they shut out from the male realms of education, training and business."

All these women had to work in a world that was predominantly male, and as it has quite rightly been put "misogynistic and medieval in its outlook."

Wouldn't it be nice to see a little bit, no a lot more of the achievements of women on our screens more often.

Thanks to both Lucy and Amanda...please keep up the good work.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Amazing Historical Coincidences or Dreams Do Come True.

This morning I was thinking whilst the dog was exhausting herself chasing her tail and I, drinking my second cup of tea, if there would be anything exciting, apart from words of course, inside the two books I am expecting the postman to deliver today. 

Sometimes when you buy an old book it has more inside it than just the story, you will know what I mean, things like dried flowers, newspaper clippings an old photo. How many of you hope for this when you purchase an old book? I do all the time! I really hope something of historical importance will flutter to the ground and my dream is to find something Richard III related. 

I decided that this thought would make an interesting blog so after the mornings chores which included removing the tail from the dogs mouth were done, I turned on my computer and searched for an image that would illustrate my point here comes the coincidence......I found this:


Apart from being very exciting its also very strange, as I only started writing notes for a blog regarding Lord Byron yesterday........ Amazing!!!

Now I have every confidence, that one day I will find the lost Last Will and Testament of King Richard III nestling in an old book

Monday, 26 January 2015

A Bird Named Enza

I've just spent the last four days suffering from a dreadful cold which, I suppose, you could call Flu. While I was coughing and spluttering my way through numerous hankies and cups of Lemsip, I wondered how on earth the poor souls in medieval England managed without the support of chocolate and assorted historical dramas, no Wolf Hall then!

Flu has been around forever, it is known that a major epidemic of something similar to influenza followed Charlemagne and his army across Europe in the middle of the ninth century. Medical experts suggest it arrived in Italy and spread northwards, and this is well documented. Repeated influenza pandemics broke out in this pattern between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries.
This virus has been described as a
 "cough that spreads like the plague"
Modern historians believe that a sickness that was present at the Siege of Troy was Influenza.
 It had been described in the Iliad that a nine day epidemic had its beginnings in the Trojan War, its symptoms first affecting horses and dogs. 
 However in a paper "Animal Influenza in the Ancient Literature" it states that

"domestic animals associated with possible human influenza outbreaks in the ancient literature are ultimately inconclusive."
Flu was not a major worry in the fourteenth century but was the bane of the lives of those in the fifteenth century and inflicted terrible losses within the life time of our grandparents too.

This little nursery rhyme was sung on England's school playgrounds throughout the country.

I had a little bird
Its name was Enza
I opened the the window
and in-flu-enza 

The nursery rhyme was referring to the influenza virus that was spreading across the country at a great rate. As the Great War was ending, a threat was emerging that was even more lethal than the fighting that had brutally cut down so many young men. The pandemic of 1918-19 claimed the lives of between twenty and forty million people around the world, at least three times the number killed in war. More died in a single year than were killed in the four years of the Black Death from 1347 to 1351. At the height of the epidemic, in the Yorkshire city of Sheffield, over 3000 people were dying a week. Not only were hospitals unable to cope, but with a shortage of both labour and coffins, mortuaries and undertakers were overwhelmed. 

Of the virus Charles Cheighton in his book, The History of Epidemics in Britain states that  
" Influenza appears to correspond with something broadly the same in human life at all times and to have lasted unchanged through so many mutation from medieval to modern it is unique in history."

Its a resilient little blighter isn't it? 

Its a good job that I am a cheerful soul, even if I do say so myself, or I might be panicking!

However, apart from a miserable few days the only trouble it caused in our house was that the dog went un-walked, no housework, no cakes baked and no time-travelling in the medieval world was done.  
But as you can see from this new blog I am on the mend.
Atchoo !!!!!

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Strange Medieval Inventions:

Some form of diving apparatus that looks more like an elephant with its trunk in a twist!

What you see depicted here is a diving suit illustrated by Konrad Kyeser in his manuscript Bellifortis. 

Kyeser's book was the first illustrated manual of military technology, it summarises the work of ancient writers on military technology, and discusses the art of siege warfare. Lyn White in her review of Bellifortis: The First Technological Treatise of the Fifteenth Century states it:

"treats magic as a supplement to the military arts that is saturated with astrology.”

The Bellifortis, or War Fortification, is dated to the beginning of the fifteenth century. This elaborate collection of machines and technology, talks of ships, incendiary devices, crossbows and instruments of torture. Kyeser, it seems, was a big fan of Alexander the Great, writing at length about his technical abilities stating that he was a 

"great inventor of war devices" 

Great or not, even Alexander would have had a spot of trouble with this one!

Thursday, 22 January 2015

George and the Dragon

               London's Boundary Markers 

This first image is of a wonderful silver dragon that can be found at
Leadenhall Market in London and has, on its wing, a red cross. 

The cross and the dragon are symbols of St George, patron saint of England that form part of the heraldic symbols of the City of London that can be found around the square mile of St Paul's Cathedral and the Bank of England.

 Along with the lion and the unicorn, which also can be found on many of London's public buildings, the dragon features quite prominently in our capital, being used as boundary markers and are a wonderful reminder of London's long history. 

Some of the dragon are seated, because of where it is situated, but the actual boundary markers usually stand on their two rear legs, with the right foreleg raised and the left foreleg holding a shield which bears the City of London's coat of arms, painted in red and white. The dragon design is based on two large dragon sculptures which were mounted above the entrance to the Coal Exchange and designed by J. B. Bunning and made in1849 in Dewer's London foundry. When the Coal Exchange was demolished in the mid 1960's the original statues were re erected on six foot high plinths at the western boundary of the City. In 1964 the Corporation of London's Streets Committee used the statues as the model for boundary markers. 

London's Street Committee did have a choice of dragons for the design of the markers, choosing, as I have just said, Bunning's design over the other dragon at Temple Bar on Fleet Street, by architect C B Birch which was considered too fierce.

They are probably right, have a look at this final image.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

George Duke of Clarence

            The Beginning of the End....Questions, so many Questions!

Poor George!

Should we call him that? Should we feel sorry for him?
 What was the reason he found himself on trial for treason this week in 1478?

George, the third son of Richard, Duke of York and Cecily Neville has been described as misunderstood and ambitious, Shakespeare calls him 'False, Fleeting, Perjur'd Clarence." 

Who was saying what to whom for the brother of two kings of England to be arrested and charged with the crime of treason? Certainly his brother Edward was sure that he had his eye on his throne and according to Professor Michael Hicks, George's conviction was a " precondition for Gloucester's accession in 1483"

So George was accused of rebellion, slander and allegiances with the 'enemy' and eventually convicted, a bill of attainder passed and his execution was arranged for third week of February 1478.

It is my belief is that he was his own worse enemy

What's yours? 

Monday, 19 January 2015

Caroline von Schoenberg and the burial of German Nobility.

The Schoenberg's were an important and widespread Saxon noble family whose ancestry can be traced back centuries. Members of this family occupied important state and administrative positions, including bishops and ministers.

This blog on Caroline Louise von Schoenberg has moved to

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Sweyn Forkbeard

England's shortest reigning King?

Did you know that Sweyn Forkbeard was England's shortest reigning King? On Christmas Day 1013 he was declared king of England, and it was the Lincolnshire town of Gainsborough that became his capital. It was here that Forkbeard began to organise his new kingdom, but he died on 3 February 1014, having ruled England for only forty days. With the support of his son Cnut, he waged war on the English people. He is said to have been a brutal man, burning people alive and impaling them on lances. Historian Darron Childs says of Forkbeard brutality "It is perhaps one of the reasons why he has been largely forgotten. It's hard to make a big thing of someone so bad. It's a difficult thing to try and overcome." It is more than likely that the main reason this man is forgotten is because of the lack of evidence. 

There is one fortification in Gainsborough, on the site of what is now the Old Hall, that had a moat fed from the nearby River Trent , that is thought to have been where Forkbeard made his centre of his operations. Mr Child's believes that Gainsborough could have been where Forkbeard's son, Cnut, attempted to hold back the waves, not on the coast like we all imagine but at the Trent Aegir, a tidal bore, which takes its name from the Viking God of the Sea. After Forkbeards death his embalmed body was returned to Denmark and the council of England sent for the deposed Aethelred to return as king. He arrived in the spring of 1014 and drove Cnut out of England. Cnut soon returned to became King of England in 1016.

Friday, 16 January 2015

A Love Story.

The Princess and the Mason

Standing along the Silk Road, the ancient trade routes that once connected China to the Roman Empire, can be found what is known as the Thousand Budda Caves. Theses caves lie about forty three miles northwest of Kucha, that in the fourth century formed part of a large kingdom of Quici. 

These cave are said to have been carved by a young mason in order to prove his love for a Chinese princess.

This princess was known as Zaoerhan, and she was the daughter of the King of Quici and legend has it the she met and fell in love with a local mason. The mason asked the king for permission to marry the princess. At first the king refused, but then gave the boy a chance to earn his daughters hand in marriage. He told the mason he would not grant permission unless he carved one thousand caves into the hills outside the city. The young man made is way out of Kucha and began carving, determined to prove himself to the king. Three years and nine hundred and ninety nine caves later, the poor boy died from the exhaustion, this sad event was quickly followed by the death of the princess herself, who died of a broken heart.

 The waterfalls that cascade and run though the caves eventually falling into the Muzat River, are said not to be water at all, but the tears of the long dead Princess Zaoerhan who still weeps for her young love.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

A Golden Age Has Arrived!

                        The Coronation of Elizabeth I 

It was almost a month, following the burial of Mary, that Elizabeth, the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, was crowned queen of England, her coronation took place on the 15th January 1559.
The day before the crowed streets of London saw the fourth of five pageants take place where Elizabeth was seen by the public carried through the streets on a golden litter.

This fourth pageant represented the contrast between the previous reign of Mary's and the forthcoming one of the new queen. During the penultimate event a bible was presented to Elizabeth, by the representation of Truth. Taking the bible, Elizabeth kissed it and laid it on her breast causing much whooping within the large crowd. This action would lead to the fifth pageant where Elizabeth would be portrayed as Deborah, an old testament prophet, who 'rescued the House of Israel' and went on to rule for forty years.
During this final festivity, Elizabeth said to the Lord Mayor:
......"And whereas your request is that I should continue your good lady and be Queen, be ye ensured that I will be as good unto you as ever Queen was unto her people. No will in me can lack, neither do I trust shall there lack any power. And persuade yourselves that for the safety and quietness of you all I will not spare if need be to spend my blood. God thank you all."
Elizabeth had always been popular with the English people and this event, which turned out to be very successful, proved how happy the English people were to see her take the throne.
Elizabeth's coronation took place on the Sunday in Westminster Abbey, and was said to be a
"clever compromise between the Catholic practices that existed and the Protestant ones that she intended to introduce."
Although Elizabeth was crowned by a Catholic bishop in Latin, other parts of the service were read twice in both Latin and English. Following this Elizabeth stepped out from the abbey and faced her people with her crown, orb and sceptre as Queen Elizabeth I of England.
The original 1559 coronation portrait has been lost, but in the first image here we can see what Elizabeth looked like in her coronation robes in copy dated 1600. It is in miniature form by an unknown artist which is held in a private collection.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

The Cadaver Tomb

The Tomb of Alice de la Pole

Alice de la Pole's Transi Tomb

This magnificent transie tomb at St Mary's Church, Ewelme in the county of Oxfordshire belongs to Alice de la Pole. In two parts, the top section is solid and entirely made of alabaster, it is thought to be unique. Lying on top of this tomb, whose decorated sides are covered with angels holding emblazoned shields, is the life like image of the duchess whose long face is beautifully carved, and her coronted head lies under an ornate canopy. The cushion on which her head lies is supported by tiny angels who are placed there to aid Alice's soul to heaven.

My updated blog on the tomb of Alice de la Pole has moved to

The Medieval Tower

 What do you think when you picture a medieval tower in your mind? Do you see a dirty, frightened face peering from behind two clenched fists that cling to cold iron bars or do you see, as depicted here, a clean tall structure with ivy and roses trailing round its brickwork.

Medieval towers can be found in the inner sections or enclosures of a castle as well as on the outside walls. Often these tall buildings had up to three or four floors and sometimes even a cellar or basement, all reached by spiral staircases that were built into the walls. The floors were always made of wood that were covered with reeds and sweet smelling herbs. Only the third and fourth floors had windows, the first two floors would have only had arrow holes. The fourth floor was not usually a room at all but an open platform that circled the building, whose wall on all sides were capped with what are called Merlons, those zig zaggy patterned walls we all drew on our castle pictures as children. This platform lead to the final floor, which was the lookout tower that was sometimes topped with a conical roof. These towers were not only used for defending the castle, their other uses were as a chapel, a prison, servants quarters or even a separate area for guests. The chapel tower was often quite different from the normal tower in that it had one room that was two stories high with small stained glass windows and an alter. The family would sit in the first floor and look down whilst other church goers would stand on the wooden floor above the basement. The prison towers were, as we would imagine, a hole dug or cut into rock that was reached through a trap door from above where the guards would live. They were dismal and dark with shackles attached to the damp slimy walls. 

The most famous of all towers is our Tower of London, which would have been clearly seen from the River Thames. The tower is made up of three enclosures, the central of which contains the White Tower which has square capped towers on each of its corners. Encircling the tower is the north, east, and west enclosures, built during the reign of Richard the Lionheart. Finally, there is the outer enclosure which surrounds the castle, this was built during the reign of Edward I.

Whether it be the Princes in the Tower or the story of Rapunzel, mediveal towers have always fascinated us.

Whats your favourtie tower tale?

Monday, 12 January 2015

The Last Days of Anne Boleyn

Dr Suzannah Lipscomb in her blog The Last Days of Anne Boleyn states

......"the story of Anne Boleyn's downfall inspires extraordinarily passionate, opinionated disagreement. There's just the right amount of evidence to keep us guessing, enough to lead to great speculation and several almost sustainable theories, but ultimately not enough to nail any one entirely."

My new and updated blog on Anne Boleyn's downfall can be read here.