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Melbourne may not have been the first place you associated with the word ‘medieval’ when asked. That’s OK. We forgive you. We don’t have a lot in the way of medieval architecture (unless you count Gothic Revival), or famous kings and queens (except by proxy). But actually there’s a lot going on here that doesn’t involve the beach, koalas, or the complex love lives of Ramsay St.[1] The intellectual life of medievalists is thriving around town. If you are an international scholar – or an expat  Aussie on the lookout for an excuse to visit mum and charge it to your research budget what’s going on back home – please note the following opportunities! We’d love to see you down here.

Yarra River by twilight. Wikimedia commons.

1) ANZAMEMS 2013

[Update: the submission deadline has been extended to 21 September 2012, and early bird registrations are open until 30 November at a reduced price.]

The biennial meeting of the Australian and New Zealand Association for Medieval and Early Modern Studies takes place at Monash University’s Caulfield campus in early February 2013. The call for papers closes on 1 September. There is a loose theme (“Cultures in Translation”) which you are welcome to address, but like other major meetings, in fact it is an open call. Limited travel funding is available for local and international postgraduate students (that’s grad students for any Americans who may be reading…). This meeting is known for its relaxed and friendly vibe, is within striking distance of all those wineries I was just telling you about, and – if you insist – it’s even being held within a 20 minute tram ride of some pretty-darn fine urban beaches, where it will (probably)[2] be hot and sunny by day, and cool and breezy by night…

2) ARC Centre for Excellence in the History of Emotions (Europe, 1100–1800) Early Career Researchers’ Visitor Program

Actually, to be fair, this program welcomes proposed visits to any of the ‘nodes’ of this major inter-varsity project; the gang at UWA, for example, are rather lovely, and I really like the university campus in Adelaide. I’m not saying you can’t go somewhere else if you want… Melbourne is just my personal fave! The program provides funding for early career researchers to spend two months at their chosen ‘node’ for collaboration with the Centre’s staff and participation in activities there. An early career researcher is defined on their site as someone who gained their doctoral qualification in a relevant field of study in the period 2004–12. The current call for applications is for visits to be taken during the period 1 January 2013 – 31 December 2014, so if you get in quick, you can even combine it with ANZAMEMS, and sample the real breadth of Medieval & Renaissance studies ‘down under’. Applications close on 20 August. More details, direct from the horse’s mouth, are here.

So what are you all waiting for?

Brighton Beach, Melbourne. Wikimedia Commons


[1] You can, if you so desire, visit said location, but just don’t admit it to a local. Unless you’re British, in which case, expect an amused-yet-mildly-patronizing species of counter-colonial derision in return. Come to think of it, I’m not sure if anyone other than Brits tend to be interested anyway…
[2] This doesn’t constitute a guarantee. No responsibility for the climatic conditions is accepted by management. It is Melbourne, after all, where the local weather maxim is “four seasons in one day”. Pack for something in the range 18°–45° C and be prepared for abrupt fluctuations…

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Before anyone complaints, let me just say some of my best friends work on accounts. Despite their dry and dusty reputation, there’s plenty to be had from them – the accounts, that is; obviously, friends don’t need justifying! I refer you, for example, to an extremely interesting paper recently published by Benjamin Wild drawing on the Wardrobe accounts of Henry III during his captivity (1264–65); and another, by Lars Kjær, drawing on the household accounts of Eleanor, Countess of Leicester, in approximately the same period. These papers show us how accounts can reveal much, much more than the spending habits of ‘the accounted’, and the anal retentiveness of accountants themselves (although, on reflection, I even find that interesting… I mean, after all, as I have said before and will no doubt say again, much of my work is administrative history, and I spend a lot of my life mining for socially-meaningful gold in what most people would regard as the medieval precursor to the form letter, so who am I to talk…?!) Properly read, accounts can actually tell us about ideals and mindsets. I’m presuming that, for those reading, this is hardly news.

What has today drawn my attention to how one reads accounts was my own annual tax return. The taxation year in Australia ends on 30 June, and returns are due in within a couple of months of this date, so I have been filling in my expenses spreadsheet (the one I began several months ago with every intention of being a conscientious and regular recorder, in solidarity with the medieval maintainers of the close or fine rolls).[1] When I established this record I decided, because that’s the kind of gal I am, to include every expense, and not merely those relevant for taxation purposes. So I’ve been going through the giant undifferentiated mass of receipts in my ‘receipts in’ folder. You know the one:

Read the rest of this entry »

My attention tends to wander when I spend too many days in a row reading the Close Rolls. Try it. I’m sure you’ll feel the same. Hence, I was pleased to be shaken from my reverie when I came upon several entries relating to wine in the Roll for 1274; after all, this is a subject dear to my heart, as a regular visitor of several fine wineries in the greater Melbourne area, and proud owner/drinker of a cellar that’s not too bad, thank you very much, even if I do say so myself. I have a vague notion of writing the book on wine in the thirteenth century one day.[1] For now, here are some tastings.

Obviously I’m not the only one who likes to mix my -OH groups with medieval amusement…

The king had a special right to prise, in other words, a tax, on imports of wine, and it seems to me from the implications of several notes on the Rolls that this was sometimes taken in kind. There is mention, for example, of a tun of wine “of the right prise” being given “of the king’s gift” to the archbishop of Rages.[2] As the wording of this writ suggests, gifts of wine potentially represented patronage of both symbolic and functional significance.[3] Gifts of wine from the royal prise frequently seem to have been directed at religious houses, sometimes for the express purpose of celebrating the divine office. On January 27, 1275, the monks of King’s Beaulieu, where the king was staying, took the opportunity to press their rights to an annual tun for this purpose which they claimed to have been granted by a charter of Henry III. Edward ordered three tuns – one for the present year and two in arrears – to be granted to them “until he shall cause it to be ordained otherwise”, presumably involving a search of the chancery records for the aforementioned charter.[4] As a chivalrous and gracious monarch, one imagines he could hardly fail to meet the monks’ demands while he was their guest, even if he should later discover the claim to be groundless.[5]  Read the rest of this entry »

Some readers will know that I am a self-confessed conference junkie. I thrive on the academic and social interactions that conferences facilitate. To me, a conference is like a giant party of all my old friends (and many friends I haven’t yet made), all of whom are interested in the same stuff as me, and have deliberately gathered together to talk about it over several days and a few drinks (or, let’s be honest, many…). It gives me ideas and it gives me energy, even though it is also completely exhausting. Add in the opportunity to go crazy at the bookstalls and to galavant about the countryside in good company ogling the local medieval remains, and it’s simply so much fun and so stimulating, there’s probably a law against it somewhere.

And so – as strange as it may sound to the uninitiated – it’s especially heartbreaking not to be in Leeds this week, where the annual International Medieval Congress is taking place. I suspect it’s true that taking part in these extravaganzas matters much more when one is normally separated from the majority of one’s colleagues by several thousand kilometres of ocean, but it certainly matters to me. This is the first time I’ve missed it in four years and, as I have discovered, having a Really Good Reason doesn’t make it any more bearable.

Did I mention they also have a *really cool* poster? Click through for the 2012 program…

So by way of a rather poor substitute for being present, this is a small shout out to those of you lucky enough to be there and an injunction to dance your little hearts out on my behalf. Don’t forget, also, that next year’s call for papers is already out, and you can put it in your diaries for 1-4 July, 2013. The theme will be Pleasure, which could hardly be more apt.[1] Be there or be very, very sad.

For now, I look forward to the conference reports that will presumably begin to appear online sometime soon(ish) from various special correspondents… I’ll point at them when that happens.


[1] And apparently I am not the only person who thinks so! I refer you to this amusing site: medievalhistorianryangosling.tumblr.com [Edit: link now pinned to the relevant picture]

Becket’s martyrdom. The Carrow Psalter, Walters Art Museum, MS W.34, f.15v. (image courtesy of Walters Art Museum, under Creative Commons licence)

Today is the feast of the translation of Thomas Becket. It commemorates the translation of the martyr’s relics on 7 July, 1220, from the crypt of Canterbury Cathedral to their shiny new shrine at the East end of the cathedral proper (from whence they were removed and subsequently destroyed by everyone’s favourite art lover, Henry VIII and cronies).[1] Becket, for those who don’t know or need reminding, was murdered in the cathedral on 29 December 1170 (the morrow of Holy Innocents) by three knights who may or may not have been acting on the orders – or at least wishes – of Henry II. Among much else, this act produced one of the most recognizable motifs of later medieval religious art.

Although Becket’s martyrdom was by now 50 years in the past, this was but a short time in the memory of the English church and the wider English political community, for whom both the event and the anniversary were invested with high symbolism. The date of the translation had been fixed at least two years in advance by Archbishop Stephen Langton, not to fall fifty calendar years from the martyr’s death, but on the more ‘providential’ jubilee. It was calculated, in the words of Anne Duggan, “according to the details given in Leviticus … [to fall] on the tenth day … of the seventh month after seven-times-seven years from the event; and for good measure, the day was Tuesday, corresponding with the special Tuesdays in Becket’s life, the date was the anniversary of Henry II’s inhumation in 1189, and 1220 was a leap-year, a time of good fortune.”[2]

Thus, the martyr’s translation signified much more than a liturgical event and an opportunity for Canterbury to increase its already burgeoning pilgrim trade. It was also a political moment, and even a diplomatic one. Coming at the end of a period of civil strife and upheaval traceable at the least from Magna Carta and the death of King John through the turbulent early years of Henry’s minority,[3] it was attended by the young Henry III, who had been re-crowned only seven weeks earlier by Langton in a symbolic ceremony of royal and ecclesiastical reconciliation at Westminster. Also in attendance were the powerful chief justiciar, Hubert de Burgh, and the papal legate, Pandulf, two men who were among the main architect’s of Henry’s grip on power after the disastrous final months of King John’s reign.[4] Langton probably intended it as a seal on the preceding seven weeks of symbolic rapprochement, with the luminaries present both as participants and witnesses to authenticate the occasion. With the benefit of our historical perspective, we know how short-lived this period of calm turned out to be, but in 1220, perhaps those present truly felt that in celebrating the anniversary of the old king’s burial and the translation of his rival, they were also interring the remains of their conflict.

However, the ghost of Becket continued to cast a shadow over the Angevins, just as the spectre of conflict over the liberties and limitations of kingship also continued to hover. In 1231, Henry III is said to have exclaimed on the death of William Marshall the younger, “Woe is me! Is not the blood of the blessed martyr Thomas fully avenged yet?”[5] These words, attributed to the king by the monastic chronicler Matthew Paris, might represent true royal superstition that the curse of the martyred archbishop would continue to haunt the Angevin dynasty until his spirit was placated; equally, or also, it might represent Matthew’s idea of what a king of England ought to feel and say on such an occasion. In either case, it demonstrates Thomas’ continuing potency as a symbol of the wrongs of kings, the power of holy retribution to punish and constrain them, and the position of the church at the centre of the maelstrom that was the debate over the nature of kingship in high medieval England.

Thomas’ murder was a political and personal act embedded in an ecclesiastical context. His conflict with his old friend and king orbited the twin suns of Thomas’ resolve to uphold the independence and liberties of the English church in the face of Henry’s equally steely resolve to subject it to his law and will, and the king’s deep affront and sense of betrayal at what he perceived to be Thomas’ ungrateful intransigence. It ought to come as no surprise then, that, commemorated by a church still feeling the pressure of royal demands, the figure of Thomas remained a politicized one with provocative potential.

The feast of the Translation of St Thomas of Canterbury provides a handy opportunity to reflect on that.


[1] The most recent discussion of the translation (with special reference to its Office) known to me is Sherry L. Reames, ‘Reconstructing and Interpreting a Thirteenth-Century Office for the Translation of Thomas Becket’, Speculum, 80 (2005), 118-70.
[2] Anne J. Duggan, ‘The Cult of St Thomas Becket in the Thirteenth Century’, in St Thomas Cantilupe, Bishop of Hereford: Essays in His Honour, ed. by Meryl Jancey (Hereford, 1982), pp. 21-44 (pp. 38-9).
[3] Henry ascended the throne at the age of nine, and officially assumed his personal rule in 1226. For the minority, see D. A. Carpenter, The Minority of Henry III (London: Methuen London, 1990).
[4] Richard Eales, ‘The Political Setting of the Becket Translation of 1220’, in Martyrs and Martyrologies, ed. by Diana Wood (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), pp. 127-139.
[5] Matthaei Parisiensis, monachi Sancti Albani, chronica majora, ed. by H. R. Luard, Rolls Series, 7 vols. (London: Longman, 1876) III, p. 201, as translated in Louise J. Wilkinson, Eleanor de Montfort: A Rebel Countess in Medieval England (London: Continuum, 2012), p.37.

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I teach and research at the Centre for Medieval & Renaissance Studies in the School of Philosophical, Historial and International Studies, Monash University (Australia). Views expressed here are my own and not representative of the CMRS, SOPHIS or Monash.

You can also find my academic profile on Academia.edu

Twitter: @KB_Neal

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