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I recommend this lecture by my dear friend Benjamin Wild to your attention. Fascinating stuff in general, and especially if you are interested in thirteenth-century English politics! I can’t wait for the book to come out…

Dr Benjamin Wild

The recordings and transcript below are from a lecture that I gave last week. A long time ago, it seems, an ex-colleague – my former head of department, to be precise – invited me to present a paper to his historical society. The talk discusses various art-historical themes from my forthcoming book, King Henry III & the Communication of Power, which should be published with Palgrave Macmillan in 2014… In brief, I argue that one historian’s analysis of Adolf Hitler’s political career can open up new perspectives on the reign of King Henry III (1216-1272), England’s fourth-longest reigning monarch.

King Henry III and the Power of Aesthetics: Art & Ceremony in Thirteenth-Century England

Intro (audio)

Adolf HitlerThe title of this talk is in homage to Frederic Spott’s study, Hitler and the Power of Aesthetics, that was published in 2002.[i] Henry III and Adolf Hitler are not obvious figures…

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A while back I remember being horrified by a post at Vaulting and Vellum on the defacement of illuminated manuscripts. When you work on less visually elaborate and aesthetically pleasing sources, say administrative letters for the sake of argument, the chance of that kind of sin being perpetrated on your materials is much lower. What is much more common in this scenario is the source which has been damaged by the attempts of past scholars, editors and archivists to read it.

Like this:

Archive damage

Kew, TNA, SC 1/3/106. Apparently a letter from Thomas fitz Alan to Henry III, c. 1220. Luckily in this case the text was printed by both Prynne and Shirley, because good luck making anything of it now… Photo by Kathleen Neal

A significant number of thirteenth century letters in the SC 1 collection bear similar evidence of chemical agents having been applied at some time to increase the contrast of ink on parchment. Happily in most cases only small portions of the text are affected, typically at the edges, and often UV can help you see through the murk… if you happen to be in Kew with the original in front of you, that is. When you’re forced to rely on digital reproductions from several thousand miles away, it gets your goat to find that some element of dictaminal rhetoric vital for your argument has been obliterated, to all intents and purposes, by otherwise well-meaning predecessors, some of whom helpfully calendared the contents but failed to reproduce them in entirety. One of these days I will tabulate all the examples of this defacement in SC 1 and by correlating them with editions or scholarship of certain authors point a stern and censorious finger at likely culprits. For now I simply say, “Curse you, Oh archivists of the past!”

Henry III’s devotion to St Edward the Confessor is fairly well known. If you haven’t yet read David Carpenter on the topic, if I simply say “Westminster Abbey”, that might be enough to be going on with.[1] What is rather less well known is Henry’s (albeit passing) attention to St Nicholas. Since the Feast of St Nicholas (6th December – not to be confused with the feast of his translation on 9th May) is so closely associated with Christmas these days, I thought it would make an appropriate point of discussion in Advent. This post is based on yet another one of the things in my *large* ‘to-do’ pile: I plead the last throes of thesis drafting… In the mean while, here is a rather preliminary collation of my musing on the matter which I hope to write up more formally and extensively in the reasonably near future.

St Nicholas and the miracle of the golden cup, Bourges, Cathédrale St Etienne. Photo by Gordon Plumb via Flickr.

St Nicholas and the miracle of the golden cup, Bourges, Cathédrale St Etienne. Photo by Gordon Plumb via Flickr.

The evidence of the Close Rolls suggests his release from captivity following the Battle of Evesham (4 August 1264) may have evoked in Henry a brief period of increased devotion to St Nicholas, patron saint of, among other groups, prisoners and the innocent.[2] On 7 September the king promised to pay 50s. annually for masses to be said by a canon of St Margaret’s-without-Marlborough in the chapel of St Nicholas at Marlborough Castle.[3] Just two days later, an order was issued for the restoration of an altarpiece depicting the saint in that chapel,[4] and more substantial renovations were ordered in October.[5] The order for masses to be said at Marlborough seems to have been executed, since a contrabreve on the Liberate Rolls, c. March 1266, authorised the payment of two 25s. installments to the relevant canon to be made annually at Michaelmas and Easter.[6] Masses were still being heard in the chapel in honour of the saint’s feast in 1270, when 1m. was delivered to the clerks of the king’s gift,[7] although by 1271 the payments for masses had fallen into arrears.[8] Also in 1265, perhaps reflecting the new significance of St Nicholas to the king, an order was sent to the sheriff of Somerset and Dorset to “repair and amend without fail out of the issues of the counties” the chapel of St Nicholas at Dorchester along with the house wherein the king’s pleas were held.[9] Read the rest of this entry »

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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.

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