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9781445645742Darren Baker of the simon2014.com blog and associated newsletter ‘The Provisions‘, has a new book on Simon de Montfort, With All For All, out now* with Amberley Publishing. I posed a few questions to him in the lead up to publication, to probe how his book responds to a range of opinions about this complex character circulating in the academic world:

This is the first biography of the Earl of Leicester since J. R. Maddicott’s Simon de Montfort in 1994. What do you see as the key distinction between your characterisation of Montfort and his? Do you think interpretation has shifted in a particular direction in the last twenty years?

Maddicott gives perhaps the fullest account yet of Montfort’s life and career. He is what you might say is a biographer’s biographer, meaning his work will always be an indispensable resource for people like me. In the end, however, I feel his judgment is too harsh, that he is inclined to see him easily corrupted by his success, to be too much like his father, who incidentally I don’t think was the complete demon he is often portrayed as today. Maddicott is certainly not the first to present such a sombre view, but so thorough is his biography that it has been the prevailing opinion since it came out. I see Montfort as a much more inspiring figure, one who truly did make a lasting contribution, and at first I felt compelled to answer criticisms about him in the body of my book. I then realized that most lay readers probably couldn’t care less for any scholarly tug-of-war, they just want a great story, so I shuffled my opinions to the back of the book. Read the rest of this entry »

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Here’s a meeting that I shall be attending, although not, at this stage, presenting at, owing to the possibly ambitious list of things to which I’m already committed over the next three or four months. (What; me, bite off more than I can chew? Never!) The line up looks superb, so I’m very much looking forward to listening and absorbing. Registration is now open, and more details are here: http://events.history.ac.uk/event/show/9753

Ritual, State & Lordship

The conference will take place on 16 July 2013 at the New College of the Humanities, London, between 0900 and 1830. Registration cost: £5 for students/£10 for salaried attendees, to be paid on the day. In order to register please email the organisers at RitualsConference@hotmail.co.uk no later than 7 July.

Organisers: Lars Kjær (NCH), Levi Roach (Exeter), Sophie Ambler (KCL)

Bjorn Weiler (Aberystwyth): Introductory Remarks

Charles Insley (Manchester): Ottonians with Pipe Rolls?  Kingship and Symbolic Action in the Kingdom of the English

Levi Roach (Exeter): Full of Sound and Theory Signifying Nothing? Social Anthropology and the “Late Anglo-Saxon State”

Benjamin Wild (Sherborne): King Henry III and the Power of Aesthetics: Art & Ceremony in Thirteenth-Century England

Sophie Ambler (KCL): Making and Re-Making the King: the Ritual power of the Archbishop of Canterbury in Thirteenth-Century England

Christopher Tilley (KCL): “Communities of the Mind”: Ritual and Perception of Collective Political Identity in Thirteenth-Century England

Kenneth Duggan (KCL): The Ritualistic Importance of Gallows in England in the High Middle Ages

Lars Kjær (NCH): Hunting, Sociability and the Experience of Royal Favour

Nicholas Vincent (UEA): Concluding Remarks

I’ve held off noting these reports beginning to emerge, because I wanted to put them all together in one post, but it seems like they’re going to trickle in over a relatively longish period, and I’m impatient. Here, I therefore point you, dear reader, in the direction of the admirable Magistra et Mater, who has begun compiling reports on sessions from the 2012 Leeds IMC:

IMC 2012 report 1: rules, filth and gender

IMC 2012 report 2: an early medieval sandwich

IMC 2012 report 3: Hincmar and the rest

Further reports will be linked back to this post as they appear.

Bodington Hall is for sale. Some may not be sad, others will miss it with the kind of nostalgia that only comes from having adapted to crummy conditions and found it a bonding experience...

Bodington Hall is for sale. Some may not be sad, others will miss it with the kind of nostalgia that only comes from having adapted to crummy conditions and found it to be a bonding experience… Photo by Particulations.

And this segues nicely into a glimpse forward to the IMC this year, which will be the first at the much vaunted new ‘on-campus’ locale. (For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure, the IMC previously took place at the University of Leeds’ residential halls, which are (or rather, were – they’re apparently being demolished, and some may say ‘good riddance’…) about 25 mins north of the city by bus, set among some charming sports grounds and not-quite-so-charming urban ring-road roundabouts. I will admit that the first time I went to the meeting I failed to note this and booked a ‘handy’ B&B directly opposite the campus proper, which meant I missed out on lots of the late evening shin-digs as I schlepped back to my digs on the last bus home…) I’m not sure yet how I feel about the move. No – actually I am sure: I feel ambivalent. The facilities may indeed be newer, nicer, shinier and better provided with air conditioning, but the fact that we will all be much closer to town, and therefore much closer to lots of alternative options for spending ‘non-conference’ time lurks as a significant potential drawback. Read the rest of this entry »

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…

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…

View original post 4,722 more words

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 »

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.

If I were a more organized individual – and none of that snorting thank you – I’d have been prepared with a stimulating and intelligent contribution to the celebrations for today’s 797th anniversary of the first issue of Magna Carta, 15th June 1215. Trust me, when it’s the 800th anniversary, there will be dancing llamas.[1]

For now, you’ll have to make do with a pretty picture of one of the four surviving engrossments of the first issue, the famous British Library Magna Carta (although, they actually have two of the 1215 issue, one of the 1225 reissue from Henry III’s minority, and – as an inspeximus – a number of versions of the 1265 reissue under the baronial government of Simon de Montfort, addressed to different counties[2]); and a link to their marvellous manuscripts blog, which is also celebrating this auspicious occasion with some pictures and commentary. Their series of Treasures in Full, which has a section dedicated to the Magna Carta and its context is well worth a visit, and you can click through to it from the image below.

Magna Carta

London, BL, MS Cotton Augustus ii.106

I admit to being a Magna Carta fan, not that I recommend it as bedtime reading, unless you are suffering advanced insomnia, but I think this talismanic document is one of the reasons I am a medievalist. I remember first being taken to look at it as a child of seven, and despite their having nothing but high school historical education, the awe in which my parents held this manky bit of old skin. They had – in fact still have – a poster of the Augustus engrossment, complete with English translation, which hangs (of all places) in the spare toilet at their house in Melbourne. It’s amazing how many hours people tend to sit in there, gazing at it… (If you’re curious, the opposite wall has the Rosetta Stone, and the side wall has a piece of medieval stained glass from the Burrell Collection. My folks were well into collecting ‘cultural’ artefacts when they travelled in the 1980s. Their house is an eclectic and joyful muddle of souvenirs elevated to the status of museum pieces.) I think I absorbed their reverent attitude long before I understood anything about King John and his barons; the wonder of being in the presence of such ancient written thoughts; a vague but powerful sensation of the significance of historical documents. I still often make a pilgrimage to St Pancras to look at it when I am in town.

So happy birthday, Magna Carta. And thanks for everything.


[1] There will also be a conference, and a bunch of other events to mark the occasion. I can hardly wait! See the Magna Carta 2015 webpage for more info: http://magnacarta800th.com/
[2] I take these figures from the most recent and thorough census of extant copies, prepared by Nicholas Vincent and Hugh Doherty for Sotheby’s on the occasion of the sale of the 1297 engrossment formerly owned by Ross Perot, see: The Magna Carta (Sotheby’s: New York, 2007). The BL copies are: (1215) MS Cotton Charter xiii.31a; MS Augustus ii.106 (shown here); (1225) MS Additional 46144; (1265) Cotton Claudius ii. (Statutes etc.) f.128v (138v, 125v); and MS Harley 489 ff. 4r-8v.

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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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