The last few days have been exceedingly busy, partly because we are now a fortnight away from the Medieval Canterbury Weekend 2018 – there are still tickets available from ‘Campfire Tales’, with The Canterbury Tales, on Friday 6 April for ‘younger medievalists’ to the wide range of Medieval History talks from Friday evening until Sunday afternoon – www.canterbury.ac.uk/medieval-canterbury and also because I have been involved in several meetings about the Faversham exhibition, about working with schoolchildren on History topics and drawing up details for the next Nightingale Memorial Lecture, the joint event with the Agricultural Museum, Brook.
As in 2016, probably the high point this year for the Centre was the History Weekend in early April, which in 2017 featured the Tudors and Stuarts and was a joint venture with the Canterbury Cathedral Archives and Library.
For the last four days, History and the Centre at Canterbury Christ Church has hosted the Gender and Medieval Studies conference under the overarching theme of ‘Gender, places, spaces, thresholds’. Dr Diane Heath, the organiser, has been brilliant and the appreciative audience has been treated to a veritable feast. Live tweeting is now the name of the game and if you want to get a flavour of what has been happening, please tap into #GMSPlaces
So what is there to look forward to from the Centre in the first half of 2017? The flagship event will be the ‘Tudors and Stuarts History Weekend’ between Friday 31 March and Sunday 2 April, which primarily will take place in Old Sessions House, part of the University’s Canterbury campus.
Wednesday saw two events linked to History at Canterbury Christ Church. The first was the presentation of the John and Peggy Hayes Canterbury Award to Paul Bennett as Director of Canterbury Archaeological Trust. The Lord Mayor, Councillor George Metcalfe, presented the award to the Trust in recognition of the several publications recently completed on such large sites as Canterbury Whitefriars and the outer precincts of St Augustine’s Abbey (now largely covered by the main campus of Christ Church). Among the committee responsible for the Award is Professor Jackie Eales and it was thus appropriate that the presentation took place at the University’s Sidney Cooper Centre. Professor Louise Wilkinson joined Jackie Eales, and other members of the School of Humanities, as well as a number of Trustees from Canterbury Archaeological Trust at the presentation. The audience heard the Lord Mayor congratulate Paul on the continuing work of the Trust in the face of increasing difficulties regarding planning matters and other issues. Paul responded in kind and thanked both the Award’s committee and Councillor Metcalfe. He recalled the activities of John and Peggy Hayes in the field of Canterbury history, and the direct help they had given to the Trust over many decades. Paul also mentioned that 2016 had been very successful, not least the ‘40-year history of the Trust’ exhibition held in the Beaney about six months ago which had brought in several thousand visitors.
The Lord Mayor, Paul Bennett and Richard Eales in discussion
The second event on Wednesday was Dr Leonie Hicks’ lecture on ‘Reading and Writing the Battle of Hastings, 1066’. As Christ Church’s contribution to the 950th commemoration of a battle that arguably changed the course of national and international history, it was fitting that Dr Keith McLay, the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Humanities, chaired the lecture. Students joined staff members from the Faculty in the lecture theatre in Old Sessions House, and the audience was considerably enlarged by the presence of members from several local organisations, such as the Friends of Canterbury Archaeological Trust, Canterbury Historical and Archaeological Society, the Historical Association and the University of Kent’s Centre for Medieval and Early Modern Studies.
Leonie explored a considerable number of almost contemporary and relatively near contemporary sources, including the poem Carmen de Hastingae Proelio, and narratives of the period and people produced by William of Poitiers, William of Jumieges, and monastic writers such as Eadmer and Orderic Vitalis. As she was keen to point out, there are analytical issues regarding all the sources. Yet some are more problematic than others are in terms of the story told, the level of detail given, and the viewpoint of the narrator. Moreover, when looking at the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle a further consideration has to be its place of production because William’s treatment of the north not surprisingly influenced how chronicles viewed these invaders. Leonie did not confine her analysis to the written word, but also discussed the Bayeux Tapestry. She noted that like Eadmer’s History, this should be seen as a ‘local’ source because Odo Bishop of Bayeux probably commissioned its creation at St Augustine’s Abbey under Abbot Scolland. This makes it especially interesting because she posed the question ‘did the makers have any agency in its design’ at a time when there must have been considerable tension between Anglo-Saxon and Norman in the monastery, as in society more generally. Such topics engaged the attention of the audience and Leonie took a large number of questions after her lecture.
Another lecture that drew questions from the audience was Dr Conrad Leyser’s lecture on ‘The Cult of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the History of the Family’ in The Schoolroom of the King’s School on Tuesday evening. Conrad took questions on his analysis of the development of Marian piety during late antiquity and the subsequent Carolingian era, in particular. Several of his questioners were students at King’s, and it was interesting to hear the various viewpoints raised.
A considerable number of students from Canterbury Christ Church were at the Friends of Canterbury Archaeological Trust lecture last night. As a result, the lecture theatre in Newton was almost full to hear Peter Clark, Deputy Director of CAT, give a fascinating talk on ‘The Swordsmiths of Holborough: the manufacture, use and disposal of late Bronze Age weaponry’. His assessment of the way bronze swords were made using clay moulds was eye-opening and demonstrated his very careful analysis of all the various processes, as well as opening up a wide range of questions about the availability of raw materials, logistical matters, and the status of smiths and other skilled workers from this period. However, from a personal perspective it was the cultural questions that he posed that reminded me of Everyday Objects, edited by T. Hamling and C. Richardson, and the paradox of an apparently ‘everyday object’ that through its particular use becomes ‘symbolically changed’ or ‘singular’, but that its everydayness is paramount for this process to work. Thus, thematically this was indeed thought provoking for a medievalist who knew nothing of Bronze Age sword making an hour earlier.
Firstly, a couple of notices, and I’ll be giving more information next week about the Centre’s joint conference with Kent Archaeological Society on ‘Place Names and Family Names’. This conference will feature Dr Paul Cullen, probably well known to many of you, and who is a contributor to Early Medieval Kent, 800-1220 (see the blog a few weeks ago). At this point do please make a note of the date: Saturday 12 November, and tickets can be booked at: https://canterbury.ac.uk/arts-and-humanities/events/events-list aspx Secondly, the ‘Tudors and Stuarts History Weekend’ website is now live at http://www.canterbury.ac.uk/tudors-stuarts and do have a look if this sounds interesting. Do please remember if you encounter any difficulties that the box office will not be staffed until Monday morning but will then be open from 10.00 on 01227 782994. However, you can use the email address of email@example.com and again the staff will get back to you on Monday.
This week I want to feature two medieval lectures I heard at Faversham and Canterbury respectively that again highlight the richness of Kent’s medieval heritage and how this is of interest to many within the county. On Tuesday, I joined a crowd of people who packed into the parish church of St Mary of Charity at Faversham to hear Professor Paul Biniski from Cambridge discuss the wall paintings in the north chancel chapel. Professor Biniski’s expertise in art history is well known, and he has worked on the decoration in many of the great cathedrals, including Westminster Abbey and more locally Canterbury Cathedral. He has also studied wall paintings in parish churches, especially those of East Anglian that hold some of the best examples in the country. Consequently, Faversham was exceedingly privileged to have him as a speaker and hopefully his presence will raise the profile of these important paintings. The problem relates to their position because they have been largely hidden by the organ that almost totally fills the chapel. At a result, only one figure can be seen and even he is not very clear. It has been suggested that the organ should be moved again to reveal the paintings, which will also mean that they can be conserved.
So what will we see if this happens? As Professor Biniski said, there are three saints who are linked to English national identity: St Edward the Confessor, St Edmund king and martyr and St Thomas of Canterbury. In addition St John the Evangelist, disguised as a pilgrim/beggar, is on the opposite side of the arch to St Edward because the king is said to have given a ring to him as an act of charity. Such an act might recall the division of his cloak by St Martin when he gave half to another beggar at the city gate – see Dover’s medieval town seal. To return to Faversham, as Professor Biniski mentioned, St Edward received particular acclaim in the 13th century because of Henry III’s considerable devotion to this penultimate Anglo-Saxon king of England, known for his wisdom rather than his martial prowess. Henry III’s devotion led him to construct a fantastic shrine to the Confessor in Westminster Abbey and further work at the abbey is similarly some of the best medieval decoration in England from this period. Now, as he was keen to point out, Faversham is not in that league but it is still exceedingly good. Furthermore, the late 13th/early 14th century is known for its especially graceful wall paintings. In terms of the execution of the paintings, I was very interested to hear that the painter of those figures in the chapel had used water-based paint, but Professor Biniski thinks the ones on the octagonal column are probably in oil paint.
As well as the wise king and one of Christ’s companions, the inclusion of St Edmund who met his end trying to defend his kingdom of East Anglia against the Vikings would have been a powerful reminder to those visiting the chapel of other aspects of kingship, including his willingness to sacrifice himself for his people. This sense of sacrifice might also apply to St Thomas of Canterbury in that he was exceedingly popular among the people of Kent, who seem to have seen him as some sort of people’s champion. Paul Biniski thinks there may be a representation of the martyrdom somewhere on the wall, which would be another good reason to move the organ. Moreover, as in some stained glass, there also appears to be a painting of a donor. Robert Dod kneels with a prayer scroll under a very fine canopy and what is especially intriguing is that only two of the saints are mentioned in his prayer, and not St Edward. Thus, it is feasible that there was (or hopefully still is) another donor painting somewhere nearby. With such fascinating insights into these wall paintings, Professor Biniski captivated his audience and Faversham could be moving into a very interesting period of discovery.
My second event took place at the Canterbury branch of the Historical Association where Richard Eales, formerly of the University of Kent and now of Canterbury Christ Church, provided an assessment of the Norman Conquest and its aftermath, with special reference to Kent. Richard drew on a whole range of sources from chronicles (Norman and Anglo-Saxon), charters, archaeology, Domesday Book, and the Bayeux Tapestry. In particular, he used the latter to provide a narrative of events from the last years of King Edward the Confessor through to the arrival of William’s fleet of ships in England, the feasting of the invaders when on shore at the expense of the English peasants and the battle itself. Because I am on a hunt for medieval representations of the pig, I was particularly delighted to see that one poor pig was the victim of the Norman foragers.
Richard then offered an assessment of recent ideas regarding Duke William’s march through Kent via Romney, Dover and Canterbury as he initially took the coastal route on his way towards London, as well as a further force heading to Winchester to collect the royal treasure. He highlighted, using the Domesday Book, those areas that had seemingly suffered most at the hands of this invading army, although, as he said, such evidence is not clear enough to be able to deploy to map the Norman route through Kent with a high level of precision. Nonetheless, he showed that east Kent had experienced considerable destruction during this early period, but, of course, nothing on the scale of William’s ‘harrying of the North’ somewhat later. Yet, as Richard pointed out, resistance to the Normans was regionally or locally based which meant that any chance of success was severely limited. Moreover, the vertical and horizontal internal divisions within English society similarly hampered a concerted response, thereby enhancing William’s position as he set about a major redistribution of English lands.
Landholding in Kent was a major feature of the later section of his lecture and Richard noted the level of church ownership and its continuity from Anglo-Saxon times and into the period of the Norman kings, something that makes Kent different from many other regions. He similarly observed the role of Bishop Odo as a major landholder and how this can be seen as a royal subcontracting arrangement, in some ways not dissimilar to the role the Godwine family played during Edward the Confessor’s reign. Not that this was still the case in 1086 because Odo’s rebellion against his half-brother has led to his exile and his vast estates passing under direct royal control. This and Odo’s subsequent rebellion meant that in broad terms half of the county was held by the Church and much of the rest was in the hands of large numbers of minor baronial families. Being an expert on castles, Richard provided an overview of Kent castles. He noted the role and form of the three royal castles of Rochester, Canterbury and Dover, including Canterbury Archaeological Trust’s recent findings regarding the extremely large extra-mural bailey at Canterbury, and then briefly turned to the mass of castles constructed by Odo’s and Archbishop Lanfranc’s sub-tenants.
Like Professor Biniski, Richard Eales provided a fascinating analysis, which similarly drew a number of questions from his attentive audience. Furthermore, Richard’s talk was especially appropriate considering we are now just a matter of days away from the big anniversary. Thus for medievalists in Kent this has been a good week.