Moving to mid-August and it remains a quiet time in the academic year before the ‘A’ level results appear and universities endeavour to attract even more students through ‘clearing’.
I thought I would start this week by giving you an update on the ‘legacy’ of the Medieval Canterbury Weekend, because apart from Matthew Crockatt’s excellent gallery of photos and the best postgraduate posters that are now on the Weekend’s webpage, Professor Louise Wilkinson, as the CCCU staff member on the organising committee, is in the process of finalising the Weekend’s accounts. As a consequence of the phenomenal success of the Medieval Weekend and the generosity of sponsors, it will be possible to give each of the four iconic medieval buildings visited a donation of £1000, and there will still be a healthy sum to launch the Ian Coulson Postgraduate Bursary, details of which will be released shortly – an excellent result for this joint Canterbury Christ Church University and Canterbury Cathedral enterprise.
I thought I would begin this week with a couple of notices that involve events linked to the Centre, although before that I’ll just mention that Matthew Crockatt has given the Medieval Canterbury Weekend an afterlife – so do please look at the winning postgraduate poster, the short report and the picture gallery. Now to return to the events, the first involves a talk about St Botolph that will be taking place at Folkestone on 19 April. This is a free lecture organised by the Folkestone People’s History Centre that will take place at the Old Town Hall, Folkestone at 6.00pm when Denis Pepper will discuss this local saint under the title ‘The Riddles of St Botolph – Monk of Romney Marsh and Folly Field’. Do go along if you think this may be of interest, and you will also be able to find out about other activities relating to the history of Folkestone and surrounding area from the organisers. These include Dr Lesley Hardy from Canterbury Christ Church, who is particularly involved in community-focused projects in the town, such as ‘Finding Eanswythe’. The second event I would like to mention also involves a Kent port, this time Richborough and concerns the one-day conference that Dr Martin Watts has organised for Saturday 25 June. As I have mentioned before, the speakers will cover aspects of the port’s history over a very long time span, beginning with Keith Parfitt’s (Canterbury Archaeological Trust) assessment of Roman Richborough and concluding with Professor Clare Ungerson’s examination of the port as a camp for Jewish refugees from Germany in 1939/40.
I thought I would keep it short this week, not least because I’m pretty busy doing things for the Medieval Canterbury Weekend. Just in case you have missed this the box office at www.canterbury.ac.uk/medieval-canterbury in terms of ticket sales will close this Friday, but tickets will be available to buy at Old Sessions, Canterbury Christ Church on Saturday 2 April (cash payments only) and at the Cathedral Lodge, the Precincts on Sunday 3 April (same arrangements). So please if you are interested do come along. There are lots of fascinating talks, and just considering those under ‘Books and Manuscripts’, there will be two great lectures on Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts. Firstly on Friday evening Richard Gameson will consider the fabulous St Augustine’s Gospels, seen by contemporaries as relics in their own right, and then on Saturday morning Michelle Brown will look more broadly at the manuscripts and documents produced in Anglo-Saxon Canterbury at two of the most important scriptoria in the land. Sunday will bring us forward in time to the ‘Age of Chaucer’ and Peter Brown’s entertaining assessment of what was being produced by way of texts by Chaucer’s contemporaries – another treat.
I have also heard from Martin Watts, who tells me that tickets for his ‘Richborough through the Ages’ are selling. This one-day conference on Saturday 25 June promises to be a great day. Now as a medievalist I am particularly interested to hear what Ges Moody has to say about the area as a contested landscape and Paul Dalton’s assessment of Richborough’s medieval context also looks to be in my area. However I’m sure the modern history lectures will be exciting too, and as an ex-dairy farmer I’ll be interested to hear what John Bulaitis has to say about G.C Solley of King’s End Farm, whose activities in the early 20th century extended well beyond farming!
I’m also thinking about the autumn, when hopefully the first recipient of an award from the Ian Coulson Memorial Postgraduate fund will be embarking on his/her new research project towards a higher degree on a Kentish history topic at Canterbury Christ Church. At the moment I’m looking at a one-day conference on ‘Early Medieval Kent’ on 10 September, and possibly towards another joint lecture with Brook Agricultural Museum, the Nightingale Memorial Lecture. Last year we were treated to a brilliant talk by Canterbury Christ Church’s own John Bulaitis on the ‘tithe wars’ in early 1930s Kent, a lecture that is still discussed in glowing terms. Indeed it was one of the topics raised at a meeting of the Trustees of the Brook Museum yesterday, and hopefully the next lecture will be equally successful. I have an idea for a potential speaker but before I reveal anything more I want to talk to a few key people. However I am really excited about the prospect, so do watch this space.
This concept of joint conferences and lectures has been actively embraced by the Centre and I believe the Kent Archaeological Society’s Place-Name conference for 2016 will also take place under such a scheme. Again when I know more details I’ll let you know. To a degree keeping with an archaeological theme, it is probably worth mentioning that Canterbury Archaeological Trust’s ‘40 years’ exhibition at The Beaney will be opening at Easter and will be in The Front Room there for about a month. Andrew Richardson of CAT has also been involved as the honorary curator of the KAS in overseeing the cataloguing of the Society’s artefact collection held at Maidstone Museum. In addition, photos of the pieces are going on the Society’s website making a fantastic resource for teachers, students and those having a more general interest in the county’s archaeological heritage.
Finally, it was good to see this evening that the BBC’s regional news programme was actively exploring links between Shakespeare and Kent under the banner of the regional and national aspect of Shakespeare 400. Thus it was excellent to watch Liz Finn at the Kent History Library Centre in Maidstone pointing out entries in Dover’s chamberlains’ accounts relating to early modern players, in this case the theatre company linked to the Bard, the King’s Players, who visited the town on more than one occasion. The camera crew had also been to Dover Museum because we were treated to Jon Iveson pointing out details on William Eldred’s fascinating map of the town dated c.1641. So it was great to see Kent’s history brought to life in this way, and it would be equally fantastic to do the same for Canterbury, although hopefully we will not have to wait until the 2020 anniversary of St Thomas Becket’s Translation.
About this time last year I was musing about Archbishop Sudbury and the subject of commemoration, a fitting topic for the last week in December. This year I’m going to start with another murdered archbishop because today, of course, is the anniversary of Thomas Becket’s martyrdom in his own cathedral in 1170. Although I did not attend Evensong this evening when those events will have been remembered through an embellishment to the service that involves the archbishop leading the congregation to the Martyrdom, while the lay clerks continue Vespers in the quire. The events at the Martyrdom having been retold to the lay onlookers, the archbishop takes the congregation down to the crypt, where Thomas’ mangled body was similarly taken, the choir, as the monks, joining the assembled masses in the crypt for the remainder of the service. Much of this movement is undertaken by candlelight, greatly enhancing the atmosphere of this most evocative of services.
Although I hadn’t actually intended to be in the city to see the Magna Carta parade, I happened to be there and so joined the crowd to see the band, the military escort for ‘Magna Carta’, the mayor, civic, church and other dignitaries, and a group of ‘medieval’ townspeople suitably attired. I left them to head into the cathedral precincts for evensong and instead headed towards The Beaney to have a look at Canterbury’s Magna Carta exhibition. The exhibition is in two rooms at The Beaney, in the Front Room is the ‘journey’ towards ‘Our Great Charter’ composed by the Skillnet Group of young adults, looking at what they have learned over the past couple of months as they explored first the General Election before turning their attention to Magna Carta and the freedoms gained by people since 1215. There are a number of interactive features to this exhibition and this is also the case in the other Magna Carta room upstairs.
Canterbury’s Magna Carta parade in Burgate
The exhibition ‘Canterbury in the Age of Magna Carta’ is in the Drawing Room and when I was there a couple of youngsters with their mother were working on their own seals. As you might expect the exhibition makes good use of both William Urry’s maps from his Canterbury under the Angevin Kings and also charters and other documents from the Canterbury Cathedral Archives and Library, one of the exhibition’s sponsors. Canterbury Christ Church University is the other partner under the leadership of Professor Louise Wilkinson, and, as she said in her lecture at the conference, Canterbury is very fortunate in the quality of its medieval records for this period. If you haven’t been to the exhibition, I would recommend you do because it offers interesting materials not only on Canterbury’s own Magna Carta, the city’s citizens in John’s time, but images and artefacts covering pilgrimage to St Thomas’s shrine, including a piece of pink marble that may have been part of the shrine. Similarly, if you haven’t been to Faversham’s Magna Carta exhibition, it too is well worth a visit.
Keeping with the same period I was also present when a group of students (undergraduates and postgraduates) from the University of Kent staged a performance of the first section of ‘The Play of Adam’, that is the section dealing with the Fall, at St Stephen’s church, Hackington. This play dates from the twelfth century and survives in a single manuscript copy. The reason why it is so interesting is that it is in the vernacular, in this case Anglo-Norman and thus could have been performed in any part of the Angevin Empire, including potentially Canterbury. The reason I am drawing your attention to this performance, apart from the fact that it was well done and the actors made good use of the playing space outside the church’s west door, is that it deals very cleverly with several themes that were of deep concern to churchmen and others in authority in the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries. Among these were ideas about formalising marriage and the marriage ceremony that the Church wished to encourage, especially its solemnisation at the church door, to be followed by a nuptial mass, and something very similar takes place where God joins the hands of Adam and Eve together near the beginning of the play. Similarly, ideas about the feudal bond between master and man take place, in this case between God and Adam, a reciprocal relationship that equally bound medieval society together, at least ideally. Although, as Magna Carta showed, when this bond was broken society became unstable and it was difficult to reinstate ideas of trust between the parties. Moreover by staging the action at the church door and in the churchyard – God retires into the church at various points – the audience, then as now, can understand the spiritual implications put forward by the writer, and for those who had experienced the Interdict in England during John’s reign, such a play might have been especially painful, a reminder of how English people (Mankind and Adam) had been estranged from the Church and thus from God.
The play also featured a very fetching Hell Mouth, suitably positioned on the north side of the playing area and thus the church, and a splendid snake that quivered beautifully at God’s approach, finding itself condemned to crawl on its belly forever. However the play is one of hope because, even though Adam and Eve are driven from Paradise, Satan and his devils plant thistles in Adam’s corn and destroy his crops, the message of the Resurrection is given in several lines and there is an especially good linking of Eve and Mary. This connection might also be seen as joining Creation and Domesday, another theme that was of concern to contemporaries. Thus once again Canterbury has served up some fascinating medieval events this week. On that note, I’ll finish by saying that preparations for the Medieval Canterbury Weekend in 1-3 April 2016, under the Centre, are coming on well, which should mean booking will open in July through the university’s Arts & Culture facility, either in person at Augustine House or through the relevant webpage.
Yesterday I joined about a hundred people in Old Sessions House at Canterbury Christ Church for the conference organised by Professor Louise Wilkinson, in conjunction with Canterbury Cathedral Archives and Library, entitled ‘Magna Carta, King John and the Civil War in Kent’. Proceedings were opened by the Revd Christopher Irvine, who is Canon Librarian at Canterbury Cathedral. He reminded the audience just how many Magna Carta events are and will be happening in and around Canterbury and just how important the city, its cathedral and archbishop had been in 1215. This set the scene for the opening session on ‘The Church’ in which the first speaker was Dr Sophie Ambler from the University of East Anglia. Her paper on ‘Pope Innocent III and the Interdict’ highlighted the effect the interdict would have had on the lay people of England. She conjured up a world where parish priests had shut the church doors, no longer celebrated Mass and on Sundays and feast days summoned their parishioners to hear a sermon at these same locked doors. However, perhaps even more stark was the vision of laypeople being buried anywhere but in consecrated ground, while the clergy were ‘buried’ in trees above consecrated ground, the bodies of lay and cleric alike exhumed or whatever you did from a tree when six years later the interdict was lifted. As she also noted the absence of church bells would have totally altered the soundscape, an exceedingly disconcerting change that would have affected rural and urban dwellers equally hard because amongst other things it was the bells that indicated the time of day. In this context it is worth noting that even after the introduction of clocks in Kent, especially in parish churches, time was recorded in contemporary documents as ‘six of the bell’ rather than six o’clock as became common thereafter.
KHLC: Sa/LC1 first page of the earliest surviving copy of Sandwich custumal
copyright: Sandwich Town Council, held at the Kent History Library Centre
Dr Ambler was followed by Professor Nicholas Vincent, also from UEA, who spoke on ‘Stephen and Simon Langton: Magna Carta’s True Authors?’. He drew attention to Stephen Langton’s educational background, including his time at the University of Paris and his several decades as a teacher, when amongst other activities he was writing copious biblical commentaries, but not on the Book of Psalms. As Professor Vincent noted, the Bible was seen as a political text, it was a theatre of moral examples covering topics such as inadequate ‘modern’ kingship and the importance of the law. Taking this as his background about the new archbishop, he went on to consider two interesting aspects of Stephen Langton’s character, his understanding and use of numerical spiritual symbolism and his likely input with regard to particular clauses in Magna Carta. Just to give you a flavour of this, I’ll give one example of each. Taking the symbolic numbers first, he noted that the figure of twenty-five barons who were to act as Magna Carta’s ‘policemen’ to ensure John kept to its terms can be seen as the square of five, the number of the laws of Moses. Regarding the clauses, obviously there is the importance of the first, but I want to mention a more prosaic example that covered the removal of fish weirs from the Thames and Medway. Now their removal from the Thames was for the benefit of the London citizens, but the Medway presumably related in large part to Archbishop Langton’s own interests in the area, for as a major landholder there such weirs would have disrupted river traffic and thus archiepiscopal concerns at Maidstone. And with this link it is worth mentioning that Sir Robert Worcester concluded this session before coffee by alerting his audience to, amongst other things, the issue this year of a set of Magna Carta commemorative stamps.
After coffee the audience was suitably refreshed and were eager to hear Professor Louise Wilkinson’s lecture on ‘Canterbury in the Age of King John’. She drew attention to what can be gleaned from the royal Pipe and Fine Rolls, now held at The National Archives at Kew, as well as the monumental work of William Urry, the former cathedral archivist, whose Canterbury under the Angevin Kings with its maps are a treasure trove of detailed analysis of rentals, charters and other documents from the local archives. Among the examples Professor Wilkinson gave were the likelihood that Isabella of Gloucester was buried in Canterbury Cathedral in 1217. Isabella had a chequered married life, because having in effect been cast off by King John she was later married to Hubert de Burgh, who would be mentioned on several occasions later in the programme. Another local person from King John’s Canterbury was Terric the Goldsmith who was exceedingly wealthy, although perhaps not on the scale of Jacob the Jew whose property lies under the Abode Hotel on the corner of the High Street and Stour Street. But to return to Terric, he was involved in the several royal exchanges, not just Canterbury but also including Canterbury’s great archiepiscopal ‘rival’: York. So even though for some John’s reign was not good news, for others it offered commercial and other opportunities.
The audience was next treated to Professor David Carpenter’s narrative regarding the identifying of ‘Canterbury’s Magna Carta’. This piece of detective work rests largely on a close reading of the text, comparing a nineteenth-century copy of the original charter, which is now sadly in a very poor state at the British Library, with a late thirteenth-century copy of the charter in a Christ Church Priory Register. You can read more about the uncovering of its identity on the Magna Carta Project website and I will confine my remarks here to the point that its early dissemination, particularly in the south of the country away from the territories controlled by the rebel barons was through churchmen, the bishops rather than John’s sheriffs, and thus it is perhaps hardly surprising that of the four survivors, three are linked to the cathedral communities of Salisbury, Lincoln and now Canterbury. After this satisfying session where we also learnt that even distinguished professors can get on to the wrong train and thus see more of Woking than they would ever wish, the audience headed out of the lecture theatre for lunch.
The first afternoon session saw a change of focus to consider examples of rebellion. Dr Hugh Doherty, the final member of UEA’s triumvirate, spoke under the intriguing title of ‘The Lady, the Bear, and the Politics of Baronial London’. This paper explored the real and symbolic value placed on tournaments and, in particular, the monastic chronicler Roger of Wendover’s likely use of correspondence provided by William de Aubigny, Earl of Arundel. Again I am going to just pick out a couple of points that especially interested me, firstly after 1194 it was decreed that certain areas could be used to hold tournaments, including Stamford and a site near Hounslow, but nowhere else, and secondly that tournaments were held on Mondays or Tuesdays. The letter involving the bear stated that the tournament venue had been moved from Stamford to this place just outside London and the prize would be a bear given by a lady. However neither the identity of the lady nor the fate of the bear were recorded, but, as Dr Doherty noted, the rebel barons’ greater interest in such sports was at odds with what should have been their greater duty to their fellow rebel lords (and to God), that is those besieged in Rochester Castle under William’s leadership. The rescue force from the rebel stronghold of London to Rochester was ‘put off by a southern wind’ and so turned back soon after leaving the capital, thus leaving William and his men to their fate as they were besieged by King John and his forces, a sad indictment of the absence of baronial vigour as Roger of Wendover saw it.
Keeping with the theme of baronial activity, or inactivity, in the county, Sean McGlynn examined several episodes from ‘The Magna Carta Civil War in Kent’. In particular he discussed the successful sieges from John’s view at Rochester, which eventually after several weeks produced the rebel garrison’s surrender, and at Dover, where John’s commander Hubert de Burgh held out against Prince Louis and his French forces camped outside the castle’s northern walls, the castle remaining in royalist hands throughout the war. This was interesting but I want to draw your attention to another part of his talk where he explored the activities of Willekin of the Weald. Willekin’s band of archers was an important guerrilla force on the side of the young King Henry III in what is sometimes known as the ‘Sussex Campaign’ against Prince Louis and his forces holed up in Winchelsea in early 1217. Not that these Wealden bowmen were the only royalists involved, both William Marshal and Philip of Aubigny led forces in and around Rye blockading Louis’ escape, but their activities are especially interesting in terms of their social status. The documented involvement of Willekin’s band highlights those below the elite in the civil war, as well as offering a possible southern addition to what would become the legends of Robin Hood in later medieval England.
Prince Louis, too, had what might be described as a colourful character among his men, and Eustace the Monk was well to the fore in my talk on the Battle of Sandwich, a sea battle that has been described as ‘worthy of the first place in the list of British naval successes’. Even though Eustace swapped sides and operated on his own account when it suited him, terrorising shipping in the Channel and plundering ships from the Cinque Ports when he could, in 1217 he was working for Louis and the rebel barons. In the summer of 1217 he was engaged as the naval commander to bring a relieving force of knights to join Louis in London. Having left Calais, the French ships sailed northwards around the Kent coast where they were met by a smaller fleet from Sandwich and the other Cinque Ports. However the English did had a larger proportion of big ships among their out-numbered force, including William Marshal’s cog. Without going into details, it is perhaps interesting to note that the French were the victims of chemical warfare – the use of quick lime hurled down from great pots which then turned to slaked lime when it reacted violently with the water. Eustace, aboard the French flagship, fought ferociously but was captured and executed, his death demoralising the French. Thereafter, even though the other great French ships escaped, the English took the majority of the smaller vessels, killing most aboard and gathering the booty. Some of the booty is documented as having been used to found a hospital – St Bartholomew’s to accommodate the town’s poor. Furthermore, and moving on in time it is feasible that the town’s copy of the reissued Magna Carta by Edward I, recently discovered by Dr Mark Bateson at the Kent History Library Centre, can be linked to the construction of the Sandwich custumal of 1301, which included the hospital’s custumal. Thus the battle, hospital, custumal and Magna Carta are in many ways inseparably connected – part of the negotiating process for greater civic autonomy between town and Crown and important in the construction of civic identity.
The final lecture in the second session on rebellion was given by Richard Eales. His topic, the baronial conflict of the 1260s, drew on his expertise regarding the political circumstances of Henry III’s reign, and more particularly his considerable research on Kent’s royal castles. As he noted, this year is also a significant anniversary for Simon de Montfort’s activities regarding parliament and thus is an appropriate topic at a conference on Magna Carta and Kent. Moreover, events in the county need to be seen both in terms of its location vis-à-vis continental Europe, but equally with respect to people and politics further inland. For the Church’s dominance in terms of landholding in the county meant that its lords were deeply involved in national politics and of the lay lords only the Clare family of Tonbridge were great magnates, yet whose main power base was beyond the county boundary. Thus, what happened in Kent mattered to those in other parts of the kingdom, and what happened in other parts of the kingdom mattered to those in Kent. Among the events he discussed was the second siege of Rochester, about which we know far less than the first except in terms of what the garrison ate daily; and the de Montforts’ ‘last stand’ at Dover Castle, a far stronger and impressive fortress on which the Angevin kings had lavished vast funds. This provided a fitting conclusion to a fascinating day, and to round off proceedings Professor Wilkinson thanked her postgraduate helpers who had worked tirelessly throughout the day, Cressida Williams from Canterbury Cathedral Archives who had worked with her on the Magna Carta exhibition at the city’s Beaney Library, and her colleagues at Canterbury Christ Church, Dr Leonie Hicks and Diane Heath who had chaired sessions and also helped in other ways. Now I appreciate this is quite a bit longer than normal, but it seemed a good idea to offer a snap shot of each of the lectures given yesterday because the conference was a major event in the Centre’s calendar.
Today I attended a presentation by several leading officers of the Smarden Local History Society to members of the Council of Kent Archaeological Society about records and record keeping within history societies and museums. As the presenters highlighted, there are considerable bodies of material at many local history organisations in Kent, much of which has probably not been catalogued and is often kept in less than ideal conditions. Such local collections can be seen as highly vulnerable, and in some ways this is doubly worrying if few or no one actually knows in detail what is held. Nor are such problems confined to history societies because some local museums are equally vulnerable. Moreover, with Kent County Council’s recent announcement of the formation of a trust to manage libraries, archives and registration in the county outside Medway, the future of local history collections in libraries would similarly appear to be uncertain. This is all against a backdrop of staff reductions across libraries and archives as a consequence of the government’s squeeze on local government, and, as I said several weeks ago, the county has some wonderful documentary and other collections that are of national and international importance. To a large extent there has always been a partnership between professionals and volunteers as guardians of these resources, but this balance would appear to be in danger in that as the numbers of qualified professionals decline, the role of trained amateurs will need to grow to meet this skills and manpower shortfall.
The Hythe skulls
One way to try to overcome some of these problems and likely difficulties in the future would be to try to digitise as much of this material as local history societies, museums and other organisations wish to, thereby providing a record for their members and others. At the moment such good quality facilities in an archive context are not widely available. However the purpose of this blog is not to describe Smarden’s proposal but to highlight what I, as a practising historian, see as a very worrying scenario if such ideas are not taken up. Now I know there are various digitisation projects underway in some places across the county, but it would seem that another thing that is needed, if at all possible, is an up-to-date register of such projects and preferably a degree of standardisation with regard to cataloguing and data management so that organisations can talk and continue to talk to each other. Whether in some ways umbrella organisations like the Kent History Federation or Kent Archaeological Society can take a growing lead in this might seem a sensible way forward. As many of you probably know KAS has an amazing website packed full of research material, and thus may be best placed to take a lead here. Furthermore, the institutions in the county that (hopefully) might also wish to be involved in some form or other are the universities, not least because in many ways they have resources that other organisations can only dream of. So these are just some musings in response to events this morning.
To finish, I thought I would just mention what is coming up in relation to the Centre here next week because, in addition to the Magna Carta, King John and Kent conference at Christ Church next Saturday, there will be the start of the exhibition at The Beaney and other celebrations surrounding Canterbury’s Magna Carta. And it is perhaps worth mentioning that Faversham, too, is celebrating its own later copy of the reissued Magna Carta. As well as the exhibition there, the weekly lecturers will include Professor Louise Wilkinson and Richard Eales, both experts in the field and they are similarly among the speakers in Canterbury next Saturday.
Today I met members of the group who are putting together an exhibition at The Beaney in Canterbury, from 13 to 28 June, on ‘Our Great Charter’, which represents their response to Magna Carta and its relevance for making lives better today for all members of society. Their exhibition will be an audio, visual and tactile experience, whereby visitors can travel with the group in their exploration of what a modern Magna Carta might comprise that is founded on inclusion rather than exclusion. This journey of discovery for members of the group began a few weeks ago when they started looking at the voting process in the run-up to the recent General Election. Group members also examined the different policies put forward by the various parties to see how politics and government function today.
Rochester Castle, an important royal castle and the site of a siege by John against a rebel garrison.
Having investigated modern democracy in twenty-first century Britain, Candy Worf, the organiser of ‘The Great Citizens’ course, had devised a curriculum that involved delving into the past, and where better to do that than Canterbury Cathedral which amongst other matters has been the site of a number of ‘battles’ between State and Church, including, of course, Henry II and Archbishop Thomas Becket. Thus this morning the Skillnet Group arrived at Canterbury Cathedral to be met by Zoe Willis, the Schools Officer, for a tour of those sites in the cathedral which have a link to events in the early thirteenth century. Zoe was an excellent guide and interpreter, showing group members the tomb of Archbishop Stephen Langton and telling them that the archbishop was an important personage in events leading up to Magna Carta and in the actual composition of the charter itself. Moreover Langton was a considerable devotee of Thomas Becket, thus providing a link between the two men, which can also be seen through their opposition to the actions of their respective kings. And this connection can be pushed even further because in addition to Becket versus Henry II and Langton versus King John we can put in Henry VIII and King John versus Becket and Langton through John Bale’s play ‘King Johan’ and Henry VIII’s destruction of Becket’s shrine, both occurring in the late 1530s.
But to return to Zoe’s tour, having looked at Langton’s tomb, now greatly hidden from public view by the massive tomb of Margaret Holland and her two husbands in St Michael’s (the Warriors’) Chapel, the group examined the site of Becket’s martyrdom and later shrine, so events either side of 1215. This provoked a discussion about pilgrims and pilgrimage, and also ideas about possible responses to tombs in the cathedral by medieval visitors. Regarding the latter, the group considered the possible motives and hopes of Archbishop Chichele, who had commissioned and seen the building of his funeral monument during his life time. The archbishop’s transi-tomb is an extremely good example of this late medieval phenomenon of a double effigy, the sculpture of a rotting corpse below offering a stark contrast to the magnificence of the sculpture above of the archbishop in his splendid vestments with mitre and crozier, the whole easily observable from the archiepiscopal seat on the opposite side of the choir.
Following this introduction to the cathedral and its Magna Carta connections, members of the group headed to the cathedral archives to undertake the second part of their research day. This section was courtesy of Cressida Williams, the head of the archives, and formed a joint venture between archives and History, with this Research Centre, at Canterbury Christ Church University. In particular, it involved Professor Louise Wilkinson, a leading expert on Magna Carta and the thirteenth century more generally, and a member of the Magna Carta Project. Joining Louise in the archives was Zoe, and together we had produced a research booklet for group members to work through both today and for the future. Consequently there are sections on John’s oppressive kingship as seen through the words and illustrations of the chroniclers; information covering his relations with the Church, especially the papacy over the question of who should be the new archbishop – John’s nominee or Pope Innocent’s; John’s military and marital exploits in France that led to more problems and increased the number of his enemies, and finally how all these and other factors affected his barons in England, leading them to rebel and set in train the series of events that culminated in a meeting between the two sides at Runnymede.
Because group members are seeking to create a multiple sensory experience at their exhibition, the workshops included a number of practical tasks such as designing seals for use with their modern Great Charter and handwriting using quill pens, as well as testing just how tough parchment is as a material on which to write. We also discussed ideas about literacy, and just how difficult and expensive it must have been to produce high-quality documents in the Middle Ages, including the implications for the number of sheep necessary to create these documents.
The final session of the day involved role playing to practice further learning skills. The ‘English barons’ drew up a list of difficulties they were experiencing at the hands of King John and his royal officers using the information provided in the booklet. They then presented them, showing due reverence, to ‘King Philip of France’ and his ‘counsellors’, who they felt would support them in their dispute against John. It is worth noting that the ‘King’ listened carefully and then told them he would support them in their enterprise. So to bring the session to a close we looked to see whether the problems the barons had been experiencing were among the 63 clauses of Magna Carta. They were, and the group members were especially interested in clauses 1, 8 and 39. Clause 8 can be summarised as ‘no widow shall be forced to marry as long as she wishes to live without a husband’, and Louise, who specialises in medieval women’s history, was delighted with this choice. Similarly the focus on clause 39 was seen as valuable by everyone: ‘No freeman should be arrested, imprisoned, or in any way destroyed without a fair trial’, and this people felt would be a key issue when they came to formulate their own Great Charter.
And with that the session at the cathedral archives concluded, Candy escorting the group members back to their base and leaving the staff from the cathedral and Christ Church with their own attempts at medieval calligraphy. So any readers of this blog who live in or around Canterbury, why not check out ‘Our Great Charter’ exhibition at The Beaney in the second half of June, the group will be delighted to see you.