This week we move from Tonbridge in the west to Dover in the south, Medway in the north and Canterbury in the east.
As Dr Sheila Sweetinburgh reminded me (Dr Diane Heath), it has been a year since our participation in the first Medieval Education Day for primary schools in the East Kent area, a scheme launched by Lyndsay Ridley at The Canterbury Tales visitor attraction (see Sheila’s blog from last year https://blogs.canterbury.ac.uk/kenthistory/young-medievalists-and-medieval-animals-in-canterbury/).
Today we reached ‘Y’ in the Heritage A – Z so if you would like to find out about the difference between Irish and English yews, then check this out: https://medium.com/the-christ-church-heritage-a-to-z/y-is-for-yew-9f06b2fb5dca and you can see what I have written for our penultimate letter.
Before I get to news of events next week, including the William Somner conference on Saturday 23 March, and a report on the Kent History Postgraduates meeting, I have a stop-press announcement to make regarding Tudors and Stuarts 2019. Unfortunately, Dr Clive Holmes has had to withdraw due to ill health. Thus, he will not be able to give his lecture on Oliver Cromwell and witches, but I am exceeding fortunate and grateful that Dr Rebecca Warren from the University of Kent and an expert on the period, has generously agreed to step into the breach. She will cover the same topic but from her own angle and her lecture will be entitled: ‘Protector or Persecutor? Witches, the Devil and Oliver Cromwell’. Obviously, everyone at the Centre wishes Clive a speedy and full recovery.
Before I come to ‘Maritime Kent though the Ages’ this weekend and the great array of speakers, I thought I would very briefly mention that I attended two of the sessions last Saturday of the University of Kent’s Medieval and Early Modern Studies Summer Festival that featured six speakers from Canterbury Christ Church University.
In some ways a great deal has happened this week and in other ways very little, a sort of treading water time before various decisions are made and implemented. On a positive note it is now two weeks to the Maritime Kent through the Ages conference and some of the final arrangements are being put in place for Richard Holdsworth’s keynote lecture on Friday 22 June: ‘Kent, the Royal Navy and the Defence of Britain’ at 7pm [wine reception from 6.30pm]. All welcome, booking not required.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
Progress on the Tudors and Stuarts History Weekend website continues but is not quite finished. Consequently, this week I am going to concentrate on a fascinating lecture I heard last night by Keith Parfitt of Canterbury Archaeological Trust.
Due to the unusually long blog post last week – there had been just so many exciting events going on – I’m going to keep it shorter this week and alert you to the next four events that involve the Centre for Kent History and Heritage. Two of these are in September, thereafter in November and the last is in early January.
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.