I thought I would begin this week with the news that I am now only a couple of speakers short for the virtual Tudors and Stuarts History Weekend on Saturday 27 and Sunday 28 March 2021. Moreover, I’m still waiting to hear back from a couple of people, so if they agree I shall have a full, albeit streamlined programme compared to normal years.
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.
Last week I was in Belfast giving a paper at Queen’s on ‘Starting a new life in Ricardian and Henrician Canterbury’ at the ‘Migration to the Margin’ conference, while Dr Diane Heath was working on her funding bid regarding ‘Medieval Animals’, so I decided to give the blog an Easter break. However, now that I am back in Canterbury, I thought I would provide a short update on the legacy of ‘Tudors and Stuarts 2019’ before moving on to Canterbury UNESCO matters.
This is just a short piece before the Centre’s blog has a fortnight’s break for the summer. Consequently, I thought I would bring you up-to-date with things, including the fact that all the information for Tudors and Stuarts History Weekend 2019 has now gone to Matthew Crockatt, the Faculty’s web designer and organiser, and to Ruth Duckworth at Canterbury Christ Church’s box office, who handles the booking part of the web site. In addition, Finance has received the initial budget and although they are extremely busy with the financial year end, hopefully in the next few weeks the Centre will receive the relevant finance codes to ensure matters are set up properly. Among the many speakers who are due to come on Saturday 13 or Sunday 14 April are Dr Clive Holmes (Why Oliver Cromwell didn’t persecute witches), Dr Amy Blakeway (The downfall of Mary, Queen of Scots), Dr David Starkey (Henry VII’s Chamber), and Dr Miranda Kaufmann (Black Tudors). As at previous History Weekends, the idea is to generate a surplus which goes to support postgraduates researching Kent’s history through the Ian Coulson Memorial Postgraduate Award fund.
It has been another busy week with several lectures, meetings, a workshop and planning for future events. Of the lectures, I’ll give a short report on Professor David Carpenter’s talk for the local Historical Association because it was chaired by Professor Louise Wilkinson, and her fellow director of the Centre, Professor Jackie Eales, gave the vote of thanks. To note, among his recent publications is Magna Carta (in the Penguin Classics series – an excellent buy).
This week saw another surfeit of riches from a historical perspective because last night there were two events going on in Canterbury. For those interested in the early Middle Ages, there was the opportunity to hear Professor Dame Jinty Nelson discussing Charlemagne at the local Historical Association meeting at Christ Church. However, I decided to stick with the early modern period, and thus went to hear Dr Sheila Hingley at the Canterbury Cathedral Archives and Library annual lecture on the fate of English cathedral libraries in the 17th century. As Canon Irvine reminded the audience in the archives reading room, Sheila Hingley had been the librarian at Canterbury Cathedral before she headed north to Durham to be librarian there, but that even after 2002 she had maintained links to Canterbury completing her doctoral studies in 2004 on the Elham Family Parish Collection. Consequently, as Sheila, remarked, it was lovely to see Professor Jackie Eales in the audience last night because Jackie had supervised her PhD from the University of Kent; that is before Christ Church was able to validate higher degrees independently.
Sheila kept with the cathedral library focus, providing her appreciative audience with an assessment of the fate of such libraries in several English cathedrals using, in particular, those chapters in the various cathedral histories that have been produced since 1977, starting with York. The last of these to-date is the one for Durham (2015), and these histories cover cathedrals as widely spaced as Exeter in the south to Carlisle in the north. This is an excellent series, which allows comparisons to be drawn regarding what happened to the libraries, especially before the Civil War, during the 1640s and 1650s, and after the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660.
To keep this short, I am only going to offer a couple of points from Sheila’s fascinating lecture, things that particularly interested me. Firstly, during the 1640s and 1650s in broad terms these libraries were not targeted by the iconoclasts, unlike the stained glass, images, altars and other paraphernalia of the Anglican Church viewed as idolatrous by Puritans and similar groups. Instead these cathedral libraries were damaged to varying degrees by neglect, disinterest or a desire to use the space for something else. Moreover, as you might expect, there were some clerics as well as lay people who chose to secrete books away from the prying eyes of the Cromwellian authorities, and such men included one of the chapter clerks at Winchester. As a result one of that cathedral’s treasure, the Winchester Bible, spent several years in the 1650s at Winchester College before it could be taken back to its ‘home’ in 1677.
Representing Domneva’s deer in Minister-in-Thanet parish church
A beautiful misericord
At Canterbury there was also some resistance to the Cromwellian authorities because it had been decreed in 1649 that the collection here should be taken to London. Initially, however, the order was ignored, and it was only after the second command that Canterbury Cathedral let its materials be taken to London. The collection transported to Charter House in 4 barrels, a hamper and a box – fortunately they were returned in similar receptacles after the Restoration. As well as Nigel Ramsey, who wrote the chapter on the Canterbury Cathedral library in the book, David Shaw, a retired academic from the University of Kent, has been working on the books that travelled to and from London.
My final point concerns the way such cathedral libraries, even before 1660, might occasionally be used by those beyond the precincts. The sense of such libraries having become ‘publick’ libraries, valued by educated citizens as well as clerics is fascinating. Indeed the mayor and corporation at Gloucester had petitioned Parliament before the Restoration because local worthies wished to read these books, and so sought to protect the library. This is interesting for a number of different reasons: from the clientele involved, the importance of private libraries that could become the foundation of ‘new’ cathedral libraries, to the types of books that were seen as attractive beyond such staples as moral and theological works. The thirst for knowledge and interest in the natural world, in experimental science, and the desire to map new territorial discoveries were all part of what would become the Enlightenment. So after a fascinating evening, it was time to leave the precincts and next week I will bring you up-to-date with the activities of two Centre members: Drs Martin Watts and Lesley Hardy, the former with regard to Richborough, the latter Folkestone.
Last night I joined more than a hundred other people who had come out to hear Professor Richard Gameson give a lecture at the Canterbury Cathedral Archives for the local branch of the Historical Association. Professor Gameson drew such a large audience because he is well known as an expert on Anglo-Saxon manuscripts and book culture, and although now based in Durham at the university there, for over a decade he was an important member of the History staff at the University of Kent. While at Kent he worked on the pre-Conquest manuscripts associated with the city’s ancient, great Benedictine houses, especially those linked to the monastic library at Canterbury Cathedral. As he discovered this involved tracking down as far as possible the movement over time of various books and fragments of manuscripts that helped him to construct a picture of relationships among monasteries and important individual churchmen.
One of my favourite scenes from the painted pillar in Faversham parish church – the Annunciation to the Shepherds
Photograph: by Imogen Corrigan
His work at Durham has extended this analysis through his detailed exploration of scribal and book culture of Northumbria, including identifying the survival of eighty manuscripts, albeit some only survive as fragments – part of a single page. This is a fantastic feat of scholarship and means that he is able to discuss such issues as scribal production and the likely locations of ecclesiastical scriptoria, the networks whereby books travelled across western Christendom, and matters of influence be they the papacy in Rome, the Irish monastic tradition or more localised ideas. By so doing he was able to treat his audience last night to a breath-taking tour around the Northumbrian centres of Anglo-Saxon manuscript production, the place of Bede as a prodigious author and commentator, and, finally, to provide a context for the Lindisfarne Gospels – that iconic reminder of the richness of our Anglo-Saxon heritage, but a book that contemporaries knew had been ‘bettered’ in terms of its form and decoration.
As you might expect after such a tour de force, his audience left delighted to have been present on such an occasion. Consequently it is worth reminding readers of this blog that Richard Gameson will be back lecturing in Canterbury in 2016 at this Centre and Canterbury Cathedral Library’s joint Medieval History Weekend: Exploring the Middle Ages. Professor Gameson will be speaking on Friday evening on 1 April 2016 as the opening event, so please do make a note of this and also that there will be plenty of other fascinating lectures over the following two days, that is all day Saturday and most of Sunday (details hopefully will be available next month).
In addition to showing just how important the pains-taking work of such scholars has to be to shed light on our ancient past, Professor Gameson’s research highlights just how vital it is to preserve as much as possible, whether it be beautifully decorated great books or tiny fragments of parchment. Furthermore, these artefacts need to be available to scholars, especially now that we have far more advanced technological tools to explore, for example, the composition of various pigments with the potential to affirm or disprove previously held theories. Although some of these manuscripts are in private hands, county and other public archives remain exceedingly important repositories of a vast array of materials of use to academics and many other researchers. I appreciate that I have mentioned this before but the threat to these resources is especially pertinent at a time when the squeeze on public finances seems unrelenting, as seen amongst other places in Kent. It is a truism that you don’t realise what you have until you lose it and this may be particularly the case with respect to the means of bringing the past alive for people today and for future generations.