Keeping with the theme from last week of activities of those involved directly or indirectly with the Centre in ‘history in the community’, this week I’ll focus on the Kent History Federation’s one-day conference at Sandwich, before mentioning Dr Diane Heath and medieval animals.
This year marks a rather special anniversary in Canterbury’s history because it is fifty years since the publication of William Urry’s Canterbury under the Angevin Kings.
This time next week the Tudors and Stuarts Weekend will be just about to start, which means there will be quite a lot to do next week – all those things that can only be done just beforehand – consequently this may be the last post until after it is all over.
For those of you who were not at Paul Bennett’s inaugural professorial lecture last Tuesday, I thought I would let you know that Professor Louise Wilkinson is joining Jackie Eales as head of the newly relaunched Centre for Kent History and Heritage.
Today saw most of the medievalists from Canterbury Christ Church at the city’s castle for the first Medieval Pageant and Family Trail day under the leadership of Professor Louise Wilkinson. This initiative came after the very successful Magna Carta family day last summer, and, judging from people’s comments, this is likely to become an annual event leading up to the great St Thomas anniversary in 2020.
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.
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.
In many ways this week the topic that has kept reoccurring is Thomas Becket. However before I get on to St Thomas of Canterbury I thought I would just mention that Dr Marin Watts did have a very successful time at the Sandwich Museum archives, in particular he was very impressed with the collection of photographs held there. Moreover he was able to share his earlier findings at the Royal Engineers Museum at Medway with the Sandwich archivist – an excellent example of intellectual co-operation.
Still busy editing Early Medieval Kent this week but at least I now think I have the photo for the front cover. Having been on a Kent Archaeological Society visit in June to Staplehurst parish church I was once again struck by the fantastic artwork in iron on one of the doors. It is extremely early, dating from the eleventh century, and thus is ideal sitting as it does about half way through the period covered by the book. I have two people to thank for this: Rebecca Warren who first introduced me to it and Imogen Corrigan, another long-time friend, who has taken the necessary photograph because she is much better at such things than I am.
My photo of Staplehurst church door
I think the essay collection is taking shape which is a relief and also meant I was happy to take Sunday off to go with another friend Karen Brayshaw to the Magna Carta exhibition at the British Library as a belated birthday celebration, mine not Karen’s. More of that in a moment but first I think it is worth mentioning that the committee organising the Medieval Canterbury Weekend met up today to review progress and plan the next stage in terms of preparations for 1–April 2016. As a result Professor Louise Wilkinson, Diane Heath and I met in Karen Brayshaw’s office at Canterbury Cathedral library where Karen is the librarian. Having sampled some excellent French biscuits, we got down to business and the main item on the agenda was publicity. Now that the website is up and running successfully at www.canterbury.ac.uk/medieval-canterbury and tickets can also be purchased by phone (Tel. 01227 782994 or 863690 Monday to Friday office hours) and in person at Augustine House, Canterbury (near to the Police Station), we decided the next thing is to print a flyer that can be distributed as widely as possible – Canterbury, Kent, England. Louise, Karen and Diane are also active in terms of twitter and Facebook, so that too will happen and hopefully Christ Church media people will also create a press release soon. And if there are readers of this who would like to tweet or mention it in other ways through social media, we would be delighted – thanks in advance.
I promised it would be short blog this week so I’ll now turn briefly to the British Library’s Magna Carta exhibition, not least because two of the ‘talking heads’ who people could listen to as part of the exhibition are also going to be speaking at the Medieval Weekend. Next year neither professor will be talking about Magna Carta, although they are both keeping within the thirteenth century because David Carpenter will be discussing Henry III and Simon de Montfort and Nicholas Vincent the relics of St Thomas Becket. But I digress. From a personal point of view, the high points of the exhibition were several of the manuscripts on show in the first room, especially a genealogical roll that had roundels with portraits of the kings Henry II, Richard and John sitting on their respective thrones, as well as portrait busts of the children and grandchildren, first of Henry II and below that the same for John. As a result both Richard and John appear twice within this section of the roll.
An earlier manuscript also caught my eye because it depicted peasants. These peasants, in John of Worcester’s own manuscript of his Chronicle, are shown tormenting Henry I in his nightmare for they are approaching the sleeping king armed with a scythe, a pitchfork and a spade. Further miniatures show the king threatened by knights and clerics, that is the three orders of society: those who work, those who fight and those who pray, who have come to the king to remonstrate about his failure to keep his coronation oath to maintain good laws and abolish injustices in his kingdom. What is especially interesting about the peasants is that the leader, who is holding a scroll as well as his scythe, has a hat that to my untrained in art history eye looks remarkably like a Jewish hat or one that would not be out of place on safari.
It was also good to see that Corpus Christi’s Matthew Paris manuscript depicting the battle of Sandwich in his Chronicle was also on show. However it was somewhat in the gloom in a side display cabinet which meant if you didn’t really know what you were looking at it would have been very indistinct. Keeping with indistinct manuscripts, the Canterbury copy of Magna Carta is a poor sight, but it does have the remains of its seal and seeing the amount that can be read using ultraviolet and other forms of light it a revelation. Consequently even though the London copy is far better preserved, there remains something special about Canterbury’s, or am I just biased?
That part of the exhibition under the heading ‘legacy’ is interesting, and seemed to be especially engaging for the American visitors who happened to be there at the same time. Again, personally I was particularly struck by the reporting of William Penn’s trial in 1670, the pamphlet being very close to a play script where the jury were chastised and threatened by the court recorder for not bringing in the ‘right’ verdict of guilty. Other objects also caught my attention, such as the executioner’s axe, made for execution of the Cato Street conspirators but not used, and 1066 And All That, a book I have always enjoyed, not least because everyone knows ‘Magna Charter was …a Good Thing for everyone (except the Common People)’, and on that note I’ll stop before this gets any longer. If you have not been to the exhibition and have the time it is certainly worthwhile.
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.