Gingerbread Medieval Animal Tiles – We Need your Help, Please!
It is Graduation Day for the first cohort of taught MA MEMS and Modern History students next Friday, so in the blog next week I will be revealing the winner of the first Lawrence Lyle Memorial Prize with, I hope, a photograph. However, this week I’ll bring you two brief reports on the Kent History Postgraduate meeting on Wednesday and Professor David Carpenter’s joint Historical Association and Canterbury Cathedral Archives & Library lecture on Thomas Becket and Henry III, as part of Becket 2020 on Thursday.
Dr Sheila Sweetinburgh has asked me to write the Centre’s final blog before the summer vacation because I (Dr Diane Heath) have been working on a terrific project with a local school. However, before I turn to the Magna Carta Impact workshops, please allow me to advertise a forthcoming conference for which you can now book tickets.
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.
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 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.