Saturday, February 28, 2015

A Medieval Tour of Boston (Lincolnshire)

  In my devious sneaky way I am creeping around some of my larger projects by serving up little snippets on medieval towns visited by Leland and others, but cunningly avoiding the blockbuster epic ones that I tackled in the past in previous incarnations of multimedia technology. Those were York, Lincoln and Norwich, but I have so much material on those that it's a little daunting. Instead, here is a little look at a town which was very important in its medieval heyday, but with changing fortunes over the centuries retains very little of its medieval built past, with one notable exception. So click here to embark on a Flickr tour of medieval Boston.

  You are right. This shot does not show the most famous building of medieval Boston. That's because I was standing on it at the time in order to show the layout of the town and the way it winds along the river Witham, basis for its wealth as a major port.

  This, of course, is the medieval building that everybody knows from Boston; St Botolph's church, also known with Lincolnshire irony as the Boston Stump. It is much more than just a church with a big tower and contains many treasures, especially in the way of woodwork and tombs, some of which may be a trifle inconspicuous.

  It's a bench end. You can make up your own mind as to its significance.

 There are little details from other places, such as these fragments of stained glass now lurking in a window in the 15th century guildhall.

  There are some things that  no longer exist. You just have to conjure up their ghosts from the scratchings on metal plates of past recorders.
  As with the other medieval tours, I have added the descriptions of John Leland and Daniel Defoe into the comments. Celia Fiennes evidently didn't pass this way, but we have picked up an antiquarian with the unlikely name of Pishey Thompson who was full of information and supplied images of places altered or disappeared. Welcome aboard, Pishey.
  There is now a Flickr collection of the various medieval tours which include the commentary of Leland. They can be accessed here. This will steadily expand.
  I now have to decide where to go next with this little enterprise. My thought is to go with a few more of the smaller but interesting places, randomly dotted about. The Family Medievalist wants me to tackle Lincoln. He reckons medieval Lincoln needs a little love. Hmm. Watch this space.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Digital Humanities - At Last?

  In 1995 I found myself with  PhD in Archaeology and Anthropology and no academic job in prospect. Too old for a junior position, too inexperienced for a senior one, too overqualified for peripheral academic positions on offer, and too married for interviewing teams to believe that I would be willing to put in the hard yards to work in a different city to my husband. Yes, a (female) professor actually put the hard word on me about my domestic arrangements if I were to accept a job; illegal according to equal opportunity provisions but she sprung it on me over a "friendly" cup of coffee outside the interview room.
  I put my newly acquired free time to use by investigating ways of using multimedia technology in teaching on behalf of the Family Medievalist, my longsuffering spouse who taught medieval history at the Australian National University. This has always been unpaid. At that time a number of academics at the ANU were trying similar experiments, but all in a disco-ordinated way and without support from higher echelons of the establishment. We held regular meetings in which we discovered we were all using different software, platforms, technologies and we all came from different disciplines. The science bods were amazed to find medievalists in their midst, as if they thought we could not personally progress beyond the quill pen.
  In the late 1990s and early 2000s university management and senior academics alike were quite averse to this kind of activity. Some felt threatened that they would be required to do more work and acquire even more skills if this sort of thing got about. The university thought it ought to be able to make money out of such efforts, even those by an unpaid volunteer. Even archives thought we should have to pay for services that would otherwise be provided for free to any wandering member of the public, because we were obviously going to make a squillion out of it. Occasional meetings and conferences with other excitable cognoscenti punctuated periods of avoiding garlic and silver swords in the corridors from less enthusiastic members of the faculty.
   As I have mentioned in previous postings on these projects, the whole thing fell to custard because of the rapid changes to technology. Without a team of experts updating things constantly, multimedia projects from this era just died of premature senility. Just one of my projects survived and grew, the website Medieval Writing.

  Medieval Writing was originally designed to teach paleography to students who hated the subject, much to the distress of the Family Medievalist who kept trying to persuade them that it was the key to discovering anything in medieval history. It ended up on the web, rather than a multimedia CD, because by giving it away for free I could keep control over it and develop it in my own way. It expanded to cover aspects of literacy and the nature of things that medieval people did and didn't write about. It has been rejigged technologically several times, but now seems to be coming to the term of its natural life yet again.
  It is also galloping towards 300,000 clicks on the home page. Now that is over a long time, and some folks may keep coming back for return visits. Equally, many others don't go through the home page as they come in through Google searches or have bookmarked their favourite bit, like the index of scripts. It is not a strictly quantitative measure of anything I guess, but I can't help wondering how many copies I would have sold had I written a paleography book, or even how many people might have borrowed it from a library.
  For that matter, what would my odds have been on getting a paleography book published in the first place, not being a member of the academic establishment? Certainly, publishing a book doesn't let you grow and develop a project over many years as a website does. There is no editor, but experts have written to me at times with suggestions and corrections, and they can be fixed instantly if needed. The biggest peer review group in the world is out there.
  Strangely, some people just didn't believe it was real. On more than one occasion I have had a friend or colleague say something like, "I got a recommendation of your website from somebody in America. She found it on Google and asked if I knew you. I must look at it one day." or "I  saw your site listed on X university's link list. Amazing!" or "If you type 'paleography' into Google there's a site called Medieval Writing that comes out on top. That's not yours, is it?" There was a whole bunch of people in academia, not all of them old, that just didn't believe the digital thing was happening. The truly old academics just pined away and died when their copy typing secretaries retired and they had to type and file their own emails.
  An interesting aspect is the feedback that a website allows. Yes, I have had emails from schoolkids wanting ideas for assignments and folks wanting me to identify the coat of arms on the antique set of spoons that they inherited from their greatgrandmother and deluded folks who thought they should inherit a country estate with an abbey on it because they have a document in their possession which belonged to Anne Boleyn's lady in waiting. I have also had some fascinating conversations from people who would never have gone near a paleography book; an international law professor working on digital signatures or a linguist investigating modern urban dialects.
  This is proto-Digital Humanities, I guess, but the tools remained very primitive for a long time. The first manuscript facsimiles on the website were old black and white photographs, either out of copyright or used with permission.

  Yup, that is horrible to the point of totally unusable on a modern computer screen.

British Library, Cotton Tiberius C II, f.34. Bede, Historia Ecclesiastica

  Rescanning helped, but the job got bigger and bigger as the site grew. Great thanks to the British Library for letting us have a go back then when things were so experimental. For legal documents, old Public Record Office scanned photocopies have been replaced by digital downloads from the National Archives. Now, of course, the number of high quality digital images of medieval manuscripts available on the web is enormous and growing, and so are the tools to make use of them.
  There was very little on the web on paleography or manuscripts in general in the way back when, but now resources are proliferating. There are general introductions and specialist sites and tools for producing interactive transcripts far more sophisticated than the clunky little exercises that I devised for Medieval Writing. I'd ask if anybody needs a DHTML programmer in Dreamweaver for Internet Explorer 3 or a Flash 5 programmer, but I think I've forgotten how to do it.
  There are communities of scholars interacting through social media and cross-fertilising ideas. This facilitates friendly conversations between people with new ideas, not overseen by a session chairperson with an overriding agenda and a tenured professorship. (Oops. Getting a bit radical here.) It all makes things hopeful that Digital Humanities can actually happen: that it can be an open door to all interested participants, not an elite privilege for high fee paying students in enrolled courses. (Yeah, yeah. Waves red rag and stands on the barricades, yelling.)
  So here's to all 300,000 of you finger clickers who have helped carry the torch through the Dark Ages of Digital Humanities. And here's to the clever young folks who are going to take it to the high Gothic stage of beauty and functionality. If I can find a fountain of eternal youth (or at least eternal late middle age) I may be able to participate in it.
  Ultimately, I think the moral to this story is that any subject, even one which students are reluctant to tackle, can be made fascinating with ingenuity. Before the age of the internet, which I believe is 25 this year, so much, much younger than me, resources for subjects like paleography were hidden away in obscure corners of academic libraries. Those resources are likely to be hidden even deeper in reserve collections and underground bunkers these days, but they can be translated into wonderful concepts accessible to all. Medieval marginalia of cats, killer bunnies, farting priests and nuns picking penises off trees may get their attention, but there is so much more that can engage people. We now have the resources and technology to do it.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

What's With Medieval Tombs? Part 7 Civilian Males

  This episode of the neverending tomb saga will look at the tombs of males depicted in civilian dress. Now before anybody gets their feminist knickers in a knot, let me point out that there is no real difference in the depiction of women on tombs, whether they are from the knightly or civilian classes. They all wear the latest fashions, and the styles of memorial change over time, but apart from heraldry there is rarely a specific signifier of aristocratic rank.
  As we have seen, the earliest effigial tombs were made for high ranking clerics and knights. The former were always attired in the very correct vestments for their rank and the latter in the latest style of armour. From around the 14th century a class of people were becoming wealthy in new ways, as merchants and traders in the towns rather than country landowners. For those truly on the rise, their tombs could match those of the knightly classes in glamour, and the same basic iconographic scheme was followed, minus the suit of armour.

  This early 14th century effigy of a man in civilian dress in the church at Birkin, Yorkshire is very much in the style of crosslegged knightly tombs of the period. His robe falls open at the knee to display his shapely calf in the same manner as the knights' surcoats were draped. His feet rest on a dog. He carries no weaponry, but holds a heart in his hand. He lies on, under and beside bare stripped masonry, so there is no way of knowing how elaborate his original tomb arrangement was.

  For those aspiring to use their new found wealth to mix it with the rich and famous, the tombs could be as elaborate as those of any knight. The tomb of William de la Pole (d.1366) and wife Katherine has effigies of alabaster on an arched table tomb adorned with shields. He has a splendid lion at his feet. The de la Poles got on in the world, kickstarting their rise as wealthy Hull merchants.

  The tomb of Thomas Babington (d.1518) in Ashover church, Derbyshire is the standard late alabaster confection. We are in the heart of alabaster country here of course. The tomb has elaborately carved weepers under canopies, angels (decapitated as usual) support the pillows of the effigies and he has a standard lion gazing at him from his feet. He and his wife sport the latest fashions, by this time long baggy robes for men. A notable feature of the figure is his large purse, often used to denote the status of a figure as a wealthy civilian. This may seem a trifle crass, but the virtuous wealthy man was supposed to use his means for charitable purposes, so perhaps this serves to remind those praying for his soul in purgatory that he did.

  Harking back to a previous blog posting on the Corporal Acts of Mercy, the wealthy man, depicted in stained glass in the church of All Saints, North Street, York, is dipping into his purse to aid the plight of the prisoners in the stocks. Wealth can be used for good. Keep praying, people.

  The tomb of a civilian (d.1487) in the church of Glastonbury, Somerset is in similar mode, although only the effigy on top is of alabaster. The base is a coarser stone. His rosary hangs by the large purse in case the passerby has forgotten that he is supposed to be praying for the departed man's soul. The tomb chest has some large and clunky angels holding heraldic shields, but what looks to be a somewhat deformed lamb and flag motif actually is an animal with two humps. The man's name was John Cammel. The rebus, or pun on a name, was a not uncommon medieval trick and sometimes these evolved over time and generations into coats of arms; another appropriation of the significata of knightly rank by the uppity wealthy town classes.

  Effigies of civilians were often not of the totally standardised paint-by-numbers workshop styles as found in most aristocratic tombs. While sometimes awkward, even ugly, they could have some unique character. This quaint bearded gent lies in Beverley Minster, Yorkshire. He is probably late 14th century, but his identity is forgotten. Probably some of these were produced by local craftsmen rather than imported from the major studios.

  This funny little effigy, less than half size, in a floppy 15th century robe, is now set into the wall in Filey church, Yorkshire. Whether he was originally horizontal or vertical is unclear, but that blurry area has been discussed already. As the provision of memorials travelled down the social scale, more modest examples were produced. There are also small half effigies of knights, presumably knights in somewhat straitened circumstances, in niches which may have always been on the wall. This leads me to wonder whether these actually represent burials within the church at all, but serve as the usual reminder to pray for those who may actually have been buried outside in the churchyard. That is another of those thoughts to hold for a later occasion, when we start pondering what they actually did with the bodies.

  The wealthy merchant classes had some networks of their own for provision of high class commemoration. Yes, you've seen this one before but I did say there were some more things to think about. It comes from Boston, Lincolnshire, which was an important medieval port, where they exported and imported things. This black marble incised slab to a civilian and his wife is a bit the worse for wear, but it would have been an impressive thing in its time, especially with its brass inlay in the hands and faces of the figures and the marginal inscription. The stone is from Flanders and the design of the figures is a bit suggestive of that as well. Never mind having a common old English alabaster, we're so rich and important that we can have a fancy foreign tomb slab. Take that, feudalism.

  Tombs depicting civilians could reflect their acquired, rather then inherited, status in life by showing the effigies in robes of office. Sir William Gascoigne (d.1419) is depicted here in his robes as a judge rather than in knightly attire. Note that he carries his large purse, like a civilian, but has a very aristocratic looking lion at his feet. Not visible from this angle is his long sword hanging by his right side, giving a nod to his knightly status. The tomb of the judge and his wife Margaret is one of a series of splendid alabasters in Harewood church, Yorkshire. The above photograph was taken in 1979 when the tombs were dismantled for restoration. (Memo to self: prepare a blog post with a complete set of before and afters for this amazing collection.)

  Mayoral robes are the distinguishing characteristic of this brass of John Wellys (d.1495), now on the wall of St Laurence's church, Norwich. The figure is about half life size. Most of the inscription has disappeared and there is a shield with a woman's head depicted in it below the inscription. The reminder of piety and prayer is embodied in the whomping great set of rosary beads that hang from his belt. With his balding head, there is a temptation to see this as some kind of representation of an individual rather than simply a type. I hesitate to use the word portrait, as that seems to lead to hotbeds of controversy. The slight angle of the head and shoulders seems to take this away from some of the rigid conventions of depiction of funerary effigies and foreshadows a slightly different style of modest funerary brass.

  The tomb of the poet John Gower (d.1408), in what is now Southwark Cathedral in London, Has been mightily restored and colourised up to give it a medieval aesthetic. I'm not too sure how accurate the style of colouring is, but it gives a different impression to that of the inauthentic, stark white or bare stoney look that we see in most surviving tombs. He has a kind of poet's crown and his head rests on a pile of books, indicating that his status is based on his achievements. I have no idea whether the names of his works written on the books represent the original composition of the memorial or a bit of Victorian Romanticism, but I suspect maybe the latter. The tomb is as fine as that of any knight.

  This rubbing is of a brass to Richard (d.1451) and Margaret Byll in the floor of Holy Trinity church in Hull, Yorkshire. It is very worn from centuries of feet tromping over it. It seems to represent a way of getting extra bang for your buck, so to speak, as the whole composition is large enough to be a full sized tomb cover, but the individual brass pieces are relatively small and spread out. The roundels in the corner are the emblems of the evangelists. Under the inscription, displayed in the manner of a heraldic shield, is the owner's merchant mark. These were workaday symbols which identified the goods of particular merchants, but they acquired something of the status of heraldic symbols for the nouveau rich of the towns. They were used by merchants on their seals, for example, when the use of seals spread from the aristocracy to anybody needing to carry out legal transactions. In some cases they were actually converted into coats of arms when members of the mercantile classes ascended the social ranks.
  The knightly symbolism could be turned around for the merchant classes in other ways. Wealthy wool merchants of the 15th century could be shown with sheep or wool bales as foot supporters on their effigies or brasses rather than heraldic animals.

  During the 15th and 16th centuries the use of brass memorials became more widespread and many were of very modest size. This example from Cottingham in Yorkshire commemorates John (d.1504) and Joanna Smyth. Now you can't get a more ordinary name than that. The figures are only 45 cm tall and seem somewhat crudely drawn. The oversized hands may simply be drawing attention to that important reminder to pray. As with grander memorials, they are shown wearing the latest fashions of the day. The memorial is on the wall of the church, and the slightly sideways posture makes it look as if they were always meant to be seen as vertical. The compositional tensions found in the older and grander memorials, indicating liminality and the sense of not being one thing or the other (vertical or horizontal, alive or dead) have disappeared. They are just standing there, saying their prayers. The inscription begins by exhorting us to pray for their souls and finishes with a request to God to have mercy on their souls. This is an absolutely standard wording for inscriptions on brasses and later tombs, where they survive. Perhaps with increasing general literacy in the population these clues could be put into written words rather than enigmatic symbols.

  This little wall brass from Beaumaris in Wales prefigures some of the compositional changes to memorials at the Reformation. It commemorates Richard and Elizabeth Bulkley and dates from around 1530. The composition comprises various little brass inserts in the traditional manner of English brasses. The figures of the man and woman face each other with their children kneeling behind them. They are a family praying together. Later brasses were often incised on a single rectangular plate with the families facing each other, kneeling to pray. They were memorials to formerly living people, not representations of the liminal state of purgatory. That is something else to save for another day.

  Finally, something small and charming and out of chronological order to introduce another thought to save for later. This tiny brass figure is on a wall in Hampsthwaite church, Yorkshire. He is so small that he most likely was once part of a composition within the head of a floriated cross, of which there are numerous examples known. He is from the earlier part of the 14th century, as evidenced by the crazy fashions of the day; very short tunic, excessive buttons on sleeves, extraneous flappy bits which all have specific names - very important if you are a member of the Society for Creative Anachronisms. His long hair and beard is early 14th century hipster. He has a purse and a dagger, just in case anybody tries to get nasty about it. He has also been scratched over with an exceedingly crude inscription ascribing him to somebody who died in 1570. Now that seems a very cheapskate way to get a funerary monument. This is just something to ponder about how long funerary monuments were intended to last, and what happened to them when they passed their use by date.
  There are many threads of this topic to follow from here. I haven't decided which one to chase next. Watch this space for the next episode. It might just be a simple feast for lovers of alabasters.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

A Medieval Tour of Higham Ferrers

  Taking a brief diversion from tombs for a moment, my photograph sorting has brought up another little tour of a small but fascinating medieval place, Higham Ferrers in Northamptonshire. There is a reason why we spent a few days there. It is a short drive from Heathrow airport. In 1998 it was the first time we had not had family to pick us up and cart us off immediately to Yorkshire. We were hiring a car, so I checked the map for the most interesting little place within a short and uncomplicated drive from the airport, but heading in the general direction of where we were going. Slight technical difficulty was that although it is a historic little town, it had no tourist bureau and no budget accommodation. Hey, in Yorkshire you can find a B & B in every village. Drove round in circles until we found some friendly digs just over the border in Bedfordshire.
  So here is a little Flickr tour of medieval Higham Ferrers, mediated by jet lag and the unfortunate discovery of a jiggered camera lens in the days of film, not digital imagery. (You only found out a couple of weeks later.) We retraced some steps later.

  It is to be fitted into the great Leland project, but he didn't have a lot to say about it. Our later travelling companions, Daniel Defoe and Celia Fiennes, don't seem to have gone there at all. Perhaps it has always been a little overlooked, at least since the Dukes of Lancaster departed.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

What's With Medieval Tombs? Part 6 Clergy

  This episode of the medieval tombs series will look at the effigy tombs of clerics. Those of the highest ranking churchmen are some of the earliest to be found, and show right from the start some of the distinctive iconographic conventions of effigial tombs.

  This effigy of Abbot Benedict of Peterborough (d.1193) was illustrated in the first blog posting of this series. The figure is somewhat low relief, but that may be a function of the thickness of the slab of Purbeck marble from which he was sculpted. He represents certain conventions that were already in place and persisted with clerical effigies. He wears his mass vestments accurately detailed. The precision of depiction of vestments, whether mass or processional, is as meticulous as the depiction of the latest fashions in armour on knightly tombs. Various grades of clergy had their symbols of status as well as priestly office. He is not wearing a mitre, as abbots were usually portrayed later, but he carries his crosier, which is broken. He is trampling a dragon or serpent and choking it with the end of his crosier.

  The Purbeck marble tomb of Bishop Hugh de Northwold, early 13th century, in Ely Cathedral has certain features which became more common in alabaster tombs of the late 14th and 15th centuries, small figures of weepers under canopies flanking the effigy. The architectural canopy is highly ornate and contains much foliate ornament. Does it need to be pointed out that he is lying down in what ought to be a vertical arrangement? If you have read the previous blog postings on this subject, you will have noted that already. The actual effigy is a bit the worse for wear, but the tomb has one unusual feature.

  At his feet is a sculpted scene of the martyrdom of St Edmund, along with a couple of wild looking beasties at the side. These tombs had some experimental features, but like those of other orders of society, clerical tombs became quite stereotyped, even at the higher orders. Neither of these tombs, or the other early ecclesiastical tombs in these cathedrals, appear to be in an original setting. The effigies are set out on plain plinths as a homage to the ancient history of the institutions.

  There is no reason to believe that the stark and simple aesthetic in which these tombs are currently presented represents their original state. The very battered 13th century Purbeck marble effigy of a bishop in Carlisle Cathedral has indents carved in his mitre for the insertion of jewels (or imitations thereof) and it can be presumed that the effect would have been rich and colourful.

  The significata of priestly function were also significata of rank within the church. Pope Urban V wears his triple deckered papal tiara where he lies, broken and decontexted, in the Petit Palais museum in Avignon, France.

  Brasses were also employed for high ranking prestigious tombs of the clergy. This is a rubbing from the tomb of Robert de Waldeby (1397) in Westminster Abbey. It sits on a table tomb in the chapel of St Edmund amongst the glorious jumble of royal, noble and generally high ranking tombs in the eastern end of the building. While he is lying on his back in reality, he is depicted as if standing and his hand is raised in benediction. He is still engaged in doing his job, even at this late stage of his departure from this life. His cross and various vestments are depicted meticulously, including those particular to his rank as archbishop. The monument is huge, about 3 metres long, so it is a grand memorial to an important man.

  Incised slabs could also form the monuments for important clergy, as in this one to Abbot Barwick of Selby who died in 1526, fairly late in the era for English abbots. It is quite hard to make out and it seems reasonable to assume it may have had something in the incised lines to make them stand out. Incised slabs are more readily damaged over time and it can be seen that this one has been cracked right across. It also has no other tomb setting but is set into the floor beside a couple of other slabs in even worse condition. It most likely only survives at all because Selby Abbey church was converted into a parish church at the Reformation and thereby saved from destruction. The demolition or damage to so many abbey churches has resulted in smaller rates of survival of monastic effigies, but as with the monarchs discussed in the previous blog, it seems that not many tombs or effigies were rescued and relocated. Some were, but it seems the majority were not. Was it fear of reprisal by nasty Henry on any families that tried such tricks, or had they essentially served their purpose by that time? Hold that thought along with all the others we are filing as we go along through this series.

  This abbot shaped puddle in the ruins of Byland Abbey in Yorkshire is perhaps the most stark reminder possible of what has been lost. It is the indent of a brass to a former abbot. These remote Cistercian sites have more extensive ruins than most monastic complexes (Yes, that's another BIG photography project in the offing.), but tomb remains are sparse.

    The tomb of Rahere in the remains of the Augustinian priory church of St Bartholomew in Smithfield, London seems to be a slightly different concept of commemoration. He was the founding prior in 1123 and evidently died in 1144, but this tomb appears to be much later, at least 13th, maybe early 14th century. As with the preservation of the tombs of the early bishops and abbots of Ely and Peterborough, the tomb has a strong historical association. The prior is shown in plain ecclesiastical attire, but the tomb has all the indicators of purgatory and liminality, as well as a heraldic display.

  His hands are praying. An angel with a heraldic shield stands at his feet ready to help him on his way and two little monks kneel with enormous books beside him, encouraging the onlookers to pray. This tomb survived the partial destruction of the church at the Reformation, not to mention the wartime disasters of the 20th century, although from the modern paintwork it has clearly been restored. Nevertheless, from the date of its construction it must have been conceived as a long term memorial.
  As with lay memorials, the use of effigial tombs travelled down the social scale, so that even ordinary parish priests had tomb monuments. Brasses, sometimes of very small size or even small half effigies, were popular for priestly monuments. Possibly for priests from modest families these may have been funded by the congregation. Who knows?

  This small effigy of a priest in the tiny village of Beeford in East Yorkshire is an example of the modest priestly brass. He is not wearing his mass vestments but a fancy embroidered cope.

  In the simplest form, the priest could be represented by his emblem of office, the chalice. The above shows a rubbing of a chalice brass with inscription to Peter Johnson, vicar of Bishop Burton in East Yorkshire. The chalice symbol appears on incised slabs with a cross, and full sized priestly effigies are also found holding them. In fact, the actual chalice seems to represent the only form of grave goods regularly encountered in medieval Christian burials, of priests of course: chalices, patens, bishops' rings, croziers. Make of that what you will.

  Fancy and elegant tombs do appear for ordinary parish priests, sometimes in modest little places. The above example, which also has the advantage of a surviving inscription, is in the church of Blyborough in Lincolnshire. Presumably wealthy families whose members had joined the clergy funded these as they did for the knightly tombs of their lay family members. This tomb has the standard motifs of angels (decapitated) by the pillow and praying hands (with fingers broken off), as well as the symbols of status in some conspicuous heraldry. His feet rest on a beastie, as do those of a knight.
  Conceptually, the tombs of the priestly caste are the same as those of the laity; the symbolism of purgatory and liminality, the significata of status and some intriguing anomalies in their preservation and display. 
  The next exciting episode will look at the tombs of those who were not of the knightly or clerical classes, and how they expressed their values.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

What's With Medieval Tombs? Part 5 Royalty

  In this ongoing and possibly endless series on medieval tombs we are now going to look at tombs at the very top of the social tree, those of royalty, and consider how the tombs relate to the funerary process. The tombs of reigning monarchs, their consorts, close relatives and major magnates of the realm were the artistic trendsetters and also the most individualised, both in terms of their construction and aesthetic qualities and their representation of the dead. While the tombs of lesser aristocratic folks were generic representations of significata of status, the tombs of the kings and queens could provide personal portraits of the dead.
  The first time I visited the royal tombs in Westminster Abbey the effect was overwhelming. First there was the fact that all those people known only from textbooks were represented right in front of me. I was from Australia, where kings and castles are rare. The second notable observation was that these tombs of the most mighty in the nation were jammed together in a most incredible jumble, with elaborate and glamorous structures cutting across each other, built over each other and piled in with increasingly competitive splendour until Henry VII trumped everyone with a gigantic wedding cake decorated chapel. Furthermore some tombs were damaged, some pillaged and some evidently unfinished. Some recent investigations suggest that there may be more tomb chambers in inaccessible places under the floor. See here.

  This picture of the south ambulatory gives a hint of the impression. Many of the pictures in this post come from old books, as I have never been in Westminster Abbey at a time when I was allowed, or had the right gear, to photograph the tombs. The above is from L.E. Tanner 1948 Unknown Westminster Abbey, Harmondsworth. (Strange to tell in 1973 they did let me rub two brasses, originals in situ, which was a unique experience. I have never had to explain brass rubbing to successive waves of busloads of tourists anywhere else. They were not royal brasses.)
  Medieval high status funerals were sumptuous and lengthy affairs. The body was washed and prepared and laid out, then left for some days in a room lit by candles, continuously watched while prayers were said for the soul. This is an intriguing mixture of practicalities (No ECGs then to ensure that the corpse was definitively dead), primitive cross-cultural fear of the newly departed (They get up to stuff if you don't watch them carefully), Christian piety (Let's get the purgatory winch winding with prayers) and more practicalities (Lots of ceremonial to organise). The body was treated with various oils and concoctions to help it last through the festivities. If the departed had died a long way from where they were to be buried, the heart and/or bowels might be removed for burial in one place, while the rest was transported to the final resting place. Medieval folks were not overly delicate about moving around the remains, or bits thereof, of the dead, as evinced by the translation of saints' relics. This is all part of death as a process, not an event. The departed was definitely in a liminal state during these activities.
  The funeral activities themselves comprised processions through the streets, feasting, including giving doles to the poor, as well as the funeral mass itself. The deceased might be placed in a temporary tomb while the grand and final one was was constructed, if it hadn't been done already in anticipation. In the early days the body of a monarch was supposedly carried through the streets on top of a coffin or stage where it could be seen by the masses, but, I suspect for highly practical reasons, this became replaced with the display of a funerary effigy wearing the ceremonial clothes of the deceased. Some of these temporary effigies survive in the Westminster Abbey museum. The practice survived the Reformation, changing its reference to earthly glory rather than as one of the many reminders to pray for the soul in purgatory.

  The tomb of the earliest king of all England in Westminster Abbey is that of Edward the Confessor, but it is not contemporary with his death. It is a high medieval shrine set up by King Henry III in honour of the founder of the abbey and, by then, saint. As a saint's shrine it was pulled down at the reformation, then later partly rebuilt, slightly wrong. It is adorned with Italian Cosmati work stone mosaic, as is the pavement around it and Henry III's tomb itself. It tells us nothing about pre-Conquest funerary commemoration. The above illustration is from the Complete Guide to Westminster Abbey of 1895.
  The tomb of William the Conqueror was in the Abbaye-aux-Hommes, an institution of his foundation, in Caen, Normandy. It was despoiled during the wars of religion in the 16th century.

  His son and successor, William II, aka William Rufus, was buried in Winchester Cathedral. His tomb, as shown above, is this simple chest, and no matter what ornamental work may have been lost from the body of the chest, it evidently carried no effigy. His brother and successor Henry I was buried in Reading Abbey and his tomb was destroyed along with the abbey in the general vandalism of the 16th century. I am intrigued that, even after the religious upheavals of the age, that nobody reburied, translated the remains of, or even newly commemorated a monarch of the realm. There is an effigy of a crosslegged knight in Gloucester cathedral attributed to the rumbunctious big brother of these two kings, Robert Duke of Normandy (d.1134), but the effigy is believed to date to the mid 13th century and it has also been subjected to a pretty drastic modern restoration.

  The remains of King Stephen were interred in Faversham Abbey, Kent, which he founded. The tombs of himself and wife Matilda were destroyed along with the abbey by Henry VIII's henchmen. When the church was excavated in 1964, their tombs were found to be empty. The unfortunate Empress Matilda was buried in the abbey church at Bec in Normandy, but no medieval tomb remains for her, although her remains are now in Rouen cathedral. Being royalty did not guarantee commemoration for eternity.

  The tombs in Fontevraud Abbey in Anjou, France of Henry II, his wife Eleanor of Aquitane, their son Richard I and Isabella, the wife of King John represent the first tradition of English royal effigy tombs. The above is an old engraving of the tomb of Henry II, but if you google "Fontevraud tomb effigies" and go to the images you will see dozens of pictures. There are a few things to note. The effigies are not in situ, and in fact are only a fraction of what was known to have originally been there. They sit in stark emptiness in a restored church with none of their medieval context. There is still some colouring on the figures. They are all definitely lying down on a bier with their heads on pillows, the postures gently reposeful. Their eyes are closed. The effigy of Eleanor of Aquitane holds a book, but that is a later restoration and it is not clear if it is entirely accurate. Old drawings show her without hands. They do not show the enigmatic features of later tombs, but appear to be quietly dead. They do not have any strong individualising physical features.

  Richard I was doubly commemorated, as his heart was removed and buried in the cathedral of Rouen in Normandy. The full sized effigy has more of the enigmatic features of later tombs. His eyes are open and his drapery hangs down straight as if he is vertical, but he lies with his head on a pillow and his feet on some kind of supporter. He wears his crown and carries his sceptre as emblems of his office. What his original tomb arrangement was is not apparent.

  The early 13th century tomb of King John in Worcester Cathedral, as shown in an earlier blog posting, has many features which are prototypical for later high status tombs. The base is a large table tomb adorned with architectural motifs and heraldic shields in quatrefoils. The full sized effigy is of dark marble which has held its detail over the centuries, not requiring a coat of gesso to impress the fiddly details; a high status materials touch. His feet rest on a very dynamic lion. He has two bishops by his head, one swinging a censer, which would be very difficult to do in a horizontal position. Angels were more common in later tombs, but I guess they served the same purpose. He is lying down, yet his eyes are open and he has a hand on his sword. Whether he originally had any other architectural arrangements is not apparent. Leland indicated that the tomb had been newly renovated at the time of his travels in the early 16th century, so he fared better than some monarchs.

  As mentioned earlier, Henry III carried out major works in Westminster Abbey, rebuilding the entire church in Gothic style, building the shrine of Edward the Confessor, laying down the Cosmati work pavement which few people now get to see, and constructing his own tomb in the manner of a grand shrine with mosaic work of foreign manufacture. Henry III was highly competitive in the arts and piety arena, especially with his counterpart Louis IX of France, who incidentally gave him an elephant. That stretched his ingenuity. Louis IX built the Saint Chapelle to house his holy relic of the crown of thorns. Henry III glammed up Westminster Abbey for his English saint, then saw Louis with some blood of Jesus and raised him with the footprints from the Ascension. His own effigy is goldsmith's work on a grand scale, a bronze silver gilt effigy. While lavish, it is a standard high Gothic king with curly hair, a crown and somewhat effete hand gestures: a symbol of 13th century kingship, not a picture of an individual. Note that his hands are raised. He's not really dead yet. His heart was sent to Fontevraud to be with the family. The photograph above is from F.H. Crossley 1921 English Church Monuments AD.1150-1550, London.
  Now if it seems that royal funerary commemoration was getting a little competitive, what happened next got it quite out of hand. When Eleanor of Castile, the beloved wife of Edward I, died in 1290, the grieving widower set up a chain of memorials such as had never been seen. She died in Harby, Nottinghamshire. Her bowels were buried in a lavish tomb in Lincoln cathedral with a silver-gilt effigy which has since succumbed to later forces of violence. A procession then took what was left of her to London, and at every stop along the way a memorial cross was built. She was then deposited in a grand and decorative tomb in Westminster Abbey which bore an identical effigy to the one in Lincoln. Her heart was to be entombed in the Blackfriars' church in London.

  The effigy on her tomb depicts a beautiful young woman with flowing hair, lifelike hand gestures and a swaying posture like an early 14th century Madonna; idealised but individualised. She was, in fact, no young thing and had had a tribe of children. Her crowned head lies on a pillow and her lions sit at her feet, as if she is horizontal, but her head is under an architectural canopy and her drapery suggests verticality. Enough said. we've been here before. This picture is from E. Blore, 1826 The Monumental Remains of Noble and Eminent Persons, London.

  Only three of the original twelve Eleanor crosses survive. At left above is that in the small village of Geddington, Northampton. At right above is the cross at Hardingstone, near Northampton. Located in what was once a no doubt peaceful spot beside Delapre Abbey, it is now trapped between a golf course, an arterial road and the most horrendous roundabout in Britain. I nearly died getting this picture. Not shown is the one at Waltham Cross, but the battered lump on the left is a bit of carved masonry from the destroyed cross at Lincoln. A replica of the Charing Cross in London was made in the 19th century, the original having been pulled down in the 17th century. I have wondered what the good folks had against these beautiful memorials, but perhaps they did smack of popishness and proto-sainthood.

  With all this grandeur and lavishness, it is strange that the tomb of the mighty Edward I, which resides in Westminster Abbey, is an entirely plain tomb chest with no effigy and a simple, and much later, inscription. Perhaps the family felt that the old man had spent enough of the family budget on funerary commemoration already.

  Edward  II was brutally murdered in 1327 (or perhaps not, but that was the story), but that didn't stop them from fitting him up with an extravagant tomb in Gloucester Abbey. The elaborate openwork Gothic canopy is very impressive. The effigy is a very early example of the use of alabaster, a stone found in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire with qualities that made it eminently suitable for the purpose; attractive, shiny, translucent and easily carved in intricate details. Certain details on this tomb became standard on alabaster effigies of lesser mortals in the later 14th and 15th centuries; the lion at the feet gazing at the effigy, the upward looking angels by the pillow. The tomb has survived despite being in an abbey, as the abbey church was redeployed as a cathedral after the Reformation, suggesting that perhaps tombs were not specifically targetted for destruction. But if the building they were in was destroyed, nobody bothered to replace them.

The effigies of Edward III (d.1377) and his queen Philippa of Hainault (d.1369) in Westminster Abbey add a new element to effigial representation, unflattering realism. The tombs themselves are mighty and magnificent with canopies for weepers around the effigies and also on the sides of the chest, large canopies with heraldry and all the competitive grandeur of the 14th century. The effigy of Edward is gilt bronze, while that of Philippa is of alabaster. 

  In an earlier posting I indicated that bronze tombs were not really an English thing. The small selection of royal tombs in this material represent very high prestige and expensive monuments from the very top of the social tree.
  The depiction of Edward III is not the idealised Gothic king symbol, but an old man with a weary face and a long beard. The effigy that was carried in his funerary procession is preserved in the abbey museum, and has a slightly lopsided mouth, as if it was taken from a death mask after he died of a stroke. Phillippa, likewise, is depicted as a plump older woman, not an idealised queen symbol. This personalised depiction was not, on the whole, passed down even to the higher levels of aristocratic funerary depiction. The images come from E. Blore 1826 The Monumental Remains of Noble and Eminent Persons, London.

These two figures are weepers from the tomb chest of Edward III depicting two of his children; on the left Edward Prince of Wales and on the right Joan of Carlisle. The pictures come from F.H. Crossley 1921 English church Monuments AD 1150-1550, London. Such depictions of weepers became very common on later 14th and 15th century tombs. Sometimes they represented saints, sometimes the children of the departed, always shown as smaller in size than the main effigies, whatever the medium.

  A fascinating thing about these lavish tombs is the condition they got into. Many of the weeper figures on the tombs are missing, and these are figures of their children, not the saints which might have offended the reformers. The side of the tomb and canopy of Queen Philippa's tomb were also damaged, and her hand holding a sceptre has been broken off. Some of this damage occurred when the lavish tomb and chantry of Henry V was added in not so many reigns later, in order to fit it in. Later monarchs were not so respectful of their predecessors, but fear not, Henry V got his as well.

  Edward, Prince of Wales, known as the Black Prince, predeceased his father, dying in 1376. Famous as a warrior, his tomb in Canterbury Cathedral has all the trappings of the high status military tomb. The gilt bronze effigy sits on a table tomb adorned with heraldic shields. He wears the latest and toughest armour; his short surcoat or jupon bears his coat of arms and his head rests on a helm with a mighty crest. His feet rest on a rather strange animal. Above the tomb hang his achievements; a tunic, helmet, gauntlets and shield, which are still there, or at least were when I last looked. His is the very prototype for knightly effigies of the late 14th and 15th centuries. Whether this is just a generic type of the bold, knightly tomb, or whether every knight after that wanted to be depicted as the Black Prince, I leave you to decide for yourself. Furthermore, his tomb has not been kicked and battered like those in Westminster Abbey. It helps to have a large part of a grand cathedral to yourself.

  The effigies of Richard II (d.1400) and his queen Anne of Bohemia (d.1394) continue in similar royal tradition: grand tomb arrangements, expensive gilt bronze effigies which appear to have elements of portraiture about them, heraldic type symbolism engraved all over their clothing. They are also damaged as the arms are missing. Originally they were holding hands. I'm not sure who could have objected to that. The foot supporters and jewels from the queen's dress have also disappeared. The head of Anne of Bohemia's funeral effigy survives, but many of her bones were evidently extracted over the centuries through a hole in the tomb. The tomb was built in Richard's lifetime after the death of the queen, but his body was not put into it until 1413 at the order of Henry V, due to some unpleasant circumstances of his death. "Let us sit down upon the ground and tell sad stories of the death of kings ..."

  Having usurped the throne from Richard II, Henry IV had the common decency to get himself buried somewhere else, in Canterbury Cathedral. The tomb is the usual, by now, grand arrangement. The effigies of himself (d.1412) and his queen Joan of Navarre (d.1437) are very finely made of alabaster, retaining sufficient colouring to indicate that they were once quite gaudy and gay. The king is portrayed as a fat, grumpy old bloke; not at all the idealised image of kingship or warriordom. The crowns get bigger. The sceptres and hands have disappeared, as in other royal tombs. What's with this? Were they actually made of valuable materials? Presumably Queen Joan had twenty years or so looking at her own mortuary effigy in the Cathedral before she actually died. That would be strange, but I guess it gave her a head start on purgatory. Her effigy may display all the traits of liminality, but she was well away from the threshold.

  Now some of the threads we have been following come together. Henry V (d.1422), battle hero, patriot king of England and all that jazz, was commemorated in Westminster Abbey with a huge, elaborate and lavish chantry chapel. There is no greater symbol of the necessity to pray for the rescue of the soul of the dead from purgatory. As mentioned earlier, the building of this structure cut into earlier royal tombs and caused elements to be removed. It is located close to the shrine of Edward the Confessor, and practically overtowers it. The competitive grandeur of royal tombs is getting a bit out of hand.
  However, I cannot show you an interesting old photograph of his effigy, because all that remained on the top of his tomb until relatively recently was a somewhat shapeless lump of wood. The effigy originally had a silver head and sceptre, while silver gilt plates covered the body. These were stolen in 1546. It was a great era for church despoliation, but this can only be considered pillage for gain, not religious indignation. The chantry, actual symbol of unapproved religious practice, remained. No prizes for pointing out that the destruction of religious property was about re-appropriating resources from the church to the crown, but reducing the monument to the hero king of England to a hunk of timber seems a bit extreme. In 1971 he was given a new crowned head and hands made of polyester resin to make him look a little less pathetic.
  Are we seeing a story here? In the crowded jumble of decayed magnificence which is the area of the royal tombs in Westminster Abbey there is a cycle of construction, partial destruction of other monuments in the process, and destruction or neglect. Each memorial represents a process of ceremonial which takes place over several time cycles. The funeral festivities themselves were public events of some splendour which took place over the shortest cycle, although that could be extended if the person had died at a distance from the burial place. The construction of the tomb and translation of the remains involved a longer cycle. Through all this process the deceased is in a state of liminality and requires the prayers of all to assist them through the process of purgatory. The decay and destruction of these monuments cannot simply be ascribed to an event called the Reformation. It is not clear just how long they were expected to survive. The building of these memorials was highly competitive, but showed no enormous respect for the works of predecessors.
  This is not the end of the story of royal burials, but it gives us the picture. Henry VI, Edward IV and Henry VIII are tucked away in St George's Chapel in Windsor castle. Richard III, as we know, was buried under a car park. That is to say, he was buried in the Dominican Friary at Leicester which was totally destroyed at the Reformation and they eventually built a carpark on top of him. His remains had evidently not been thrown in the river as rumour suggested. The huge decorative and pompous chapel of Henry VII in Westminster Abbey contains a grand Renaissance style tomb behind an intricate metal screen. The gilt bronze effigies on the tomb have their eyes open and their hands praying. Purgatory was still there. They were still in a state of medieval liminality. The grand Tudor tombs which later occupied Henry VII's chapel represent a changed form of commemoration; one of their earthly glory forever.
  So looking at the tombs of the elite of the elite, those who were buried in institutions that were destroyed tended to have their tombs lost forever. There seems to have been no attempt to destroy these royal tombs on religious grounds, although some were pillaged and damaged. Some were damaged by competition from the more recently deceased. The best chances for permanent commemoration were in buildings which survived the Reformation with a religious function intact, but where there was not so much competition.
  In later centuries, tombs changed their meaning. But how long was forever?

  Numerous factual details have been gleaned from the Westminster Abbey website, where there are also numerous modern photographs, if you can navigate your way around. There are also many images of the royal tombs online if you look for them, but it can be hard to get the total impression of these things just from an image.