Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding.

I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop...
It was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Lecturing to the Oxford University Heraldry Society

This teatime I spoke to the Oxford University Heraldry Society at Christ Church, delivering the first of two illustrated lectures on "Arms and Insignia of Heirs Apparent".

I originally planned this as a single lecture but finding I had more than enough material I arranged with the Society to split it into two, giving the first part tonight.

This concentrated on why and when and how hereditary monarchs started indicating in heraldry, in ceremonial and in insignia their heir apparent, and then looked at the evolution of this from crowning an heir in his father's lifetime  ( the Empire, France, England in 1170 and Hungary as late as 1830 - and considered there in the 1870s or 80s)  to distinguishing him with a title and arms as well as an appanage, beginning with the earliest such consistently applied title, that of the Prince of Wales.

I also spoke about the insignia of the Duchy of Cornwall and the Earldom of Chester, as well as my theory that the badge of the three feathers for the Prince of Wales derives from him holding three Palatinates - Wales, Cornwall and Chester - and with an ostrich plume being the symbol of a palatine authority the use of three as badge by Edward of Woodstock Prince of Wales in the mid-fourteenth century.

The Arms of HRH The Prince of Wales


I spoke also about the ceremonial investiture of the Princes and their coronet with its single arch, and then turned to the topic of the same person in Scotland, where he is, of course, Duke of Rothesay, Earl of Carrick, Baron Renfrew, Prince and Great Steward of Scotland and Lord of the Isles.

Coat of Arms of the Duke of Rothesay.svg 

The Arms of HRH The Duke of Rothesay

These were granted to him by The Queen in 1974

Image: Wikipedia

On February 23 I shall be giving the second lecture, on that occasion time on European heirs apparent, and looking at figures such as the Dauphin and the Prince or Princess of Asturias, again at 5.30 in Lecture Room 2 at Christ Church.

Monday, 21 November 2016

Emperor Francis Joseph

Today is the centenary of the death of the Empreror Francis Joseph in 1916. He died a few days short of the 68th anniversary of his accession, and his was the third longest reign of a European monarch to date.

His reign and era is often remembered or presented as period of stability, but was frequently one of political turmoil - the crisis of 1848-9 which brought the young Archduke to the Imperial throne in the stead of his uncle the Emperor Ferdinand, the conflicts over Italian unification with both Savoy and France in 1858-9, the war with Prussia and the loss of Venice in 1866 and the negotiation of the compromise with the Hungarians in 1867, as well as the failure of his brother to estanblish his own rule in Mexico and the summer crisis of 1914 that led to the First World War.

Moreover it was a reign marked by terrible personal tragedies for the Emperor and the Imperial family - notably the deaths of the Emperor Maximilian, of Crown Prince Rudolf, of the Empress Elisabeth and finally of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife at Sarajevo. The Emperor's response to news of his wife's murder in 1898 was " Am I to be spared nothing?" and such it must often have seemed to him.

He also displayed remarkable resiliance and a strong sense of duty to his people and inheritance as Emperor-King of Austria- Hungary, and enjoyed the devotion of the mass of his people.

A while ago I read the biography of the Emperor Twilight of the Habsburgs: The Life and times of Emperor Francis Joseph  by Alan Palmer - an Orielensis and noted writer of accessible accounts of nineteenth and early twentieth century figures - and what emerged was Francis Joseph's dry sense of humour. He is often presented as a rather arid, duty-obsessed figure in contrast to his beautiful and beguiling wife or his flamboyant son, but what Palmer brings out is a very Habsburg sense of the comic aspects of public life that is often missed in other accounts, or when presented in print can look cold or intimidating. In this book one senses the twinkle in the Imperial eye.


Image: Amazon

The Arms of the Austrian Empire and Kingdom of Hungary 

Image: Wikimedia


Sunday, 20 November 2016

A move to take King Charles X and his family to St Denis

A friend has drawn my attention to an article in The Guardian about a proposal to move the bodies of King Charles X, King Louis XIX and Queen Marie-Thérèse from their presnt resting place in Slovenia to St Denis. The article can be read at France calls for remains of King Charles X to be returned from Slovenia

The association with this laudable aim was founded last September and their website can be seen at  http://www.leretourdecharlesx.fr  - which I have added to the sidebar. 

 Related image

King Charles X


Whatever comes of this initiative it is clear that King Charles and his family, both in life and death, were fated to spend a long time in exile.

King John I of France

Today is the seventh centenary of the death of King John I of France. The son of King Louis X and his Queen Clemence of Hungary, he was born several months after his father's death in June 1316. My post about him can be seen at King Louis X. A regency had ensued as the realm awaited the birth of a male or female heir.

Being born as King is a distinction he shares with King Ladislas V of Hungary and King Alfonso XIII of Spain. The infant King's reign was to be very short, as he was born on November 15th and died on  November 20th 1316. His rapid demise led to accusations at the time of foul play, and Countess Mahaut of Artois was one of those alleged to be responsible. Another tradition has a story of the royal infant being smuggled away and replaced by another baby - that is to be found in Druon's novels about the later Capetians.

Effigy of King John I of France at St Denis


King John I had the shortest reign of any French monarch unless that of King Louis XIX for twenty minutes or so during the July Revolution in 1830 is accepted - I would be inclined to see that as asituation of duress, and that King Charles X remained the legitimate monarch until his death in 1836 and that he was then succeeded by King Louis XIX until his death in 1844 and the undoubted inheritance at that point of King Henri V.

The death of King John was to be of real significance - for the first time the succession did not go from father to son, and the acceptance of his uncle as King Philip V rather than King Louis X's daughter by his first marriage Jeanne ( Louis had doubts as to her legitimacy, although she did eventually succeed at Queen of Navarre - see Joan_II_of_Navarre ) took France towards developing the Salic law to regulate the succession. There is a biography of  King Philip V at Philip V of France.
Both King Philip V and his younger brother and successior King Charles IV sought to produce a male heir but had only daughters, and in 1328 the succession passed to King Philip VI, by-passing the arguable claim of King Edward III through his mother, Queen Isabella, sister to the previous Kings - but that is another story...

Image result for philip V effigy St Denis

The effigies of King Philip V, of Queen Jeanne of Evreux, third wife of King Charles IV, and of King Charles IV in St Denis

Image: Pinterest - basilique-de-saint-denis

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Recalling the Battle of the Somme

The BBC website has an interesting piece about 500 hitherto unpublished reminiscences of the Battle of the Somme that have recently been donated to the Imperial War Museum. This interesting online article can be seen at: Graphic eyewitness Somme accounts revealed

Image: BBC

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Catskin Earls

The Special Correspondent has sent me the following link on the so-called Catskin Earls. The article can be accessed at http://messybeast.com/catskin-earls.htm but for the ease of readers I have also copied and pasted it below:

The Earls of Derby, Shrewsbury and Huntingdon, peerages created before the 17th century, were termed "catskin" earls. This led to the popular belief, in later centuries, that they wore cat pelts instead of ermine as trim on their robes. While cat skins were used in the Middle Ages, they were considered a humble fur compared to expensive and luxurious ermine and beaver (beavers existed in Britain until the 16th century). So where did the term come from?

Catskin was most likely a corruption of the Middle Ages Franco-English "quatre-skin" which meant four skins. This referred to the four rows of ermine skins on the robes of earl of that period. From the 17th century, earls were restricted to three rows of ermine, while dukes were permitted four rows. The "catskin" earldoms, with their fourth row being a visible symbol of their antiquity, are the only surviving earldoms that were created prior to the 17th century.

In 1902, The New York Times suggested that cat-skin referred to the pelts of white domestic cats. This was based on the idea that British wild cats are tabby, and that ermine (winter stoat) was restricted to Scotland and North European regions. Ermine, also refers to a pattern that was painted onto other furs, such as rabbit, although such fakery would have been frowned upon at that time. Contemporary paintings of noble personages in ceremonial robes supports the "quatre skins" derivation.

England's Catskin Earls (The New York Times, June 8, 1902)

AMONG the points which the Duke of Norfolk, as Earl Marshal, might have had to decide in view of King Edward's coronation, one of the most curious is as to the right of three Earls of England to wear catskin instead of ermine on their robes. As nobody but the furriers is at all likely to have disputed this right, the claim has probably not come to trial. The three Earls are those of Shrewsbury, created in 1442; Derby, 1455, and Huntingdon, 1529. The custom which distinguishes the holders of these three titles is, of course, an outward and visible assertion of superiority, not a tradition either of humility or of parsimony. My Lords of Shrewsbury, Derby, and Huntingdon do not thereby value themselves, as compared to other peers in the direct ratio of catskin to ermine, but rather in the inverse.

There were Earls in England long before there was any ermine, and those early Earls trimmed themselves with the skins of cats. As no kind of wildcat indigenous to Britain, or any parts of Europe then accessible to English traders ever had white fur, the Earls before the time of Henry VIII — in whose reign the Huntingdon creation originated — must have used domestic cats. An Earl skinning the cats of his vicinage to make him a fur tippet is not a dignified picture from the life of the Middle Ages, but even now, when cats are so much more plentiful, most of those on the back fences are black or tabby, not white, and are, therefore, ineligible for the adornment of any Earl. As time went on, Earls became, like the dignitaries referred to in Gilbert’s "Gondoliers"

“For Bishops, in their shovel hats
Were plentiful as tabby cats,
And Dukes were three a penny.”

The Dukes began to be created just after the date of the Huntingdon peerage, the only Duke antedating that being he of Norfolk, who ought on that account, if not for his ancient earldoms of Surrey and Arundel, to have a catskin, but has not. Just about that time, too, the Marquises and Viscounts came in, the former having a great run in the Tudor period. The truth at the bottom of the ”catskin earldoms” is that these three are nearly all the nobiliary titles in England (not Scotland or Ireland) that can claim an origin older than the Reformation. Before that period the English House of Lords, with the exception of royal Princes, was made up of Earls and Barons, and the latter, as they were not then allowed any coronets, probably had no right to any skins of beasts.

While the New York Times alluded to the possibility using domestic cats' pelts, other newspaper reports, such as The Washington Post (21 May, 1921) attempted to correct the popular misconception that cat-skins were used in lieu of ermine. Personally, I'm sure that no earl of the time would have condescended to wear common cat fur on his ceremonial robes, though his more impoverished 20th century descendants (title does not equate to wealth in the British aristocracy) may well have considered dyed rabbit skins.

The Clever Boy will just add that the later medieval House of Lords had a clerical majority, made up of the two Archbishops, the diocesan Bishops, the Parliamentary Abbots, the Prior of Coventry cathedral priory and the Master of the Knights Hospitaller, all with appropriate robes.

Royal Dukes have five rows of ermine, Dukes four, Marquesses three and a half ( they are something of an interpelation into the ranks of the nobility and date from the time of King Richard II, and the title was only infrequently bestowed before the eighteenth century ), Earls three and Viscounts and Barons ( and modern Life Peers ) two rows of ermine on their Parliamentary robes.

Friday, 11 November 2016

Praying for the Dead

November is the month for praying for the Dead, and the Oxfrd Oratory provides many possibilities for that during the month.

Several years ago I was talking to a good friend from there who made what I consider a very interesting point about prayer for the departed. I should add that he has far more theological training than I have.

His argument was that not only can we pray for the Dead being now dead, but that as God is outside Time, we can pray for those who are now dead but that the prayer can benefit or support them whilst they were alive. The case he had in mind in particular was one of those executed in 1944 after the failure of the July bomb plot as he awaited death, but it can be applied to anyone. I imagine it is particularly appropriate to those facing death, especially execution or some other violent means, or those in battle.

This idea resonated in my mind and I find it both reasonable and comforting. Yesterday I asked one of the Fathers at the Oxford Oratory what he thought of the concept. He saw no problem with it, adding the view that when we pray for the departed God can assign the support of our prayer to the person who is its object either in their present condition or when they were in this life.

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Book launch at Blackfriars

This afternoon I attended a book launch at Blackfriars here in Oxford.

I got to know the author, Andrew Meszaros, when he was studying here in Oxford and after study at Louvain and in Vienna he is now lecturer in systematic theology at Maynooth.

Image: Amazon

His book is The Prophetic Church: History and Doctrinal Development in John Henry Newman and Yves Congar It is published by Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780198786344

In his book Meszaros argues that dogma is the product of both faith and history, and that in addressing the problems confronting its understanding of its dogmas the Church has always managed to develop the understanding of doctrine in a consistent way.

Fr Timothy RadcliffeOP gave an appreciation of the book and commended it to the audience.

It was a pleasure to meet up with Andrew again and catch up on one another's news.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Playing the Trump card

I spent all last night sitting up at a friend's house watching the US election results.

My friend knows far more about US politics than I do - or, to be honest, wish to. However such events are those which shape our world so we ate our dinner and watched the results programme on Fox News, of which my friend is a great fan.

As the results came in, mostly predictable, but with no great breakthrough for either leading candidate I grew in my expectation that Donald Trump could or would win. This derived in part fronm sseeing on eof his election addresses on television at my friend's house the other weekend when the renewed story of the FBI investigating once more Hillary Clinton's e-maila and also the comment earlier on this year from Michael Morre which I read. Moore is no advocate for Trump but he foresaw a sizeable portion of the US electorate from the blue collar section of society deciding on the day to vote for the GOP's man. His comment struck me as interesting and it stayed with me.

When the "blue wall" of Democrat states did finally crack I was not therefore that surprised.

The amazement of even the Fox News presenters was really rather entertaining - they are, after all, somewhat inclined to the Trump world view, yet they seemed genuinely bemused.

That said it does look as if we live in interesting times, to put it mildly, and one that are likely to be going to get more interesting. We shall, of course, see what happens in coming days, weeks, months and years. Politics across the western world is certainly getting less predictable and more intriguing.

To what extent the American electorate have played the Trump card will, to some extent, affect us all.

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Back From the Dead

Earlier this evening I attended one of the events to mark the opening tomorrow of the exhibition Back from the Dead at the Museum of the History of Science in Oxford.

The exhibition commemorates the development of penicillin by researchers at the University in the early 1940s and the 75th anniversary of the first trials on patients of this life saving drug - one which seemingly abrought them back from the dead. The title also refers to the notion of bringing back to life the team of researchers and their assistants.

The current awareness of the limits of antibiotics and the development of bacterial resistance are also presented in the displays.

This is a very fine exhibition and tells a story full of human interest not just about a major scientific and medical breakthrough but also of the personalities who were engaged in the research. Their story would certainly lend itself to a dramatist or screenwriter.

The exhibition is on at the Museum until 21 May next year. 

How would Medieval people react to eating modern food?

By chance I came across the following post on the Quora website. It is by a Spanish born columnist Alberto Yagos and I have copied it with the odd grammatical change but otherwise it is verbatim:

I’ve cooked most of the recipes in two Medieval cookbooks, Libre de Sent Sovi and Libre del Coch which were the most important ones in Spain, France and Italy from the 14th to 16th centuries. Some of the recipes are as old as 1220 and some of them also appear in English cookbooks.

Contrary to the popular belief that meat and fish were very expensive, they were quite usual on most tables. Villages which were not very big could have four or five butcher's shops. In 1287, a carpenter called Mr. Paulet paid his mother livelihood (each year): two mines of wheat (around 400 pounds), four barrels of wine, an entire salted pork or beef and three canes of wool. In 1307, the maid of a scribe in Majorca buys every day: bread, wine, meat or fish, eggs, vegetables, fruit, cabbages, onions, cucumbers, almonds, parsley and carrots.

What was expensive was well preserved or fresh meat.

Medieval people from that era would be surprised by the new ingredients (potatoes, bellpeppers, chocolate…) and the fact that you can eat summer vegetables in the middle of winter. And also:

* Bread and wine aren’t the usual breakfast. Also, people eat it too soon (they were used to eating the first time around 3 hours after getting up).

* People drink wine and beer pure, without spices, water, honey or vinegar. Or in a certain preparation, without butter and barley flour (if you are curious, it tastes as bad as it sounds).

* Meat and fish are very abundant but also very repetitive. Medieval people would eat any meat and any fish. And any part.

* We cook with milk (a big no in Medieval cuisine, only for two months, April and May, was it recommended to have around 300 gr. of goat's milk).

* We use cheese and not curd in most recipes. Cured cheese was taken as a full meal.

* Food today has very little spices. They used pepper and sugar as the stars of the dish. Sugar was really expensive but they used it a lot (a lot of recipes called for 3-4 ounces of sugar), so now that it’s so cheap they wouldn’t understand why we put so little.

* Very few preparations are boiled fish/meat (it was recommended to cook it this way in summer).

* Sauces are used now in little quantities. Medieval preparations literally were floating in sauces made of broth, almond flour, wine, eggs.

* We reserve the fruits for desserts. The first time I cooked a typical soup of the era with onion, apple and bacon people thought it would be disgusting (it’s just really sweet).

* We mainly use wheat flour. The basic flour in the era was barley and they added it to most recipes.

Saturday, 29 October 2016

LMS Dominican Rite Pilgrimage in Oxford

Today was the Latin Mass Society's Oxford Pilgrimage in honour of the four martyrs of 1589 - the two priests Bl. George Nichols and Bl. Richard Yaxley, and the two laymen Bl. Thomas Belson and Bl. Humphrey Pritchard.

The well attended Mass was celebrated at Blackfriars according to the traditional Dominican Rite by Fr Oliver Keenan OP and the sermon was given by Fr Richard Conrad OP who also served as Deacon.

It was a great pleasure to meet up with my old friend, and indeed my sponsor when I was received as a Catholic in 2005, Br.Andrew from the Birmingham Oratory and some friends of his from the congregation there and to have lunch with them afterwards. I was then able to help Andrew show them around Oxford, concentrating especially on the life here of Bl. John Henry Newman. Being an Oriel man I was fortunately able to show them more of the college than they might otherwise have seen and to talk about Newman where he once lived.

Br. Andrew once paid me the compliment - the great compliment - in  saying he thought I was like Newman in my pursuit of truth, indeed Truth, and which I found a very moving observation.

It was also a pleasure to see Fr Hunwicke and talk to him briefly after the Mass. Although we live in the same city our paths cross far too infrequently.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

The King of Romania at 95

Today is the 95th birthday of the King of Romania

I have adapted this post from one on Sunday on the Royal central website:

Image result for king of romania michael

The future King with his grandmother Queen Marie - who not infrequenty donned Romanian peasant dress 

King Michael will celebrate his 95th birthday in Switzerland with his family.

Although the celebrations in Switzerland will be a small affair, for eight days, events will be taking place across Romania to mark the former monarch’s longevity and to celebrate his life.

The celebrations began last Thursday when a performance of a play written by King Michael and Queen Anne was aired on the radio.

 Image result for king of romania michael

The King of Romania soon after his second accession to the throne

Image: Pinterest

A few days later on Monday, a photo exhibition will take place at Pelişor Castle entitled ‘King Michael, a happy childhood’. This exhibition will include many previously unseen images from the King’s childhood coming from three different collections: the family of photographer Joseph Bermam, the archive of the Royal House and the Romanian Academy Library.

Following on from the photo exhibition, there will be an awards ceremony held at Peles Castle. Acting on behalf on the King, who is too ill to attend, Crown Princess Margareta will present awards and decoration including the Hall of Honour of Peles Castle. After the ceremony, a reception will be held in the Salon Maur.

 Peles Castle 
Image: Wikipedia

The next day, October 25, will mark King Michael’s 95th birthday. He will celebrate the occasion privately in Switzerland with Princess Elena and Princess Sofia.

Meanwhile in Romania, a gala concert is scheduled at the Romanian Athenaeum. Princess Margareta and Prince Radu will be in attendance at the concert where all profits will go to charity.

At the beginning of the concert, Princess Margareta will make a speech on the occasion her father’s birthday.

There are many other smaller scale events happening across the country too showing that King Michael is still widely respected despite the fact he was forced to abdicate in 1947 by the government controlled by the Communist Party of Romania.

Image result for king of romania michael

The King on his 90th birthday when he addressed the Romanian parliament 
Image Daily Mail

It has, however, been a difficult year for the King and may be seen as one not worth celebrating. Earlier this year he was diagnosed with cancer and is currently undergoing a complex and demanding treatment for chronic leukemia and epidermoid in Switzerland.

To add to his ill health, the King’s wife of 68 years, Queen Anne, died in August at the age of 92. King Michael was unable to travel back to Romania for The Queen’s funeral due to his fragility.


The Royal Standard of the King of Romania
 Image: Wikipedia


Wednesday, 19 October 2016

St Frideswide

Today is the feast of St Fridewide, patron and probably foundress of Oxford.

The following account of her, slightly adapted, and the two images are copied from Pilgrim-WordPress.com:

Image result for St Frideswide

St. Frideswide, Oct. 19; translation, Feb. 12 (FREDESWEND, FREDESWYTHA, FRITHESWITHA, FRITHESWOED, etc.; in French, FREVISE, FREWISSE). c. 650-735. Patron of Oxford and of Bomy, in Artois. Represented with the pastoral staff of an abbess, a fountain springing up near her, an ox at her feet. 

Born at Oxford, which was then in the kingdom of Mercia. Her pious parents, Didan and Safrida, committed her to the care of a holy woman named Algiva. After her mother’s death, she returned to live with her father. He built a church at the gates of Oxford, and there she took the veil with twelve young women of her acquaintance. Didan then built them a convent near the church, and they lived there, not bound by the rules of the cloister, but by holy charity and love of seclusion. Algar, prince of Mercia, sent to ask Frideswide to marry him, as she was beautiful and very rich. She excused herself on the plea of her vow of celibacy. He persisted, and at last made a plan to carry her off. She fled to the river, and finding a boat, floated to Benton, about ten miles from Oxford. She took up her abode in a deserted hut used to shelter the swine that fed on the acorns in the forest. Here a fountain sprang up at her prayer. She remained concealed for about three years, while Algar tried to find her, at one time threatening to burn the city of Oxford unless she were given up to him. At last he discovered her hiding-place, and vowed to sacrifice her not only to his own brutality, but to that of his men. Just as she was about to fall into his hands, and was so worn out with fatigue and starvation that her last strength was forsaking her, she bethought her of the great saints who in the days of the early Church had saved their honour at the price of life; she invoked SS. Catherine and Cecilia. Immediately her persecutor was struck blind, and she was unmolested. She restored sight to her enemy on his repentance. She returned to Oxford, and there collected round her it number of Saxon maidens, over whom she presided in great holiness until her death in 735.
Many miracles are told of her in her life, and after her death. One of the former is that a leper conjured her in the name of Christ to kiss him, and she, overcoming her fear of infection and natural disgust at his loathsome condition, made the sign of the cross and kissed him. Immediately the scales fell from him, and his flesh came again like that of a child. Multitudes of pilgrims resorted to her tomb, the chapel on the site of the pigs hut, and the fountain which had sprung up at her prayer, and which soon became famous for miraculous cures. In 1180 her body was solemnly taken up from the obscure part of the church where it was buried, and translated to the chief place in the church, in presence of a great concourse of nobles, prelates, and people. For centuries no king of England would enter Oxford for fear of being struck blind. Henry III. was the first to disregard the tradition, and there were not wanting persons who attributed all his misfortunes to his presumption. Many kings, however, gave munificent offerings to the churches and schools of Oxford. The first school known with certainty to have existed in the sanctuary of St. Frideswide has become one of the most famous centres of literary and intellectual life in the world. Her monastery is now Christ Church college, and her church, rebuilt in the 12th century, is the cathedral. One version of her story says that she lived, died, and was buried at Thornbury, now Binsey, and that her body was translated thence to Oxford in the 12th century.
At Bomy, near Therouanne, in Artois, there is a tradition that she fled thither from the pursuit of Algar, and a fountain, said to have sprung up at her desire, is resorted to for cures and other answers to prayer. Notwithstanding these discrepancies in the accounts, and the fact that Bede, who was living during her reputed period, does not mention her, critics agree that her story is true in the main.

Image from frideswide.org – not attributed.

After Mass at the Oxford Oratory this evening, at which the fine music for the propers was provided by the female Frideswide Voices, we concluded with Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament and sang, as is our custom, a hymn in her honour. I have reproduced the text of this truly wondrous composition, which came to us from Christ Church, in my post Hymn to St Frideswide from this day in 2011.

The icon reproduced at the head of this post can be purchased online if you search for it.

Monday, 17 October 2016

Oxford Oratory Forty Hours

This past weekend has been the annual observance of the Forty Hours Devotion at the Oxford Oratory. Here are the images that have been published by the Oratory on its website:




The Solemn Mass of the Sacred Heart on Sunday morning:


Fr Dominic preaches:


The elevation of the chalice:


The Blessed Sacrament is exposed again at the end of Mass:



Solemn Vespers of the Blessed Sacrament:



The procession around our church:






Benediction concludes the Forty Hours:


Images:Photographs by Hannah Chegwyn/The Oxford Oratory

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Well said, Sire!

A friend sent me this cartoon - 'nough said!

Friday, 14 October 2016

Battle of Hastings 950

Today is the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings. This was arguably the most important event in English - and by extension British/UK  - history in the last thousand years. I posted something about the victor in 2012 at William the Conqueror

The anniversary is being commemorated on the latest 50pence piece with the figure, traditionally assumed to be King Harold II, on the reverse.

 Image result for Hastings commemorative coin

Image: changechecker.org

Guernsey has issued a £5 coin to mark the occasion - and as the Channel Islanders are wont to do may be seen as their celebration of 'their' conquest of Engalnd.
 Image result for Hastings commemorative coin

Image: The Westmister Collectyion 

The coins have the portrait of The Queen, who is, of course, descended from both King Harold II and King William I as Montcrieff and Pottinger pointed out in Blood Royal many years ago - Queen Philippa of Hainault was descended from King Harold, so all descendents of her and her husband King Edward III share this joint ancestry.


Tuesday, 11 October 2016

A purseful of coins from twelfth century Derbyshire

A couple of months back the BBC News website had this interesting story about the discovery of a few twelfth century coins in Derbyshire. It is, as the report makes clear, the smallness of the number of pennies that make the find interesting. Here is, probably, a minor personal catastrophe of a lost purse that took centuries to be recovered, a vignette of life in the time of King Henry II:

Rare silver coins found in Derbyshire declared treasure
Silver 12th Century coins found in a field in Derbyshire are declared treasure by a coroner.

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Newman celebrations in Oxford

This weekend has seen celebrations of the feast of Bl. John Henry Newman here in Oxford, on the 171st anniversary of his reception into the 'one fold of the Redeemer' by Blessed Dominic Barberi at Littlemore.

On Saturday night I joined, as I have each year since my own reception in 2005, the traditional Night Walk will take place, beginning at the Oratory at 7.45pm. We followed the more or less usual route to Littlemore, concluding there with a Holy Hour presided over by Bishop Robert Byrne, Cong. Orat., in the modern church dedicated to Bl. Dominic and then finished our pilgrimage in Newman's College with Benediction and veneration of the relic.

With us for part of the walk was Fr Paul Chavasse, Cong. Orat., former Provost of the Birmingham Oratory, and it was intersting to see him standing by the newly installed memorial near Magdalen School to his relative Capt. Noel Chavasse, who was awarded the Victoria Cross twice in the Great War - the later award being posthumous. Only three people have ever been awarded the decoration twice and Noel Chavasse was the only such recipient in World War I.
Image: Oxford Oratory website

This morning Bishop Robert celebrated the 11 Solemn Mass at the Oratory, at which Fr Paul preached and based his elegant and thoughtful sermon on a tour of Newman's room which survives as the Cardinal left it at his death in 1890 at the Brimingham Oratory. He stressed the numerous small pictures of his friends with which Newman adorned his room as reminders to pray for them, and urged such a concern for our friends upon us.


Newman's room at the Birmingham Oratory


Saturday, 8 October 2016

Royal Wedding in Albania

The Royal Central website has the following post about the wedding of the claimant to the Albanian throne which took place today:

Prince Leka of Albania, or King Leka II of Albania as he is known by Albanian royalists, is getting married to his longtime fiancee Elia Zaharia today.
Prince Leka is the grandson of King Zog I, who ruled the country from 1928 until 1939. His parents were Leka, Crown Prince of Albania (or King Leka I of Albania) and Australian born Susan Cullen-Ward. His father was just a few days old when the family was exiled from Albania due to the Italian invasion. Prince Leka was born on 26 March 1982 on South Africa, although the maternity ward was temporarily declared to be Albanian territory.  He went to school at St Peter's College in Johannesburg and also graduated from Sandhurst Military Academy in 2006, where he was declared the "best foreign student of the Academy". He studied Italian at the Università per Stranieri and also completed training at the Albanian Military Academy Skanderbej. He is fluent in Albanian, English, Italian and speaks some Zulu.
He currently lives in the capital of Albania, Tirana. Prince Leka is pursuing a career in diplomacy and he is now serving as a political advisor to the President.
His fiancee, Elia Zaharia, is an Albanian actress born on 8 February 1983 to George Zaharia and Yllka Mujo. She graduated from the National Art School in Tirana in 2002 and moved to Paris in 2002 to continue her studies. She met Prince Leka around that time. She graduated from the National Conservatory of Bordeaux in 2005. The couple became in engaged in May 2010 and she has accompanied Prince Leka on his visits since then. She is the head of the Queen Geraldine Foundation, which was created by the Royal Court and helps Albanian families who need help.
Their wedding date was finally announced on 27 March 2016 and the couple is set to marry today in Tirana. The civil marriage will be officiated by the Mayor of Tirana, Erion Veliaj. A blessing will be given by the religious leaders of Albania.
The guest list for the wedding includes Prince and Princess Michael of Kent.
Full guest list
Their Imperial and Royal Highnesses Archduke Georg and Archduchess Eilika
Her Royal Highness Princess Léa
Bourbon-Two Sicilies
Their Royal Highnesses The Duke and Duchess of Castro
His Royal Highness Prince Ali
His Royal Highness Prince Davit Bagrationi
His Royal and Imperial Highness Prince Georg Friedrich of Prussia
Her Royal Highness Princess Irene
His Royal Highness Prince Michael and Princess Marina
Her Imperial Majesty Empress Farah Pahlavi
Her Royal Highness Princess Maria Pia of Savoy
Her Royal Highness Princess Maria Gabriella of Savoy
Their Serene Highnesses Prince Philipp and Princess Isabelle
Their Royal Highnesses Prince Guillaume and Princess Sibilla
His Royal Highness Prince Nikola II Petrović-Njegoš
Her Royal Highness Princess Lalla Meryem
Their Royal Highnesses The Duke and Duchess of Braganza
Their Royal Highnesses Crown Princess Margareta and Prince Radu
Her Imperial Highness Grand Duchess Maria
His Imperial Highness Grand Duke George
Their Royal Highnesses Crown Prince Alexander and Crown Princess Katherine
Her Majesty Queen Sofia
Thurn und Taxis
Her Serene Highness Princess Gloria
Her Serene Highness Princess Elisabeth
The United Kingdom
Their Royal Highnesses Prince and Princess Michael of Kent
His Serene Highness Prince Gundakar and Her Royal Highness Princess Marie of Liechtenstein
Her Serene Highness Princess Imaculata of Liechtenstein
Her Serene Highness Princess Charlotte of Liechtenstein, Mrs PK Van der Byl
His Royal Highness Prince Michel of Yugoslavia
Her Royal Highness Princess Maria Theresa of Bourbon-Parma
Their Imperial & Royal Highnesses Archduke Joseph Karl Habsburg and Her Imperial & Royal Highness Archduchess Margarete of Austria.
Her Imperial & Royal Highness Archduchess Johanna Sophie of Austria
His Highness Prince Joachim Murat
Prince Maurizio Ferrante Gonzaga del Vodice
Prince Alvaro de Orleans-Borbon and Princess Antonella de Orleans-Borbon
HSH The Prince d`Arenberg
Princess Sonia Poniatowsky
Prince Maurizio Ferrante Gonzaga del Vodice

Which is a pretty impressive line-up.

Dual Cypher 

Dual Cypher of Prince Leka and  Elia Zaharia

Image: Wikipedia
There is an online account of the wedding at Wedding of Prince Leka II and Elia Zaharia


The Arms of the House of Zogu as Kings of the Albanians

Image: Wikipedia

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Bohemian Coronation

Last month Prague witnessed a re-enactment of the coronation of the Emperor Charles IV as King Charles I of Bohemia in 1347 - as regular readers will be aware this year is the 700th anniversary of the birth of the Emperor.

The online journal Medieval Histories has a report about the events in Prague which I have copied below:

Couple playacting as Charles IV and Queen Blanche 1347 - 2016 Honza Keokotah

Photo from official presentation of the couple playing the roles of Charles IV and Blanche of Valois. © Honza Keokotah

Invitation to the Coronation of Charles IV 2016

The re-enactment of the Coronation of Charles IV in Prague is a recurrent event. This year, however, the professionals have fully taken over. They promise not just a re-enactment, but a faithful and scientifically based recreation

Bohemian Crown May 2016. Source: Wikipedia
Bohemian Crown May 2016. 
Source: Wikipedia
This year is the 700th anniversary of the birth of Emperor Charles IV, and one of the highlights is a faithful recreation of his coronation, celebrating the event, which took place on the 2nd of September 1347. The coronation itself takes place on the 4th of September at 1 pm at St Vitus’ Cathedral, but only for invited guests due to space limitations. It will be projected on a screen in nearby Hradčanské náměstí. – http://prague-stay.com/lifestyle/review/1597-hradcanske-namesti/ – Other parts of the re-creation such as processions and medieval markets will be open to the “burghers” and “peasants”.

The clothes and crowns for Charles IV and his wife, Blanche of Valois, have been faithfully copied, although some guesswork was involved on the part of historians from the Academy of Sciences and other institutions, which have collaborated on the project. Some is of course based on guesswork. For instance, the sceptre and orb, which survive are from the 16th century, so what they used like in the 14th century is a matter of conjecture. In the same way, the church where the coronation took place no longer exists, and the more modern cathedral now has to stand in its place.

Nevertheless, there exists a rather detailed description of the events as Charles personally wrote the manual: Ordo at coronandum regem Boemorum 1347. The recreation is based on this plus information gathered from chronicles and other sources.


Reconstruction of the coronation of Charles Iv in 2007
Reconstruction of the coronation of Charles IV in 2007
The festivities start on the 3rd of September with a medieval market from 10 am to 6 pm at the Karolinum, at Ovocný trh 3, across from the Estates Theatre. There will be juggling, music and dancing, and workshops for kids. In the evening, there will be a mass at Vyšehrad, a visit to the St Martin Rotunda and a penitential procession to the Karolinum and further on to the Old Town Square and Prague Castle. Festivities at Vyšehrad begins at 3:30 pm, and the procession starts at 6 pm. The day will end with prayers at St Vitus Cathedral at 9 pm. The King will at this event wear bast sandals. In the 14th century, we may believe, he walked barefooted.

The next day, Sept. 4, sees another medieval market at the Karolinum for 10 am to 6 pm. Festivities at St Vitus Cathedral begin at 12:50 for the invited, others are directed to go to Hradčanské náměstí. A procession will leave from Hradčanské náměstí at 3 pm, arriving at Old Town Square at 4 pm for fanfare, music, dancing and other festivities. A knight’s tournament with horses will take place at 6 pm, and events will end at 8:30 pm.

Performers in the pilgrimage and the coronation event have been chosen from local re-enactors, who have been instructed to wear precise period-close outfits. Suitable liturgical vestments have been borrowed from the depositories of the Royal Collegiate Chapter of Vyšehrad and the Roman Catholic parish at the Church of Our Lady before Tyn, while liturgical objects have been lent by the Archbishopric of Prague and the Chapter of St. Vitus. The actual crown will be the exact replica which is usually exhibited in the castle, but new sceptres and orbs have been created. Another huge effort has been invested in recrating the presumable outfits which were worn by the king and queenas well as some of the other major actors. Other work has been invested in the reproduction of a canopy, silk brocade banners, a reconstructed throne etc.

Cathedral of St. Vitus

At an early point a controversy existed about where to “perform” the actual coronation. Suggestions were to have it either performed in the other church in the Castle, St. George’s. Or, alternatively the Church of St. Mary and St. Jerome, which was founded by Charles in 1347. However, after long negotiations an agreement was finally reached to have the coronation recreated in St. Vitus.


The quality of the event has been carefully secured by engaging the official support of the Ministry for Culture, the University and the Catholic Church in Prague as well as numerous other institutions.
The scientific panel, which guarantees the faithful recreation consist of
National Czech television will broadcast the event, which – of course – will make it impossible for anyone outside Czechia to see the recreation as it takes place. Once again, copyright rules prevents the European broadcasting of the event.
A full programme for the coronation can be found at Korunovační slavnosti v Praze 3. – 4. 9. 2016  (CZ)


cover_coruna karl IV 
Ed. and translated by Jiří Kuthan, Miroslav Šmied, Joseph Cibulka and Jaromír Homolka
Nakladatelské údaje: Praha : Filozofická fakulta Univerzity Karlovy, 2009

The re-enactment was videoed and can be found on YouTube at https://youtu.be/01xRjoq7ib0
It lasts for an hour and three-quarters, but from what I have seen looks impressive. From reseaching the link such historical re-enactments are popular amongst modern Czechs.

Now all this is very interesting to the Clever Boy, but being the man he is, he is more than tempted to point out that the most genuine recent Bohemian coronation was that of King Ferdinand V in 1836 and to suggest that the cathedral of St Vitus might do well to be used for the coronation of the present de jure King of Bohemia, King Charles V...

Saturday, 1 October 2016

DVD evenings

On several Saturday evenings last winter I have had supper with a friend and watched some DVDs on his television. Now as autumn gains upon us and the nights draw in here is something about three of the DVDs we watched for readers to consider viewing themselves. All three are about the background and lead-up to the Great War.

My friend already had "37 Days." This is a 2014 three part series from BBC Northern Ireland about the events between June 28th  and August 4th 1914 and the stumble into the First World War.  Filmed entirely in Northern Ireland it has Belfast City Hall as a passable Whitehall and such like. It chronicles events in a rather pedestrian manner with perhaps variable casting. The actor playing the young confident rising Winston Churchill as  First Lord of the Admiralty is one of the better and more credible performances, but the other really impressive one is that of Rainer Sellion as the Kaiser - a part which is a gift to an actor who can depict so complex a character.  The weakness of the production is that nothing like enough was researched or spent on creating the milieu or trappings of the courts of 1914. The effect is very worthy but rather lacking the gravitas of the subject matter, though I would say that the series improves on watching it again.

"Royal Cousins at War" also appeared in 2014 and presents the outbreak of war very much in terms of personal conflicts between the monarchs and dynasties of the time in a way that is I think, far too simplistic. It may be eye-catching but it is not very profound historically. However although I would not agree with all of its interpretation, it does use some fascinating archive film from the Danish Royal archives and contemporary photos as well as location filming. In those respects the two programmes are excellent.

The third series I suggested as I recalled watching it on television when it was first shown forty years ago. This is the drama series "Fall of Eagles", produced by the BBC in 1974. This presents in a series of plays the interconnected fortunes of the rulers of the Austrian, German and Russian Empires over the period 1848 - 1918.

What makes this such good viewing is the cast, which is almost a national repertory company from those years. The absolutely outstanding performance is that of Barry Foster as Emperor Wilhelm II. As a depiction of so crucial a figure in a whole range of moods and situations over thirty years it surely deserved an award, though I do not think Foster received one for it.  The whole series, almost all studio-based, is far more lavish and atmospheric than " 37 Days", and makes one sense how television drama has declined over the intervening decades.

Of the three series "Fall of Eagles" is much the best. It also had an accompanying BBC book - look for that in Oxfam or other bookshops or online.

Thursday, 29 September 2016

St Michael the Archangel

Today is the Feast of St Michael the Archangel, and to mark the day here is a rather splendid late medieval depiction of him dealing with a satanic dragon.


Holy Michael Archangel defend us in the day of battle and be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares ot the Devil. May God rebuke him we humbly pray and do thou O Prince of the Heavenly Host by the power of God thrust down into hell Satan and all wicked spirits who wander through the world to the ruin of souls.Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Battle of Stamford Bridge

Today is the 950th anniversary of the battle of Stamford Bridge, fought on September 25th 1066 and one of the key events in that, pace Sellars and Yeatman, memorable year.

There is a good account of the battle and the Norwegian invasion of that autumn in the Wikipedia account which can be seen, with the usual links, at Battle of Stamford Bridge. As one has come to expect the Wikipedia articles on the Anglo-Saxon era are consistently distinctly better researched and more academic than other historical articles on the site. This applies equally to the biographies there of  King Harold II and King Harald III Hardrada which can be viewed at King Harold Godwinson
and King Harald Hardrada. The Oxford DNB life of King Harold II by Robin Fleming can be viewed at  Harold II

The defeat of the Norwegians at Stamford Bridge can be seen as not the actual end of  Scandinavian incursions - there was to be support from there in the 1069 rising and the threat of it in 1085 - but its symbolic and effective end. The Norman Conquest was, in a sense, a Viking invasion, in that the Normans were in origin from Norway, but it linked England to the west rather than the north of Europe, and the scope for Scandinavian involvement and engagement was left to the worlds of trade, mission and high culture, with England taking the initiative in succeeding centuries.   

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Judicial Murder Forty Years on

In recent days I find I have been thinking and reading rather extensively about the trial and execution of British and American mercenaries in Angola in June and July 1976. The story came to my mind and I found quite a lot about it through the Internet. I recall keeping the men involved in my prayers at the time, but the later release of those imprisoned attracted little attention in the 1980s and it had somewhat slipped from my mind. Research reactivated and increased my awareness of those events.

The background to the story lies in the conflict follwing the granting of independence to Angola by Portugal in late 1975. Three groups, divided by ideology and tribal loyalties sought power and no consolidated government emerged. In the south was UNITA, in the central area around Luanda the Marxist MPLA, and in the north the FNLA, which was seen as pro-Western. The MPLA, backed by the Soviets and with Cuban assistance took power in Luanda.

The western mercenaries were recruited in December -January 1975-6 to assist the FNLA. The whole recruitment process was dubious - money was available, and ex-servicemen fro,m Britain, the US and other western counties signed up , often with very little idea of what they were getting into, no real support from the recruiters and found on arrival in Africa a chaotic and floundering war effort. There is an online account of the story at E2K 31 - The killing of Colonel Callan, and one from 1976 at An article that appeared in 'Time Magazine' on the 23rd February 1976

The US political background is explored in Plausibly deniable: mercenaries in US covert interventions during the Cold War, 1964-1987, whilst the at times curious part played by former CIA operatives can be read in the online biography of one of them, George Washington Bacon III (CIA officer) and George Washington Bacon III, MACV-SOG Operator

When some of the British mercenaries made it clear they were not prepared to fight a losing war, and indeed had been misled into signing up for what they now faced fourteen of them were killed by or on the orders of their commander Costa Georgiou in what became known as the Maquela massacre. Within days what remained of the force either escaped to Zaire or were captured. Thirteen were put on trial in Luanda by the MPLA. There is a summary of the events at  Luanda Trial

This was very much a show trial, by intention trying all mercenaries. As someone else has written of it  " During the Angolan trial, the judges intervened at several points to restrain the defence counsel from putting its case too well. The court could not tolerate any evidence which might help the accused criminals, they said."

The legal process in this case and the rights of mercenaries - who are not usually afforded tenh benefits of the Geneva Conventions are discussed in M.J.Hoover The Laws of War and the Angolan Trial of Mercenaries: Death to the Dogs of War.

The thirteen British and US defendents were, of course, found guilty, four being sentenced to death and the remainder to lengthy periods of imprisonment.

Of the four men who were shot in the football stadium in Luanda the most infamous is Costas Georgiu, a Greek Cypriot by birth and discharged former Para, who assumed the pseudonym of
" Colonel Callan." In all fairness he might well be described as mad bad and dangerous to know to start with . He had ordered the  Maquela masscre, and would casually shoot Angolans on his own side. He was probably unhinged in last days of trial and of his life - a contributory factor, if the story is true, being that during the trial, and in order to break him, he was returned to his cell to find the several months old exhumed corpse of his henchmen at Maquela, Sammy Copeland, had been placed there...

Andrew McKenzie was also a former Para and a reluctant participant in the Maquela events. He had lost the lower portion of his left leg and was in awheel chair at his trial  With his death we have the  revolting image of a one legged man standing on crutches to face a firing squad. 

Derek "Brummie" Barker saw himself as always unlucky, but was seen as a capable man by his colleagues and probably singled out by the Angolans because he displayed resiliance in assisting the escape of others, inclusding journalists, before his capture - he had almost managed to swim across the river marking the border with Zaire - and by his toughness when a prisoner.

Daniel Gearhart was an American and the Angolans apparently thought he was a CIA operative. The judge in sentencing him described him as a  "very dangerous man." The view seems to be that he was shot because the Angolans and their Cuban allies wanted to execute an American, and for the others it was less easy to impose a death sentence. The reality appears rather different for a man who had spent three days in the country before he was captured and never fired a shot whilst he was there.Two interviews with his widow suggest he was much more a victim in life than anything else - Agonizing Waiting Over For Gearhart's Widow and  Epitaph for a Dead Mercenary: A Brave Widow with Four Young Children

His wife had clearly been spared at that point the grim details of the deaths of her husband and his companions, as set out here - the typing errors are unfortunate, and this is not a passage for the squeamish -  Firing Squad and one blank round ? | Page 7 | Army Rumour Service

The imprisoned US men were released in 1982. One of them, Gary Acker, who died in 2001, wrote a valuable account of his experiences in the fighting, of the trial and of his imprisonment for the magazine Soldier of Fortune and published in 1986. It can be read, though a small part is missing, at Angolan Refections an article by Gary Acker who served in Angola ...

Two contemporary newspaper reports about his release can be seen at Soldier of fortune Gary Acker talked through the night... - UPI Archives and, including the views of the Argentine born Gustavo Grillo at  'Romantic' Ex-Mercenary Says He Would Return to Angola

The imprisoned Britons were released in 1984, and there is less available on their reactions. One came from a village near my home town and died earlier this year. Some remained in the private security sphere, others returned to ordinary life and one became for a while a Lib Dem councillor...

Nice liberal people, including many, if not most, journalists who covered these events, displayed a distinctly unsympathetic attitude towards the men or one that was condescending, presenting them at best as unemployed ex-soldiers who were conspicuous for their personal failings. That seems less than fair or humane.

The contemporary orthodox Leftist view of the story can be found in all its presuppositions and prejudices in Wilfred Burchett and Derek Roebuck The Whores of War: Mercenaries Today  published predictably by Pelican soon afterwards.

Memoirs by others who served as mercenaries in Angola which give reputable accounts of events are
Chris Dempster and Dave Tomkins Fire Power and two books by Peter McAleese No Ordinary Soldier and Beyond No Ordinary Soldier.  There is an online text of an interview with Tomkins at INTERVIEW WITH DAVE TOMKINS and portions of another account by him in a book of the fighting and events around it can be read on line at  Dirty Combat: Secret Wars and Serious Misadventures - not very pleasant reading either.

The former BBC Diplomatic Editor John Simpson wrote about covering the trial, but in a way that is at times disturbingly facile, in  Strange Places, Questionable People, though he does show a sympathetic understanding towrds the men recruited.

The whole story is depressing and shocking, starting from poorly organised strategy, through the recruitment of men without setting out what they were getting into, the presence of afew in authority who were more or less homicidal, and also after all that brutality the further brutal and clumsy farce of  a trial in Luanda. A grim and grisly story with far more victims than villains amongst the mercenaries.