River Hunting with the History Channel

The scorching summer of 2018 was a great gift for archaeologists. For the first time in almost two decades an unbroken dry spell brought features below the surface of the landscape clearly into view. These ‘parch marks’, visible only for as long as the weather holds, provide the very fullest evidence of the foundations of earthworks, buildings, roadways not only of a medieval date but reaching back across the whole timespan from the Industrial Revolution into pre-history.

Parch marks reveal lost buildings

It seemed counter-intuitive then to take a call from a TV researcher developing a new series devoted to underwater archaeology. In fact, there was good reason why The History Channel had chosen this moment to schedule the filming of their new series aiming to show that a stretch of inland waterway is as rich in hidden archaeology and history as any expanse of ocean. If not carrying quite the same decompression risk of diving the naval wrecks off the coastlines of Africa or Australia, you’d be best advised not to wade very far into the Avon, Severn or Ouse except when the rainwater table was at an all-time low. The series, River Hunters, takes its inspiration from the USA where searches of the waterways close to Civil War battlefields have uncovered some remarkable artefacts. Arguably the trend-setter is Beau Ouimette, whose self-produced shows on You Tube are on the brink of becoming a global phenomenon. Producers persuaded Beau to bring his unique brand of wading to Britain, to sift the course of some of our most historical significant watercourses.

Beau Ouimette

Beau’s passion is battlefield history and it was hardly surprising that his schedule should take in Tewkesbury, where tributaries of the Avon and the Severn frame the site of the Wars of the Roses battle where the Lancastrian cause was decisively defeated in 1471.

Tewkesbury’s medieval centre
King John’s bridge: Tewkesbury’s medieval river-crossing

Tewkesbury was not as large a battle as Towton (1461), seeing combined forces of no more than 10,000; nor did it bring a virtual blitzkrieg to the town as occurred at both the first (1455) and second (1461) battles of St Albans.

The 1471 battle of Tewkesbury, annually re-enacted in the town’s medieval festival

But it did represent no lesser watershed moment: the Lancastrian interest was all but destroyed. Leading Lancastrian nobility lay dead, among them, John Courtenay, earl of Devon, who had only just returned to the royalist fold. Henry VI was captured and then killed; his son and heir, Edward of Westminster, died in the melée; Henry’s queen, Margaret of Anjou, who had led his the cause for the best part of twenty years, was forced to return to France.

The river tributaries played a central and decisive role in the battle. They were the reason that battle was drawn at Tewkesbury: the Lancastrian army had hoped to cross the Severn at Gloucester but the Yorkist force stood in their way, so they had tried to pass ahead of them by pressing further north. When the Lancastrian battle-formation was broken and the Yorkists set about a rout, the remnant of King Henry’s force fled for the Severn bank knowing that if they crossed it they might fight another day. Most were cut down by the waterside, or were drowned. The battlefield also lay in the shadow of the Benedictine abbey of Tewkesbury its own precincts bordered by the same river tributaries. In the rout some struck out for the abbey, although for the Lancastrians the only sanctuary they found was a burial place on sacred ground.

Tewkesbury’s Benedictine abbey

So Beau and team came in search of both the Wars of the Roses and the monastic tradition. It was the last truly hot weekend of the summer and they waded into the Swilgate south of the abbey grounds with the excitement of a day at the seaside. Perhaps those Civil War sites are very willing with their secrets but here it was slow going. By the half-day mark, the low-lying murky water had offered up only some very eclectic signs of 20th-century life: a roadworker’s lantern and a cache of printers’ letterpress type. Early afternoon took us no further back in time but gave us the basis for a narrative: a World War 2 era firewarden’s tin helmet, a testament to the six-year vigil that watched over the abbey tower.

The firewarden’s helmet

Predictably perhaps, it was only as the light finally began to fade, and even the ebullient Beau looked less than comfortable seven hours into his wet-suit, that the river offered a tantalising hint of medieval Tewkesbury. Pressed deep into a wedge of silt, the detector led to hand-worked pins and studs surrounding the remains of leather strips – straps? – of early date. Naturally, given it was now past 7pm, there was an immediate and unspoken agreement to interpret them as battlefield artefacts. An archer’s arm-guard: sure thing! For this monastic historian, it was the less romantic but (much) more plausible provenance of a block of dressed stone we also recovered that almost made the wait worthwhile.

The stone-block

Here there was evidence of the monastery’s development of water meadow south of their precinct, and perhaps of the fishery that fed the community, and kept them, more-or-less, within the letter of chapter 39 of their Rule, On the measure of food.

River Hunters

River Hunters is now showing on The History Channel, Mondays, @ 9pm.

‘I was a Historian by the Age of Six…’ An Interview with Prof. Nicholas Orme

The Centre for Medieval Studies at Exeter hosts a lively programme of activities throughout the year, a number of which are only possible through the generous support of Emeritus Professor Nicholas Orme. Nicholas is a renowned and well respected scholar with expertise in the history of the medieval Church, education, and childhood. He is also well known for his local studies of the Southwest. This year, as part of the annual ‘Orme Day’ festivities, we invited Nicholas to tell us more about the origins of these interests and how they developed. He also explained how he first came to Exeter and why he continues to support our activities at the Centre.

Q. When did you start studying medieval history?

‘I was a historian by the age of six. I know this because, when I was at infant school, we had to write every day in a little book called a ‘newsbook’ and I wrote a story about a prince and a princess. But instead of ending it ‘…and they married and lived happily ever afterwards’, I said ‘they married, but then he died and his brother became king’. And the teacher wrote in the margin, “Oh, Nicholas, what a sad story”. But what I had realised at that age was that, unlike literature, history doesn’t stop. I had elder brothers who had history books at home and I must have read something like The Life of Henry V: Henry wins Agincourt, marries the king of France’s daughter, and then he dies – and it all changes. So history was there at a very, very early age.

But my ‘Damascus road’ moment came a lot later, when I was 20 and was in the vacation of my second year [at university]. My parents had retired to the Forest of Dean, which was a very run-down area in those days, and we had no car. I really found it a very depressing place to spend the vacation.

All Saints Church, Newland, Gloucs.

But my brother came over with a car and we went to a village called Newland. It’s a pretty village with an interesting church and when we were wandering round it, I saw a cottage gate which said on it ‘The Old Grammar School’. And I thought to myself, ‘why on earth should there be a grammar school in this village?’ In the history I had done hitherto, nobody had ever mentioned education. And on investigating this place, it turned out it was a medieval, fifteenth-century, grammar school foundation.’

Q. When did you start researching medieval schools in depth?

‘In my third year, I did a Special Subject on Richard II’s reign. Although I did labour very conscientiously on the political history, the thing that really got me was the discovery of collegiate churches. I knew about monasteries and one had done Bede, Cistercians and that sort of thing. But I suddenly realised that there were these things called collegiate churches, which were very commonly founded in the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. They fascinate me because they are all sui generis – and I always find monks boring because they’re so uniform. I discovered that collegiate churches very often had schools, as well as hospitals, alms houses, and things – and that built on my personal discovery of Newland grammar school.

So when I was in my third year and wanted to do research, I went to see my tutor, Bruce McFarlane, saying I wanted to do something that combines national history and local history. I made three suggestions to him and, of the three I mentioned, he said schools would be the thing to do. And ever since I’ve enjoyed these two things: national and local history. I’ve never wanted to do local history that was entirely self-contained, because it’s the interplay of the general and the local that interests me. And, of course, you’ve got that with a school because you’ve got a curriculum that’s beyond the school itself. So when I became a postgrad, I started to work on schools and I did a thesis on schools in the West of England, based on Gloucestershire.’

A medieval schoolroom – and the cover image for Nicholas’ book on ‘Medieval Schools’ (Yale, 2006)

Q. When did you come to Exeter?

‘In the summer term of my second year of research, my supervisor stopped me in the quad and said that Exeter was looking for a one-year appointment. What had happened was that they hadn’t had any applicants – or one or two very poor ones! Bertram Wolffe, who was at Exeter then, was a pupil of my supervisor and had written to him asking if he had anybody suitable. So I said to Bruce McFarlane, “do you think it would help with my CV?” And he said, “yes, it would because you’ll get a year’s teaching experience and that will stand you in good stead for getting a permanent job”. They advertised the post as half-teaching, half-research – but it turned out not to be that at all, as you might imagine!

I was very lucky while I was here because three [permanent] posts came up. They had a very small number of applicants for the three jobs to the extent that one of them had to be filled with a temporary chap so that they could have a look at him before they decided whether to keep him on. But I was one of the other two who came in, so I was very lucky.’

Q. When did you start to become interested in medieval Devon?

‘It wasn’t for a long time that I got into Devon. First of all, I wrote a book and it took me an awful long time. It is difficult when you start teaching, isn’t it? Writing your courses… For the first few years I was just doing the courses and the teaching all year. I only did the research in the vacation so I didn’t get the DPhil for five years after I started here, which wouldn’t be allowed now. And then it took me another four years to publish it, because it needed a lot more work to turn it into a book. I’d been here nine years before my book came out, which, again, wouldn’t be allowed nowadays! And then what I couldn’t publish from the thesis in the book, I put into a second book on the West of England. And that’s when I decided I had to get up on Dorset, Devon and Cornwall – and came to realise that the Cathedral archives had wonderful stuff. Then I started to work on that and got involved in the locality.’

Q. Why did you decide to support medieval studies at Exeter?

‘When I left [the history department] I was not replaced, which annoyed me. There were only two medievalists left: Sarah Hamilton and Julia Crick. So I thought, they need some support, we need to keep medieval history alive. So I said to Simon Barton [then in Modern Languages], “would you like to have the resources to bring in a special lecturer?” The idea was it should somehow fire people up, both students and the general public – although it’s obviously difficult to get somebody who relates to both. But we have managed quite well over the years – we had a very good one on Magna Carta, for example. And I have got a bit of spare money and I don’t want to give it to my Oxford college, which has got far too much, and plenty of other donors. I’d much rather it came down here where it can be useful.’

Saintly Monarchs and Cities of Strangers at the Annual ‘Orme Day’

The Centre for Medieval Studies here at Exeter is well-known for its sense of community, and for the value it places on the exchange of ideas in an informal and relaxed setting. One of the key events in our research year, the annual Orme Day, aims to achieve exactly that with a postgraduate symposium followed by the Nicholas Orme lecture, a public lecture on medieval studies by a visiting speaker. This year’s event – affectionately known as the ‘Feast of Orme’ – took place on Tuesday 12th March. After the unfortunate disruption to last year’s event caused by industrial action, we were delighted to be able to run the event in its traditional format once again.

The day began shortly after lunch, with a series of 20-minute presentations from current postgraduate students. The topics of these presentations reflected the wide range of research undertaken at the Centre. Philip Wallinder’s talk, ‘Apocryphal? Who, Me?’, examined John Trevisa‘s approach to translating the Gospel of Nicodemus into Middle English and was informed by both translation theory and the close-reading of Latin and Middle English texts. Trevisa’s concordance of several distinct calendar systems and his use of intertextuality offered fruitful topics for discussion, as Philip drew on texts from St. Jerome’s Chronicon to recent editions of the Latin Nicodemus to illustrate the relationship between the Middle English ‘Nicodemus’ and its sources.

Q&A for the speakers (standing), under the watchful eye of Prof. Orme

By contrast, Ekaterina Novokhatko, a visiting PhD student and member of the HERA After Empire project, focused on more geographical questions in her presentation. She outlined her attempts to map the spread of martyrological texts (and their attendant communication networks) in eleventh-century Europe. Her talk showed how Catalonia functioned as a zone of contact, within which French interest in the life of St. Gerald met the northern Italian focus on St. Alexius; using mapping tools, she neatly illustrated how these two ‘models of the layman saint’ circulated together in the area in which a contemporary pope, Silvester II, had studied in his youth.

There was a similar saintly focus to Henry Marsh‘s talk, albeit in a less conventional sense: Henry explored the Gesta Henrici Quinti (1413-16), a text that has typically been interpreted as a paean to his namesake’s celebrated martial prowess. Henry, however, focused squarely on those readings that emphasise the almost-hagiographic elements of the text, arguing that in order to grasp the anonymous author’s full understanding of the king, it is necessary to acknowledge those readings that look beyond the commonly-cited sources of chivalric texts and to consider the Gesta as a response to challenges posed both by France and by Lollardy. The text, Henry noted, frames the King’s physical struggles as spiritual struggles, down-playing traditional ‘hack-and-slash’ romance-inspired elements and aligning the monarch, perhaps counterintuitively, with saints who had faced off against temporal power. While the Gesta might be useful for analysing myth-making, Henry suggested, it is equally important to ask precisely which myths its author was attempting to create.

Following a short break, the gaggle of medievalists reassembled in the plush surroundings of the Business School for the keynote Orme Lecture, delivered by the inimitable Miri Rubin. Prof. Rubin’s talk concerned urban societies in the Middle Ages and was entitled ‘(Italian) Cities of Strangers: Some Ways Medieval Cities Thought About Their Diversity’. As she explained, this topic was just one of many that would have paid tribute to the work of Nicholas Orme, but it was probably the most effective in allowing the assembled audience to engage with the ‘search for the human’ that has been at the heart of his research.

Prof. Miri Rubin giving the annual Orme Lecture

Over the course of her lecture, Prof. Rubin examined attitudes to ‘strangers’ and ‘foreigners’ in medieval Italy and beyond, charting how the ‘Great Transformation’ of the fourteenth century led to a shift in views on non-locals. Thinkers and legal theorists, she stressed, increasingly moved away from ‘pathways to citizenship’ and embraced a ‘rhetoric of exclusion’. Her startling final slide – showing a post-Black-Death ‘ideal’ city as one that appeared to be empty – left us all with plenty to think about. It was a talk that talk invited comparisons with contemporary attitudes towards immigration and integration, and stressed the complex relationship between medieval and modern attitudes to the ‘other’.

It certainly was a fascinating and stimulating day for all involved, and a reminder of the vitality and vision that characterise the Centre for Medieval Studies’ research community. The Centre would like to thank all of those involved in planning, organising and contributing to the event, from postgraduates to our keynote speaker; in particular, however, we would like to show our appreciation for Nicholas Orme, whose generous funding of the lecture series allows us to invite many of the leading lights of contemporary medieval studies to challenge, inspire, and invigorate us all.

Ed Mills, PhD student

The Routledge History of Medieval Magic: Reflections on a Big Editing Project

I’m very pleased to announce that the Routledge History of Medieval Magic, edited by Sophie Page (UCL) and me, has been published.

As editors we’re very happy with it and we hope others will be too.  Seeing it in print has prompted me to reflect back on the process of editing such a large volume over several years. We started the planning back in 2013, when the publishers Ashgate approached Sophie about editing a volume on magic for their Research Companions series. (As some of you may know Ashgate was later taken over by Routledge, so it’s now a Routledge Histories volume.)  Sophie asked me if I was interested in sharing the editing and, thinking that this would be an interesting way to get up to speed on the field, I said yes.

Planning the volume, we were clear that we didn’t want to produce a survey of the history of medieval magic. We knew of several other history of magic surveys which had substantial medieval sections and were either recently published or in the pipeline. Instead we wanted to produce a guide to researching in the field. The study of medieval magic has grown very rapidly since the 1990s and we felt there was a need for a volume that outlined the new developments and highlighted possible future directions that research could take. We also wanted some methodological reflections: how can (or should) medievalists define magic? Sophie’s idea here was to get several short pieces from scholars with very different approaches, and ask them to comment on one another.

Together we drew up a rather long wish-list of possible contributors. Here it was good to have a co-editor since we were able to pool our expertise and lists of contacts. Sophie works on magical texts and knew exactly who was doing interesting work in this area, while I had a better knowledge of scholarship on the Church, condemnations of magic, and the rise of witchcraft stereotypes. We also thought about our own contributions: I remember sitting in the British Library café with Sophie saying ‘We should have a chapter on gender and it should cover this, and this, and this…’ so that became mine.

Once the publisher had accepted our proposal we wrote to our entire wish-list. Gratifyingly, many of them said yes – more, in fact, than I had expected. This made it a very large volume, with a total of 35 chapters, and that brought some logistical challenges. Our authors worked very hard and were exceedingly patient, but it took considerable time to liaise with that many people, comment on drafts, sort out images, etc, and we needed to be a bit flexible about deadlines, since the contributors were also busy with many other projects.  All this meant that the volume took rather longer than planned, especially when we had to factor in my and Sophie’s other commitments to funded projects, other publications, and a period of maternity leave.  Routledge were very patient, and so too were the authors who submitted chapters early on in the project – and we are very grateful for that.  My advice to anyone considering a large editing project like this would be not to underestimate the time involved, or the need for a long (and, to a degree, flexible) timescale!

Nonetheless I am very glad we did it. We have managed to be very comprehensive in terms of the people working in the field, ranging from recent PhDs to senior scholars, and taking in contributors from the UK, continental Europe, and North America. I am also pleased about the range of angles we have managed to cover – thinking about concepts and definitions of magic, magical texts, authors, themes, and condemnations of magic. The book has certainly inspired me to think about where I want to go next!

Catherine Rider, Associate Professor in Medieval History

Announcing a New Project: Warhorse: The Archaeology of a Military Revolution?

We’re happy to announce that the new Warhorse project in Archaeology, led by Prof. Oliver Creighton, now has a website and blog up and running.

‘Warhorse: the Archaeology of a Military Revolution?’ is a three-year project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.  For the project the team of archaeologists and historians will be conducting the first ever integrated and systematic study of that most characteristic beast of the Middle Ages — the warhorse.  As well as being a famed weapon of war, the medieval horse was an unmistakable symbol of elite social status closely bound up with the development of knighthood, chivalry and aristocratic culture. Crucially, in developing a new archaeological approach to the subject, the project hopes to add something different and distinctive to our understanding of horses but also, by extension, to speak to some of these other intriguing and much-debated topics.

For the first post on the project blog, see here.  Please do have a look and follow it over what should be an exciting few years.

Oliver Creighton, Archaeology

 

Two Exeter books shortlisted for 2019 Current Archaeology Awards

We’re pleased to announce that two books with medieval themes written by Exeter academics have been shortlisted for the 2019 Current Archaeology Awards, in the ‘Book of the Year’ category – see here. Nick Holder (Honorary Research Fellow, History, and English Heritage) has The Friaries of Medieval London, a survey of these important religious houses; Professor Stephen Rippon (Archaeology) has Kingdom, Civitas and County, an examination of the longue durée of British landscape.  Do have a look at the eight nominations and perhaps vote for one of the two Exeter books, or for one of the other excellent books on the shortlist. Voting closes on 11 February 2019 so don’t delay!

Nick Holder writes about his book: “As a crossover historian-archaeologist I set out to write a book about the lost religious landscape of medieval London. On the face of it the subject wasn’t very promising: there are very few documents surviving from the friaries’ archives and there’s barely a friary wall surviving above ground in London. But with some patient searching in traditional archives such as The National Archives at Kew, and in newer institutions such as the London Archaeological Archive of the Museum of London, I was able to piece together a substantial body of evidence about what the friaries looked like and how the friars used their London bases. I also asked four colleagues to help me out in the areas where they had particular expertise: Ian Betts (floor tiles), Jens Röhrkasten (spiritual life), Mark Samuel (architectural fragments) and Christian Steer (burials). We try to move beyond the ‘local history’ of London and consider wider themes such as the way that the mendicant orders seem to reinvent themselves as more traditional monastic orders after the shock of the Second Council of Lyon in 1274, which, in effect, closed down several small religious groups.”

Stephen Rippon writes about his nomination: “Too much research is constrained by traditional periodization, and this inhibits our understanding of the past. In Kingdom, Civitas, and County I have therefore taken one topic – the development of territorial organisation within the landscape – and mapped this across three periods that have traditionally been studied quite separately: the Iron Age, Roman, and early medieval periods. I hope that I show far greater continuities within the landscape than have been previously identified, which mean that our countryside of today has roots that go back several millennia.”

Best of luck to both!

Fifteenth Century Conference 2019: Calling Academics and PhD Students with 15th-Century Interests

Exeter will be hosting the Fifteenth Century Conference this September, an annual conference for anyone with interests in the Fifteenth Century. This has come about mainly because of the hard work of PhD student Des Atkinson, assisted by me, James Clark, Eddie Jones and our Hon Research Fellow Jonathan Hughes.  The theme will be ‘England and Mainland Europe in the Fifteenth Century’, which we’re interpreting very broadly to include a range of topics and disciplines.  I’ve posted the call for papers below. If you have fifteenth-century interest please consider sending in an abstract, and please also draw other people’s attention to it.

Catherine Rider, Director, Centre for Medieval Studies

Call For Papers: Fifteenth Century Conference, University of Exeter, 5th-7th September, 2019

England and mainland Europe in the fifteenth century

Poggio Bracciolini, the Tuscan Papal Secretary, after meeting Henry Beaufort at the Council of Constance, followed the bishop of Winchester to England to serve as his Latin secretary between 1419 and February 1423. Poggio was critical of the English climate and the preoccupation of English bishops with politics at the expense of learning, and during this period he offered the following assessment of this country in a letter to the Florentine humanist Niccolo de Niccoli:

‘I began travelling with my lord; but there was no great pleasure in the travelling, since I could find no books. Monasteries here are very rich but of new foundation; they have been built no more than four hundred years ago. If older ones survive they have no secular books, but are full of the most recent works of the doctors of the church and especially the ecclesiastics. I also saw carefully compiled inventories in which there was nothing of worth of humanist studies. And nothing interesting indeed.’

Poggio Bracciolini, Lettere, vol. I, ed. H. Harth (Firenze, Olschki, 1984), translated in A. Petrina, Cultural Politics in Fifteenth-Century England: The Case of Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester (2004), p. 62.

Poggio’s dismissal of English intellectual culture points to a wide range of interactions between fifteenth-century England and its neighbours in continental Europe, and it raises many questions that have interested scholars in recent years. What was the nature of interaction between England and continental Europe? What kinds of exchange (political, economic, cultural) took place, when, and how? What was the role of courts, cities, and the Church, as well as individuals, in this process?  How was England perceived elsewhere in Europe, and how did the English perceive Europe and the wider world in their turn?  How did cultural and intellectual exchange with continental Europe interact with the growing body of vernacular writing, in many genres, being produced in England, and with local and national senses of identity?

At a time when this country’s relationship with Europe is once again uncertain it seems appropriate to use Poggio’s comments to host a conference that considers this same question during another period of doubt and transition. This conference aims to address, however broadly, the different ways in which the late medieval kingdom of England could be considered in religious, political, social, economic and cultural terms as either a part of Europe, or apart from Europe – a nation with a separate identity.

This year’s Fifteenth Century Conference will be hosted by the University of Exeter, which is home to a community of late medievalists across several disciplines. We welcome papers from scholars at all career stages from PhD students to established academics, on any theme connected to this subject, from any discipline working on the fifteenth century.  This may include, but is not limited to, papers on local, national and European identities and myths; cultural exchange; the transmission of knowledge (including vernacular culture); political, social and intellectual networks; trade; the Church; heresy; social unrest; travel and perceptions of the wider world.

Please submit abstracts of up to 200 words, and a short biography, to Professor Catherine Rider (Director, Centre for Medieval Studies, University of Exeter) at c.r.rider@exeter.ac.uk by 28th February 2019.

 

Research Postcard: An Exeter Life of Thomas Becket

John Grandisson, the bishop who presided at Exeter in the turbulent middle years of the fourteenth century – the age of the papacy’s Avignon exile, the Black Death and the bloodiest battles of the Hundred Years War – has long been celebrated as a man of learning whose love of books brought some of the finest illuminated manuscripts into the Cathedral Library. He left his mark – that is to say, his ownership inscription and many marginal notes, underlines, comments and corrections – on a wide variety of books, including those still at Exeter.

Grandisson’s family arms as the frontispiece to his psalter

Yet surprisingly there is only one text that is attributed to him as his own work. Oxford, Bodleian Library MS 493 (fos. 1r-50v) contains a Latin life of Thomas Becket which is described in its original red-ink rubric as having been curated usefully and historically (compendiose et historice…collette) by John de Grandisson, bishop of Exon. Arranged in four parts, the text narrates the martyr’s progress from birth to death and canonisation, from the city of London which he honoured (decoravit) as his family home, to his final reward from Pope Alexander III of his name being added to the catalogue of martyrs (martyrum cathologo addendum decrevit), after which his feast was always celebrated. As the colophon acknowledges, the life is not an original composition. The text is founded on the Quadrilogus, the composite life of the archbishop first compiled by Brother E – his name may have been Elias – a monk of the Benedictine abbey of Evesham, which attempted at a synthesis of the accounts of Becket’s chapter colleagues at Canterbury, William and Alan of Tewkesbury, and his friends, Herbert of Bosham and John of Salisbury.

Becket’s murder as depicted in a ceiling boss at Exeter Cathedral

The cult of saints was the meeting-point of Grandisson’s interests as a prelate and a scholar: it was a means of stability and spiritual nourishment for the faithful facing the uncertainty of present times; for church and clergy it was a link with an illustrious past and a source of inspiration. Perhaps his greatest gift to his cathedral was a vast, two-volume Legendary which drew together the narratives for the feasts celebrated throughout the year. His Becket life appears to have been an early step towards this project, possibly compiled in his first decade at Exeter, or even before. He made reference to it in an exchange with his old master and mentor, Jacques Fournier, who ended his career as the Avignon Pope Benedict XII and died in 1342.

The tomb of Pope Benedict XII, Grandisson’s mentor
William de Tracy’s grant of Doccombe to Canterbury, dated after 21 February 1173

It is conceivable that his compilation passed into Curial circles: a Vatican manuscript of the fifteenth century (BAV Lat. 1221, fos. 1r-27v) contains an anonymous account of Becket’s life that opens with the same incipit. There was a confirmed copy in Italy in 1492, recorded in the inventory of the library of the English College at Rome. Surely Grandisson first turned his attention to Becket because of his place in the history of the church in England but at Exeter he can scarcely have been unaware of the special resonance of the story in the western diocese. William de Tracy, one of the four assassins of the archbishop, was baron of Bradninch and lord of the manor of Moretonhampstead. His Devon lands were the focus of his penitential gift to the monks of Christ Church, Canterbury: Doccombe and adjoining lands to the value of 100s were presented to the Cathedral Priory in c. 1173. He requested commemorative masses for himself and for the new saint he had inadvertently created.

James Clark

PhD Students Wanted Again: Funding Opportunities at Exeter

It’s that time of year again – funding deadlines for students applying for PhD study are coming up.  Staff at the Centre for Medieval Studies are always keen to hear from prospective students.  Have a look at the tips and information that Helen Birkett and I posted last year in our post on ‘PhD Students Wanted’. I won’t repeat them all here, though there are new links for general information on our research and research degrees on our website. The main point is to start talking to prospective supervisors, if you haven’t done so already – see here for the list of Exeter medievalists, in History, English, Modern Languages, Archaeology and other disciplines.

But, obviously, there are new deadlines.  Here are the funding opportunities on offer this year, along with links for further information. Closing dates are quite soon!

We invite applications for several funding schemes, for entry in September 2019:

AHRC South West and Wales Doctoral Training Partnership 2. Closing date for applications – 18 January 2018.

Exeter University is part of the AHRC South West and Wales Doctoral Training Partnership, a collaboration between the universities of Aberystwyth, Bath Spa, Bristol, Cardiff, Cranfield, Exeter, Reading, Southampton, and UWE, and the Amgueddfa Cymru-National Museum of Wales. For 2019 entry this scheme is offering up to 30 fully-funded awards. We invite high-quality applications from prospective students who wish to propose their own research project. In order to apply, your preferred supervisors (across two institutions) must have agreed to supervise your project. Please find further details here.

ESRC South West Doctoral Training Partnership – +3 or 1+3 Doctoral Studentship – Economic and Social History. Please find further details here. Closing deadline – 29 January 2018. Queries about whether a project fits within the ‘Economic & Social History’ remit can be addressed to either Jane Whittle or Stacey Hynd .

College of Humanities Home/EU Doctoral Studentships – up to 2 fully funded studentships. Further information here. Closing date for applications 11 February 2019.

College of Humanities Global Excellence International Doctoral Studentships – up to 2 fully funded studentships for international candidates. Further information here. Closing date for applications 11 February 2019.

China Scholarship Council and University of Exeter PhD Scholarships – Exeter offers up to 10 scholarships across all disciplines for Chinese students. Further information here. Closing Date – 7 January 2018.

Further information about funding for students from particular countries, PhDs associated with research grants, and the University’s Sanctuary Scholarship for refugees and individuals seeking asylum can be found here.

Links to external funding for Home and International students here.

So if you’re thinking about a medieval PhD, please do explore the links and get in touch!

Catherine Rider, Director, Centre for Medieval Studies

 

Breaking the Silence: An Interview with Rachel Rose Reid, Part 2

In my previous post for the Centre for Medieval Studies blog, I promised a much-needed follow-up to my interview with the storyteller Rachel Rose Reid, whose retelling of the medieval French Roman de Silence is currently touring around the country. This week, we’ll be talking about some of the more challenging questions raised by the text, and their impact on how she has interpreted the text and devised her own piece.

Rachel and ‘Silence’

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Returning to your interpretation of Silence, I was struck by the way in which you begin Part 1 of the story. Why did you start your retelling of Silence by recounting your own story — that is, the story of how you came across this wonderful text?

There were a couple of reasons: firstly, Heldris (the narrator-figure in Silence) doesn’t ‘start the story with the story’ either! Instead, we have this intriguing prologue that offers an invective against avarice. While I don’t begin my retelling in quite the same way, I do think that my own introduction serves a similar purpose — that is, to involve the audience in my storytelling, and to begin ‘weaving’, together with them, the world of the story. Immersion isn’t everything: whenever I come back to moments of honesty like this one, where I tell my own story, I’m being authentically present with the audience. There’s something in that interaction which means that people follow you: they trust you, and you’re able to ‘catch’ them if you feel that they need to be brought back into the story.

… and, of course, Heldris does this throughout their own story, interacting — or at least presenting an interaction — with his own audience. There are points where he’s very direct about this: just before he reaches Silence’s birth, Heldris promises the audience (in the English translation) ‘a lively tale without any further fuss or ado’!

… and this itself raises a fascinating question: why does the story (as Heldris tells it) start so far beforehand? Heldris could easily have started the story with the birth of Silence, but chooses not to: instead, there’s a focus on this question of inheritance, which makes up a large part of the first part of Silence. On a personal level, the inheritance question — which of course ‘sets up’ the motive for Silence to present as a different gender later in the story — is something that I’m very interested in. I’m part of a collective called Three Acres and a Cow, which has really opened my eyes to the different relationships that people have had to land over the centuries; it seems that, although we’re many generations down the line from the world of Silence, there’s still very much a legacy there, and the attitudes towards land and inheritance that Silence documents are still evident in the present day. A few years ago, I visited several Cornish towns with a story about suffrage, and people told us that their own aunts had missed out on inheritances for this same reason: it had gone to particular male relatives, in this case just before changes were made to inheritance law. I’m fascinated by the cultural landscape that informs tales such as Silence, by what it would mean to hear about changes to the law such as these; and by whether Evan’s actions would have been considered provocative or commonplace.

And yet, modern academic work on Silence – with some exceptions – really hasn’t shown the same interest in the inheritance question. One particularly dry description of the opening conflict between the counts sees it as nothing more than a ‘debate over primogeniture’, and in general, it’s the questions of gender that have dominated scholarship, with Simon Gaunt noting (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) that Silence ‘appears to engage deliberately with problems that interest modern theorists.’

Questions surrounding gender are more ‘front-and-centre’ in Part 2 of my retelling, of course, but the two ideas about inheritance and women are of course intimately connected. I’m interested in both questions: about who would have listened to this story, and how contentious the material about land ownership would have been. It’s been really satisfying to work with medievalists, including medievalists who aren’t necessarily familiar with the Roman de Silence itself, but who work on the general period during which it was produced. Even if the insights that come out of these conversations don’t make it into my retelling every night, it’s really fun talking to academics who can help to inform my telling of the story, answering some of the more esoteric questions. One question that’s intriguing me at the moment is that of what Cornwall would have meant to the audience of Silence: would it simply have been ‘somewhere far away’, or would it have had a more concrete opening?

That’s a tricky question to answer, but there has increasingly been a tendency in research to stress the ‘connectedness’ of the medieval world, so it wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect the audience of Silence to be aware of Cornwall, at least in the context of a lot of the Arthurian material that locates Arthur in this area. The very fact that the manuscript of Silence has survived in Britain at all is testament to cross-Channel movement: it is, after all, written in a dialect of French that shows relatively little Anglo-Norman influence, with far more of a Picard ‘feel’ to it. One theory suggests that the manuscript was composed around the late 13th century as part of a marriage dowry, only reaching England as a piece of plunder late in the Hundred Years’ War.1 Histories of manuscript provenance are, in the end, personal stories — much like the stories that you bring alive in your retelling.

For me, Silence is very much a story about how humans — whether the characters in Silence, or the owners of the manuscript — try to structure the world. Each of us has ways in which we try to structure our world in order to make everything okay; in the case of the characters in Silence, it’s society that has trapped people into certain ways of being. That’s one of the reasons why I try to present Eufeme (King Evan’s Queen, who fulfills the ‘Potiphar’s wife’ trope) as a more rounded character. Heldris might try to give us some understanding of her motivations, but there’s more to be said here: Eufeme might seem to be terrible, but if you look at how she got to be where she is, the only place where she can enact real change is in the personal realm. Only Merlin sits apart from this, and his laughter — which I’ve always read as cosmic, not cruel — seems to me to be saying, ‘look at all these humans, who think they can control and set up these structures.’

Rachel with Hayley Cotterill, Senior Archivist at the University of Nottingham, in front of the manuscript of the Roman de Silence.

Working with Rachel has been an absolute privilege, and it’s been wonderful to re-acquaint myself with the Roman de Silence after a few years, particularly in the form of a retelling as lively, engaging, and powerful as hers. Rachel has transformed a story whose characters are often read as ciphers — ‘Silence’, ‘Euphemie’, ‘Eupheme’ — into an intensely human tale, while preserving its focus on questions that connect the medieval and the modern. 

For more information about Silence, see the show’s website.

Rachel has toured Parts 1 and 2 of Silence during 2018, supported by Arts Council England, and is currently writing the final section. She is seeking partners, hosts, and grants to make it possible for her to perform the whole of her adaptation (possibly two sets of two-hour performances, so may require an overnight experience) at various locations during 2019. Please send ideas, suggestions and offers to ; for more information, see silencespeaks.strikingly.com and rachelrosereid.com. 

If you’re reading this shortly after publication, and happen to live near either Amsterdam or Birmingham, Rachel will be bringing Silence to you on 3rd and 8th November respectively!

Edward Mills, PhD Student

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1 More recent work on the manuscript, however, has argued for an earlier dating of the early 13th century, based on an analysis of paratextual features such as illustration. See Alison Stones, ‘Two French Manuscripts: WLC/LM/6 and WLC/LM/7’, in Ralph Hanna and Thorlac Turville-Petre (eds.), The Wollaton Medfieval Manuscripts: Texts, Owners and Readers (Woodbridge: Boydell and Brewer, 2010), pp. 41-56.

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